How Was Golf Invented? The Real History


A painting of historical golf.

You are standing on the green, putter grasped in your hand. Looking back at the meticulously maintained fairway, you think, “how was golf invented?” Okay, maybe this never happened to you, but golf has such a rich history it’s definitely worth further investigation.

Our Golf Clubs are here to shed some light and share the history of the beloved pastime. Check back often for new tips and reviews! 

Where Did Golf Originate?

A retro picture of a golfer in Scotland

There is one thing that most historians agree on. Scotland is credited as the birthplace and developed the foundation of the modern game we all love. 

However, there are quite a few variations of early ball-and-stick games traced back to the 12th century. These predecessors exist in not only Europe but parts of Asia as well. Remarkably—the game played in China can be traced back to as early as the 10th century. 

Yes, some of the predecessors may have had similar rules and date back further. They all lack an essential feature: the concept of rolling countryside and being played over long distances. 

Vibrant green and sprawling land are both a part of the essence, and the experience golf provides. Scotland’s rolling pastures was the perfect place—in the 15th and 16th century—for the game to become cultivated and formalized.

Predecessors to Golf 

 In various parts of the world, golf-like precursors were becoming a pastime. 

  •  China: Developed a game called Chuiwan—Chui translating to ‘hit’ and wan translating to ‘ball.’ The game gained popularity during the Song and Ming dynasties among the social elite. 

Many portraits depict small balls being hit into holes. Many historians agree the rules were like golf. However, the game did not seem to be played over long distances.

  •  Italy: The Romans were playing a game called Paganica, using a curved stick to hit a feather or wool-stuffed leather ball. The stuffed balls were very like early versions of golf balls.
  • The Netherlands: During the 13th century, the Dutch played a game called ‘Colf.’ They played the game with sticks and balls. But the rules were unclear, and they did not hit the balls into holes.
  • France: The French were playing a game called Jeu de Mail. It was developed in the 15th century but drastically increased in popularity during the 17th and 18th centuries. The game involves hitting a wooden ball through a pathway walled with wooden boards through iron rungs. This game is more similar to modern croquet than it is golf. 
  • Persia: The Persians invention—Chaugan—played horseback with a ball and mallet, which makes this game more like polo. 

These games are all different than golf, but they all may have contributed to how golf was invented.

The Progression of the Golf Ball

An old wooden golf ball.

Of course, it is impossible to golf without a ball. But how did we get to the modern regulated balls we see today? 

  • 1618: brought the invention of the ‘featherie,’ a piece of leather stuffed with feathers. The featherie was used 230 years until the invention of a new ball. 
  • 1848: a notable year for golf ball progression—the gutta-percha ball or the ‘guttie’ came to fruition. It was cheaper to manufacture, stronger, and flew further than a featherie. Its strength allowed the development of iron clubs. 
  • 1898: Coburn Haskell introduced the “Bouncing Billy”—a rubber core ball invented in the United States. The ball quickly became universally adopted because golfers could hit it farther off the tee.
  • 1905: William Taylor patented dimpled golf balls in England. They gave golfers the ability to maximize lift and minimize the drag caused by wind. 
  • 1990: Both British and American golf authorities agree on the standard-sized ball. The ball is 1.68 inches and 4.3 centimeters in diameter, which is still the national standard used today.   

How Was Golf Invented?

Now we can dive into the invention of golf during the 15th century in Scotland. The earliest written record of a game in Scotland was in 1457. The parliament banned the game because King James II of Scotland viewed it as a distraction to young men. 

He felt young men were spending too much time playing a game and not enough time honing their archery skills. (The Scottish army required good archers). After the Treaty of Glasgow in 1502, King James IV had a Perth bow-maker, William Mayne, craft a club set.

King James IV lifted the ban on golf and hired William Mayne as the Royal Club Maker.

Once the ban was lifted, they held the first game at St. Andrews in Fife in 1552. The game was becoming so beloved that golf fanatics would spend all their free time golfing. 

By 1636 David Wedderburn published his Latin guide Vocabula. He included an entire section on golf. The first-ever recorded match was in 1682 (the Scots VS the English at Leith). 

In 1744 the Company of Gentleman Golfers at Leith wrote up the first set of golf rules. With written rules, it solidified the invention of the game, and it spread like wildfire.

The History of Golf in America

A golf ball, club, and American flag

Historians believe that early ball-and-stick precursors were being played in upstate New York in 1650-1670. However, golf saw a rise in popularity and prevalence in the 1770s. There was a surge in golf communities within the Carolinas, New York, and Georgia. 

By 1786 the United States founded The South Carolina Golf Club in Charleston. This officially became the first golf club outside of the United Kingdom. The game’s popularity continued to spread until the War of 1812. 

But golf made a comeback in the 1880s with a resurgence in popularity. The golfers at St Andrew’s defined the invention of golf further when they determined that matches took 18 holes (1858). America built its first 18-hole golf course in Downers Grove, Illinois, on a former sheep farm in 1892.  

So, by 1894 the United States Golf Association (USGA) established itself and became the governing authority on golf in America. Quickly following—1895—the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open, and U.S. Women’s Amateur tournaments were held for the first time. 

Golf During the 18th and 19th Centuries

The 18th century saw changes to the golf courses and including women in matches. 1810 saw the first written record of a women’s tournament at Musselburgh. 1812 brought the mention of bunkers and putting greens into the rules of golf. 

In 1889, the two golf entities determined the hole’s diameter—4 ¼ inches across and at least  4 inches deep.

A noteworthy event happened just before the turn of the 19th century: the founding of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club. The R&A became the governing official for golf in Britain (1897). 

The aforementioned guttie ball forged the expansion to the use of iron clubs. The groove-faced iron made its debut in 1902. And in 1903, the American inventor Author F. Knight invented the Schenectady putter. 

By 1905 William Taylor dimple-patterned golf balls were flying across the fairways. Then in 1910, Arthur F. Knight patented his steel shafts, modernizing golf clubs as we know them now. 

The roaring twenties rolled around. In 1920 the United States and Britain agreed on the size, height, and weight of a golf ball. The 1920s brought forth the first Walker Cup match, and the first Ryder Cup match took place.

In 1934 the first U.S. Masters took place. Then both the USA (1938) and the United Kingdom (1939) agreed that players could carry a maximum of 14 clubs. 

A genuine breakthrough happened in 1952 when the R&A and the USGA established a set of unified rules.

The Evolution to Modern Golf

A man and a woman playing modern day golf.

There have been slight changes in the way we play golf today overall. But the governing entities who decide the rules and regulations remain the same. 

Yes, the ball size changed, and 9-hole courses have to be played twice to make it a match. Many regulations and rules founded in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries have stood the test of time.  These contributions gave shape to how the modern game of golf was invented. 

There have been advancements in equipment over the last few decades, but the basis and basics remained. For these reasons, many are drawn to golf and have a love for the sport and the experience it provides. 
That’s why at Our Golf Clubs, we aim to help you enjoy your golfing experience. Whether improving your swing or digging into golf history, we’ll keep you up to date and provide an insider’s perspective. Check back soon for new tips and tricks.

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