An Open door on the history of golf
North Sefton will soon have the eyes of the world focussed on it because of the 146th British Open at Royal Birkdale from 16-23 July. So how did all the fuss about this sport start?
Golf as we know it today originated from in the Kingdom of Fife, Scotland during the 15th century. Players would hit a pebble around a natural course of sand dunes, rabbit runs and tracks using a stick or primitive club. It was banned in 1457 by King James II as the sport was so popular it stopped the Scots from undertaking archery training in preparation for war against the English. Only in 1502 with the Treaty of Glasgow was the ban lifted.
Golf’s status and popularity quickly spread throughout the 16th century due to it’s royal endorsement. King Charles I popularised the game in England and Mary Queen of Scots, who was French, introduced the game to France while she studied there. Indeed the term ‘caddie stems from the name given to her helpers who were the French Military, known in French as cadets. The Gentlemen Golfers of Leith (1744) was the first golf club and Duncan Forbes, one of its members drafted the first written rules of golf.
The first golf club formed outside Scotland was Royal Blackheath (near London) in 1766. The first golf club outside Britain was the Bangalore, India (1820). The first women’s golf club in the world was formed at St Andrews in 1895.
By this time golfers were using proper clubs and balls. Club heads were made from beech or the wood of fruit trees such as apple, shafts were usually ash or hazel and balls were made from tightly compressed feathers wrapped in a stitched horse hide sphere. The sport was somewhat exclusive due to the expense of the handcrafted equipment. During the Industrial Revolution metal club heads and shafts and gutta percha balls began rolling off the production lines, meaning that the average person was able to afford to play golf. This contributed to the phenomenal growth of golf.
The Prestwick Golf Club was formed in 1851. The precursor to the British Open, the first major national championship, was played there for the first time in 1860 with Willie Park as winner.
In 1921, the R&A imposed a limit on the size and weight of the golf ball which began a 30 year split between the European and Commonwealth game and the US game. Most of the differences were resolved in 1951 when both parties agreed to a common set of rules. However the golf ball issue was not settled until 1988.
The Royal Birkdale golf course was first established in 1889, but was extensively redesigned in 1922 by Fred Hawtree and JH Taylor to create the current layout, which winds its way through the sand dunes towering over each of the fairways.
Since first hosting The Open in 1954, the course has been (alongside Royal Lytham) the most regular venue for the Championship other than St Andrews, hosting The Open on nine occasions. As always the Open will draw spectators from all over the world, not just to see the golf but also to experience the many tourist attractions here in Sefton providing a great economic boost for Southport and the local economy.