Golf as it is played today finds its origin in Scotland. According to Scottish historians the game was mentioned for the first time in 1457. The game was played with curbed wooden clubs and spherical wooden balls in the streets, the churchyards and the open fields in and around the Scottish towns and on the links along the sea shore, during the winter period.


In the course of time, the clubs were replaced by iron headed clubs and composite wooden clubs. The wooden balls were replaced by leather balls and in a later stage by rubber balls until the modern golf balls were introduced around 1900.
The essence of the golf game is to reach a target in the fewest number strokes.
Originally golf was a one target team game in which two teams of two players tried to reach a target in fewer strokes than the other team (match play). The playing field was divided in several parts, so-called holes, with a target. Each hole could be won by one of the teams. The team who won the most holes was declared the winner. Today stroke play has become more popular. In stroke play individual players play all holes and all the strokes made are added up. The player who needs the fewest number of strokes for completing the ‘round’ of holes is the winner.
In the second half of the 19th century golf became popular in the British Dominions, followed by North-America and Western Europe. Today golf is one of the most popular sports in the world.

Publications on ancient golf



Published in

Golf ontstond in Nederland?

Geert & Sara Nijs
2017 juli - Regio Golf Magazine
2014 juni - www.golfreiswijzer.nl,
Golfreisnieuws nr. 264

The oldest picture of Scottish golf?

Geert & Sara Nijs
2015 December - Through the Green
(Magazine of the British Golf Collectors Society)

The Flemish and the game of golf

Geert & Sara Nijs
2015 November - Posting on the blog of a
major project of the University of St Andrews
Institue of Scottish Historical Research,
called 'Scotland and the Flemish people'

All roads lead to Scotland

Geert & Sara Nijs
2015 October - Saint RaphaŽl, France
Presentation at the annual conference
of the
European Association of Golf Historians and

Collector Spotlight:
Wayne and Claudia Aaron

Jim Davis
2014 September - The GCS Bulletin 200th ISSUE
(Magazine of the Golf Collectors Society)

Still a lot to explain

Geert & Sara Nijs

2014 August
The Danish Golf Museum
25 years old
Hans-Erik Duschek-Hansen2012 September - Golfika no. 10
(Magazine of the European Association
of Golf Historians and Collectors)
The transition of golf from
a local game into a world sport

Geert & Sara Nijs

2012 October

The year 1457: golf or hockey?

Geert & Sara Nijs                    

2009 September - Golfika no.  4
(Magazine of the European  Association
of Golf Historians and Collectors)
Why did golf take so much time
to integrate in continental society?
Ab Bloemendaal2008 September - Golfika no. 3
(Magazine of the European  Association
of Golf Historians and Collectors)

De naakte waarheid over golf

Heiner Gillmeister

2003 Sportimonium 23



The transition of golf from a local game into a world sport

Since the ‘beginning’ of golf, probably at the end of the 15th century or the beginning of the 16th century, the game remained for several centuries a local game mainly played in the eastern part of Scotland. The game remained unknown to anybody outside the Scottish borders. Contrary to the Flemings and the Netherlandish, not many Scots left their country other than as mercenaries for the European mainland.


Scottish golfers playing colf on the ice near the Netherlandish city of Haarlem - Adriaen van de Velde, 1668

It took till the 17th century, when Britain started to build its worldwide empire, that many Scots left their homeland to act as merchants, colonists, officials and soldiers to populate the new colonies and trade settlements, and to extend and defend the British possessions and to secure the sea routes for their merchant navy against other seafaring nations, first the Spaniards and the Portuguese and last but not least against the Netherlandish.


Sea battle between the English and Netherlandish naval army. For many years in the 17th century, in many battles, they challenged each other for the supremacy on the world seas. - Peter van de Velde, c.1670

The Scots as soldiers, immigrants and expatriates, once avid golfers in their homeland, wanted to continue playing golf in and around the new British settlements. There are references to Scots ordering clubs and balls from Scotland. In the Scottish towns and villages the golfers played among them, unorganised in friendly ‘match play’ matches, making up their own rules. This happened also in the new colonies and settlements.
When the British lost their American colonies (1776), officials, soldiers and many expatriates returned home to Britain, probably taking their golf clubs and balls with them. As a consequence the game of golf in the new United States of America lost much of its attraction.
Only on a few spots in the new nation the remaining (Scottish) golfers tried to survive.


First photograph taken in 1888 of the ‘modern’ golf in the USA at Saint Andrews Golf Club of Yonkers. The course counted three holes. - http://www.yonkershistory.org

It took almost 70 years before golf was more or less re-introduced in the USA. It was John Reid, a Scottish immigrant who, with some of his friends founded the Saint Andrews Golf Club of Yonkers, New York, in 1888. The foundation of this golf club is considered as being the more or less official start of organised golf in the USA.

The Saint Andrew’s Golf Club however was not the first golf club on the North American continent.


An early picture (1882) of the members of the (Royal) Montreal Golf Club, founded in 1873. - http://www.rmgc.org

Fifteen years earlier another Scotsman by the name of Alexander Denniston gathered in 1873 eight of his fellow expatriates and some local businessmen to establish the (Royal) Montreal Golf Club. There are several documents to prove that Scottish golfers in Canada played their game unorganised long before the official Montreal golfers. Already in 1826 there was a notice in the ‘Montreal Herald’ inviting fellow Scotsmen to come together to play golf.


Advertisement in the Montreal Herald in 1826. It shows that before 1873 Scots played golf in Canada. -

"To Scotsmen. A few true sons of Scotia, eager to perpetuate the remembrance of her customs, have fixed upon the 25th December and the 1st January, for going to the Priests’ Farm, to play at golf. Such of their countrymen as choose to join them, will meet them before ten o’clock, A.M., at D. M’Arthur’s Inn, Hay-Market. Steps have been taken to have clubs provided.”

All the other continents were ahead of the Americas to establish more or less official golf clubs.

In Asia, the first golf club was founded in Calcutta, India, already in 1829 by British army officers. It is the oldest golf club in the world outside Britain.

The oldest golf club in Europe and the first outside the British Commonwealth was founded in 1856, of course again by the Scots, in Pau in the Southwest of France with the name Pau Golf Club.


Famous picture of Scottish golfers playing on the oldest course of the European mainland. The Pau Golf Club was founded in 1856. - http://www.paugolfclub.com

It is said that during the Napoleonic Wars regiments of Wellington’s army were quartered in the Pau region in 1814. Some of the Scottish officers played golf in the fields around Pau.
They enjoyed the beautiful scenery and the mild climate very much. After their return to Scotland some of them started to return with friends regularly to enjoy there holidays there. Over the years more and more British decided to spend the winters in the Pau and Biarritz area, away from the cold winters in their own country. In the course of the years an entire British colony became established in Pau.
With so many British in the region, it was not surprising that the Duke of Hamilton and some of his friends decided to found the Pau Golf Club in 1856.

In Australia the first golf club was founded in 1882, the ‘Australian Golf Club’. Not much is known about who and why the club was founded.

It is said that some officers of a Scottish regiment on leave from India played some golf in one of the parks in Sydney. It was usual that visiting officers were made members of the social club ‘Union Club’. It could have been that members of the Union Club were inspired by the officers and took up the game themselves. This resulted after a while in the founding of the ‘Australian Golf Club’ in 1882.


This is probably the oldest known photograph of golf being played in South Africa. Almost certainly taken in 1886, it shows Gen. Torrens driving on the Waterloo Green Links, watched by Dr. David Gill, in the brown suit and Colonel Curtis, Officer Commanding H.M. Cavalry in Natal. Printed on porcelain, the photograph was presented to the Club by Dr. Gill shortly before his return to England in 1906. - http://www.royalcapegolf.co.za

In 1885 it was the turn of South-Africa to found a golf club near Cape Town. It was on the 14th November of that year that a meeting was held, chaired by the Lt General Henry Torrens, Governor of the Cape Colony, “for the purpose of introducing the game of golf and starting a club for the same”. And so it happened; The Cape Golf Club Was founded.


General of the Gordon Highlanders in full dress. The Scottish officers were responsable for golf becoming a world sport. - http://peek-01.livejournal.com

The game of golf has indeed spread its wings all over the world mainly thanks to the Scottish officers in the British army and the many colonists. It is not surprising that it were the Scots who spread golf over the four continents. Until the end of the 19th century, the game was hardly known by the English. Only the Scots loved to swing, wherever they could.
Nowadays there are almost no countries in the world were golf is not played. Golf has become the most wide spread and one of the most practised games in the world.