Inaword

golf

 

Today ours is a four-letter word beloved of many, despised by the few. It could only be golf. A game by any other name, to the few. The one true religion for many, whose god almighty is the boy named Rory. Praise be upon him.

The word too originated in Scotland with the mid 15th century gouf, believed derived from the Middle Dutch colf, colve, meaning a stick, club, or bat. The game as we know it, having little alternative, is widely believed to have originated in Scotland. Unlike independence! (Did I say that?) However, versions of it are recorded in 13th and 14th century Netherlands.

The first recorded mention of golf was in 1457 when it (gowf) and football (fut bal) were banned by King James II as they were deemed a distraction from his favoured sport, archery. Clearly, in those days at least, our Scottish cousins were very like the Irish in that they treasured most what was forbidden to them.

Bans were again imposed on the game in Scotland, in 1471 and 1491, as it was “an unprofitable sport”. Such innocent times. And then, as if it was not already popular enough, it was banned again by King James IV of Scotland later in the late 1490s.

In 1592, those godly men (of course. This is golf!) on Edinburgh town council banned the game on Sundays. Progress of sorts, some might say.

Mary Queen of Scots was accused by her enemies of playing golf, a game then described as “clearly unsuitable to women” (some things remain the same) after her second husband, Henry Stuart, was murdered in 1567.

Not unlike US president Barack Obama, who played the game as IS rode roughshod from Syria into northern Iraq last August. What is it about this game when murder and war, even archery, cannot distract players?

It is said Mary Queen of Scots played her game of golf at Musselburgh links in Scotland’s East Lothian that fateful day after her husband was murdered. (“Who would’ve thought the old man had so much blood in him?”). It is believed to be the oldest golf course in the world.

Thanks to the Victorians the game took off, through the Empire and the world. “A good walk spoiled,” was Mark Twain’s definition.

And who could disagree? Okay, okay . . . inaword@irishtimes.com

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