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The Word Golf

There is no universally accepted derivation for the word 'golf.'  One of the most common misconceptions is that the word GOLF is an acronym for Gentlemen Only Ladies Forbidden. This at least is definitely not true.

The first documented mention of the word 'golf'  is in Edinburgh on 6th March 1457, when King James II banned ‘ye golf’, in an attempt to encourage archery practice, which was being neglected.

Before the creation of dictionaries, there was no standardised spelling of any given word.  People wrote words phonetically.  Goff, gowf, golf, goif, gof, gowfe, gouff and golve have all been found in documents in Scotland.

Most people believe the old word 'gowfe' was the most common term, pronounced 'gouf'. The Loudon Gowf Club maintains the tradition of this terminology.

A minority of people hold the view that golf is a purely Scottish term, derived from Scots words 'golf', 'golfand' and 'golfing', which mean 'to strike' as in 'to cuff'.

It seems most likely that the terms golf, chole and kolf, which were the names for a variety of medieval stick and ball games in Britain and in continental Europe, are all derived from a common word of a pre-modern European language, following Grimm's grammatical law, which details the clear phonetic similarities of these words.

Golf (and chole and kolf) are all presumed to have originally meant 'club'. Golf has also been associated with the German word for club 'kolbe', (Der Kolben)It is also probably related to the Dutch word and game 'kolven'.

In 1636, David Wedderburn used the word Baculus, which is Latin for 'club' as the title for his 'Vocabula', listing Latin terms for golf, which supports this derivation. The Vocabula contains the first clear mention of the golf hole, the essential element of modern links golf and is thus the first unambiguous proof of the existence of the game in Scotland.  More details are to be found on the page on Aberdeen.

Aberdeen Kings Links looking south to former Queens Links site of first golf hole.

It is therefore likely that all these terms including golf have a common origin and the Scottish use flowed from there.

Robert Browning and David Hamilton, who both researched this to a great depth, broadly come to the conclusion above in their golf books. 

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