It is generally agreed that the game originated in Scotland where it was called golf or gouf and first played in the 1400's. The name of the game however, was borrowed from the Dutch, more precisely as an alteration of Middle Dutch colf or colve, meaning stick, club, or bat (modern Dutch kolf), used in the Netherlands in a ball game called kolven, played on frozen canals and lakes.
The game thus probably evolved from different variants of games played with stick and ball in Holland and elsewhere, but it were the Scots who introduced that simple element missing from all other club-and-ball passtimes that makes the uniqueness of the game of golf: the hole.
What is the origin of the word "golf" ?
The interjection used in golf dates from 1878 and is probably a contraction of before.
According to another plausible theory it could be the contraction of 'forecaddie'. The forecaddie was a person employed to go ahead of players where the ball might land and reduce the number of lost balls. It is probable that, over time, the word forecaddie was shortened to "Fore!" when yelled as a warning to this person of the fact the ball was coming, and the word has remained in use since.
Why do golfers shout "fore" to warn others of an errant shot?
Why is the golf hole the size it is?
First, it should be noted that the term "hole" is used to designate either the actual hole in the ground into which the ball is played, or the whole area from the teeing ground to the putting green.
This being said, the reason why golf courses are 18 holes in length is partly an accident of history. The early golf courses all had different numbers of holes, varying from 5 to 25 holes, usually as many holes as the land would carry or the club could afford. Some courses were played back and forth, either entirely or partly.
It was the case for example at the Old Course of St Andrews, were the 12 holes were laid out in a line and 10 holes were played twice - once 'out' and once back 'in', making a 'round' of 22 holes. However, in 1764, the golfers decided to combine the first four holes into two, which produced a round of 18 holes, though it was really 10 holes of which 8 were played twice.
By 1857, St Andrews had put second holes in the 8 double greens, creating a proper round of 18 holes, and in 1858 the St Andrews club laid down a round of 18 holes for matches between its own members.
After St Andrews, Carnoustie extended their ten holes to eighteen holes in 1867. It would be the first with 18 separate fairways and greens.
The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews were given control of the Rules of Golf in the UK in 1897, probably adding further weight to the 18 hole round. It was not until 1950 however that the 18 hole round was laid down in the Rules of Golf.
Note that the "19th hole" is the colloquial term for the bar at a club house.
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The size of 4.25 inches dates back to 1829 when the first ever hole-cutting tool was used at the Musselburgh outside Edinburgh, Scotland. In 1893, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, the governing body of the game, decided that the golf hole ought to be a uniform size throughout the world, and took the holes at Musselburgh that happened to be 4.25 inches wide as a standard. It has remained so everywhere, ever since.
How did the term "par" acquire its golf meaning?
The word par in the sense of a score used as a standard for a particular hole or course (representing the number of strokes taken if the hole or course is played ideally), i.e. a mesure of course difficulty, is first recorded in the golf lexicon in 1898-1900 and is probably derived from the stock exchange term par value, the nominal value or face value of a stock, which is fixed as opposed to the market value, which fluctuates.
Why are golf courses 18 holes in length?
Golf Balls Faqs
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Golf Tees Faqs
References and external links:
Chambers Dictionary of Etymology, Chambers, N.Y., 2000
The Encyclopedia of Golf by Malcolm Campbell, Dorling Kindersley Ltd, London, 1991