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Throughout recorded history, every civilisation has played a game with a club and a ball. Pangea for example, as described by Roman scribes, would appear to be the father both of modern hockey and the Celtic games of Shinty and Hurling.
In one form or another, the variant games of present day golf were clearly enjoyed throughout Europe in the Middle Ages. The game persisted over the centuries and the form that it took and rules that were applied varied as widely as the terrain the game was played over. In short, the game consisted of knocking a ball from one pre-designated place to another where the ball was to be struck off a predetermined object in the least number of blows. Games often extended from village to village.
That this game was ousted from the towns and onto the commons land beyond is one possible solution to the question of how it all began. Whatever the exact origins, it is known that by the 15th century, "kolf" as it was known in the Netherlands and "goff" as it was referred to in England, was a pastime enjoyed by Kings and Commoners alike. It's kinship to the Great Game however, remains entirely questionable.
So widespread was the game of "Gowf", as it was known in Scotland, that an Act of Parliament was passed to prevent the playing of the game on Sundays and thus preserve the skills of Archery. The citizens of Aberdeen, St. Andrews and Leith on Scotland's East Coast were the principal "gowfing" miscreants and it was no coincidence that rolling sandy links land was commonplace here. On this very terrain, a game that started with a cleek and a ball took on a form that started an evolutionary process that continues to this day.
The question of how it all began may be of pressing concern to some but to the Scot, it is sufficient to know that the game was born on the links land of eastern Scotland. Here, the game has been nurtured for over five hundred years and from here, it has been raised to the great game played and loved by millions throughout the world.
This was the period when golf as we know it today came to be. It was in this time that many of today's great golf clubs were founded and the leading players of the era started to gain renown. The great club-makers and ball-makers of the era began to emerge and the clubs produced by these skilled craftsmen were coveted to the extent that forgeries became commonplace.
Top players began to regularly gather for 'meetings' when medal and match-play rounds were organised, with distinctions made for the first time between amateur and professional players. Allan Robertson, of the famous ball-making family in St Andrews, is widely credited as being the first golf professional. But before Allan, his Grandfather Peter was described as a professional golfer and although history knows little of this man, his reputation survived him and his prowess was widely acknowledged. One epic contest in 1843 was between Allan Robertson and Willie Dunn, two of the best players of that time. The challenge was held over 20 rounds (2 rounds per day over 10 days) and it was Robertson who triumphed - two rounds up with one to play.
The Robertson dynasty in itself reflects the emergence of the great game. The family can be traced back to one Thomas Buddo, a ball-maker in St Andrews in 1610. His daughter married a Robertson and from this pair was bred the stock that led to Allan himself and along the line produced generations of ball-makers. At least four separate Robertson families employing over 25 hands were engaged in making balls in St Andrews during the mid 18th Century. Allan by the way, who died in 1859, became the first man to break 80 on what is now the Old Course in 1853.