Royal St. Luke’s Golf Club (Est. 1603)
From: The Secretary
A recent State Visit to St Lukes - and to the R&A - by a Chinese delegation has prompted me to enquire as to the origins of that great country’s game of Chui Wan. This, we were told firmly by the visitors, is the original game from which ourGolf emerged. Imageswere shown tome of the Emperor Xuan Xong (Ming dynasty) hitting a stationary ball with a club towards a hole in the ground. The hole is flagged. This was initially extremely worrying, as theMing Dynasty antedates any documentary evidence of the game in Scotland; however my researches this summer at the Scottish Record Office in Edinburgh have settled the issue.
Chui wan (hit pellet - with stick, in Mandarin) is without question a form of golf.
However the flagstick shown in the Ming-era images is strongly reminiscent of those used in 15th century Scotland, its triangular shape specifically locating it to the region of East Lothian where the game had begun a century before. But how could golf have made it from north-western Europe to China half a millennium ago? The problem seemed insoluble, until the recent discovery of the records of the remarkable fifteenth century voyages of the great Chinese Admiral, Zheng He.
Born in 1371 in the Chinese province of Yunnan, Admiral He commanded the imperial fleet of huge ocean-going junks which were used by the Ming Emperors to expand Chinese seapower. Zheng’s ships travelled westward, crossed the Indian Ocean, rounded the Cape of Good Hope and entered the Atlantic. There he was spotted by a Portuguese squadron, heading north.
Now, the publication of the Chinese records of Zheng’s voyages shed immediate light on a long-standing mystery held in the General Register Office in Edinburgh. Scottish records of the period describe the sensational arrival off East Lothian of “Ane great Shippe of Heathenes” who came ashore at North Berwick and tried to barter with the locals. The sudden appearance at this time of jade goods, ivory and artefacts of Ming provenance at Gullane and North Berwick gives credence to this. However the interview between the Admiral and the King’s Sheriff of East Lothian, Sir Menzies Imlay, was difficult in the extreme. The Sheriff, pointing to himself and using the Scots pronunciation of Menzies, said, “I - am - Mingis”.
This produced looks of incomprehension from the Chinese. The Sheriff tried again, this time shortening his name to the familiar Ming, “I –Ming!” he said. Immediate comprehension. Smiles all round. Zheng He beamed and bowed indicating that he and his entouragewere also Ming. Pointing out to seawhere the great Junk was anchored, he indicated that both the ship and the Emperor were also Ming. Visibly shaken by this, Imlay tried again:
“Me Ming. You ..?”
“Aha!” said the Admiral, pointing to a banner depicting the Emperor, “Me no Ming – he Ming. Me He!”
Clearly this exchange was going nowhere fast, so Imlay - showing the hospitality which continues to this day at North Berwick - invited his strange oriental guest to dine with him, while his men traded with the local townsfolk. The jade and other items which appear at this time were clearly bartered for local items among which would have been clubs, balls and the distinctive triangular flags of the links of East Lothian.
The records state that Imlay invited Zheng He to partake of “Ane Game of ye Gowffe upon ye Linkes” the result of which, sadly, is unrecorded. However, most intriguingly, the 10th hole of the great North Berwick links, the closest point to where Zheng He came ashore all those years ago, is entitled “Eastward Ho!” As the Chinese personal name He is actually pronounced in Mandarin as “Ho” this fine hole serves a living memento of that remarkable occasion.
Back in China the game was known as chui wan and developed along very different lines from that followed in its homeland. This was evident in the golf events staged at the 2008 Beijing Olympics at which the game was a “Demonstration Event” prior to its attainment of full Olympic status at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro. In China, the golf events were held at the new Jade Mandarin course at Jiangshan – and watched incredulously by the R&A’s President and official observer, Lord Fanshawe.
The first event was a completely new departure in golf. This was the individual 36- hole Time Trial, won by the Australian Greg McDonald in a time of 1hr. 12min. 34.87 seconds. The Final provided great theatre as McDonald and Ugorokov (Uzbekistan) raced down the 18th, played their approaches neck and neck, holed out and then sprinted the final 200 metres to the tape.
Even more dramatic was the next day’s Final of the Team Pursuit when the winners, Great Britain (Willis and Hathaway) starting at the 14th, succeeded in playing through no fewer than six other pairings between the Shotgun Start and the Hooter, one hour later. There was a disagreeable incident when Willis’s drive felled Agostinio (Brazil) while overtaking his pairing on the 9th, mainly because shouts of Fore! had been banned by the Chinese due to the word’s delicate gynaecological meaning in Mandarin.
The last Olympic competition in China was the Synchronised Golf. Teams of four players tee up and play, in perfect unison, a stroke with driver, then mid-iron and finally lobwedge, the balls being required to land within an area colour-coded like an archery target. Interestingly, players were not only to be identically dressed and coiffed, but were also to make all shots while wearing the widest possible fixed smile.
Handing over to the chairman of Royal St George’s Golf Club where the demonstration golf of the 30th Olympiad will be held in 2012, the hope was expressed that the final event, not included at Jiangshan, would be sand-iron tossing, known in China as Ping Fling. However, as club throwing of any description tends to be rather frowned upon at St George’s, the Sandwich Sandwedge event may have to await more enlightened times.