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Folklife Festival 2003 > Scotland > Sports > Golf
golf: a history of the game
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The game of golf traces its origins to the east coast of Scotland, where it was played on links or linklands - stretches of sandy, grass-covered common lands that lay between farmable fields and the seashore. It is not known when golf was first played, but by 1457 it was so popular that the Scottish King James II banned it because too many Scots were out golfing instead of attending mandatory archery practice.

In the 16th century, golf club making became a specialized profession. By the 18th century, a set of clubs consisted of "longnose playclubs" for driving; grassed drivers, and short, medium, and long spoons for fairway shots; and "baffing spoons," which were similar to modern wedges. Players also commonly carried driving, approach, and greens putters. Club heads were made from tough woods such as black thorn, beech, holly, pear, or apple; shafts were made from ash or hazel, and later American hickory. About this time, St Andrews, an ancient university town on Scotland's east coast, became a center of golf club making.

In 1618, the game was revolutionized when the Featherie -- a feather-filled golf ball -- was introduced. Featheries remained popular until 1844, when they were replaced by gutta percha balls made from Malaysian rubber. Steel-shafted clubs were introduced in the 1890s, but were not legalized for competitive play until 1929. Now-popular graphite shafts were introduced in 1973.

Scotland's golf legacy also includes the game's culture. The oldest extant golf course in Scotland, Musselburgh Links, dates from 1672. The most renowned golf course in the world, the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, was founded in 1754 by "22 Noblemen and Gentlemen of the Kingdom of Fife." The "Royal & Ancient" has played a pivotal role in the game's history: it developed and continues to administer the official Rules of Golf (today, in conjunction with the United States Golf Association), and it administers the Open Championship and other key golfing events worldwide. Playing the Royal & Ancient's Old Course is considered the pinnacle of many a golfer's career.

Several Scottish players also have had an enormous impact on professionalizing and shaping the modern game. Perhaps the best known historical figure is Old Tom Morris (1821-1908), a St Andrews native who began his career apprenticed to golf ball maker Alan Robertson and went on to become an accomplished golfing champion, golf course designer, and golf club maker.

Coming to the Festival...
Heritage Golf of St Andrews (St Andrews, Fife)

—Originally from Yorkshire, Heritage's Managing Director Barry Kerr served a formal apprenticeship to a fourth-generation Scottish club maker and has been making golf clubs for more than 40 years. Heritage specializes in both historic (pre-1930s) and contemporary clubs, as well as historic, hand-sewn/ hand-molded golf balls. Mr. Kerr will be joined by one of Heritage Golf's master craftsmen, Angus McLean. A demonstration putting green will be constructed nearby on the National Mall. www.heritage-golf.co.uk

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