History & Stories of the Game of Golf


Played by over 25 million Americans young and old, the game of golf is centuries old and rich with history. Join Active Minds as we trace golf's evolution from ancient times to Scotland, America, and beyond. We will visit the legendary players of the game--Nicklaus, Palmer, Woods--as well as the legendary courses--Augusta, Pebble Beach--as we tee up some of the best stories of the game. No golf knowledge required to attend--just a curiosity about a curious game.

Key Lecture Points

  • The origins of the game of golf are oft disputed. Many credit the term “golf” as originating from a 13th Century Dutch game using a club called a “kolf”. That said, some Asian scholars suggest that the Dutch derived their game from a Chinese game called “Chuiwan”, from the Mandarin for “hitting a ball”. Historical records document the playing of Chuiwan as early as 943CE.
  • Although golf has origins in the Netherlands (and, perhaps, China), it was the Scots who made it the game we know today. Although initially banned by Scottish King James II (as a distraction from military training), later Scottish King James IV would lift the ban and take up the game himself.
  • The Society of Saint Andrews Golfers, later designated the Royal & Ancient, was founded in 1754. 10 years later the Society would re-configure the “Old Course” (which had been played dating back to the 15th century), creating a course of 18 holes, thus creating the standard upon which all golf courses are based.
  • The British Empire and the Industrial Revolution helped popularize the sport. Introduced in 1848, the “gutta percha” ball, made from rubber from the gutta percha tree from Southeast Asia, was less expensive, flew further, and could withstand the force of newly introduced metal clubs.
  • After golf spread to the US, the United States Golf Association was formed in 1894. Today, the rules of the game of golf are governed by the USGA in the US and the Royal & Ancient in the rest of the world. Since 1951, the R&A and the USGA have held a summit every four years to discuss and resolve discrepancies between the two bodies rules.
  • The first professional golf tournament was held in 1860 at the Prestwick Club outside of Glasgow Scotland. This became the “Open Championship” the following year when amateurs were welcomed. Today, there are 4 “major tournaments”: the Masters, the US Open, the British Open, and the PGA Championship.

Exploration Questions

  • How is golf different from other professional sports?
  • Golf has been played for at least 400 years, why do you think it has remained so popular for so long?
  • How has golf’s image as a sport changed during the 20th century?

Reflective Questions

  • Are you a golfer? If so, what is your favorite course? Did you ever hit a hole in one?
  • Who is your favorite professional golfer? Why?

More to Explore

Books For Further Reading

  • Feinstein, John. Tales from Q School: Inside Golf’s Fifth Major. Back Bay Books, 2008. 368 pages. An inside look at the annual PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament, the grueling competition at which veterans and hopefuls compete for the 30 slots available on the PGA Tour.
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  • Frost, Mark. The Grand Slam: Bobby Jones, America and the Story of Golf. Hyperion, 2005. 512 pages. Frost tells the story of Bobby Jones who won the British Amateur Championship, British Open, US Open and the US Amateur Championship in 4 months—a Grand Slam that has never been repeated.
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