Royal St. Luke’s Golf Club (Est. 1603)
From: The Secretary
Golf has long hungered for a definitive history of its origins – a history which would determine who actually teed up the first feathery and pulled out the first driver. Now at last, two members of Royal St Lukes, Prof. David Purdie and the artist and caricaturist Hugh Dodd, have done just that. Their forthcoming book The Greatest Game – subtitled The Ancyent & Healthfulle Exercyse of the Golff – fearlessly charges into the debates on the game’s origins that have raged in caddy huts and clubhouses for centuries. As Colin Montgomerie says in a witty Foreword, the authors are to be congratulated on basing their historical statements firmly on fact where available – and equally firmly on fantasy, when not…
The results of their research work, which has lured them into archives, museums and 19th holes all over the world, are quite remarkable. For example, they have discovered that the earliest club actually antedates Homo sapiens, having been found alongside remains of our ancestor Australopithecus afarensis in Africa and dated to roughly 3.2 million years ago. This is considerably older even than the R&A and, as one had always suspected, clearly establishes golf as the primal primate sport.
Insights burst in on every hand. The classic warning cry of ‘Fore!’ is actually the Latin Foro! (to the Forum!) the cry that went up when ill-directed featheries hurtled among citizens in the Eternal City’s forum, or marketplace. These had been hit, or rather sliced, from the adjoining Field of Mars by Gen. Julius Agricola and his staff officers who had learned the game in Caledonia (Scotland) following the foolhardy invasion of that country by the Emperor I Claudius. Thus, the Scots do seem to have been the game’s originators, probably by foursomes of hairy warriors who, tired of endless caber tossing, began whacking rounded pebbles into rabbit holes with discarded deer antlers. The next to take golf home with them – and then loudly claim it as their own – were the Ming Chinese. Apparently the Emperor Yong Li sent his top admiral Zheng Ho off in a fleet of giant ocean-going junks in 1430 to spread Chinese seapower to theWest. Eight months later, Zheng dropped anchor off North Berwick and bartered with the astonished locals who, in return for jade and ivory goods, sent him away with drivers, spoons, mashies, featheries and dried porridge.
This whole tale seems far fetched until it is remembered that the 10th hole on the great North Berwick links is actually called Eastward Ho!, clearly commemorating the event. The game, known in China as Chu’iWan, (hit-ball with-stick in Mandarin) took a rather different evolutionary track from that in its homeland. Chu’iWan today involves what can only be described as synchronised golf, with teams of four playing shots in perfect unison while wearing identical clothing – and wide, fixed grins. The game ends with synchronised sand-wedge throwing (known in China as Ping Fling) an activity of which the R&A – and our new Conservative administration – are likely to disapprove.
Not surprisingly, the Dutch come in for some stick – indeed for some serious stiffshafted bashing – in the book, for daring to suggest that golf is a Scots descendant of kolf in the Netherlands. The authors prove conclusively that it’s the other way round. Some linguistic tongue-twisting is cited to show that their kolf is actually just our golf with a “k”, ok? Had golf come from over there, the game would not have been golf but colf over here, just as we get our cookie from the Dutch koekje, coleslaw from koolsla and so tastily on.
Turning to more modern times, the gaps in the game’s history are filled in by Purdie & Dodd with relentless, evidence-free efficiency. The red colour of ladies tee boxes is unerringly traced to the flame-haired Mary Queen of Scots, whose execution in 1583 was a result not of her schemes to depose Good Queen Bess, but due to her persistent attempts to spread golf south of the Border. This would be achieved later by her son King James VI & I (the Founder of Royal St Lukes) but his mother’s inability to keep her head down over the golf issue led, ultimately, to her inability to keep it on...
One of the great discoveries made by the authors is that the aforesaid King James’s favourite actor, oneWm. Shakespeare no less, was a strolling player in more senses than one. A meticulous trawl through the plays and sonnets of the Swan of Avon leaves little doubt: In Titus Andronicus we hear Quintus lamenting the rudimentary greenkeeping on late mediaeval courses. He arrives on a tee of what is clearly a terrifying par five and says grimly to his squire (caddy):
What subtle hole is this, cover’d with rude-growing briers, upon whose leaves are drops of new-shed blood?
– a very fatal place it seems to me... Similarly, in his poem A Lover’s Complaint we find:
They did Battery to the spheres intend; but their poor balls are tied to the orbed earth.
How regrettable that the speech of our British caddies has moved on from this glorious language to the arid techno-babble of the present day. Asked by the player where on earth his mishit drive has gone, the caddy will now simply point. No longer will he say:
“A poor ball, Sir. It rose not, neither did it fly – but briefly scuttled as it hugged the jealous ground. Yonder it lies – tied to the orbed earth….”
Finally, The Greatest Game sheds light, at long last, on the origins of the game’s often terminally obscure vocabulary. The Stymie, it turns out, derives from Capt. John Stymie, R.N., the Stableford system from Dr Frank Gorton Stableford ofWallasey GC and the Mulligan from Dermot F. Mulligan of Ballinasloe, Co. Galway.
The latter is perhaps the most extraordinary of all. Mulligan suffered from Type II PAS (progressive ano-rectal stenosis) a rare but embarrassing condition in which bowel narrowing accelerates gas passing along it to remarkable velocities. This turns the terminal bowel in to what is known in aviation as a ramjet.When the ramjet operates, often without warning, the patient is instantly projected 8 feet forwards if standing – and one foot upwards if recumbent. After repeatedly jetting into his playing partners on the 1st tee at Correenbeg GC, a Local Rule had to be enacted whereby any player distracted or cannoned into by Dermot Mulligan while driving, might retake the shot without penalty. This naturally became known as a Mulligan and spread world wide as the term for a free reload.
As Montgomerie concludes in the Foreword: “to describe the book further here would be, to misquote Mark Twain – a good read spoiled. Enjoy….”