Excerpted from Golf
in the Upstate - Since 1895, Thomas Finley, 1999,
Olde Sport Publishing, Greenville, SC
THE EARLY HISTORY
Chole, Kolven, Kolf, Golfe, Goff, Golve are some of the names by
which this game played with a stick and a small ball have been called.
By the Nineteenth Century it had evolved into the four letter word,
the one we have come to know and love as golf. Historians have scrambled
around the western world for centuries attempting to discover the
origin, the birthplace of this great sport. There is a smattering
of controversy as to where the game was first played with evidence
pointing to The Netherlands, Belgium and, of course, Scotland. There
is evidence that the ancient Romans of Caesar's time also played
a similar game using a feather stuffed, leather ball and sticks.
Some contend this was the embryo of the game. Most historical or
should I say hysterical observers believe that the first "golfer"
was a Celtic shepherd, probably in Scotland, who whiled away the
hours hitting stones with his staff and eventually seeking to hit
the stone into a rabbit hole. Soon other shepherds would join our
first golfer and try their skill at "holing out" a stone.
We can imagine that over the years these shepherds would become
so engrossed in their new past-time that they would overlook the
fact that their sheep were now grazing in the next county.
Regardless of the true beginnings we do know that the Scottish developed
the game to a point where participants used an assortment of clubs
to hit a small leather ball stuffed with feathers advancing it towards
the ultimate objective, a hole in the ground.. Early recorded history
shows that golf was being played in Scotland because the Scottish
parliament voted in 1457 to ban the game as too many soldiers were
committing their time to golf rather than practicing at archery.
There were additional bans in years to come including one decreed
by the Church which forbade the playing of golf on the Sabbath.
It seems these early Scots had gone nuts over this game they called
golve. There was something really special about those "kilted
kindred" from across the sea. It wasn't until the sixteenth
century that golf was permitted openly as James VI of Scotland,
who became James I of England, took to golfing as an avid participant.
He over turned the previous edicts against its play. Other Royals
also adopted the game including Mary Queen of Scots, the first woman
in recorded history to play the game. The House of Stuart thus endorsed
the game of golf giving it a "royal" designation. The
sport became the game of royalty and we can surmise that is the
reason so many of the old courses in Great Britain are "Royal,
Whatever the Name, Links" as in Royal Troon or Royal Dornoch.
It is without any doubt that the first true golf course was in St.
Andrews, Scotland on a piece of mostly barren land adjacent to the
bay by the same name. There is written evidence that golf was played
on these links as early as 1552. The course was literally sculpted
from the land over time by nature and with grazing sheep digging
down and creating the natural bunkers as a place to avoid the cold
and howling winds off the bay. It was 200 years before golf was
formalized at St. Andrews when the Royal and Ancient Golf Club was
founded in 1754. It was over 100 years later, in 1861, when the
Royal and Ancient organized the first major competition in golf.
The first "Open" was conducted at Prestwick and clubmaker,
Old Tom Morris, of St. Andrews became the first Open champion and
albeit, a popular one at that.
The first golf played in North America that is documented was in
Charleston, South Carolina. A Charleston newspaper, the "Gazette",
made mention of scheduled events of the South Carolina Golf Club
and referenced its first year as 1786. We can assume that golf was
played for several years prior to that date. Being a major east
coast port city many of its merchants were Scottish who obviously
had access to clubs and balls shipped back to Charleston from abroad.
One such Scot, David Deas, who ran a store on East Bay Street received
a shipment in 1743 from the Port of Leith, Scotland which included
96 golf clubs and 432 balls. The written accounts of this golf association
portray the organization as primarily social which certainly seems
appropriate for this gay, port city. The group would meet periodically
at Harleston's Green, in the area between what is now Calhoun and
Bull streets, east of Rutledge. They would dig a few holes and hit
the little ball around. These gatherings were mostly an opportunity
for the ladies and gentlemen to join together in fellowship, to
spin yarns and enjoy good food and drink. Their "club house"
was William's Coffee House where they held their meetings. There
is no evidence that a regular, permanent site course designated
for golf existed at this period of time in Charleston. A similar
fraternity of golfers was formed a few years later in neighboring
Savannah. We can therefore assume with some certainty that the first
golfers in America were South Carolinians, many of Scottish descent,
playing the game only 12 years after the signing of the Declaration
of Independence or perhaps, sooner. We can imagine these early golf
outings would resemble chipping and putting contests.
Tree Gang (Courtesy USGA)
The first permanent site
golf club in North America was north of the border in Canada at
Royal Montreal Golf Club established in 1873. The first golf club
and course in America was in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.
The Oakhurst Club was founded in 1884 but within a couple of years
the locals grew tired of the game and the course was closed and
the land was allowed to return to its natural state. It is said
that the first hole at the posh Homestead resort is left over from
Oakhurst and is the oldest surviving golf hole in America. Since
Oakhurst did not endure it is not recognized as the oldest golf
club in our country. That designation belongs to the St. Andrews
Golf Club in Yonkers, New York.
The so-called "father
of golf in America" was an immigrant from Scotland by the name
of John Reid. Reid had enjoyed success as an executive with an iron
works in Mott Haven, New York and was seeking a way to spend his
leisure time. Being a Scot he obviously knew of golf so he asked
a good friend, Robert Lockhart, another well-to-do Scot living in
New York to do him a favor. Lockhart was about to embark on a trip
back to Great Britain so Reid asked if he would make a purchase
for him of golf clubs and balls. Well, Lockhart did his job well
as he traveled to St. Andrews in Scotland and went to the golf shop
of Old Tom Morris, the then famous clubmaker, golfer and champion
of the first Open. Lockhart asked Morris to ship two dozen gutta-percha
balls (molded from the sap of a tree); three wooden clubs; a driver,
brassie and spoon; plus three iron clubs, a cleek, sand iron and
putter. The package arrived in February, 1888.
in his red golfing jacket and club colors (Courtesy USGA)
On a very warm Washington's
Birthday that month, Reid laid out a crude, three hole course in
his cow pasture digging the holes with the cleek. He invited several
of his friends to witness an exhibition on the playing of golf that
afternoon and those in attendance were fascinated by the promise
of the game and felt it to be an activity they would like to pursue.
Several placed orders for their own golfing equipment.
When warm weather returned in March, Reid and his chums returned
to play the three hole pasture course. By April they had moved on
to another property on Broadway in Yonkers which gave them room
for six holes. After a full summer of golfing Reid invited four
of his closest friends to dinner at his home in November of 1888
with the purpose of discussing their future plans for golf. It was
decided that they formalize their endeavor and formed the St.
Andrews Golf Club. Reid
was elected president. This is now considered the first permanent
site golf club in America that endured. They continued at the Broadway
site until April of 1892 when it was learned that a public road
was to be built through their course property. This time they laid
out another six hole course in a nearby apple orchard. A large apple
tree with spreading limbs next to the last hole became their resting
place where they enjoyed their picnic lunch and beverage. They would
hang their jackets from the limbs of the tree on a warm day. By
now this group had developed quite a reputation around the area
and they became known as the "Apple Tree Gang".
The club moved two other times each time seeking to increase the
amount of acreage and to make St. Andrews a more comfortable place
for its members. At Grey Oaks, their next venue, they were able
to build a nine hole course and to convert a farmhouse on the property
into a clubhouse and locker room. The last move was in 1897 when
they built an eighteen hole layout at Mt. Hope, in the same general
area, where the club has survived quite well over the years and
is still flourishing as one of America's great, old clubs
The game of golf blossomed and the building of club courses was
spreading rapidly in the upper east and in the Chicago area with
the advent of the 1890's. Another course was built in New York at
Tuxedo Park and the nine hole Newport Golf Club was founded in 1890
in Rhode Island. Shinnecock Hills on Long Island at Southampton
was the first course designed and built by a golf course architect.
In 1891 it took Willie Dunn from Scotland three months and the help
of a whole bunch of local Native Americans (Shinnecock tribe) and
horse drawn road scrapers to complete work on his natural gem of
a course. It was the first really fine golf course that could rival
the links courses in Scotland. The founders hired well known architect
Stanford White to design a clubhouse and his stately, white, clapboard
edifice on the high ground at Shinnecock Hills is still as regal
today. Shinnecock was the forerunner of many great clubs to follow.
Some of the earlier courses were built at existing private clubs
that were primarily hunt or dining clubs. Such is the case at The
Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts and at the Chicago Club.
Other early and significant golf clubs included Baltusrol, Philadelphia
Golf Club, Baltimore, Chevy Chase, Essex County in Massachusetts,
Montclair Golf Club in New Jersey, Apawamis among many others.
An interesting little piece of golf history in America during the
1890's pertains to wardrobe. The style of the day for members of
Newport, Shinnecock, St. Andrews of Yonkers and other fine clubs
to follow included a red jacket with brass buttons, a tie, winged
collar, knickers, vest, stockings and a cap. The vest and knickers
were usually made from matching fabric such as a gray plaid adopted
by St. Andrews.
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