“A good walk spoiled.” -Humorist Samuel Clemens describing a round of golf.
The golf tee was patented this week (Dec. 12) in 1899, which allowed golfers to achieve more distance on their drives and created God knows how many jobs in the tee manufacturing industry. Other than that, it was just another small change in a sport that has seen many since the Scots first invented it early in the 15th century.
The sport was a good match for the stoic, unflappable Scottish temperament, although — alas for the rest of us — while the game turned out to be easily exportable, stoicism was not, which helps explain the number of broken clubs rusting at the bottom of so many golf course water hazards. But in any case, golf became so popular in Scotland the Scottish Parliament had to pass laws prohibiting its play because Scottish warriors were neglecting their military training in pursuit of the little brown ball (the first golf balls were made of leather and had feathers, presumably in the hopes of increasing their “flight”).
These laws were mostly ignored, and became somewhat problematic when Scotland’s own King James IV became an avid golfer — a passion he passed down to his granddaughter, Mary Queen of Scots, who, while living in France, frequently played. And since it was customary for royalty to be accompanied by attendants, she was followed around the course by young men called cadets, a name that was later translated in Scottish to “caddy,” or “caddie,” which is what we now call the young men who tote golf bags for the mostly rich, white, out-of-shape country club golfers who play the game on weekends.
In turn, Mary’s passion for golf was shared by her son, who became England’s King James I. When James was not dodging assassination attempts by Catholic fanatics such as Guy Fawkes, he was often on the links, and soon much of England was playing the game. From the British Isles, it was exported to the European continent, and then to places like America where today nearly 30 million people play — a figure that, thanks to golf superstars like Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy — is expected to keep on increasing.
And speaking of fanatics, golf has had its share, which has inspired many a joke poking fun at the devotion it inspires. My favorite involves the foursome that was playing a local course one Sunday afternoon when a funeral procession passed nearby. This prompted one player to back away from his putt, turn toward the line of cars, and silently bow his head until it passed.
“That was thoughtful of you,” said his playing partner.
“It was the least I could do for my wife,” the man replied.