The Genus of American Golf

by Bob Cupp President, American Society of Golf Course Architects

In 1657, almost a hundred and twenty years before our revolution, two men were arrested in Albany, New York, for hitting a ball with a club through the streets and breaking windows, obviously fueled by spirits. But nonetheless, the essence of the game was alive and well and so were its implements—testimony to both the age and intensity of the game.

Eighty-five years later, golf equipment arrived in Savannah, Georgia from Scotland. The 1744 bill of lading was noted by a clerk who dutifully filed them into history to be rediscovered two centuries later.

In 1779, Rivington's Royal Gazette in New York City advertised on April 21st the sale of 'Veritable Caledonian Balls.' body_learnmore_genus_Golf_1.jpg

A decade later, notices appeared in the Charleston City Gazette that the South Carolina Golf Club was to celebrate its anniversary. Then, in 1811, the Georgia Gazette published a notice of "a ball, to be given by the golf club of this city (The Savannah Golf Club)," and that one of the attendees was a Miss Eliza Johnston. The social clubs and the actual equipment were known to have existed though there is no trace of a golf course anywhere.

In 1883, a transplanted Scot named J. Hamilton Gillespie is reported to have played golf in the downtown streets of Sarasota, Florida.

In 1884 a number of Scots joined with American Russell Montague on his farm in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia to actually create a course in a meadow, and then had a championship medal cast by the same company that creates America's Medal of Honor even today. It became the first recorded golf course and remained in play until the early teens.

In Yonkers, New York, in November of 1888, after a summer of playing the game in his pasture with a number of friends, John Reid hosted a dinner at his home and brought St. Andrew's Golf Club to life. With a few switches of venue, the club remained viable to the modern day.?The game caught on with the elite of a booming nation, and by the turn of the century, nearly seven hundred courses existed from Boston to Chicago.

Scottish designers were brought in to create high quality courses such as Shinnecock on Long Island and Myopia Hunt Club in Boston. But the majority of the courses were crude.

Along with the teachers of the game—mostly Scottish professionals—also came the nation's first Golf Architects, who, though small in number, repaired and created courses that brought even more converts to the game.
The companion book to Golf's Grand Design, Golf's Grand Design—The Evolution of Golf Architecture in America, follows that journey and delves not only into the rudiments, but the personal aspects of the craft. Golf architecture is a unique endeavor, a curious blend of art, sport and science that has become a part of the American fabric as well as its landscape.

© 2012 Bob Cupp, Ron Whitten and Michael Trimboli 


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(courtesy USGA Museum)
Old painting of a golfer playing a shot out of a bunker


(courtesy George Bahto)
Charles Blair Macdonald standing in a bunker