PRE 1400: THE ORIGINS OF THE GAME
Throughout recorded history, every civilization has
played a game with a club and a ball. Pangea for example,
as described by Roman scribes, would appear to be the
father both of modern hockey and the Celtic games of
Shinty and Hurling.
In one form or another, the variant games of present
day golf were clearly enjoyed throughout Europe in the
Middle Ages. The game persisted over the centuries and
the form that it took and rules that were applied varied
as widely as the terrain the game was played over. In
short, the game consisted of knocking a ball from one
pre-designated place to another where the ball was to
be struck off a predetermined object in the least number
of blows. Games often extended from village to village.
That this game was ousted from the towns and onto the
commons land beyond is one possible solution to the
question of how it all began. Whatever the exact origins,
it is known that by the 15th century, "kolf"
as it was known in the Netherlands and "goff"
as it was referred to in England, was a pastime enjoyed
by Kings and Commoners alike. It's kinship to the Great
Game however, remains entirely questionable.
So widespread was the game of "Gowf", as
it was known in Scotland, that an Act of Parliament
was passed to prevent the playing of the game on Sundays
and thus preserve the skills of Archery. The citizens
of Aberdeen, St. Andrews and Leith on Scotland's East
Coast were the principal "gowfing" miscreants
and it was no coincidence that rolling sandy links land
was commonplace here. On this very terrain, a game that
started with a cleek and a ball took on a form that
started an evolutionary process that continues to this
The question of how it all began may be of pressing
concern to some but to the Scot, it is sufficient to
know that the game was born on the links land of eastern
Scotland. Here, the game has been nurtured for over
five hundred years and from here, it has been raised
to the great game played and loved by millions throughout
1750 - 1850 : THE ROBERTSONS OF ST ANDREWS
This was the period when golf as we know it today came
to be. It was in this time that many of today's great
golf clubs were founded and the leading players of the
era started to gain renown. The great club-makers and
ball-makers of the era began to emerge and the clubs
produced by these skilled craftsmen were coveted to
the extent that forgeries became commonplace.
Top players began to regularly gather for 'meetings'
when medal and match-play rounds were organized, with
distinctions made for the first time between amateur
and professional players. Allan Robertson, of the famous
ball-making family in St. Andrews, is widely credited
as being the first golf professional. But before Allan,
his Grandfather Peter was described as a professional
golfer and although history knows little of this man,
his reputation survived him and his prowess was widely
acknowledged. One epic contest in 1843 was between Allan
Robertson and Willie Dunn, two of the best players of
that time. The challenge was held over 20 rounds (2
rounds per day over 10 days) and it was Robertson who
triumphed - two rounds up with one to play.
The Robertson dynasty in itself reflects the emergence
of the great game. The family can be traced back to
one Thomas Buddo, a ball-maker in St. Andrews in 1610.
His daughter married a Robertson and from this pair
was bred the stock that led to Allan himself and along
the line produced generations of ball-makers. At least
four separate Robertson families employing over 25 hands
were engaged in making balls in St. Andrews during the
mid 18th Century. Allan by the way, who died in 1859,
became the first man to break 80 on what is now the
Old Course in 1853.
1850 - 1890 : THE MORRIS AND PARK ERA
If golf as we know it had its birth in the dim and
distant past of the 17th century and its upbringing
under the Robertson family on the links of St. Andrews,
then its adolescence occurred abruptly between 1848
and 1852. Three highly significant events occurred in
St. Andrews that were to turn the game from the parochial
into the global. The first of these events was the discovery
of the "gutta percha" based ball, known as
the "gutty" by James Patterson in 1848. More
importantly, the durability of this new ball in turn
encouraged the development of iron-faced clubs and so
continued the process of evolution.
Then in 1852 the railway came to St. Andrews and with
it the progenitors of the millions who have made the
pilgrimage since. Now the links was played by all and
sundry throughout the year and not simply restricted
to the busy spring and autumn meetings. The R&A
erected it's now famous clubhouse in consequence of
the railway, scores of ex-pat colonialists retired to
the town and families took up residence so that their
sons could attend the University, which was gradually
assuming a stature comparable with Oxford and Cambridge.
If the 'gutty' transformed the game, the railway certainly
transformed the town of St. Andrews.
The third event of this period, which comes in two
parts, is surely one of the most important events in
the long history of the game. Every individual who
has made a living out of hitting a golf ball should
hold April 20th 1851 as the nativity for that was the
birth date of Young Tom Morris, one of the game's greatest
early exponents. Similarly, every green-keeper, designer
or administrator should express some word of gratitude
on the 1st of July for it was on that day in 1851 that
Old Tom Morris left for Prestwick to create the first
purpose built golf course on the links of Monkton parish.
It was in 1860 that the first Open Championship was
held at Prestwick and was contested by eight leading
professionals. The first winner was Willie Park for
which he received a red Morocco leather belt with silver
clasps as the first prize. The Open continued to be
held at Prestwick for 11 years and the Morris's dominated
the early events. Old Tom had won the event four times
by 1867 and Young Tom subsequently completed a quartet
of wins, after which he was allowed to keep the Belt.
Young Tom Morris was raised on the links of Prestwick
Golf Club and it was there that he honed a game that
was as revolutionary as the new iron clubs that he had
purpose made by Stewart in St. Andrews. Irons that were
previously resorted to for a bad lie were now used for
driving, lofting, jiggering and putting.
Young Tom Morris also knew his worth and he demanded
and obtained a good living from the flair that he brought
to the game. In this sense he was the first true modern
professional golfer. There may well have been greater
players since Young Tom but if there has been, few have
left a greater legacy to the game.
The Morris's accrued an incredible record, with Old
Tom winning the Open in 1861, '62, '64 and '67, while
Young Tom won in 1868, '69, '70 and 72. Across the Firth
of Forth in Musselburgh another family came close to
matching them when Willie Park Sr. and Jr. won the Open
six times between them. Willie Sr. won the first Open
in 1860 and again in '63, '66, '67 and '75. His brother
Mungo Park won in 1874, while Willie Jr. won in '87
and '89. Old Tom and Willie Sr. won all but one Open
(1865) prior to the emergence of Young Tom. Both were
much-loved figures and were responsible for the standards
of sportsmanship with which the game is synonymous today.
1890 - 1914: THE GREAT TRIUMVIRATE
This era will always be remembered for the mark left
on the game of
golf by John Henry Taylor, Harry Vardon and James Braid.
Known as the great triumvirate, they collected sixteen
Open Championships between them and have left an indelible
impression on the game of golf.
Harry Vardon hailed from the Channel Island of Jersey
and Henry Taylor from Devon in England. The emergence
of Vardon and Taylor before the end of the 19th century
attests to the rapid spread and widespread play of the
game. Both had already established themselves as Open
Champions before they were joined by James Braid. The
three between them collected 16 Open titles and 13 second-place
finishes and almost completely excluded a host of great
Scots players from the records of the game during that
particular period of time.
John Henry Taylor won the first of his five Open titles
in 1894 at St. George's in England, now Royal St. George's,
while Harry Vardon pipped Taylor in a play off in 1896
to land the first of a record six titles. James Braid
won his first of five Open Championships in 1901 to
join Vardon and Taylor as the dominant forces of the
day. Though also winning the French Open, unlike Vardon
and Taylor, Braid never made the transatlantic crossing
to enjoy the spoils of the newly emerged golfing scene
in the USA.
While Vardon won the US Open of 1900 during a tour
of America where he played in approximately 80 matches
and winning 70 of them, Braid's decision to remain at
home was well rewarded as an exhibition match player.
Braid also established himself in course design, building
Gleneagles and Nairn to name but two of his many jewels.
What started as a trickle of Scots golfers to the US,
became commonplace by the turn of the century when anyone
who could swing a club on a Scots links was able to
find a lucrative niche as a professional in the US.
The early US Open Champions were all Scots born players
who, as teachers and mentors produced players that would
come to further transform the game. One notable such
player was Willie Anderson from North Berwick in Scotland,
who won the US Open four times including a present day
record of three in a row from 1903 to 1905.
1920 - 1939 : BETWEEN THE GREAT WARS
The First World War decimated Scottish golf. Every
village war memorial attests to the numbers who fell
in France and few clubs are without a memorial to some
rising star, who played out his last match on the fields
of Flanders. Some great players survived but the consequence
of terror gutted their game. Those that came through
unscathed were few in number, determined never to see
the like again and often took the decision to play in
America - golf's promised land.
There was one notable exception in the mercurial George
Duncan. Born near Aberdeen, George served his time as
a carpenter before rejecting his trade and the offer
of professional football with Aberdeen FC to become
the professional at Stonehaven, before moving to the
lucrative South and acclaim. He won the first post-war
Open at Deal in 1920 when Sandy Herd at the age of 51
was runner-up. Duncan also played in the Ryder Cups
of '27 and '29, captaining the side in 1931. Scottish
golfers were sorely tried by the wave of first generation
Americans that returned to assault the Championships
after the War. These players transformed the game, bringing
a flair and lifestyle that induced some disquiet in
the home based players.
Though life in America did not suit all tastes, with
the Dunne's and Willie Park Jr. among those who went
and returned, there were many more who did not make
the return journey. Alistair Mackenzie and Donald Ross
from Dornoch were just two who left an indelible mark
on America as course architects. The Smiths from Carnoustie,
Ben Sayers from North Berwick, Tommy Armour from Edinburgh,
the Simpsons from Elie and many others from St. Andrews
all left lasting impressions in the States and left
Scotland bereft of its best and dearest.
Jock Hutchison was the last St. Andrews born player
to win the Open, while Paul Lawrie was the last native
Scot when he won at Carnoustie in 1999. After Jock's
win, the Open was dominated by the American, Walter
Hagen who won the first of his four Open titles in 1922
at St. George's and followed up with victories in '24,
'28 and '29. Together with his compatriots Jim Barnes
(1925), Gene Sarazen (1932) and the incomparable Bobby
Jones who won in 1926 and '27, this was an unprecedented
period of Open Championship domination by US players.
The year 1922 saw 20 years old Gene Sarazen burst
onto the scene in dramatic fashion, landing both the
US Open and US PGA Championship, retaining the latter
the following year after a play off with Walter Hagen.
Hagen bounced right back after this setback and won
the next four PGA Championships from 1924 to 1927. 1923
witnessed the mercurial talent of Bobby Jones winning
the first of his four US Open titles and Jones followed
this with victory in the Open at Royal Lytham in 1926,
retaining it at St. Andrews in 1927. The Ryder Cup was
held for the first time in 1927, when the United States,
captained by Walter Hagen, took on and comprehensively
defeated their counterparts from Great Britain &
1946 - 1960 : THE EMERGENCE OF THE WORLD GAME
If the First World War decimated Scottish golf, the
second came close to gutting it completely. The First
War took the players - the Second War took the golf
The Scottish links lands border long sandy beaches,
usually in remote places of low population density.
As a result, it did not take a brilliant military mind
to reason that the links beaches would make for ideal
disembarkation sites and the courses equally perfect
places for airborne landings. The huge concrete blocks
that were erected to stop the movement of tanks from
the beaches can still be seen today. The hallowed fairways
of the Old Course were staked with massive wooden poles
to prevent aircraft landings and Turnberry made the
ultimate sacrifice when it was turned into a runway.
Few courses remained unscathed - golf was not only suspended
for the duration of the War, it was very nearly extinguished.
US golf became pre-eminent and though the Americans
may not have been entirely responsible for winning the
war, they did win the battle of postwar golf. One could
argue that not having experienced the social and economic
upheaval of Europe or the long interruption of play,
they were infinitely better prepared for the resumption
of golfing hostilities. Equally, the sheer numbers that
were now playing golf in the US made pre-eminence statistically
inevitable. Whatever the reason however, American golfers
certainly came to the fore, following the War years.
The US domination of the Open Championship itself however,
did not occur after the war as it had in the pre-war
era of Hagan and Jones.
Sceptics argue that the Americans did not play because
doing so would have resulted in loss of earnings at
home but history tells a different story. Though Sam
Snead won the first postwar Open at St. Andrews in 1946
and Ben Hogan was victorious in his only visit to Carnoustie
in 1953; every other major figure in US golf had come
and gone with notably less success. English players
were dominant in the immediate postwar years, with Cotton,
Burton, Faulkner and Daly (Irish) all winning.
It was the Colonials however, who were to do the real
damage as far as the Open was concerned. Bobby Locke
from the Transvaal, a first generation South African
Irishman and Peter Thomson, an Australian of solid Scots
about to take the golfing world by storm. These two
overwhelmed golf in a period of a few years when Locke
won in 1947 and '51 and Thomson in '54, '55, '56, '58
and again in '65. Indeed, Thomson never finished worse
than second from 1952 to 1958. Their achievements, although
less impressive in the US, were nevertheless significant.
Thomson beat Hogan on his home turf to take the Texas
Open, while Locke was the leading money winner on the
US tour. Both these players found their spiritual home
on the Scottish links where their best golf was played.
Locke was a near resident visitor throughout his life
and Thomson now has his home in St. Andrews, only a
wedge away from the R&A.
1961 - TODAY: THE TRULY GLOBAL GAME OF GOLF
The record books do not lie and Scottish Golf, though
healthy at home, was faring ill abroad. The game had
become truly global with players from Taiwan and Japan
threatening for major honours. The Swedes were gathering
amateur honours throughout Europe and there seemed no
end to the talent emerging from Spain.
American Golf had come into maturity with a vengeance
in the form of Arnold Palmer. Palmer played the game
as it should be played - with
verve and a swashbuckling style. Palmer was of course
idolized in his own country but he found real appreciation
in the discerning crowds that lined the links fairways
of the Open Championship. Together with Tip Anderson,
his St. Andrews caddie, Palmer was lord of every links
In Palmers absence in 1964, Tip Anderson carried the
bag of Tony Lema through the most testing gales on the
Old Course. It was Lema's win more than any other event
that put paid to the excuse that the game had changed
and that the new form of golf required only an accurate
lofted shot to a soft pulpy green - a shot at which
the Americans were clearly adept. The leader board of
the '64 Open showed that Jack Nicklaus and plenty more
US stars could play the chip-and-run under the wind
as well as any that had gone before and as well as any
of the home bred players.
The reason for the Scottish golfing hiatus during this
period may be simply statistical, as the game had grown
to the extent that the numbers now playing in every
developed country dwarfed the numbers playing in Scotland.
There is no doubt that the game itself had changed with
the new courses that were being built throughout the
world. American architects led by Robert Trent Jones
were building courses that were both long and difficult.
Greens were soft and holding in contrast to the hard
running greens of the links. The grassy fairways presented
another type of problem as the ball sat up on the lush
grasses and required club contact quite different to
that on the tight lies of the links. Possibly of greater
significance was the early adoption in the US of the
'big ball' - the 1.66-inch ball that required a different
strike and made for greater control.
Great exponents of the game poured out of the US and
the US Tour was becoming a multi-million dollar industry
with even mediocre golfers, grossing millions of dollars
not only through tournament play but also through commercial
endorsements. Tip Anderson was still caddying at home
in St. Andrews when he attained celebrity status in
the US without ever setting foot outside the British
Isles, backing Palmer in a beer commercial. Television
coverage ensured star-status for many players and the
American College System, to their credit, acted as a
virtual conveyor belt of talent.
Following the foundation of the European Tour and the
opening of the Ryder
Cup to European players, sponsorship grew and European
golf blossomed into a money market comparable to that
of the US tour. One final ingredient was required however
- a star with the charisma of a Palmer and the appeal
of a Nicklaus. And so as they say, a star was born.
1979 saw a smiling young genius becoming the first Spaniard
to win the Open, with Jack Nicklaus coming second in
the race for the Claret Jug for a record seventh time
- Seve had arrived on the world scene.
The 1980's began with Seve Ballesteros becoming the
first European to win the Masters and at 23 years old,
the then youngest champion. Nicklaus however, continued
his remarkable career with his fifth double-major year,
winning his fourth US Open and fifth PGA title. Seve
won his second
Masters title in 1983 and the following season, he collected
his second Open Championship when finishing two strokes
ahead of Bernhard Langer and Tom Watson, who was attempting
to equal Harry Vardon's record of six Open Championship
Lee Trevino won his second US PGA Championship in 1984,
made all the more special by the fact that only eight
years previously, he was seriously injured having been
struck by a lightning bolt. Germany's Bernhard Langer
turned the tables on Ballesteros in 1985, beating him
in the Masters and gaining revenge for his two-shot
defeat in the Open the previous year. 1985 also witnessed
the first European success in the Ryder Cup and two
years later the US team tasted defeat again but this
time on home soil. The Masters of 1986 was perhaps the
most thrilling of all. A fantastic late surge from the
Golden Bear saw him win his sixth Masters title at the
age of 46 - his 21st major victory in an as of yet unparalleled
The glory days of Scottish golf briefly returned in
1985 when Sandy Lyle triumphed in the Open Championship
at Royal St. George's and the amiable Scot added a further
major title at the Masters in 1988. Though Ballesteros
won his third Open with a scintillating final round
of 65, domination of the
world game by Nick Faldo had already begun when he won
his first major title at Muirfield in 1987, shooting
par on every hole in his final round. Two years later,
Faldo shot an amazing closing 65 to force a Masters
play off with Scott Hoch, which he duly won on the second
extra hole. Faldo's best year came in 1990 when he became
the only player since Nicklaus to defend his Masters
title. Just a few months later, Faldo played the most
devastating golf of his life in winning his second Open
title at St. Andrews and he duly added his third Open
two years later, again at Muirfield.
Greg Norman's second Open success came at Royal St.
George's in 1993. His two-stroke victory over Faldo
prompted the late, great Gene Sarazen to comment that
this was the greatest championship of all time. Major
champions have come and gone over the years, with O'
Meara, Olazabal, Stewart and Lawrie among those whose
names are now etched on the most prized possessions
Not until 1994, did a player with the potential to
the greatness of past legends, come along. Speculation
started when Tiger Woods won the US Amateur Championship,
continued when he retained it the following year, grew
when he became the youngest ever champion at the Masters
and climaxed as he stormed to six wins out of six starts
in the 1999/2000 season. Though Tiger may have a long
way to go to be classed in the same league as Palmer
and Nicklaus, there are not many who would bet against
Courtesy of GolfTravelScotland