‘Golf’ is, unquestionably, an ancient word, but its etymology is uncertain. The first written reference to the word, in its modern form, appears on an Act of Parliament dating from 1457, during the reign of King James II of England, James VII of Scotland, but alternative spellings, such as ‘gouf’, ‘gouff’ and ‘goff’ have also been identified in Scottish documents.
Lingusitically, the general concensus appears to be that the word ‘golf’ is derived from the Middle Dutch word ‘colf’, or ‘kolf, or the Middle High German word ‘kolbe’, meaning ‘club’ or ‘stick’. Indeed, a variety of ‘club-and-ball’ games, including colf, kolf and, in Belgium and France, chole, were played in Britain and continental Europe during the Middle Ages. In fact, a game called ‘kolf’ is still played, albeit on an indoor course, in the Netherlands.
Of course, it can be argued that the game of golf pre-dates any of these supposedly similar games, none of which has been definitively associated with golf, particularly as the name of a game, rather than a blunt striking instrument. However, the phonetic similarities between the various names cannot be denied and it is not difficult to envisage Flemish, Dutch or German sailors – who would have been regular visitors to the ports on the east coast of Scotland, because of the trade links between their respective countries – importing a game that eventually became modern golf.
The ‘Postage Stamp’ is the name of the par-3 eighth hole on the Old Course at Royal Troon Golf Club in Troon, South Ayrshire, which has hosted the Open Championship on nine occasions. The name was coined when William Park – not to be confused with Willie Park Jr., who won the Open Chanpionship twice, at Prestwick in 1887 and Musselburgh Links in 1889 – described the long, narrow green as ‘a pitching surface skimmed down to the size of a postage stamp’ in an article in ‘Golf Illustrated’ in 1922, but not officially adopted until the Fifties. Indeed, the eighth hole was originally named ‘Ailsa’, after Ailsa Craig, a granite, volcanic island that lies ten miles offshore at the mouth of the Firth of Clyde, but is clearly visible from the elevated teeing ground.
Measuring just 123 yards from the championship tees, the Postage Stamp is, in fact, the shortest hole in Open Championship golf. That said, the sloping green, which measures 40 yards long by 14 yards wide, is protected by five cavernous bunkers, including the infamous ‘Coffin’ bunker, cut into the base of the sandhill that flanks the green to the left. The signature hazard was added when the Old Course was redesigned by five-time Open Champion and renowned golf course architect James Braid in 1922, in preparation for hosting its first Open Championship the following year.
According to Guinness World Records, the longest golf hole in the world is the seventh hole on the Sano Course at Satsuki Golf Club in Japan, which measures 964 yards, or 881 metres, from the back tees and is one of the few par-7 holes in the world. Guinness World Records states, ‘All records listed on our website are current and up-to-date’ but, neverthless, in November, 2018, Ladies European Tour professional Florentyna Parker posted pictorial evidence of an even longer hole, also a par-7, at the Gunsan Country Club in South Korea.
The Gunsam Country Club occupies 1,060 acres of low-lying, flat land, formerly a salt field, in North Jeolla Province in the southwest of the Korean Peninsula. All told, Gunsan Country Club consists of 81 golf holes, 63 of which are open to the public, but the hole in question is the third on the Jeongeup Course; a photograph of the tee marker confirmed the yardage as 1,098 yards, or 1,004 metres, or a jaunty seven-minute walk, just to cover the distance, never mind negotiating the water hazards that surround the hole, left and right.
Golf is of course a big money sport, that puts short attention span types like me – I’m as likely to be found browsing mobile casinos on the course, as I am strategising – to shame. In golf, the four major championships are, in the order they appear in the calendar, the Masters, US Open, Open Championship and PGA Championship. Jack Nicklaus won all four at least three times apiece between 1962 and 1986, for a total of 18 wins, while Tiger Woods did likewise between 1997 and 2019, for a total of 15 wins. Of course, Woods is still active on the PGA Tour but, at the age of 44, with his recent career blighted by back and knee injuries, it remains to be seen if he will ever overhaul Nicklaus’ record.
In any event, unlike Nicklaus and Woods, the golfer who comes next in the all-time list of major championship winners never completed a so-called ‘Career Grand Slam’ by winning all four majors at least once during his career. The golfer in question is, of course, Walter ‘The Haig’ Hagen, whose career stretched into the Forties – that is, after the inauguration of the Masters, as the ‘Augusta National Invitational’, in 1934 – but was in his heyday in the Twenties. A contemporary of Bobby Jones and Gene Sarazen, Hagen opened his major championship account, as a 22-year-old, in the 1914 US Open. He won the same tournament again in 1919 and subsequently won the PGA Championship five times, in 1921, 1924, 1925, 1926 and 1927, and the Open Championship four times, in 1922, 1924, 1928 and 1929. His career total of 11 major championship wins is two ahead of Ben Hogan and Gary Player, with nine wins apiece. These guys are in a different league. I had best get back to my online baccarat casinos I think, or better still, the drawing board!