Bloomberg News Item - Dec. 11, 2003 (New York)
France, Not Scotland, Gave Ancient Roots to Golf, New Book Says
Dec. 11 (Bloomberg) -- The land of burgundy and brie, not
Scotch whisky and haggis, is the birthplace of golf, a new book
on the ancient game argues.
Authors Michael Flannery and Richard Leech said 13 years of
research for their book, ``Golf Through the Ages: 600 Years of
Golf Art,'' convinced them the roots of the game lie in the Loire
Valley of northwestern France.
Traditionally linked to the seaside grazing lands of
Scotland in the 15th century, golf actually started to evolve
four centuries earlier as a nonviolent competition between French
villages, with the winner moving the ball to the opposing town in
the fewest number of strokes, Flannery and Leech said.
``The earliest image of a ball game in the form of golf in
the area was from 1120, and there is one from 1460 that is the
first real painting of golf in the making,'' Leech said in a
telephone interview from his home in New-Isenburg, Germany.
That painting ``shows players in foursomes, the long drive,
a green clipped short by sheep and players putting out with
mallets,'' Leech said.
It is among 364 illustrations in the book, published by Golf
Links Press. Flannery said the book was designed ``to be the most
collectible golf book ever'' and will be printed in limited
editions. All 26 copies of the premium edition have been sold, at
$5,500 each. A second edition, with 150 numbered and signed
copies, goes for $2,500, with the regular edition available at
$750. Those last two editions go up to $3,000 and $950 after Jan.
Leech and Flannery said they found Paris tax records from
1292 and 1296 showing levies against ball- and clubmakers.
``The Loire region was the wealthiest, most cultivated area
of medieval Europe and the birthplace of knightly tradition,''
the authors said in a news release. ``Recreation was a vital
element of medieval, Renaissance and Reformation life.''
France may be famous for wine and cheese but not as a golf
hotbed. The most notable French golfer of recent years was Jean
van de Velde, who lost the British Open in 1999 after taking a
three-shot lead to the final tee.
That edition of golf's oldest tournament was played in
Scotland, where golf is part of the lore and where King James II
banned the game in 1457 because it kept his subjects from
The Royal & Ancient Golf Club in St. Andrews, Scotland,
writes the rules for the sport everywhere in the world except the
U.S. and Canada. The Old Course at the club's doorstep
traditionally is considered golf's birthplace.
Leech and Flannery call that legend ``sporting literature's
equivalent of the Immaculate Conception -- about as valid as
believing that cordon bleu cuisine began with Escoffier.''
They likewise dismiss theories of golf beginning in the
Netherlands as ``bogus histories.''
Scottish golf will stick with its story, while accepting
Leech and Flannery's argument as honest but conflicting research,
R&A officials said.
``We have to go with the first surviving written reference
to golf,'' said Sam Groves, curator of the British Golf Museum at
St. Andrews, referring to the 1457 law. ``There appear to have
been many ball-and-stick games in medieval Europe.''
Flannery said in an interview that the R&A had been
``extremely helpful'' in the book's research and provided several
images, including a 1740 painting, ``View of St. Andrews from the
Old Course.'' The scene shows that the links has changed little
from the 18th century to when Tiger Woods won the British Open
there in 2000.
--Larry Siddons in New York (1) (212) 318-2555, through the
Princeton Sports Desk or at email@example.com, with
reporting by Grant Clark in London. Editor: Sillup