The modern game of golf is traditionally accepted as a Scottish invention. The first documented mention of golf occurs in the Act of the Scottish Parliament (1457), an edict issued by King James II of Scotland prohibiting the playing of “gowf” as it was perceived as a distraction from archery practice for military purposes.
Golf later spread from Scotland to England when James IV of Scotland became the King of England in 1603. As James moved his court to London, so did the golf clubs of his court. Today, the Royal Blackheath Golf Club marks the ground where golf was first played in England. Over time, as the British Empire grew, the King’s soldiers took the game around the world and founded golf clubs wherever they went. The Royal Calcutta Golf Club, Kolkata, is just one example of a club founded during the time of British Imperialism.
In 1864, the golf course at the resort of Westward Ho! became the first new club in England since Blackheath and by 1880, England had 12 golf courses. It was at the turn of the century that golf became less exclusive and increasingly a sport for the growing upper-middle class. This trend is reflected in the rising number of golf courses at the time. While England featured only 50 courses in 1887, players could choose among over 1,000 golf courses by 1914. Simultaneously, the game continued to grow its global appeal. By the 1890s, at the height of the British Empire, golf clubs had been established in Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa and Singapore.
Golf in the USA was first mentioned in the Royal Gazette of New York City in the way of an advertisement for golf clubs and balls. But as in England, it was not until the late 19th century that golf gained broader popularity. In 1884, the USGA was formed as a small confederation of golf clubs. By 1910, the United States Golf Association had 267 member clubs. Over the last 40 years, golf in the U-S-continues to grow in popularity. By 1980, the nation featured 5,908 USGA affiliated clubs. That figure grew to over 10,600 by 2013.
While England and the U-S-have been at the center of the sport for centuries, hosting the most prestigious tournaments, one of the biggest growth markets for the sport today is Asia. Japan and China, for instance, feature tremendous courses and both countries, in fact, have a rich golf history. When Japan ended its economic and political isolation in the second half of the nineteenth-century, the country invited a good number of British and American advisors to help modernize its economy and infrastructure. Unsurprisingly, these British expatriates brought with them their love for golf which resulted in the establishment of Japan’s first golf club in Kobe in 1903. 21 years later, in 1924, the Japan Golf Association was established by the 7 clubs then in existence. Golf grew in popularity throughout the twenties and thirties until growing anti-western sentiment and Japan’s entry into World War 2 stunted its growth. Most golf courses were then used by the Japanese military or turned back into agricultural land. Post-war reconstruction did, however, also lead to a revival of the sport and by 1956, 72 new courses had been built. By 2009, Japan featured over 2400 courses in existence and a constantly growing number of players.
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