Golf, as played today, finds its origin in Scotland. According to Scottish historians, the first mention of the game date from 1457. The game was played with curved wooden clubs and spherical wooden balls. Playing fields were streets, churchyards and open fields in and around the Scottish towns. In winter, the players went on the links along the seashore.
iron-headed clubs and composite wooden clubs replaced the original ones.
Leather balls, and in a later stage rubber balls, replaced the wooden ones
until the modern golf balls appeared on the courses round 1900.
Publications on ancient golf
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 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:
Sea battle between the English and Netherlandish naval army. For many years in the 17th century and in many battles, they challenged each other for 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 unorganised golfers played by themselves friendly 'match play' matches, making up their own rules. The same happened 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 back home as well. Consequently, 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.
The first photograph from 1888 of 'modern' golf in the USA at St Andrews Golf Club of Yonkers. The course counted three holes. - http://www.yonkershistory.org
It took almost 70 years before John Reid more or less re-introduced golf in the USA. This Scottish immigrant founded with some of his friends the 'St Andrews Golf Club of Yonkers', New York (1888). This foundation marks the official start of organised golf in the USA. However, it was not the first golf club on the North American continent.
A staged picture (1882) of the (Royal) Montreal Golf Club, founded in 1873. - http://www.rmgc.org
Fifteen years earlier, the Montreal Golf Club was established. The Royal (since 1884) owes its origins to a decision by eight men, then striking gutta-percha balls on Fletcher's Field in downtown Montreal to form an independent golf club in 1873. Scottish born Alexander Denniston was the first captain. Several documents 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. -
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.
Again Scotsmen founded the oldest golf club in Europe and the first outside the British Commonwealth in 1856 in Pau, southwest France.
During the Napoleonic Wars, regiments of Wellington's army quartered in the Pau region in 1814. Some of the Scottish officers played golf in the fields around Pau. They appreciated the beautiful scenery and the mild climate. After their return to Scotland, some of them started to return with friends regularly to enjoy their holidays there. Over the years, more and more British decided to spend the winters in the Pau and Biarritz area, away from the cold and wet winters in their own country. In the years, an entire British colony settled in Pau. So, it does not surprise that the Duke of Hamilton and some friends founded the Pau Golf Club in 1856.
In Australia, the first golf club dates from 1882, the 'Australian Golf Club' in a suburb of Sydney. Legend has it 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 became members of the social 'Union Club'. Perhaps the members of the Union Club were inspired by the officers and took up the game themselves to result in the founding of the 'Australian Golf Club' in 1882.
In 1885, it was the turn of South Africa to found a golf club near Cape Town. On the 14th November, Lt General Henry Torrens, Governor of the Cape Colony, chaired a meeting "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. Thanks to Scottish officers, golf became a world sport. - http://peek-01.livejournal.com
The golf game spread its wings worldwide mainly thanks to the Scottish officers in the British army and the many Scottish colonists. Until the end of the 19th century, the English hardly knew the game. Only the Scots loved to swing, wherever they could.
Nowadays, there are hardly any countries in the world where people do not play golf. Golf has become one of the most practised games and widest spread in the world.