How golf got banned in England for being too fun

The hilarious history of golf's ban in England
Did you know that golf was banned in England in 1457 because it was considered a distraction from archery practice?


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For those in a hurry

  • Golf was banned in England in 1457 by King James II
  • The reason was that it distracted people from archery practice, which was essential for national defense
  • The ban was lifted and reinstated several times until 1502, when King James IV became a golfer himself
  • Golf has since become one of the most popular sports in the world, with millions of fans and players

The origins of golf

Golf is a sport that involves hitting a small ball with a club into a hole on a course. The origins of golf are not clear, but some historians trace it back to ancient Rome, China, or Persia. However, the modern game of golf is widely believed to have originated in Scotland in the 15th century.

Banned golf

In 1457, King James II of England issued a decree that banned golf and football (soccer) in his kingdom. The reason was that these games distracted people from practicing archery, which was considered a vital skill for national defense. At that time, England was at war with France and Scotland, and needed to maintain a strong army of archers.

The decree stated: “That at no tyme thare after he [the king] nor na uther of his liegis take upon hand to play at the Fute-ball, Golfe, or uther sik unprofitable sportis.” (That at no time thereafter he [the king] nor any other of his subjects take upon hand to play at the Football, Golf, or other such unprofitable sports.)

The ban was not very effective, as many people continued to play golf secretly or openly. The king repeated the ban in 1470 and 1491, but with little success. In fact, some of his own relatives and nobles were avid golfers.

The end of the ban

The ban on golf was finally lifted in 1502, when King James IV of England (who was also King James I of Scotland) became a golfer himself. He bought a set of golf clubs from a French merchant and played at several courses in Scotland. He even played a famous match with King James V of Scotland (his grandson) in 1504.

Golf then became a popular sport among the royalty and the nobility, as well as the common people. It spread to other countries and continents over the centuries, and evolved into the game we know today.

The legacy of the ban

The ban on golf in England had some lasting effects on the sport and the nation. For one thing, it made golf more associated with Scotland than England, as Scotland became the home of many famous courses and players. For another thing, it may have contributed to the development of archery as a sport in England, as people had more incentive to practice it.

The ban also inspired some humorous stories and legends about golf. For example, some say that the term “birdie” (a score of one under par) comes from an incident in 1457, when a golfer hit a bird with his ball and then made the hole. Another story claims that the term “fore” (a warning shout) comes from an abbreviation of “forecaddie” (a person who goes ahead to spot where the ball lands), which was introduced during the ban to avoid detection by the authorities.

The ban on golf in England is a fascinating chapter in the history of the sport and the nation. It shows how golf was once considered a threat to national security, but later became a source of national pride and joy.