When a game has been around as long as golf has, there’s bound to be a bit of storytelling in the mythos. In fact, it should come as no surprise that this legendary sport has its fair share of tall tales that have, no doubt, been passed on for a very long time. But is there any truth behind these legends? The answer is: No, not much. Here, we debunk three of the most wide-spread fables in golf history.
While this tale certainly isn’t without its charms, it doesn’t have history on its side and I’d venture to guess that it was likely lore dreamed up by sauced up Scots. While games similar to golf that have been played since the times of the Romans, the old country’s famous course at St. Andrew’s dates as far back as at least 1552. Before the days of regulation, the number of holes could range anywhere from five to twenty four. In 1764, when the first four holes of the Old Course were combined into two, the standard eighteen that are played today were born. So unless the scotch bottle shrank (not likely), this one is wholly untrue.
Mary, Queen of Scots is reputed to be the first female to play golf. During her youth in France, it was tradition for military cadets to carry the clubs of royalty. These cadets became known as “caddies” and the word is reputed to have traveled back to Scotland when her highness returned in 1561. And while it’s a nice story, there are a myriad of reasons this story probably isn’t true (the claim that the Queen was the first woman to play golf is extremely unlikely, for one).
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “caddie” comes from the French word, cadet, meaning a younger/junior in the branch of the family. The first known written use of the word dates to 1610 when it meant “a gentleman who entered the army without a commission to learn the military profession and find a career for himself” (as was regularly done by sons of French nobility before the revolution).
Fast forward a bit, and caddie became used as a term for an errand boy in the Scottish 18th century, particularly used when referring to the delivery of water in the age before modern utilities. It wasn’t until 1857 that caddies were mentioned carrying golf clubs. Prior to that, as evidenced by paintings from the ages, there were no bags and the clubs were carried in a bundle, proving this to be another piece of folklore in the world of this great sport.
I saved the whopper for last and, sorry to break it to you, boys: This one is completely false. The word, golf first appeared in the written language in 1425. There are two theories surrounding the term’s origins: The first, speculating the term being derivative of the Dutch word kolf, a generic term for “stick” or “club”. However, the Oxford English Dictionary colors that unlikely for several reasons, among them being that no Dutch game has ever been convincingly identified as golf. Many historians theorize the word derived from the Scottish goulf (also gowf), a verb meaning “to strike or cuff”. This would at least place the term coming from what we now recognize as the people who invented the game.
As for the term being an acronym, it’s an unsubstantiated rumor that likely gets passed on due to its believability. The game has a long history of being played by men. When coupled with the fact that there are still several courses which don’t allow females to play, this one gets difficult to debunk.
Personally, I’d prefer the term, flog (‘golf’ backwards). It’s much more accurate anyway.