Discovering Manitoba

Golfing in Manitoba: The History of Golf

Golf enthusiasts argue over the birth of the game, some claiming it started in Holland and others (mainly Scots) knowing it came from Scotland, but one thing is for sure. The name “golf” does not stand for “Gentlemen only, ladies forbidden”. In fact, if you believe golf started in Scotland, the name was probably a corruption of the world goff, gowf, goif or goluf, all having origins in the word to “strike” or to “cuff”. But the Dutch word “kolve” and the German word “kolbe” both meaning “club” are also implicated. Regardless, the game owes most of its history to Scotland, where it was well in play as early as 1350, even though the Chinese say that they were playing golf in 1100. We do know that golf was banned by King James II in Scotland in 1457 because it was distracting players from archery practice. It was banned again by subsequent Jameses for similar reasons and for its ability to detract from church. To put further distance between the urban legend about “ladies forbidden”, one of the earliest players and strong proponents of the game was Mary Queen of Scots, who is said to have brought the term “caddie”, with her upon her return from France where she learned to play the game as a child while she was in school.

Caddie is said to have come from the French word “le cadet”, meaning the boy or the youngest boy in the family. Although there are several theories about the origin of the warning Fore!, it makes sense that the word is linked to caddie. In the early  days, golf balls were very expensive (early balls were made of hand sewn leather stuffed with a “hatfull” of soaked and softened feathers and called a feathery). One caddy, called the fore-caddie, was sent ahead to watch and locate the ball and the story is that when the ball was about to be hit, the payer shouted our Fore! to catch his fore-caddie’s attention.

Terms such as bogey, par, birdie and eagle all evolved with the game. “Bogey” is attached to the Scottish idea of a bogeyman when one played more strokes than necessary; “par” was adopted from the stock exchange term to denote value or the standard number of strokes. Most romantic was the term “birdie” from an   19th century America slang word meaning “excellent”. A “bird” of a score was a very good score, eventually coming to mean one stroke under par. From birdie came the extension to eagle, or two under par, and from there to albatross, a rare bird and a rare score of three under par.

As for tees, these were formerly mounds of sand one golf club length from the last hole (later this was expanded).

And with regard to putting: as the old joke says, “put” means to place a thing where you want it, while “putt” is simply a vain attempt to do the same thing! By the way, those Chinese games? They weren’t played by just anyone. Clubs from those days (the first T’ang dynasty) paralleledtoday’s driver, a 2-wood and a 3-wood. They were inlaid with jade and gold. At the cost of the best clubs today, it’s almost the same thing.

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