Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner.

The long game: How Scots pastime of golf turned into a worldwide obsession

Post Thumbnail

Ever since the first tee off in the 15th Century, Scotland has been obsessed with golf – but do you really know about the sport’s history?

Here, Stephen Proctor, author of The Long Golden Afternoon, tells Sally McDonald the Honest Truth about our national game’s most glorious period.

Why did you write this book?

I wrote The Long Golden Afternoon and my previous book, Monarch Of The Green, to help weekend golfers appreciate the glorious history of their game. Too many players believe competitive golf begins with Arnold Palmer. The truth is that it dates back centuries, and over those years, the game has seen countless performances that stagger the imagination.

My ambition is to tell the stories of these heroes of old as narrative tales, so that any player who tees it up on a Saturday can be as awestruck as I am by the gifts of golfers such as Young Tom Morris or John Ball Jr.

What was your most surprising discovery?

For centuries, the game was played almost exclusively in Scotland. Yet, in just 50 years, from the mid-19th Century, golf changed dramatically and spread like wildfire around the world.

I wanted to understand who and what was responsible for making golf one of the few games played wherever grass grows.

How and when did golf begin?

This is a complex, hotly-debated question. It has been best settled by esteemed Scottish historian David Hamilton. His book, Golf: Scotland’s Game, offers the clearest explanation of how ancient stick-and-ball games from Europe and elsewhere evolved in Scotland into what we now know as the long game on the links.

By 1457, golf had become popular enough in Scotland that the king banned the sport, along with football, as it was distracting men from archery.

How did it become a sport?

Early on, gentlemen formed clubs to foster enjoyment of their national pastime and camaraderie with fellow players. Soon, members wanted to compete for prizes. The first of these competitions took place in 1744, when the gentlemen of Leith petitioned the city of Edinburgh to provide a silver club that could be played for annually over their links.

The winner attached a silver ball to the club bearing his name, and he earned the right to be Captain of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers. This marks the beginning of golf as an organised sport.

How did it become globally popular?

The Open was the first competition to attract attention outside Scotland, as London gamblers and newspapers developed an interest in the Championship.

That interest increased exponentially with the emergence of golf’s first superstar, Young Tom Morris. His three consecutive Open wins to claim the Belt (in 1868, 1869 and 1870) created a sensation that helped the game spread. At that time, Britain was assembling a vast worldwide empire. Many involved in its governance were Scots, and they planted the seed of golf as they travelled to India, South Africa, Australia, America and elsewhere. When clubs formed in these nations, the great Scottish diaspora helped spread the game around the world.

What have been golf’s defining moments?

The two most significant advances in golf involve improvements in the ball – the introduction of the gutta percha ball in 1848, followed in 1902 by an equally influential rubber-cored ball from America.

But, as modern golfers have seen with Tiger Woods, otherworldly performances also move the game forward.

The most important, in my view, are Young Tommy’s winning of the Belt, John Ball Jr’s breakthrough victory in 1890 as the first Englishman and, importantly, the first amateur to win the Open, and Francis Ouimet’s upset victory in the 1913 US Open, which lit the flame of golf in America.

Who are the greatest golfers?

The only reasonable standard for identifying the game’s immortals is whether a golfer was “The Goliath of His Generation” as one writer described Young Tommy.

I see five others who have earned that reputation in succeeding generations; Harry Vardon, Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.

The Long Golden Afternoon: Golf’s Age Of Glory, 1864-1914, Birlinn, £25, is out now