Hard by the fields called the Links, the citizens of Edinburgh divert themselves at a game called Golf, in which they use a curious kind of bats, tipped with horn, and small elastic balls of leather, stuffed with feathers, rather less than tennis balls, but of a much harder consistency; this they strike with such force and dexterity from one hole to another that they will fly to an incredible distance.
The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker," Tobias Smollett, 1771 Ah, the relics of the game. Chronicled from the early days when legions of the Roman Empire relaxed with a game known as paganica and took it abroad as their armies advanced. The medieval Dutch played kolf, the Belgians choulle. Even earlier, the ancient Chinese played a similar game, called suigan, during the Sang and Ming eras, and Japanese nobility of the Nara period played dakua. But none of these forerunners involved a hole in the ground with the players attempting to climax their round with a putt, golf's one distinguishing feature.
It was the Scots and their rolling turf and dunes that fashioned the game we've recognized for some 600 years. Much more than dates in a history book, golf's time-honored legacy and continuing evolution are a testimony to the international enjoyment of the sport. Understanding its beginnings and growth makes it even more challenging.
Where to learn about golf? Try a museum. Scattered through the United States and Canada, golf museums tee up with the facts, figures, history and lure that will keep you on par. Here are some to swing by:
James River Country Club Golf Museum and Library: Founded in 1932 by a non-golfer, Archer M. Huntington, principal owner of the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co., this is the oldest golf museum in the world. Appropriately ensconced on the banks of the James River near historic Jamestown, Va., the first permanent English settlement in North America, the museum's superior collections were begun long before collecting ancient golf artifacts was in vogue.
Boasting some 400 old clubs, including cleeks, baffies, jiggers, brassies, spoons and niblicks, it is possibly the finest collection in the country or the world. Highlights include a fine old wooden putter of the 1780 period made by Simon Cossair of Leith, Scotland; a concave-faced sand iron dated 1820; and a scale model of the Old Course at St. Andrew's. More than 1,000 volumes document the game from medieval to modern times and include two rare volumes, the 1566 "Black Acts" and the 1597 "Scots Lawes and Acts," both important because they contain the first known printed reference to golf and the laws that prohibited its playing because it interfered with archery practice, church attendance or other aspects of life.
Located at 1500 Country Club Road, Newport News, Va. 23606, (804) 595-3327, the museum is open to the public at no charge. However, since the club is private, curator Weymoth Crumpler recommends calling ahead.
USGA Golf House Museum and Library: Opened in 1972 near the borough of Far Hills, N.J., the museum and library are housed in the former family residence of Thomas H. Frothingham, a Georgian Colonial structure built in 1919 by John Russell Pope, who also designed the National Archives Building, the Jefferson Memorial and the American Battle Monument in France.
As the custodian of golf's history in the United States, the USGA makes this facility, which is adjacent to its headquarters, available for research as well as browsing. Along with some 8,000 volumes dedicated to golf, exhibits include a vast collection of clubs and balls signifying the three distinct eras in the evolution of the game: the feather ball, the gutta percha ball and the rubber ball periods. America's enthusiasm for the game inspired rapid changes in equipment, and golf course construction boomed after World War II. Artifacts and memorabilia include paintings, photographs, sculpture, ceramics, glassware, silver pieces, golf garments and astronaut Alan Shepard's moon club. Exhibits feature golf course architecture and turf maintenance, hands-on and video presentations, and changing displays.
Located on Liberty Corner Road (New Jersey Route 512) in Far Hills, N.J., (201) 234-2300, Golf House is open free of charge from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. It is closed New Year's day, Easter Sunday, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
PGA/World Golf Hall of Fame: From its appropriate stance overlooking the fourth hole of Donald Ross' masterpiece, Pinehurst No. 2, the Golf Hall of Fame nestles among dogwoods, azaleas and longleaf pine in Pinehurst, N.C.
A fascinating repository of antiques, artifacts, artworks, publications and equipment, two marble-columned structures display the development and history of golf over the past 300 years. Exhibits include the colorful Golf History Wall, the Old Clubmakers Shop, the Ryder Cup Room, the Auchterlonie Collection of 101 antique clubs, the Major Tournament Showcase, the Golf Art Gallery, the PGA library, golf carts, and the Out of Bounds Gift Shop.
Located on PGA Boulevard, Pinehurst, N.C. 28374, (919) 295-6651 or (800) 334-0178, the Hall of Fame is open March 1 through Nov. 30 seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fee for adults is $3; children 10 to 18, $2; under 10, free; AAA members, $2.50; senior citizens, $2.50. The curator is Richard A. Stranahan.
The Tufts Archives: Through the foresight and generosity of Richard S. Tufts, grandson of Pinehurst's founder, James Walker Tufts, the Tufts Archives wing was added to the Given Memorial Library in 1975. The archives contain an interesting display of photographs, papers and memorabilia pertaining to the early development of Pinehurst, with emphasis on golf and the contributions of Donald J. Ross to the area.
Located at Village Green East, Pinehurst, N.C. 28374, (919) 295-3642, the Tufts Archives are open 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, and is free of charge. A brief taped tour is available, as is a regularly scheduled "History of Pinehurst" lecture on the second Saturday of each month. Zeke Cook is the resident archivist.
American Golf Hall of Fame: A Pennsylvania Roadside Historic Marker heralds the Foxburg Golf Course as the oldest golf course in continuous use in the United States: The game has been played here since 1887. Housed in the Foxburg Country Club's quaint log clubhouse, the library-museum, which depicts 400 years of history, was developed by the Tri State PGA Hall of Fame in conjunction with the American Golf Hall of Fame, with exhibits that include ancient clubs and golf memorabilia.
Located in Foxburg, Pa. 16036, (412) 659-3196, the museum, golf course and clubhouse are open to the public seven days a week from April through October.
The Robert T. Jones Jr. Room: Except for time spent attending Harvard and making golf movies in Hollywood, Bobby Jones lived his entire life in Atlanta and played out of the Atlantic Athletic Club. It is here that this golfing great is immortalized. In a special corner of the clubhouse, pictures, books -- many of them originals written by Jones -- golf clubs, personal memorabilia and trophies gleam from emerald-green-lined wooden cases. Along with his Grand Slam awards, probably the exhibit's most prized piece is the St. Andrew's Freedom of the City Presentation, awarded in 1958 (the only American previously so honored was Benjamin Franklin in 1759).
The club is located on Athletic Club Drive in Duluth, Ga., (404) 448-2166. Since the Atlanta Athletic Club is private, general manager A. Christopher Borders suggests calling ahead for an appointment.
Ouimet Museum and Golf House: This small treasure in Massachusetts is named for Francis Ouimet, the 20-year-old who astounded the sporting world with his playoff victory over the British giants of golf, Harry Vardon and Ted Ray, and won the 1913 U.S. Open. The library is filled with mementoes, trophies and books that attest to the range and influence of Ouimet, both as a man and golfer. Exhibits also feature Massachusetts golfing greats from the early 1900s to the present and highlight the history of the Women's Golf Association of Massachusetts.
Located at 190 Park Road, Weston, Mass. 02193, (617) 891-6400, the museum is part of the Massachusetts Golf Association headquarters and open to the public at no charge Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Jack Nicklaus Collection: Close to his hometown of Columbus, Ohio, trophies and golf memorabilia are continually added to the Jack Nicklaus Collection, permanently displayed at Muirfield Village Golf Club. Showcased are replicas of major trophies like the Ryder Cup and Muirfield's Memorial Tournament Cup along with an extensive book collection and the set of clubs Mr. Nicklaus used to win the Masters. Eventually, a museum is planned to house the growing collection. Mr. Nicklaus founded Muirfield's Memorial Tournament, and the club's Memorial Park pays tribute to the winners.
Visitors are welcome to view the collection, located at 5750 Memorial Drive, Dublin, Ohio 43017, (614) 889-6700. However, since the club is private, general manager John Hines suggests calling ahead.
The PGA of America: The National Headquarters of the PGA of America in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., toasts golf's greats with its mezzanine-level heritage and memorabilia displays, old clubs used by PGA champions and trophies from PGA events like the Ryder Cup, PGA Championship and the Harry Vardon Trophy.
Located in the headquarters building, (407) 626-3600, the exhibit is free and open to the public daily from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
The PGA TOUR Hall of Fame and Museum: Stay tuned for this one. It's being built near St. Augustine, Fla., south of Jacksonville, Fla., home of the PGA TOUR and PGA TOUR productions, the video and television arm of the PGA TOUR. The museum will feature golf heritage melded with high-tech innovative exhibits and be part of a larger complex that will eventually include two championship courses, resort hotel and residential community.
The Royal Canadian Golf Association Museum and Canadian Golf Hall of Fame: Situated at Glen Abbey Golf Course, the permanent home of the Canadian Open in Oakville, Ontario, the museum dedicates its coverage to the evolution of golf from its medieval roots, Scottish birth and development in Canada. Highlights include memorabilia of Canada's greatest golfers and supporters, the 1904 Olympic trophy, early clubs, a ballot box used by members of the St. Andrew's Society of Royal and Ancient Golfers, and a library stocked with the finest collection of golf literature available to the public in Canada.
Located at R. R. No. 2, Oakville, Ontario, L6J 4Z3, Canada, (416) 849-9700, the museum is open free of charge Mondays through Fridays from 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. year-round. For a weekend visit, curator Karen E. Hewson suggests contacting her for an appointment. Oakville is 20 minutes west of Toronto.
Golf Collectors Society: You may have some golf artifacts of your own to share. This international association, founded in 1970 by Joseph S. F. Murdoch and J. Robert Kuntz, recognizes the expanding interest in the antiquities of golf. Its purpose is to introduce golf collectors to each other, encourage sharing of information, and through publication of the GCS Bulletin, provide information about other collectors, the history, art and "weaponnes of the gamye."
More information is available by contacting Charlie Yaws, GCS Treasurer, P.O. Box 491, Shawnee Mission, Kan. 66201, (913) 649-4618. A volunteer staff and minimal annual dues support the society.