The History of Golf

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When was the first game of golf played? Forget wild suggestions of Mongol warlords tossing about their vanquished enemies’ heads with sticks.
The earliest known illustration of a precursor to golf in the Western world is found in a ca. 1460 French prayer book known as La Duchesse de Bourgogne. It shows teams playing considerable distances to a grazed green with target stakes (the piquet) as goals, using a curved hockey-like one-piece wooden club (the crosse) for approach shots, and sophisticated putters (the mail), to roll round wooden balls to the target.
The word Golf in its English form, was first mentioned in writing in 1457 on a Scottish statute of forbidden games as gouf, possibly derived from the Scots word goulf (variously spelled) meaning "to strike or cuff". This word may, in turn, be derived from the Dutch word kolf, meaning "bat", or "club", and the Dutch sport of the same name.
The most accepted golf history theory is that golf (as practiced today) originated from Scotland in the 12th century, with shepherds knocking stones into rabbit holes in the place where the famous Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews now sits. However, the origin of golf is unclear and open to debate.
Scholars have claimed references to a form of golf from hieroglyphs found on stone tablets dating to ancient Egyptian Pharaohs. Chuiwan ("ch'ui" means hitting and "wan" means small ball in Chinese), a game consisting of driving a ball with a stick into holes in the ground, was first mentioned in Dōngxuān Records (Chinese: 東軒錄), a Chinese book of 11th century, and Chinese professor Ling Hongling of Lanzhou University claims that the game was brought to Europe by the Mongols in the 12th and 13th centuries (that about Mongol warlords not too wild a suggestion then?). A Dutch game was mentioned on 26 February 1297 in a city called Loenen aan de Vecht. Here they played a game with a stick and leather ball. Whoever hit the ball into a target several hundreds of meters away the most number of times, won. The Scottish game of goulf (variously spelled) was mentioned in two 15th century laws prohibiting its play. Some scholars have suggested that this refers to another game, which is more akin to bandy, shinty or hurling than golf.  
However, these earlier games are viewed as ancestors of golf, and the modern game as we understand it today originated and developed in Scotland. The earliest permanent golf course originated there, as did the very first written rules, the establishment of the 18-hole course, and the first golf club memberships. Over time, the modern game spread to England and the rest of the world. The oldest playing golf course in the world is The Musselburgh Old Links Golf Course. Evidence has shown that golf was played here in 1672. In 1646 King Charles I of England, whilst held captive by the Scots in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, was reported to entertain himself by playing golf in Shieldfield.
As stated, golf courses have not always had eighteen holes. The St Andrews Links occupy a narrow strip of land along the sea. As early as the 15th century, golfers at St Andrews, in Fife, established a customary route through the undulating terrain. The course that emerged featured eleven holes, laid out end to end from the clubhouse to the far end of the property. One played the holes out, turned around, and played the holes in, for a total of 22 holes. In 1764, several holes were combined. The number was thereby reduced from 11 to nine, so that a complete round of the links comprised 18 holes. Due to the status of St Andrews as the golf capital, all other courses chose to follow suit and the 18-hole course remains the standard today.