More History of “Gowf”

If you think that Golf is a modern game, think again. As early as 100 BC, a game was described being played by Romans that was played with a stick and a leather ball, the goal being to see who could get it into a hole with the least amount of strokes. Sound familiar?


A variation that involved several clubs and a leather ball is described in records of the Song Dynasty in China that dated from 960 AD to 1270 AD.

Today’s modern golf is loved by the young and the old and just about everyone who picks up a golf club. What is its appeal? Perhaps it is the fact that you can a) play alone b) play with a friend for a leisurely afternoon of talking, walking and swinging and c) fierce competition that has cash prizes available.

But how did we get from a stick and a leather ball being rolled into a hole to the modern 18 hole golf course, kept trimmed by a score of groundskeepers and surrounded with lush country clubs that cater to everything from gift shops to spas?


The sport of golf has emerged from history as one of the most popular sports in the world. The credit is given to the Scots for the first games played over 18 holes but recorded instances of earlier games that were more rudimentary, such as one described in the Netherlands in 1297, do exist and several records exist that show prohibitions of the game of “Gowf” back as far back as the 1400’s in Scotland. It is believed that Mongol traders may have introduced the game to ancient trade centers in Europe.


Playing a ball with a club into a hole was known as Colf or Kolf in the Netherlands which referred to the bat that was used and from there it appeared to move slowly through Northern Europe. The game appeared in Scotland by the 15th century, where its use of the term “Gowf” taken from the Dutch reflects it was later to the game than the Netherlands. A 17th century British written description described the activity “going out to the Golve” and most sources from Britain give the credit to Scotland for introducing the game to the British Isles.

One of the most famous recordings of golf occurred with Mary, Queen of Scots, who was found and censured by her enemies for playing shortly after the demise of her second husband, ill-favored Henry Stuart known as Lord Darnley, who was murdered in 1567. Apparently, even she had discovered its relaxing qualities and the ability to remove even the most pressing problems from one’s mind as you walk the course and focus on your stroke.

Unfortunately, she was kidnapped and forced into marriage by Lord Bothwell who murdered Lord Darnley, so the game may have been cut short before it could soothe her rattled nerves.


The course where she is credited with using that fateful day is now called the Musselburgh Old Links in East Lothian and is still in use today. It is recognized as the world’s oldest golf course that has seen continuous use documented since at least 1697.

The Scots were responsible for the spread of “Gauf” throughout the British colonies with their 18th century migrations and by the 19th century, England had embraced the sport with immigrants even bringing their golf clubs to the American colonies.

Today’s love of golf has a rich history and the game has remained a favorite in many cultures throughout the world for centuries. It is a great sport to share with your children, family and friends or just to have a few hours to yourself. The appeal is timeless.

Golf through the Shadows of Time By Bonnie Jacobs Mastro

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