Just another WordPress.com site

Latest

“You ever try to hit a rock with a cane?”: The Original Golf Swing & The 18th Century Contextual Development of the Game and the Swing

As the origins of golf simply flow out of the musings and playing of bored, or rather industrious, shepherds on the coastal “links” lands of Scotland (as well as in some other similar places). These creatively sporting fellows came up with the great little gaming of gowf, goff, or in other words the earliest form of the modern golf. By hitting a rock into a rabbit hole, or some such “hole,” with only the use of their staff, a crude yet functional and necessary shepherd’s instrument, the time was passed on these low rolling dunes and gorse grass spotted windswept lands while watching their flocks or even while hunting the rabbits.

Considering these humble beginnings it is no stretch to picture the first golf swings.

Village Scots tapping at little stones around rough grassy links lands in sight of the sea. Or for the lengthy distances to the desired hole, a great whirling high of the staff club and a major twisting of the shoulders, arms, and torso followed by a resounding crack of the hardwood sending the rounded stone hurling through the breeze over a dune, over a creek, til it landed and rolled through the sandy grass a hundred yards or so away. What a sight this would have been to the other curious shepherds, who would then of course be brought in to the gaming!

As the game got picked up by the aristocracy, the leisure time afforded by their lifestyle and funds would have undoubtedly brought more sophisticated swing thoughts and techniques. The craft of making clubs for the gentlemen’s game would allow for these swing techniques to be further fashioned and developed. By the 15th century A.D. (1457, 1470, 1491, with plenty of developments and documentation through the 16th and 17th centuries also), the game seems to have been fairly in the main for certain affluent persons, though undoubtedly, some golf was still being played by the links land shepherds.

The club making and other “technological” equipment changes (the featherie in 1618), growth of golfing population (1641 Charles II played at Leith Links), and time lapse since golf was first played all would have brought about a highly developed game with clear ideals, even if only informally, for course design, playing rules, and of course “how to play,” or “how to make a swing.”

This can be seen by the very quick formalizing of all these things around the same time, mid to late 18th century:
   Golf is being played in Dornoch (1621), St. Andrews of Fife (1552), Leith and other places in Edinburgh (1457), and even in on the west coast at Glasgow (1589).
   1687 – 1st [known] detailed writing on golf is done by Thomas Kincaid, “Thoughts on Golve” (including details for the golf swing mentioned below, as well as the first mention of “caddy”): http://digital.nls.uk/golf-in-scotland/serious/kincaids-diary/index.html; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Kincaid; http://www.scottishgolfhistory.net/bruntsfield_links_oldest_golf_clubhouse.htm 
   1724 – 1st newspaper report of a game, “A solemn match at golf for the sum of 20 guineas” (Golf’s Greatest Eighteen, Joey Kaney, pg 216)
   1735 – The Royal Burgess Golfing Society of Edinburgh is formed
   1743 – 1st golf clubs brought to the Americas via Charleston, SC
               – 1st literary work solely for golf by Thomas Mathison, The Goff, an epic
   1744 – Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers is formed playing at Leith Links
               – this is the 1st golf club
               – the 1st golf rules are officialized at Leith by the HCEG: “Rules of Golf” (http://digital.nls.uk/golf-in-scotland/rules/index.html)
               – the annual golfing competition for the Silver Club is begun by the Edinburgh golfers at Leith, of which John Rattray is the first winner
   1754 – St. Andrews golfers begin an open competition championship for a purchased silver cup played on the Old Course, of which William Landale is the first winner
   1759 – earliest reference to stroke play comes from St. Andrews, as all previous play [recorded/documented] was match play; “stroke” was often known as “medal”
   1764 – St. Andrews course changes result in the 22 holes becoming only 18, which becomes the subsequent standard
   1766 – 1st golf club outside of Scotland is formed in London, the Royal Blackheath Golf Club (http://www.royalblackheath.com/index.lasso?pg=ec7e88a710c7a8e9&mp=cbc638823c5eb85e)
   1768 – Leith has the 1st golf clubhouse, The Golf House
   1774 – 1st golf course “professional” is hired at Leith, where he is also the greens keeper
   1786 – 1st American golf club and 1st golf club outside the UK, the South Carolina Golf Club, Charleston, forms, where they play on Harleston Green, the 1st golf course in America

As previously mentioned, surgeon-apothecary of Edinburgh Thomas Kincaid’s diary contains an exquisite information source for the golf swing at the time of his writing, 1687, which predates so much of the important golf history of the 1700s. Below is a transcripted section from the National Library of Scotland’s Golf in Scotland website (http://digital.nls.uk/golf-in-scotland/serious/kincaids-diary/index.html):
The way of playing at the Golve. Jan 20

after dinner I went out to the Golve with Hen[ry] Legatt. I found that the only way of playing at the Golve is

  1. to stand as you do at fenceing with the small sword, bending your legs a little and holding the muscles of your legs and back and armes exceeding bent or fixt or stiffe, and not at all slackning them in the time you are bringing down the Stroak (which you readily doe.)
  2. the ball most be straight before your breast, a little towards the left foot.
  3. your left foot most stand but a little before the right, or rather it most be even with it, and at a convenient distance from it,
  4. ye most lean most to the right foot,
  5. but all the turning about of your body most be only upon your legs holding them as stiff as ye can.
  6. then ye most incline your body a little forward from the small of the back and upwards; for seeing all the strength of the stroake is from the swing of the body in turning about, then certainly the further forward you incline your body or shoulders they most have the greater swing, and consequently give the greater stroak, but you most not incline so fare forward as that it make you stand the more unstedfastly and waver a little in bringing down the stroak.
  7. you most keep your body in. this posture all the time both in bringing back the club and forward, that is, you most nither raise your body straighter in bringing back the club nor incline it further in bringing down the club, but ye most bring back the club by turning yourself about to the right hand, and that as it were upon a center, without moveing your body out of the place of it, but only in chainging the position of it in thrawing it about or turning it about upon that center, so then ye most cast the weight of your body off the on[e] leg on the other in the time you are bringing about the club: neither most you in the least turn down your left shoulder and up your right in bringing back the club, thinking therby to give the club a larger swinge, and so incresse its force or to raise the ball: for it is a verie unsettled motion that throw of the body whereby you turn down the left shoulder and up the right, so that therby you will verie often misse the ball, and almost never hitt it exactly.
  8. your armes most move but verie little, all the motion most be performed with the turning of your body about. The armes serve only to guid the club and to second and carie on that motion imprest upon it by turning of your body therefore ye most never begin to bring about the club with the motion of the armes first, but their motion most be only towards the end of the stroak.
  9. all the motion of the armes most be at the shoulder and all the motion of the legs most be at the upmost joint at the loyns.
  10. you most make no halt or rest, which is a slackning of the muscles of the back, between the bringing back of the club and the bringing it forward, but bring it about with that swiftness that the naturall swing of the club requires holding it pretty fast in your hands. In every motion the muscles that concur to the performing at golve keep bent and stayd which in all motions of your armes you will be helped to do by contracting your fingers, and so if there be anything in your hand you most grip verie fast.
  11. you most aim directly to hit the ball it selfe, and not aim to scum the ground or strick close to the ground; thinking that then you are sure to hitt it, for this is but ane indirect way of hitting the ball neither is it sure when the balls lies inconveniently; neither 3dly is it exact, for you will butt seldome hitt the ball exactly and cleanly this way; and 4ly it is more difficult then the other way, whereas the other way is more easie. 2, sure, 3, better for hitting the ball exactly. The way to learn this is to tie your ball at first pretty high from the ground.
  12. the shaft of your club most be of hazel. your club most be almost straight that is the head most make a verie obtuse angle with the shaft, and it most bend as much at the handle as it doth at the wooping, being verie supple and both long and Great.
  13. Your ball most be of a middle size nither to[o] big nor too little, and then the heavier it is in respect of its bigness it is still the better. It most be of thick and hard leather not with pores or grains
  14. all the motion of the armes most be at the shoulder and all the motion of the legs most be at the upmost joint at the loyns.
  15. you most make no halt or rest, which is a slackning of the muscles of the back, between the bringing back of the club and the bringing it forward, but bring it about with that swiftness that the naturall swing of the club requires holding it pretty fast in your hands. In every motion the muscles that concur to the performing at golve keep bent and stayd which in all motions of your armes you will be helped to do by contracting your fingers, and so if there be anything in your hand you most grip verie fast.
  16. you most aim directly to hit the ball it selfe, and not aim to scum the ground or strick close to the ground; thinking that then you are sure to hitt it, for this is but ane indirect way of hitting the ball neither is it sure when the balls lies inconveniently; neither 3dly is it exact, for you will butt seldome hitt the ball exactly and cleanly this way; and 4ly it is more difficult then the other way, whereas the other way is more easie. 2, sure, 3, better for hitting the ball exactly. The way to learn this is to tie your ball at first pretty high from the ground.
  17. the shaft of your club most be of hazel. your club most be almost straight that is the head most make a verie obtuse angle with the shaft, and it most bend as much at the handle as it doth at the wooping, being verie supple and both long and Great.
  18. Your ball most be of a middle size nither to[o] big nor too little, and then the heavier it is in respect of its bigness it is still the better. It most be of thick and hard leather not with pores or grains whether it be better that the in equality of gamsters be remedied in the game or in the stakes.

pin easily passe through it especially at the soft end. I came in with Hen[ry] And John Pringle we mett with John Corss and went in to a change house called Willsons we stayed till 11 of the clock Hen[ry] payd 49 shill[ings] I payd 13 shill[ings] John Corss payd 7 shill[ings].

21.    Freed. I rose at 7. I thought upon this way of playing at Golve. I ex. till 9. I wrott this till 8 of the clock at night. I thought upon the question whither it is better in giveing advantadge in gameing to make the game equall, and the stakes unequall, or to make the stakes equall and give some advantadge in the game, as at the glove whither it is better to give a man two holes of three; laying equall stakes, or to lay three stakes to his on[e] and play equall for so much every hole. For answer we most distinguish between the giving a man so great advantadge as to putt him within on[e] hazard of the game, and the putting him only within two or three hazards of the game. For the worst of gamesters may readily winne on[e] hazard but the[y] will hardly win two or three in on[e] game. For solution then of the question we say, that if the game depend upon on[e] hazard it is all on whither ye make the inequality in the stakes or in the game. But if the game consist of more hazards then on[e], it is by farre securer for the giver of the advantadge to make the inequality rather in the stakes then in the game. For when the game is equall and depends on many hazards it is almost all

the necessity and way of hitting the ball exactly   Jan 21

it is almost alltogether improbable that a bad player will gain it on[ce] in 20 times, whereas if he gett the advantadge in the game, he may be fair to win it every time, at least he will readily win it at some time. Therefore with these that are worst gamesters than yourselfe make always the game depend upon mo[r]e hazards then on[e], and the mo[r]e the better, but with these that are better gamesters make always the game to depend upon on[e] hazard.
I found that the first point to be studied in playeing at the golve is to hitt the ball exactly; for if you hitt the ball exactly though the club have butt little strength yett the ball will fly verie farre. The way to attain this perfection is to play with little strenth at first but yet acuratly observeing all the rules of poustaur [posture] and motion before sett down, and then when ye have acquired ane habit of hitting the ball exactly ye most learn to incresse your strenth or force in the stroak by degrees, staying still so long upon every degree till you have acquired ane habit of it; neither will the knowledge of these degrees be altogither uselese afterward, for they will serve for halfe chops, and quarter chops and for holling the ball. But then in going through all these degrees of strenth you most be verie attentive and carefull not to alter that postaur of your body of [or] way of moveing and bringing about the club, which ye observed when ye playd with little strenth
that the greatest and strongest motion most begin first.
for the only reason why men readily miss the ball when they strick with more strenth then ordinare is because their incressing their strenth in the stroak makes them alter their ordinare position of their body and ordinare way of bringing about the club, as also it makes them stand much more unsetledly and waver in bringing about the club, and so they readily miss the ball. I found that I n all motion the greatest and the strongest motion most begin first

24.    [Jan] Moond[ay] I rose at 4 and ex. till 5 I wrott this and thought on severall things till 8 as of the way of standing at the Golve, that your feet most be both of ane equall distance from the ball at least the ball most ly [lie] upon a line that is perpendicular to that line that passeth between the on[e] foot and the other. These places will be found by drawing a circle round about the ball which most be the center and placeing your feet on that circle, that your feet most not stand parallel to the way you would have the ball to fly, but upon a line declineing towards the left hand as it were 10 or 15 degrees

Jan 25, 26 some particulars of the motion of playing at the glove

25.     Tuesd[ay] I rose at 5 I wrote the analysis of some psalms till 7 I wrott all the remarks out of Glasar’s Compleat Chymist till 11. I glewed the club head and sat with Mr Crawford I boyld the unguentum album with vinagar I read some of Berbett de fractures et luxationibus. After dinner I took out the plains and made a little skelpe to putt on the club. I took of[f] the piece that was joynd to the old shaft . I glewed too that skelpe till 3. I read Berbett de ambustione, and some other places of him till 4. James Duncan came in and sat till 6 …
26.     Wed[nesday] I rose at 7 …
I thought on the playing at the Golve.
1. I found that ye most rest most upon the right legg for the most part, but yet not too much as to be exactly perpendicular upon it, which ye will know by the ballanceing of your body.
2. I found that the club most always move in a circle making ane angle of 45 degrees with the horizon.
3. that the whole turning of your body about most be by thrawing the joints of your right legg and then when … [manuscript torn here] you most throw the…
small of your back so that the left shoulder will turn a little down wards, because the body is inclines a little forward, but ye most beware of raising the on[e] shoulder higher than the other as to their position in the body, for that motion is not convenient for this action.

  1. I found that in bringing down the club ye most turn your body as farr about towards the left following the swinge of the club as it had been turned before towards the right hand.
  2. I found that seeing the swinge of your body by the turning it upon your legg is the largest and strongest motion, therefor it most begin first, and the turning at the small of the back most only second it, and then most follow the motion at the shoulders. The other motions most be but verie little and imperceptible, neither most these motions at the small of the back and shoulders, being till the club have hitt the ball or at least be verie near it. I thought on these and wrott them till 5. James Craige came in and sat till 7 …

27 Jan Thurs[day] I rose at 7 I thought on severall things … I joynd a piece to the shaft of the club till 4

4.    I found that the making a club waver in bringing it back did make you add a great deal more force to it in bringing it foreward then otherways you can get added to it. The way to make the club waver in bringing it up is by drawing in your armes and hands close to your breast, and the reason that this postaur adds more strenth to the stroake is because the further out that you streatch your armes they are still the weaker, and the closers to your breast they are the stronger …
8.    Tuesd[ay] I thought upon the way of ordering pathology and of distinguishing it into its proper parts and at good method … Hen[ry] Legatt came in an desired me out to the golve. I putt on my cloths and went to him. He bought a club in Captain Fosters we went down to Leath in a Coach which was 10 shill[ings] We played till 5. I bought three balls 14 shill. We went in to Captain browns were we satt till 6
waiting on the coach but could not get it, we came up to John watts where we gott some collips I spent 14 shill[ings] and was exceeding seek.
9.    Wed[nesday] I rose at 7 I thought upon the method of pathologie and on playing at the golve I found that in all motions of your armes ye most contract your fingers verie strait and grip fast any thing that is in them for that doth command the motion exactly, and keeps all the muscles of the arme verie bent. I digested the rules of playing at the golve into verse thus. Gripe fast stand with your left leg first not farre
Incline your back and shoulders but beware You raise them not when back the club you bring make all the motion with your bodies swinge And shoulders, holding still the muscles bent play slowly first till you the way have learnt At such lenth hold the club as fitts your strenth The lighter head requires the longer lenth. That circle wherein moves your club and hands At forty five degrees from th[e] horizon stands.
What at on[e] stroak to effectuat you despair Seek only ‘gainst the nist it to prepare.

These extracts are available from the NLS‘s Golf in Scotland site! This is a photo of Kincaid’s diary.
Sheet of paper covered in hand-writing, with numbers in margin

SCIWAY.net: Info Source

South Carolina’s Information Highway (SCIWAY), http://www.sciway.net, a wonderful partner in all-things-SC, has featured Harleston Green – 1st Golf in America, http://HarlestonGreen.wordpress.com, as a “Site of the Day.”

SCIWAY.net has also made a link to HG.WP.com on the “SC Firsts” page:

The First Golf Clubs in America: First Shipment of Clubs to America Painted

Carrol Ezell’s painting of the historical arrival of the shipment of golf clubs and balls from Leith, Scotland, to the colonies by way of David Deas of Charleston, SC, in 1743, shows the opened crates on board with a harbor view. The inscription includes details of the historical event: David Deas the recipient, May [10th/16th/18th(?)], 1743, 96 clubs and 432 balls.

My question is why is the crate opened? From the windowed cabin, it would seem that these are in the captain’s quarters at the stern. So perhaps, a Leith or Fife-man himself, he was grooving his swing during the long voyage across the Atlantic, perhaps even sending a few rounded wooden balls out into the sea off the main deck!

Harleston Green Painted, 1786

The first American golf club, the South Carolina Golf Club, was formed in 1786 and played on the Harleton Green. Local South Carolina low country resident Barbara Shipman was commissioned to paint the scene [in the style of the period]. This can be seen on flyleaf cover of the book Golf Charms of Charleston by Joel Zuckerman.

The First Golf Clubs in America: 1760s golf club

multiple images of 1760s lefty iron golf club

This is a golf club dated to the 1760s based on New Zealand technology [or lab work] testing the metal. The note on the “precise” date of 1760s has a margin of error +/- 40 years, which means the club could range from 1720 t0 1800.

Though there is such a large margin of error in the exact dating, this particular club (listed for bid starting over USD $1,000) does give an interesting footnote on the clubs of the era of the first golf in America:
1743 – the first shipment of golf clubs came over to America via Charleston, SC
1786 – the first golf club in America was formed, the South Carolina Golf Club, who played on Harleston Green

So, this club is an example piece of the irons used in that time. The clubs in that day were generally set as wooden-headed clubs as well as one or two irons being cast-iron-headed clubs. The use of these iron clubs was for the modern typical 5 iron to 9 iron, depending on the player’s prescribed make for the blacksmithy or cobbler or the like that fashioned the shafts and heads for the gentlemen players.

This particular iron looks rather poorly fashioned given the long metal support piece at the joint of the head and shaft, whereas the normal iron club making consisted of inserting the shaft end into the hollow of the iron head and cooling the iron in a pale of water which caused the iron to rather neatly and permanently shrink around the wooden end-piece. The shaft woods were generally ash (or apple, pear, hazel) until hickory became the new technological advance by the mid 19th century. [Related to this is that the golf club heads were either of the same/similar wood material as the shaft only out of a single block, or as was more predominantly the case, made from blackthorn, beech, or such until persimmon and even sometimes dogwood became the new technology.]

Irons were not really the most common club, though the putter was often a iron-headed club. The predominance of wooden-headed clubs of course makes sense in thinking about the origination of the game of golf from shepherds’ crooks, wooden walking sticks. But it also follows the logic of the ease-difficulty of manufacturing abilities of the time: dealing with multiple media (iron and wood) would have been a much more difficult work. Also, who wants to carry around a heavy iron club, even if you’re only playing Leith Links, which was only 5 holes?

http://www.laymansgolf.com/history-of-golf-equipment.html
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/18thcentury-golf-club-sells-for-92400-pounds-1533079.html
http://www.antiquegolfclub.co.uk/index.php?main_page=page&id=16&chapter=0

The First Golf Clubs in America: a full set of golf clubs from 1840s

A full set: only 8 clubs!?

This is a typical looking of a full set of golf clubs from as early as in the 1700s and on through the 1800s. 5 or 8, or so, of these would be loosely carried in the arm or by a caddie. This particular set is dated to the 1840s, but the “long-nose” clubs and a couple irons are the typical make for a long time in the history and play of golf.
The “technology” for the craftsmenship of these early clubs was developed from archery equipment making and blacksmithing. It is interesting to note that these craftsmen would have been making a lot of equipments for military use, and thus the earliest documentation of golfing [in Edinburgh, Scotland] was the forbidding of golf play and football play on the archery military practice range.

The first set of clubs shipped over to the Americas in 1743 that arrived in Charleston, SC, would have looked very similar.

Historical Context in Charleston When Golf Arrived

The most important issue for the arrival of the game of golf to America in Charleston, as opposed to New York or some other major [even more major] city, is the fact that Charleston had a wonderful context for the game:
Charleston had an obvious plot of land in immediate access to the people of the city, the Harleston Green a parkland in common use by the public for riding and gaming.
Charleston was an extremely important shipping port due to a very rich agriculture (rice and tea), unfortunately as well as the horrible slave trade.
Scots were a significant population in the city because of the merchant shipping.
As with many rather unique points in history, there was an individual(s) that had the idea and went with it. David Deas received the shipment of golf clubs and balls, but the interesting thing about the shipment is its quantity. 96 clubs and 432 balls are a major amount. Today, with players having a 14 club bag, this would outfit almost 7 full limit bags, but at that time when the typical players carried 5-8 clubs, this amount of clubs would be good for 12-19 people! So whether Mr. Deas was alone in his project and was merely an experienting enthusiast with lots of money to blow on expensive custom handiwork or merely the shipping agent (and possibly not even involved in the gaming), the point is that the amount shows that it is highly probable a dozen players were ready and waiting that shipment.
Regarding the involvement of David Deas, a Scottish shipping merchant that had moved to Charleston, he was from Leith, Edinburgh, Scotland, where in 1744 the first golf club was formed (the “Gentlemen Golfers of Leith,” who developed the first recorded rules of the game at that same time for their Annual Challenge for the Edinburgh Silver Club) and a five hole course existed. All this prior to the club and course at St. Andrews (1754). Of course, it is documented that golf, or “golfe”/”gauf”/”gawf,” was a part of Leith and the area as early as the mid 15th century. So Mr. Deas was from the historical homeland of golf.

This interesting mix of circumstances that made a welcome environment for the game of golf to come to America is only a part of the historical context of the area:
A major fire hit the city of Charleston in 1740. What bearing might this have had on the activity of the city for producing an environment of leisure or need for some folly and sport?
A new warehouse district due to a growing shipping business in 1740 (this is now known as Rainbow Row).
The population reached a significant 7,000 in 1742.

Charleston, SC, the city, the peninsula, the people, and the timing all lined up in 1743 for some group of men of the great city to carry a few mashies and featheries out to Harleston Green for golf.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: