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Excerpt from: Golf at the Water's Edge


Bored shepherds near Rome are believed to have started batting about small rocks or nuts with the tops of their crooks. This idling pastime could have evolved into the popular game of paganica, from paganus or "country man," which was played by the Roman Legion during its occupation of Scotland in the first century B.C. Eventually this cross-country recreation was played with a bent stick and a leather ball stuffed with feathers. Some believe that the game of golf has its origins in this ancient Roman game.

A stronger case is to be made for Dutch influence in the origination of golf. Players of the early Dutch game of kolven (when played on ice) or kolf (when on the ground) used clubs with brass and wooden heads. The Low Dutch word kolf springs from the German noun Kolbe, or "club," so it follows that the game of golf is synonymous with the "game of club." When spoken, of course, kolf very closely resembles the English word golf. This theory of Dutch influence is strengthened by the fact that a game using clubs was depicted in more than four hundred Dutch paintings during the period from 1500 to 1700. The Dutch also would later become skilled makers of golf balls, which they then exported to Scotland.

Chole, a game played in the open countryside of Belgium and France, bore some resemblance to golf as well. In chole, each team of two players used one ball and played to a prearranged target, about one mile from the starting point. The target generally was a landmark, such as a gate, a church door, or the steps of a local inn.

In Britain the game of cambuca involved hitting a small ball made from boxroot. A stained-glass panel dating to about 1350, in the east window of Glouester Cathedral, shows a man clothed in a medieval robe just about to strike a ball with a club. In 1363 cambuca, along with other distracting games, was banned.

While the games origin has long been discussed, there is little argument that most of golfs development occurred in Scotland. Playing a ball over the links is a Scottish game and no other. The first written record describing the sport dates from 1457, when James II of Scotland ruled that both "Fute-ball and Golfe be utterly cryed downe" because they interfered with the practice of archery, an important skill necessary for the defense of Scotland. Mary, Queen of Scots, was an avid golfer. She is credited with giving the term "caddie" to the person who carried her golf balls and clubs, and she was criticized for playing golf too soon after her second husband was murdered in 1567.

There is strong evidence a century later that James IIs statutes had had little effect. In 1592, in an effort to protect Scottish piety, the town council of Edinburgh declared the "Sabboth Day" as the Lords day and proclaimed that all citizens must dedicate themselves to the service of God. Golf was forbidden, in or out of town, and anyone caught so playing was subject to a fine. However, to stop the complaints of his people, James VI of Scotland--who loved the game and even had his own club maker--declared in 1618 that "after the end of divine service" his good people should not be disturbed, thus allowing golf to be played openly after church.

In 1682, James VII of Scotland played against two Englishmen at Holyrood Palace in the first international match. His partner was John Patersone, a local shoemaker and the best shot maker in the kingdom. The Scottish team won and with his winnings Patersone built himself a fine house on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh.

When the Gentlemen Golfers of Leith set out their thirteen "Articles and Laws in Playing at Golf," in 1744, the informality of the game ended. Nearly identical rules were adopted by the Society of St. Andrews Golfers on May 14, 1754, and these rules guided the development of golf.

Much of the game of golf became formalized in and around Edinburgh. One of the earliest golf courses, Bruntsfield Links, is near Edinburgh Castle on land similar to a seaside links course. The original six holes are now part of a short course on common land where golf is still played in front of the fifteenth-century Golf Tavern, which served as the meeting place for two of the oldest clubs in the world: the Royal Burgess Golfing Society (1735) and the Bruntsfield Golfing Society (1761).

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