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Origins Of Golf Lingo: Won't Help Your Stroke, But Good To Know

Aug 18, 2007
Golf, one of the most popular American sports, is not only fun, but also has quite an interesting history. The sport of golf began in the late 14th or early 15th century among a group of Dutch sailors who named the game after the Dutch word for club, "klof."

Scottish sailors witnessed this game in the 15th century and brought it over to the public links lands in Scotland. In the Scottish dialect, "klof" became "goff" and eventually "golf" for the English.

By the 1890s, golf courses ranged from six to twenty holes. One of the most popular courses in Scotland -St. Andrews - consisted of a long narrow strip of land with, at first, eleven holes; each golfer would play the holes out and back in again for a total of twenty-two holes. However, two holes were deemed too short and only nine were left, making the total the standard eighteen.

During this same decade, golf clubs in the United Kingdom used the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews to set the rules, making eighteen holes the standard.

Over those eighteen holes, golfers use a slew of strange, yet so familiar words: "birdie," "eagle,"
"bogey," "fore." These words are now used daily in golf games around the world, but few know the origins of such terms. All of these expressions came into golf vocabulary early on in the game, starting with "birdie"
in 1899.

H.B. Martin's "Fifty Years of American Golf" ran an article in 1899 recounting a comment made by Ab Smith during a foursome match in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Smith retold that his ball "came to rest within six inches of the cup and he said, 'That was a bird of a shot!'"

Smith went on to suggest to his fellow golfers that when a man plays a hole in one under par he should receive "double compensation." The other players agreed, and the four men began to call such a shot a "birdie."

"Eagle" soon followed to refer to a shot one better than a "bird." Additionally, but far less common, double eagles are referred to as an "albatross" - a bird even bigger than the eagle. Birdies, eagles, and the occasional albatross are something golfers wish for on their scorecards; however, to see a "bogey" is not so pleasant a surprise.

The term "bogey" originated in the early 1890s and came from a popular song in the British Isles called "The Bogey Man." Golfers during this time compared the quest for the elusive "Bogey Man" with the attempt at a perfect score. Eventually the term "bogey score" referred to the best score a player could make under perfect conditions. It was not until the 1900s/1910s that the concept of "par" came to be, thus replacing "bogey."

In order to avoid a "bogey," many golfers will call for a mulligan. This term is said to have originated when a man named David Mulligan played a course in Montreal, Canada in the 1920s. Three versions of the story exist: the first claims Mr. Mulligan hit his first shot on an impulse, did not like it, and re-teed to hit again. According to this version of the story, Mr. Mulligan's partners were so amused that they decided to name the shot after him.

Another version claims Mulligan had to drive the golf cart on bumpy roads and thus was allowed a second shot on his hits because he had been shaken up by the drive. Finally, a third story claims Mulligan came to the course disheveled from waking up late, and was granted a second shot because of his rush. Although it is not known which of these stories is true, it is generally agreed the David Mulligan in some way coined the term.

One of the more curious terms in golf is the word "fore," an exclamation frequently shouted before a player hits his shot. This word has a very simple explanation, dating back again to the Scots. The word "fore" is a shortened version of the word "before" or "afore," essentially meaning "look ahead" to the Scots. The Scottish used this as a warning in many instances, but, most likely, it originated from artillery men shouting a warning to troops ahead of them in battle. As early as the 18th century golfers adopted this term and began to use it on the golf course.
About the Author
Charlotte Beulow is a contributing writer for Access My Library. AccessMyLibrary.com is a service of Thomson Gale. Best known for its accurate and authoritative reference content as well as its intelligent organization of full-text magazine and newspaper articles, the company creates and maintains more than 600 databases that are published online, in print, as eBooks and in microform. Visit Access My Library
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