Want to get in a fight in Scotland?

Okay, just about anything will get you into a fight in Scotland but if you want a guaranteed way to get a headbutt and then kicked when you are on the ground, tell them they did not invent golf, the world's most frustrating pastime.

Dr. Heiner Gillmeister, sports historian at the University of Bonn, wrote a 2002 article (The International Journal of the History of Sport - Vol. 19, No 1, 2002) saying that the Low Countries were the cradle of the Scottish national game.  Since then it has been open season on its origins, with the French claiming it and the Dutch making the rounds with the claim ever since.  Like everything else, the Chinese also claim to have invented golf a thousand years before Europe.  It's only natural that they now lead the world in knock-offs and counterfeits in retaliation.

So what's the truth?  We have to keep in mind that balls and sticks have been whacked forever but we are talking about actual golf. In the 15th century French Book of Hours, an image shows a group playing the ball and stick game known as pallemail.  In the foreground, teams are playing a game using a ball and sticks and one team stands on a rough area hitting a ball towards a short green area.  The players are aiming at a wooden "piquet", what authors Michael Flannery and Richard Leech contend is a flag marking the location of the hole - that tiny, infuriating, elusive hole is the essential element in golf. So it is French, those two write in "Golf Through The Ages, 600 Years of Golfing Art".

"The golf banned by James II was in fact a form of crosse, a game which was being played across Europe at that time and being banned in many countries because it often resulted in violence and disorder," Flannery told The Scotsman about his claim.

Indeed, Scotland's claim to being the country of the game's origin rests on the Acts of Parliament around the same time. In a resolution dated March 6th, 1457, football and golf were banned. That has to be evidence for Scotland, since it was so popular it was banned, right?  Not necessarily. "It is somewhat strange that a quiet sport such as golf should be mentioned together with football, a game which frequently was the cause of public riots, great damage and injuries", said Dr Gillmeister as circumstantial evidence. His belief is that the term "golf" in those Acts never referred to golf as we know it, but to the dangerous predecessor of modern hockey played with a shepherd's crook. 

Certainly hockey makes more sense for the Scottish temperament than pastoral golf - but you'd better be carrying an axe if you say that out loud. Gillmeister's 'chief witness' was a Scottish nobleman from St Andrews, of all places, Sir Gilbert Hay. Around 1460, Hay wrote a romance dealing with King Alexander. "Here Hay decribed a game played with a 'golf-staff', a golf club, but in which the ball was driven to and fro between two teams", says Dr Gillmeister. "This description has very little in common with modern golf, but much more to do with hockey."

The word "golf" linguistically is derived from the Dutch "kolve" or "kolf" or "colf", which denoted a shepherd's crook.
we know colf was played as early as 1297 because city ordinances set out land for colf courses and there were fines for playing colf within the town walls. But golf is another animal, despite the name similarity. As is croquet and lacrosse. Flemish and Dutch miniaturists and painters have left pictorial evidence of the actual golf game from the fifteenth to the beginning of the eighteenth century. A document testifying to the existence of golf in the Low Countries was discovered in a Latin primer completed in 1545. In it, Pieter van Afferden attempted to teach Latin by describing scenes from everyday life. A whole chapter of the booklet is devoted to the game of golf. Van Afferden even mentioned five rules to which players have to obey, like that a player must be allowed to swing freely and his opponent has to step back. Says Gillmeister, "The text supports the view that golf had been played on the European continent and according to rather sophisticated rules long before it eventually made an appearance in Scotland."

Even the Germans, who have a reputation for lagging behind their European neighbors in sports, beat the Scots at least as far as golfing literature is concerned. In Scotland, the first explicit description of golf didn't appear until 1636. Gillmeister used historical linguistics to make his claim, not historical evidence, and conceded, "My theory will not exactly be received with much enthusiasm in Scotland."

Indeed. Wear a football helmet when you visit.

So where did it originate?  When the founder of Science 2.0 has a name like Campbell, you have to conclude golf is Scottish.  Anything else seemingly similar must be lumped in as Crazy Golf - because Golf was invented in Scotland.