Like most other sports, the history of golf is long and varied before it became the game that we know and love. There is evidence of games that are similar to golf being played in ancient Rome and in China around the 12th Century. As you might already know, the modern game of golf – one which is recognisable as the same game we play now – arose in Scotland in the Middle Ages.
The first official recording of the game of golf is in a ban of the game that was issued by King James II of Scotland which forbade the playing of the game on the basis that it distracted from the practice of shooting bows, an important element of military training in the era. Golf went through a series of bans over the next few centuries, with frequent accusations that it was a distraction and had no value. Despite these bans, there was an undercurrent of hypocrisy as many members of the nobility and royal family took to playing golf and it began to develop its personality as an “exclusive” game.
Golf gradually became more of a socially acceptable game in Scotland – although there were still recommendations against playing it on the Sabbath – and as Scotland became part of the UK and the British Empire at large, the game began to spread around the world. The game was popular amongst Scottish soldiers, so when they were stationed in the colonies it would be spread to the locals and gain popularity there as well.
In the mid-19th century, a combination of new technology like the railway, royal interest and the works of romantic novelists resulted in a massive boom in interest in Scotland, and in turn the game of golf. This boost in popularity resulted in golf being firmly established across the British Empire and beyond, with notable courses being created in Ireland, the USA, Japan and right here in Australia.
With new popularity, came new evolutions in how the game was played – most notably in terms of equipment and the launch of golfing associations for competitions. By the 1930s the golf ball had been standardised, and the United States Golf Association had taken its place as the foremost authority on how golf is played.
The rest is, as they say, history.