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30 Dec 2009

Something On Golf

Disclaimer: This is purely a write-up for non-players like me, whose interest lie primarily in the game for purposes other than playing viz. general knowledge, understanding what cute golfers say on their albums, being able to spit out a few terms when drunk and confuse a few fellow-drunks, etc.

Recently, I read that GOLF stands for 'Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden'. It sounded weird that a sport so popular could carry such gender bias. I was looking for a book on the internet and chanced upon a weblink that had FAQs on golf. The second question in the list caught my eye. It asked if golf really stood for 'Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden'. Here's the answer:

Did the word "golf" originate as an acronym for "gentlemen only, ladies forbidden"? That's a common old wives' tale. Or, in this case, more likely an old husband's tale.

No, "golf" is not an acronym for "gentlemen only, ladies forbidden." If you've ever heard that, forget it immediately. Better yet, find the person who told you and let them know it's not true.

Like most modern words, the word "golf" derives from older languages and dialects. In this case, the languages in question are medieval Dutch and old Scots.

The medieval Dutch word "kolf" or "kolve" meant "club." It is believed that word passed to the Scots, whose old Scots dialect transformed the word into "golve," "gowl" or "gouf."

By the 16th Century, the word "golf" had emerged.

Sources: British Golf Museum, USGA Library

Such a relief. Considering that there are women golfers around the world, it's good to know that there is a real story to the origination than cheesy acronyms.

Speaking of origination, there was another interesting question on who invented golf. The answer says that golf "as we know it" emerged from Scotland but it didn't quite originate from there.

Here's what the USGA Museum says about the issue: "While many Scots firmly maintain that golf evolved from a family of stick-and-ball games widely practiced throughout the British Isles during the Middle Ages, considerable evidence suggests that the game derived from stick-and-ball games that were played in France, Germany and the Low Countries."

Part of that evidence is the etymology of the word "golf" itself. "Golf" derives from the Old Scots terms "golve" or "goff," which themselves evolved from the medieval Dutch term "kolf."

The medieval Dutch term "kolf" meant "club," and the Dutch were playing games (mostly on ice) at least by the 14th Century in which balls were struck by sticks that were curved at the bottom until they were moved from Point A to Point B. Sounds a lot like hockey, doesn't it? Except that it sort of sounds like golf, too (except for that ice part).

Something else that lends credence to that idea: Although the Scots played their game on parkland (rather than ice), they (or least some of them) were using balls they acquired in trade from ... Holland.

And the Dutch game wasn't the only similar game of the Middle Ages. Going back even farther, the Romans brought their own stick-and-ball game into the British Isles.

So does that mean that the Dutch (or someone else other than that Scots) invented golf? No, it means that golf grew out of games that were played in different parts of Europe.

But we're not trying to deny the Scots their place in golf history. The Scots made a singular improvement to all the games that came before: They dug a hole in the ground, and made getting the ball into that hole the object of the game.

As we said at the beginning, for golf as we know it, we definitely have the Scots to thank.

What's with golf and the animal fixation? Did the Scots love animals so much as to name their game after them? Or were they plain lazy (I can believe this)? I went through a list of golf slang and they have terms that include cat, dog, duck, chicken, goat, frog and even worm! Amazing! The comprehensive 'not slang' golf glossary is not too far behind either. Albatross, Birdie, Eagle, Fish... oh dear!

Ok, my knowledge of the subject is limited (read nil), so no point pretending to write. Heading off to get a good night's sleep.


  1. Besides the fact that I lived in front of a golf course for most of my childhood, I knew absolutely nothing about golf until I read this post!

    Thanks for all the history and for your comments on my blog! I look forward to reading more.

  2. I am sure you are learning Golf well these days. I am sure some cute men (at least as women think) can make any women learn new things.