Sorry, Scotland. China has been Playing Golf for a Thousand Years

Golf was invented in Scotland, right? That’s what we’ve all been raised to believe. The first recorded game of golf was played at St. Andrews in 1552 AD. The course boasted twenty-two holes at that time, but the modern rules we all play by were used then and are still honored today, with a few small changes to adapt to changing times. This is all gospel to the modern golfer.

Contrary to popular belief, the Scots were not the first to play the game. Documentation from the Song Dynasty, written sometime between 960 AD and 1279 AD, describes a very golf-like game called Chuiwan. “Chui” means “to hit.” “Wan” translates as “ball.” Chinese royalty played the game with ten clubs, including a Cuanbang (driver) and Shaobang (3-wood). The Chinese say Mongolian traders likely brought the game to Europe.

Golf Roots from Ancient Times

The Romans played a game called “Paganica” that involved hitting a feather-stuffed leather ball using a bent wooden stick. It sounds like golf to me. Paganica was played as early as 100 BC and is referenced in multiple written histories of the time, so wouldn’t that be considered the origin of the game? Emperor Marcus Aurelius sent an envoy to China in 166 AD to open up trade routes. Perhaps China and Scotland got their ideas for the game from the Romans.

There’s more. Stone carvings from ancient Egypt show what looks like Egyptians playing golf over 4000 years ago. There are also stories of “ball and stick” games similar to golf that were played by the Greeks and Persians long before the birth of Christ. All three of these regions were conquered by the Roman Empire. Did they assimilate their game of Paganica from one of these older pastimes?

It’s hard to imagine that hitting a ball into a hole with a stick was an original Scottish idea. The only piece of information here that is not in question is that the “modern” game of golf was first played at St. Andrews in the 16th Century. How did they come up with the rules? The video below offers one explanation. It’s my personal favorite.

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