Golf. It is one of the most popular sports and past times throughout the world. As a matter of fact, in 2019 there were 441 million rounds of golf played in the United States alone. But golf isn’t a new sport by any means. Golf has a rich yet much-debated history and because of this, it raises many questions about who created the game and how it got its name. Let’s take a look back at the history of golf and find out, why is golf called golf?
A golf-like game can be dated back to as early as 1297. This specific Dutch game was played with a stick and leather ball. However, it is generally accepted that the modern concept of golf that we know today was developed in Scotland from the Middle Ages onwards; although some scholars argue that the game played in the Netherlands constitutes as the origin.
It wasn’t until the late 19th Century that golf spread from Scotland to the rest of the United Kingdom and then on to the British Empire and the United States. A sport that old comes with a lot of unknown. For instance, there is a persistent myth that claims golf is an acronym for: Gentlemen Only Ladies Forbidden.
While this acronym is completely untrue, it makes sense as to why it would stick. According to a recent demographics study, 77% of golf players are men. If you think back to the times when golf may have originated, it’s safe to assume it probably was only men who played. But the incorrect acronym is a fairly modern claim and isn’t something that can be traced back to golf’s actual beginnings.
The true reason for golf’s name is a lot less scandalous than the urban legend of “Gentlemen Only Ladies Forbidden”. The word “golf” derives linguistically from the Dutch word “kolf” or “kolve” which simply means “club”. But it can also be traced to the Scottish word “goulf” meaning “to strike” or “cuff”.
Which brings us back to how the Dutch also played a similar golf-like game. You see, the linguistic connections between the Dutch and Scottish words are actually due to a very active trade industry between the Netherlands and the east coast of Scotland from the 14th and 17th centuries. Many claim that Dutch sailors introduced their stick and ball game to the Scottish public which eventually became the standard golf game we know today.
As for the English word “golf”, it was first documented in Edinburgh March 1457, when King James II banned “ye golf” in an attempt to encourage more archery practice, which was being neglected. That’s right, golf was banned in Scotland! And not just once either, there was another royal ban on golf in 1471 by James III, the son of James II, and AGAIN by James IV whom believed people were wasting too much time playing it.
Even though the word “golf” itself doesn’t exactly have a scandalous meaning, golf throughout history did cause some royal drama (well, at least in Scotland). And as for scholars, its origins continue to be debated.
So, the next time you are out on the greens to “goulf”, keep in mind that this simple sport has a not so simple past that has led you to the game of golf that you love today.