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Timeline The First Four Centuries
1457 First of three references to the game of "gouf" are found in the Acts of Parliament. Golf and football are banned because it is taking too much time away from archery practice and military training..
1502 Ban on golf is lifted. King James IV becomes the first recorded golfer, to buys clubs and balls
1567 Mary Queen of Scots accused of playing golf just two days after the murder of her husband.
1592 Golf at Leith, Scotland, is forbidden because it interfered with Sunday worship.
1603 James I (and VI of Scotland) ascends English throne. Appoints a royal club-maker and encourages both of his sons to play
1618 James I approves Sunday play...after worship of course.
1618 Invention of the feathery ball.
1637 Boy is hanged in Banff, Scotland for stealing golf balls
1641 King Charles I is playing golf at Leith when he learns of the Irish rebellion, marking the beginning of the English Civil War. He finishes his round.
1682 1659 Golf is banned from the streets of Albany, New York--the first
Old Tom Morris
Even those only remotely familiar with golf history may have heard of Old Tom Morris-such was the force of his personality. Old Tom grew up the son of a mail delivery man, who later gave up delivering letters to begin caddying.
The decision didn't have much impact on the life of Old Tom's father, but it did have for man who would eventually be called Old Tom Morris. He followed his father to the golf course in St. Andrews and began playing the game by the time he was ten.
He was originally slated to become a carpenter, but at 16 an opportunity presented itself and he was apprenticed to feather ball maker Allan Robertson with whom he worked for 12 years until 1849, when the new gutta percha ball took away their livelihood.
Not only did Morris work with Robertson, but the two men also played in foursomes together (the main game at that time) and were never beaten from 1842 till Robertson's death in 1859. Rumor has it that the golfing public was desperate for a Robertson-Morris match to settle who was better but Robertson declined and probably with good reason.
After the introduction of the guttie, Morris went into business as a club and ball maker on his own, before moving to Prestwick to take up the job of greenskeeper there. In the first British Open, he finished second, two strokes behind Willie Parks. He would atone for the loss, with victories in 1861 and 1862 and again in 1864 and 1867.
His skill as a greenskeeper led to work designing courses (for which he charged a pound a day, plus, he proudly said, expenses). Those courses are now some of the greatest courses in the British Isles. He is said to have spent more than thirty years making the green on the St. Andrews Old Course just perfect.
Old Tom Morris died in 1908 at age 86. He had a fractured skull after falling down the stairs in The New Club at St Andrews. The funeral was one of the largest in St. Andrews history, as people came to pay respect to an extraordinary life.
Balls, Balls, Balls...
Nearly every change in the game of golf throughout the centuries has followed a change in the golf ball. Mind you, in the beginning folks weren't that imaginative; simply a piece of wood and a round rock batted around an acre of farmland was sufficient. But as the game caught on, and especially the nobility and gentry found it an acceptable leisurely pastime, they demanded something a little more elaborate and fitting to knock about.
In 1618, the first manufactured ball was introduced to the game: the "feathery." It was simple: strips of leather, stuffed with boiled goose or chicken feathers--only the finest materials. It didn't, of course, make much of a ball, never really being perfectly spherical, and never really traveling in a straight line. But they made quite a scene after a few rounds when they either just fell apart or exploded. And if you're a rich squire out for an afternoon game, what does it matter? You can afford to have another hand made.
Somehow the feathery lasted a good two and a half centuries, but the next incarnation for the golf ball would be hardened tree sap from a gutta-percha tree, a tree found mainly in Malaysia. Introduced to the game by British cleric Robert Adams Paterson in 1848, the "guttie" was made by heating the sap in hot water and molding it into a sphere by hand.
In time, manufacturers found they could pour the sap into moulds and produce a perfect guttie with standardized weights. Soon all manner of manufacturers entered the business, including most tire and rubber companies. All of a sudden, golf balls could be mass produced, and at a much reduced cost. Everyone, and not just the rich, could now afford to buy balls. Golf became accessible to the masses.