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Scottish Golf

Many other countries, especially the Netherlands, also
make claims to the obscure origins of golf. The game of golf though is inextricably linked with Scotland. The word golf, in Scotland also known as gowf, and in times past as goft, golf, and gouff etc, almost certainly comes from a medieval Dutch word, kolf, meaning a stick used in some kind of similar ball game. How the modern game developed is the subject of international dispute. Its popularity in Scotland from early times was helped
on the east coast by the links, i.e. stretches of undulating sandy ground which provided ideal terrain for the game, and many of the best golf courses are to be found there to this day.

Golf was played at all levels of society. The expenditure
of King James IV on a visit to Falkland included the purchase of ‘golf clubbes and balles ....that he playit with’, and subseguent monarchs, among them Mary, Queen of Scots, were also keen players. An Act of Parliament of 1457 tried to prevent ordinary people from playing golf and football, in favour of archery practice. Later prohibitions were of Sunday golf, with the stricter observance of the Sabbath after the Reformation.

In the 18th century the game became more structured. The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, originally just the Gentlemen Golfers, tounded in 1744, is widely accepted as the world’s first golf club; it is now based at Muirfield, East Lothian. Ten years later, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club began as the Society of St Andrews Golfers. For the following century and more, different clubs played by different rules. Even by 1860, when the Open Championship was first held, golf had not become the standard 18-hole contest of today, but gradually
the authority of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club was accepted. The R & A, as it is known, is one of the 2 governing bodies of the sport, along with the United States Golf Association.

Before 1848 the ball was a leather case stuffed tightly with feathers: it was fragile and expensive. Then a ball of gutta percha, a kind of rubber from the East Indies, was introduced, It was much cheaper and enabled the game to grow rapidly. In 1885 there were 161 clubs in Britain; 20 years later there were 1,939.

The first Open, held at Prestwick, was won by Willie Park,
but subsequent playings were dominated by a father and son. Tom Morris senior, or Old Tom, won the 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 8th Opens; Young Tom won the trophy in 1868, 1869 and 1870, thereby winning the Championship Belt outright. Without a trophy, the Open was not held the following year, but in 1872 it returned with a new prize, the claret jug, which is still competed for. Young Tom won it that year too. The names of those early champions are still revered, and the Open enjoys a
secure place as the greatest tournament in the golfing world. Yet, although Scotland continued to produce great players, and participation in the sport continued among men and women alike, there was a gradual decline before and during World War I. The recession of the 1930's and the period of austerity during and after World War II also had a depressive effect.

After the introduction of the rubber-cored ball, invented
in the Us in 1902, the game became increasingly popular in America and after World War I the best Americans were the
world’s leading players, but only a few were able to travel to Britain. In the 1950's, improved economic conditions, particularly the boom in transatlantic air travel, led to the transformation of golf into the global game it is today.

The St Andrews Open of 1955 was the first to be televised, and 5 years later at the same venue the American Arnold Palmer attracted a great following.
The Open Championship is held annually on one of a number of British courses, of which the Scottish venues are St Andrews, Muirfield, Carnoustie, Troon and Turnberry. The Old Course at St Andrews is recognised as golf’s spiritual home, and the Open departs from its usual rotation to return there for special anniversaries. It is not the most intriguing or complex of courses, but its setting and its historic significance ensure it continues to attract sporting tourists from all over the world.

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