What is the origin of the word ‘golf’?

What is the origin of the word 'golf'? ‘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.