The truth about golf
South Africa has one of the world’s highest number of golfing estates. This is hardly surprising because golf – a very ancient game going back even before Gary Player – probably began in South Africa.
It goes back to the time of the apeman –Australopithecus africanus. Four million years ago apemen were forced out of Africa’s receding forests and on to the plains. In order to see over the top of the grass they had to stand upright – the first step towards being able to play golf.
One day an apeman, Ug Blainkenthorpe (not his real name) picked up a stick intending to use it as a club for hitting people he didn’t like.
It became the major weapon in this new landscape and so the second step towards golf was achieved – the club
The early club was a bit too whippy for hunting. Nevertheless, Ug liked the stick and he pondered over it for some time before an idea struck him.
He used it to hit a small, round, white stone. He watched in fascination as the stone curved into the sky like a bird.
Then he and his friend, Og Willisden, (some authorities say his name was spelt Willisdon) spent many hours alternately hitting and hunting for this beautiful round stone. Being hunters they enjoyed this immensely.
“Hey this is fun,” said Og.
And so a kind of game was born. It was at first no more than “hunt-the-ball” and it sometimes entailed flogging vast areas of savannah with these funny sticks.
For the next 3-million years the game was known as “flog”.
If, of course, a ball went down a hole then, quite often, there it had to stay and the floggers soon realised they needed lots of little white stones. This became the job of the women because, after all, collecting little white balls was, strictly-speaking, “gathering” and in a hunter-gatherer society, gathering fell into the women’s department.
One day Og said, “Flog is all very well but why not invent a game where we just kick a big, leather ball? We could call it soccer!”
“It will never catch on,” said Ug. “It is better that we try to improve the game of flog. Maybe it will be more fun if we deliberately aim for holes to see who can sink their ball in the least number of strokes.”
Flog, when all is considered, has not improved much since, though cutting the grass was a good move.
Sports historians – ignorant of the foregoing – generally believe that it was the Scots who invented golf. Certainly the Scots turned the game around by using softer balls made of skin and twine and aiming for holes somewhat smaller than warthog burrows. They also reversed the spelling of “flog”. It became “golf”. Few golfers know this.
From here on the history of the game is more accurately documented. By the mid-1400s James II decreed that “Golfe be utterly cried down” because it was rivalling archery as an outdoor pastime and archery was necessary for the defence of the realm. (A realm can hardly be defended even by using a 7 iron.)
Some say (seriously) golf originated in Europe where it was a cross-country game in which opposing sides set off to hit the ball across many kilometres to a target such as a church door. After one side had played three strokes the other had the right to hit their opponents’ ball into the nearest hazard such as a canyon but this often led to temper tantrums.
The Scots bought their balls mainly from Holland until King James curbed the trade because “no small quantitie” of gold was being spent on it.
I gave up golf many years ago, first because I was spending no small quantitie of gold on balls alone and, in any event, the primeval thrill of hunting the ball had worn thin.
To see more of James Clarke’s writing, click www.jamesclarke.co.za