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"The little-known stories behind well-known inventions"

As women compete on the PGA Tour, find out how golf was invented nearly 500 years ago          By Paul Niemann

"It is no coincidence that the people who invented golf also invented Scotch." -- Bruce Manclark, 1999

[JUNE 1, 2006]  Last year, 16-year-old Michelle Wie became the second female golfer, following Annika Sorenstam, to compete on the PGA Men's Tour since Babe Didrikson Zaharias first did it in 1945. This reminded me of the story of how the word "golf" might be an acronym for "gentlemen only -- ladies forbidden."

Not knowing whether it was fact or folklore -- after all, I had read it on the Internet -- my curiosity got the best of me and I decided to investigate. In the process, I found that there are several competing versions as to when and where golf was invented.

In baseball, there are those who say that the game was invented by Abner Doubleday, whose descendents now run the New York Mets. Others claim that Alexander Cartwright invented it. Either way, there are only two competing versions.

Like baseball, the origin of golf has never been clearly established. Unlike baseball, though, there are four or five competing versions as to when and where the game originated.

The earliest version of golf came from the Romans during Julius Caesar's reign, when the game was played with a cowhide-type of ball stuffed with feathers and struck with club-shaped branches. There are stories of the Dutch playing on frozen canals around 1425. Variations of golf were also played in France and Belgium. The main flaw with the Dutch and French versions lies in the fact that they lacked at least one essential element of the game -- the hole.

Golf as we know it today actually originated in Scotland around 1450. Its exact origins are unknown, but it is believed that golf originated with men AND women along the Scottish coast hitting a pebble with a stick, although the game may have first been played in the Scottish moors by shepherds.

In 1457, King James II temporarily banned golf in Scotland because it interfered with the practice of archery, which was vital to the country's national defense. The residents, though, ignored the ban and began playing on seaside courses called "links," a term still used today to refer to golf courses. King James' son, James III, and his grandson, James IV, also tried to ban golf in Scotland but, like a drunk trying to enforce prohibition, James IV took up the game himself.

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King James VI of Scotland, who later became known as King James I of England, brought the sport with him from Scotland around 1603. King James' mother, Mary Queen of Scots, also took up the game of golf.

The St. Andrews golf course in Scotland is the world's oldest course. A number of 6-, 8-, 9-, and 12-hole courses were opened in the United States around 1890, and the first 18-hole course, the Chicago Golf Club, was founded in 1893.

So where does the word "golf" come from and what does it mean?

It turns out that the word golf is not an acronym at all; it is derived from the Scottish word "gowf," meaning "to strike."

While the "gentlemen only -- ladies forbidden" philosophy still forbids women from becoming members at Augusta, this is not the case with the PGA Tour. PGA stands for Professional Golf Association. Nowhere does it state that it is the "men's PGA." The LPGA Tour, on the other hand, states clearly in its title that it's for ladies and, as a result, allows only female players to compete. But I doubt that the women's game will ever be renamed as "lomf," which would stand for "ladies only -- men forbidden."

[Paul Niemann]

Paul Niemann may be reached at You can learn more about Invention Mysteries by visiting the official Invention Mysteries website.

Copyright Paul Niemann 2006

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