Sports are often associated with their countries of origin. It’s impossible to think of baseball without thinking of the United States, surfing without thinking of Hawaii, or cricket without thinking of England. So it’s inevitable that you can’t think of golf, without thinking of Scotland.
However, it’s possible that the game actually originated in The Netherlands and was also played in Belgium. One early reference is that of a Flemish poet, Jacob van Maerlant, writing in Middle Dutch of a ball game played with a club.
The history of golf is littered with legalities. In 1360 the council of Brussels banned the game of “colf” – “colf” being a term for a club. This later became the word “gowf” in Scots (a Germanic language related to English) and “golf” in English.
The earliest definite records of what we know of as golf today date from a 1457 Act of the Scottish Parliament where King James II banned both the games of “gowf” and “futball” because they were a distraction from men practicing archery for war. The town council of Edinburgh in 1592 decreed that golf should not be played on the Sabbath. It seems that the Scots had conflicting views on what would later become their national sport.
The first golf course in the world still in operation is generally agreed to be The Old Links at Mussleburgh, which has been operating since 1672. Mary Queen of Scots is supposed to have played there in 1567, and King James II of England, who was also James VII of Scotland, played there in 1681.
Golf has been played for centuries with various rules but the earliest surviving set of rules dates from 1744.
Golf’s international spread came about because when the Scottish royal family became also the English royal family, there came to be a lot of Scottish regiments playing their role in the creation of the British Empire. But golf didn’t really hit its international stride until the late 1800s and the English enthusiasm for all things Scottish was made easier by the development of fast rail services between London and Edinburgh. The industrial revolution is as much to take credit for the spread of gold as anything else.
If you’ve ever wondered why golf balls are pitted instead of smooth, it turns out that golfers noticed that old smooth balls with pits in them travelled further than smooth balls, so they stopped making smooth balls altogether.
Notwithstanding the importance of balls, If tennis is all about the racket, golf is all about the clubs, so the big brand names in golf are the premium makers of clubs as well as balls.
Some of the top golf brands include, in alphabetical order:
For all its English-sounding name, Bridgestone is actually a multinational Japanese car and truck manufacturer famous for its tires. Founded by Shojiro Ishibashi in 1931, “Bridgestone” is actually a translation of the founder’s name, “stone bridge”. It started making golf balls in 1935, moving on to clubs in 1972. Bridgestone Golf is based in Covington, Georgia, USA.
Callaway Golf / Odyssey Golf
Founded in 1982 by Ely Callaway Junior who was previously involved in textiles and wines. Callaway was a golf enthusiast. Selling his vineyards he bought Hickory Sticks USA, who made golf clubs with hickory wood with steel cores. In the 1990s Callaway spent three years and $170 million dollars in research and development to create a state-of-the-art golf ball and to build the plant to manufacture it. They investigated hundreds of variations of ball cores, boundary layers and dimple patterns. The result was the Rule 35 Ball. They must be doing something right. Annual revenues are over a billion dollars. They also market under the Odyssey brand, acquired in 1997.
Founded by Roger Cleveland in 1997 in Huntington Beach, California, this company is famous for its 588 wedge, released in 1988. The 588 is still one of the best-selling golf clubs of all time. Cleveland is now owned by Sumitomo Rubber Industries Ltd.
Founded in 1973 by former Australian amateur golf champion Thomas Crow, Cobra’s main innovations include the “Baffler” – the world’s first utility wood, which created a whole new category of clubs in 1975, an extended head 46” driver with a graphite head and shaft, and the King Cobra oversized irons, another new category in 1992. Cobra continues to innovate, exploring designs refined by new materials.
Titleist is the main brand of the Acushnet Company, founded in 1910 to produce deresinated rubber. Acushnet created its golf division in 1932 which became its main focus. The Titleist ball is the company’s most successful product.