A Brief History of Golf

 

800px-AugustaNationalMastersLogoFlowers

Millions of people play golf every day around the world. Young and old, men and women, enjoy the game that traces its roots as far back as 100 BCE in Rome. Through the magic of television, live streaming on the internet and other forms of media, people today see the majestic beauty of Augusta National, the ancient links of the Old Course at St. Andrews, the splendor of Pebble Beach or any one of the hundreds of courses on which today’s professionals showcase their super human skills. Certainly, golf course design, the technology, and the players have come a long way since the nascent years of the game. The following will examine some of the history behind the game of golf, specifically its development into what we know as golf today.

The earliest form of golf can be traced to ancient Rome where people played a game called paganica around 100 BCE. Players hit a stuffed leather ball with a bent stick. During the Song Dynasty (960 CE to 1279 CE) in China, participants played chuiw an, which was played with several clubs and a ball.

A 1261 manuscript of Flemish poet Jacob van Maerlant referred to a game with a ball and club. The reference may have been to the Dutch game called colf or kolf during which four players hit balls over a certain distance with the winner being the one who reached the starting point of one of the other players. Some colf or kolf games lasted multiple days.

However, the modern game of golf can trace its roots to Scotland. In a 1457 Act of the Scottish Parliament, the game of gowf (golf) received its first mention. The Act prohibited the game because King James II saw it as a distraction from archery practice, necessary for the defense of the country.   Further mention of the game can be found in government documents in 1471 and 1491 banning the sport. By 1500, Scotland lifted all bans and within a couple of years King James IV purchased balls and clubs to play the game. At that time, balls were made of wood or hard leather while clubs were made of wood, mostly beech, holly, pear and apple. In 1724, various documents referenced balls stuffed with feathers.

Royalty provided the impetus for the spread of golf in Europe.  With King Charles I’s blessing, the game took root in England in the sixteenth century.  Mary Queen of Scots, while studying in France during this same period, introduced the sport there.  Interestingly, the term “caddie” comes from her French military aides, referred to as cadets.

The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers (HCEG) established the first rules of golf in 1744. Twenty year later, the Old Course at St. Andrews reduced its total holes from 22 to 18, establishing the format for today’s game.

By 1826, hickory, imported from the United States, became the wood of choice for club shafts in Great Britain. About 20 years later, the gutta percha ball became the ball of choice. The ball makers placed strips of gutta percha (dried sap from a Sapodilla tree) in boiling water then molded the ball by hand before submerging in cold water to harden it.

The first British Open Championship was played at Prestwick in 1860. The Royal Liverpool Golf Club established the British Amateur Championship in 1885–Hoylake hosted the first tournament.

Montreal established the first permanent golf club in North America in 1873, the Canada’s Royal Montreal Club, while in 1894 the United States Golf Association (USGA) was  formed in New York with five charter members—St. Andrew’s Golf Club of Yonkers, New York; Newport (Rhode Island) Golf Club; Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in South Hampton, New York; The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts; and the Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton, Illinois.  A year later, the Newport Country Club hosted the first United States Amateur Championship and United States Open.  The USGA maintains the official rules of golf for the United States and Mexico.

By 1900, persimmon became the wood of choice for club heads while aluminum became a popular alternative. Groove-faced irons, which promote increased backspin, entered the market two years later.  Around the same time, the rubber-cored Haskell ball joined the list of new equipment. This ball revolutionized golf because it traveled farther than the gutta-percha ball and cost much less to manufacture. Golf enthusiasm and participation soared to new heights. By 1910, 267 clubs claimed USGA membership.

In 1916, the Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) was  formed and the first PGA Championship took place at Siwanoy Country Club in New York. Five years later the British team won the first Ryder Cup at Gleneagles in Scotland. However, the United States team won the first Walker Cup in 1922 at Golf Links of America in Southampton, New York.

Golf technology continued to evolve and the Royal and Ancient (R&A), the recognized stewards of the rules of golf for everywhere except the United States and Mexico, accepted steel-shafted golf clubs for the first time in 1929. The next year, Bobby Jones became the only person to achieve the Grand Slam of golf with victories in the United States Amateur, the British Amateur, the United States Open and the British Open. Not long afterwards, Jones was instrumental in designing Augusta National Golf Club, where the first Masters took place in 1934. In 1939, the Royal and Ancient indoctrinated the 14-club rule to promote individual skill and to prevent golfers from using an inordinate amount of clubs.

Women shared the golf spotlight with the men beginning in 1932 when the United States team defeated the team of Great Britain and Ireland in the Curtis Cup at the Wentworth Club in Surrey, England.   The United States Women’s Open was staged for the first time in 1946 at Spokane Country Club in Washington and four years later the Ladies’ Professional Golfers’ Association (LPGA) was formed.

Since 1952 the R&A and the USGA have worked together to produce a common set of rules for golfers worldwide called the “Rules of Golf.”  The rules are revised every four years.

More equipment changes followed World War II. Influenced by research in synthetic and composite materials, golf club manufacturing changed. In 1963, the casting method for manufacturing club heads was introduced.  This new technology lowered the costs of golf clubs, which led to increased participation in the sport. Graphite shafts hit the market in 1973, which were lighter and stronger than steel shafts. TaylorMade introduced the first metal woods in 1979. Callaway owns the honor of the best-selling golf club in history, the Big Bertha, which hit the market for the first time in 1991.

Golf has a long and rich history. The game may have its roots as far back as ancient Rome and China. Certainly, the game as we know it today can be traced to Scotland in the fifteenth century. As the technology changed over the years and equipment costs fell, more and more people began to play the game. Arguably, it is the one sport that people can truly enjoy well into their later years in life.  Play the game once and you will probably be hooked. Just remember to yell “fore!” after an errant shot.

Bloody Monday to Walter Camp: The Standardization of American Football

WalterCamp

Imagine your school is traveling to Athens to play the University of Georgia in football. Here’s the catch: you have to play by Georgia’s rules. In the early days of college football each school developed its own rules–in intercollegiate contests the home team’s rules prevailed. The early days of college football were a time of trial and error. Different schools played different versions of the game. Some versions looked more like soccer, others like rugby, and others were a combination of many influences.

During the 1820s, several colleges in the northeast played their own version of college football. Each had its own set of rules and played only intramural games. For example, Princeton played a game called “ballown” as early as 1820. Harvard began its own version in 1827 with a game between the freshmen and sophomore classes affectionately known as “Bloody Monday,” while Dartmouth played something called “Old Division Football.” These disparate games had some basic features in common: large numbers of players trying to advance a ball into a goal by any means necessary, violence, and frequent injury. Because of the injury issue, these schools abolished their brand of football by the beginning of the Civil War, although the game continued in some form at various east coast prep schools.

By the late 1860s, football had returned to colleges in the northeast. On November 6, 1869, Rutgers and Princeton played the first intercollegiate football game. The schools played with a round ball under Rutgers’ rules.  One score equaled one point. The game appeared more similar to rugby and soccer than to the American football of the twentieth century. Each side played with 25 players with the objective of kicking a ball into the opposing team’s goal. Players were not allowed to throw or carry the ball, and physical contact was part of the game. Rutgers defeated the visitors from Princeton 6-4. A week later the two schools played at Princeton under Princeton’s rules. The rules of the two schools were similar with the notable exception that a player who caught a ball on the fly was awarded a free kick. Princeton scored a measure of revenge with an 8-0 victory.

As more colleges began playing football, school officials quickly saw the need for standardized rules. On October 20, 1873, representatives from Yale, Columbia, Princeton, and Rutgers met in New York to develop a set of regulations based more on soccer than rugby. Harvard boycotted the meeting because it insisted on playing by its own regulations known as the “Boston game” – a version predicated more on carrying the ball than on kicking it. Harvard found itself without competition until Tufts College, located outside of Boston, agreed to play Harvard June, 4, 1875.  Tufts won a passionate game 1-0.  As more colleges began playing football, school officials quickly saw the need for standardized rules.

In 1876, Yale, Harvard, Princeton, and Columbia met in New York to try once more to standardize the rules. This time the schools agreed on a new code of regulations based largely on the Rugby Football Union’s code from England. Under the new rules a two-point touchdown replaced the kicked goal as the primary means of scoring.

It wasn’t until 1880 that college football began to resemble the game as it is played today. Walter Camp was a college football player (Yale), coach (Yale and Stanford), and sportswriter. As Yale coach, his 1888, 1891, and 1892 teams won recognition as national champions. Camp also took part in the various intercollegiate rules committees beginning as a player in 1880 until his death in 1925. Because of his role on the rules committees, Camp became known as the “Father of American football.” Camp spearheaded the change to today’s game. At yet another New York meeting, Camp convinced representatives of Yale, Harvard, Princeton and Columbia to approve a reduction from 15 to 11 players per side, the establishment of a line of scrimmage, and the snap of the ball between the center and the quarterback. Football became more of an open game emphasizing speed.

At later meetings, Camp helped persuade the schools that a team had to gain five yards within three downs or lose possession; that the field should be reduced in size to its modern dimensions of 120 yards by 53.3 yards; and that four points should be awarded for a touchdown, two points for kicks made after touchdowns, two points for safeties, and five for field goals. (The scoring structure has since been changed to six points for touchdowns, one for the kick after a touchdown, and three for a successful field goal.) Camp was also responsible for having two paid officials referee every game and legalizing tackling below the waist.

College football owes much to pioneers of the game like Walter Camp. Without standardization of the rules, the mixed bag of a game that evolved into what we now call football would likely not have survived.

The Holy Trinity of Georgia Tech Football

 

Courtesy of UserB

Courtesy of UserB

In the 120+-year history of Georgia Tech (Tech) football, three coaches have accounted for nearly 60 percent of the school’s overall wins. From 1904 through 1966, John Heisman, William Alexander, and Bobby Dodd led the program to more than 400 wins and three national championships. For over 60 years, Tech was a football power. Since this era, Tech has produced some very good teams– the most notable being the 1990 national champions–but has not enjoyed the sustained success that these three men engineered. Each man had his own coaching style and personality, but they share a common thread: the ability to win football games. Meet the Holy Trinity of Georgia Tech football.

John Heisman coached Tech from 1904 -1919, compiling a 102-29-7 record. Heisman honed his skills while playing at Brown University and the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) in the 1890s. He earned a law degree at Penn but decided coaching football was more satisfying. Heisman started his coaching career at Oberlin College in Ohio in 1892, moved to Buchtel College (now the University of Akron) and then back to Oberlin before heading south to coach the Alabama Polytechnic Institute (now Auburn University) in 1895 and Clemson University in 1900. Heisman left Tech after the 1919 season to coach Penn. He and his wife divorced and as part of the settlement, Heisman agreed not to reside in the same city as his wife, who chose to remain in Atlanta. After Penn, Heisman coached at Washington & Jefferson University and Rice University before becoming the director of athletics at the Downtown Athletic Club (DAC) in New York. The DAC began awarding a trophy to the nation’s best college football player in 1935. Upon Heisman’s death in 1936, the trophy became known as the Heisman Memorial Trophy.

Heisman was a demanding perfectionist and keen strategist. He loathed fumbling and would tell his players at the beginning of pre-season practice while holding up a football, “Better to have died as a small boy than to fumble this football.” His teams employed the jump shift,the forerunner to the T and I formations; lateral passes; backward passes; reverses; onside kicks and sweeps with pulling guards. His players did not huddle and the quarterback would shout a play or series of plays at the line of scrimmage. Heisman is also credited with developing the center/quarterback exchange to begin a play and leading the battle to legalize the forward pass.

From 1915-1918, Heisman’s Tech teams were 30-1-2 –the University of Pittsburgh beat Tech in 1918. The 1917 team went 9-0 and won the national championship.

Probably the most memorable contest of Heisman’s Tech coaching career was a game against Cumberland College in 1916. Heisman also coached baseball at Tech and he agreed to take his 1916 baseball team to Nashville to play Cumberland College. Cumberland embarrassed Heisman’s team 22-0, allegedly using pro players against Tech’s college kids. Even though Cumberland had dropped its football program before the 1916 season for economic reasons, Heisman was determined to avenge the baseball loss and demonstrate to sportswriters the folly of awarding the national championship to the highest-scoring team. Heisman offered Cumberland a $500 guarantee and an all-expenses-paid trip to Atlanta if they would honor their agreement to play Tech in football. Cumberland accepted and produced 16 players, mostly members of the Kappa Sigma fraternity with little knowledge of football. The game lasted 45 minutes and Tech scored 32 touchdowns in the 222-0 rout.

Unlike Heisman, William Alexander, also known as Alex, began and ended his coaching career at Tech. Alexander came to Tech to study engineering in 1906 as a 16-year-old boy. He walked on to the Tech football team in 1908 and played sparingly under Heisman. However, Heisman must have seen something in Alexander because he added Alex to the coaching staff after Alex’s senior season. Upon Heisman’s departure to Penn, Alexander became Tech’s head coach, serving from 1920-1944. He compiled a 134-95-15 record, won the 1928 national championship, and was the first coach to place a team in all four of the major bowls of the time: the Rose in 1929, the Orange in 1940, the Cotton in 1943, and the Sugar in 1944.

Alex was regarded as a tough taskmaster and a man of high character who rarely lost his poise. He was a fierce defender of his players. After Tech lost a game to Alabama on a last-minute interception return for a touchdown, an assistant coach began verbally abusing some of the players in the locker room after the game. Upon hearing the assistant’s tirade, Alex told him to leave and declared, “This is your team only when it wins. Now it’s my team. Get out before I throw you out.”

After disappointing seasons in 1929 and 1930, Alexander sought a bright young assistant. In the middle of the 1930 season, Alex sent assistant Mac Tharpe to Knoxville to scout the North Carolina -Tennessee game. Tharpe’s car broke down en route and he did not arrive in Knoxville until after the game. Tharpe hoped to receive an analysis of Carolina from Tennessee head coach Bob Neyland, but Neyland directed Tharpe to quarterback Bobby Dodd. Tharpe reported back to Alexander that, “Dodd’s analysis of Carolina is better than any scouting report that I could have made.”

Alex hired Dodd as an assistant coach in December of 1930. Dodd said of Alexander, “Coach Alex was wonderful to me. He could growl and snap, but when it came to an emergency, he was our guy. He enabled me to purchase the home my family and I lived in so many years. And he did the same thing for our black trainer, Porto Rico.”

Bobby Dodd worked for Alexander as an assistant for 14 years before succeeding him as head coach in 1945. Dodd coached Tech from 1945-1966 and had a record of 165-64-8. He guided Tech to a 31-game winning streak from 1951-53, including a 12-0 season and a national championship in 1952. Also in the 1950s, Dodd engineered an eight-game winning streak against arch rival Georgia, the longest Tech streak in the series. After coaching, he remained at Tech as athletics director until 1976, then as an alumni association consultant until his death in 1988.

Generally, Dodd believed in taking it easy on his players during practices (although, numerous exceptions can be documented). He rarely left his team bruised and battered after practice–some coaches believed this method would toughen the players for the upcoming game. Instead, Dodd left his players physically and mentally piqued to give it their all on Saturday. Instead of being among the players during practice, Dodd stood in a tower overlooking the field while his assistants ran the practices.

Bobby Dodd never graduated from Tennessee, something he deeply regretted. So he constantly preached and demanded education. He provided tutors for players struggling in the classroom and badgered them until they earned their diploma. He also approved of marriage for his players while most coaches frowned on the players being married so young.   Dodd believed that the wives would police their husbands and felt confident that he knew where his married players were every night.

Bobby Dodd was arguably one of the greatest football coaches of all time. Furman Bisher wrote in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “Robert Lee Dodd brought a different style to coaching, an emphasis on craftsmanship, finesse, well-rehearsed execution and sideline genius. Many a time have I heard it said, ‘Bobby Dodd was the best sideline coach I ever saw.’”

The Holy Trinity brought football fame and recognition to the Flats for over half a century. Heisman, Alexander, and Dodd are names that will forever be linked to the halcyon days of Georgia Tech football.