Did you know that golfers can get ‘golf ball liver’ from licking their balls, the first mention of golf made it illegal and that Tolkien had an alternative golf origin story?
Here are 11 weirdly interesting facts for Golfer’s Day (April 10).
The first mention of “golf” was in a 1457 act making it illegal. James II of Scotland banned golf and football and suggested people spend their time practicing archery instead, as this might be of some defensive help to the country.
The ban was reinforced by James III in 1471, and again by James IV in 1491 with golf being described as “an unprofitable sport”.
This royal dislike for the game obviously faded, as the first recorded female golfer was Mary Queen of Scots.
The oldest known rules of golf were written in 1744 by an Edinburgh Golf Club – in the original rules you had to tee off within a club’s length of the hole.
The Richmond Golf Club drafted additional rules during the Second World War, so players would know what to do if bombs were dropped mid-game.
These duties included collecting any shrapnel (as it could damage the lawnmowers) and being allowed to take cover during gunfire or bombings and replace a ball displaced by enemy action without penalty.
Early golf balls used to be filled with feathers. These would be stuffed into a leather case with an iron rod and a ball-maker could produce 50 to 60 in a week. One ball would cost $10-$20.
In the 1840s, golf balls began to be made out of gutta percha (a form of natural rubber). These were cheaper and more hard-wearing than the feathered version but meant golf clubs became heavier and did more damage to the grounds.
Woodrow Wilson had his golf balls painted black so he could still play when it snowed.
Also, an important health warning for Golfer’s Day: Golfers can get ‘golf ball liver’ from licking their balls.
The brashness of golfing outfits dates back to the 18th century when players wore red jackets for the game. Clubs took clothing seriously and you could be fined if you weren’t wearing the right outfit.
In 1960, South African golfer Gary Player wore a pair of trousers with one black leg and one white leg to the Open Championship in St Andrews to protest against Apartheid.
Plus-fours contain four inches more material than regular knee-length trousers; you can also get shorter plus-twos and longer plus-eights.
The Green Zone Golf Club is located on the border of Finland and Sweden: half the holes are in one country and half in the other.
South Africa’s Legend Golf and Safari Resort tees off 1,300ft up a mountain. If you can make a hole-in-one, you stand to win $1,000,000.
While the English town of Woking may not sound very exotic, it’s 11% golf course – which is quite extreme.
Out of this world
Golf is one of only two sports to have been played on the moon. Back in February of 1971, Apollo 14 member Alan Shepard hit a ball with a six-iron, but he had to swing with only one hand due to his pressure suit.
The only other sport ever played up there (at least by a human) was the javelin throw around the same time.
The ball and javelin are still there!
Garnet Carter was responsible for the American introduction of mini-golf, which he called “Tom Thumb Golf” after the English folk character.
Carter added whimsical touches like pieces of tile, sewer pipe, hollow logs and other obstacles as well as fairyland statues.
One 1930 Popular Science article describes the sport of “midget golf” as “America’s newest big industry.”
“In August 1930,” write Hilary Greenbaum and Dana Rubinstein for The New York Times, “the Commerce Department estimated that of the 25,000 mini-golf courses in the country, more than half had been built since January.”
The White House
According to The Atlantic, 17 American presidents have golfed while in office, beginning with William McKinley in 1897.
Eisenhower, though, was the first to bring the game to the White House itself.
Less than a month after taking office in 1953, Eisenhower began practicing chip shots on the South Lawn and eventually commissioned a 3,000-square-foot putting green just outside the Oval Office.
Supposedly, the hardwood floors of the office still bear marks from his golf spikes.
CBS copped to adding bird songs to their golf broadcasts to get rid of awkward silences and add atmosphere.
There are claims that a bird expert busted CBS way back in 2000.
Bird-watchers interviewed by the Post said the worst part is that someone at CBS didn’t research which birds were indigenous to Ohio, Kentucky, and Michigan.
There is a persistent urban legend claiming that the term derives from an acronym “Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden”.
This is a false etymology, as acronyms being used as words is a fairly modern phenomenon, making the expression a backronym.
Golf is probably derived from the Dutch word kolf, meaning “bat” or “club”, and the Dutch sport of the same name.
J. R. R. Tolkien, a professional philologist, nodded to the derivation from the Dutch word for club in his 1937 fantasy novel The Hobbit.
There he mentions (tongue-in-cheek) that the game of golf was invented when a club-wielding hobbit knocked the head off a goblin named Golfimbul, and the head sailed through the air and landed in a rabbit hole.
Happy Golfer’s Day.
Siobhan is a freelance writer, research addict and lover of twisted history. If you like horrible but amazing history, check out her website www.interesly.com or Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/interesly. Or you can reach her through www.siobhanoshea.com.