Golf

Games played with clubs/mallets and balls have been played across Europe for many centuries and today several still exist. Geert and Sara Nijs in their book 'Games for Kings and Commoners' summarise them nicely:

  • The game of 'Crosse' or 'Crossage' or 'Choule' or 'Chole' originated in the Low countries - the earliest documented reference is from 1332. It is a team game most commonly played on a clear field but also sometimes played in streets, towns and the countryside. One side attempts to reach a target in a set amount of strokes, the other team are allowed to strike the ball away. A few variants of Crosse are still played today around the Belgian / French border.
  • Another game called 'colf' mentioned in a poem dated 1261 is another ancient game about which less is known. It seems to have been played with a curved club and ball in the streets, churchyards and the fields around the town. It's likely that again the objective was to reach a target (such as a tree, a hole, a gap in a hedge or a rock) in the least number of strokes. The game is recorded being played on frozen lakes during the 16th and 17th centuries but seems to have died about by the end of the 17th century.
  • The famous and royal game of Pall Mall (in England) or Game of Mail (in France) was extremely prominent during the 1600s and there are 2 famous London streets that used to be alleys for the game - 'The Mall' and 'Pall Mall'. There is a separate detailed page on the history of Pall Mall for more information on this phenomenal but extinct sport of kings.
  • In the 1700s, a miniature version of Pall Mall appeared called 'Kolf' in Holland. Kolf is just a version of the game played on a 22 yard court. It is still popular today as an indoor sport which is organised by the Netherlands Kolf Union.
  • And then of course there is Golf, a modern sporting phenomenon.

Colf is probably the ancestor of Pall Mall and Golf. Joseph Lauthier mentions 4 forms of the game Pall Mall, one of which is called Chicane - a less formal variety - "it is played in open country, in avenues, roads, and any place where people are wont to meet: the first stroke is usually a tee shot, after which the ball must be played wherever it lies...The match is finished when the ball strikes a particular tree or a marked stone serving as a goal or passes through certain narrow gaps, which have been agreed on...". The version of Pall Mall played until relatively recently in the Montpelier region was essentially Chicane. Chicane seems to match almost exactly the general description of Colf and it's not difficult to imagine the aristocracy converting the country game to a more formal (and expensive) variant for their 'superior' amusement. Similarly, the evolution of colf or Chicane into Golf does not require a vivid imagination. All the elements are there. The simple insistence that the target be a hole would turn Chicane into a game that most people would recognise as a form of Golf.

For now, this webpage will not continue further regarding golf since there are hundreds of books and websites discussing the many facets of the history of golf since it's genesis in Scotland. Let's just leave you with the following snippet.

Shown is a display cabinet at the Royal Perth Golfing Society, the home of one of the oldest courses in Scotland.

The putter second from the right is a replica of one that sold for 95,000 in 1998, a world record at the time.

Some of the clubs in the cabinet shown have great names e.g:

  • Smooth-Faced Rut Niblik
  • Track Iron with Well Dished Face
  • Long Nosed Play Club
  • Long Nosed Scare Head Baffing Spoon
  • Square Toe Iron
  • Mid Iron with well Knopped Hozel

Links

The Kolf Web Museum

Ancient Golf by Geert & Sara Nijs in Holland