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Harbour Town Golf Links

The Loop

Did you know: Golf was once banned by a King

EDITOR'S NOTE: When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world in full force in 2020, it put a giant pause button on fans being able to watch golf on TV, and in some cases, even kept people off courses. But while the golf world hunkered down and hoped for a speedy return to normalcy, we at Golf Digest used this time as an opportunity to learn more about the game we love. We created a series of posts call “Did you know?” and this was one of the more intereting editions.

The Coronavirus has many wondering where playing golf is allowed these days, but there was another time when it was more clearly banned. By decree of a Scottish King. Several Scottish Kings, in fact.

That’s right, way back in 1457(!), King James II was concerned his subjects weren’t practicing their archery enough during Scotland’s ongoing wars with England. Instead, ol “No-fun” James felt people were wasting too much time playing golf and football—AKA soccer to us ugly Americans. So he put a stop to those games by putting it in writing.

Via the Golf In Scotland website, here’s an extract from James II’s Act of Parliament in 1457 that has been translated into today’s parlance:

Item, it is ordained and the decreed that the lords and barons both spiritual and temporal should organise archery displays four times in the year. And that football and golf should be utterly condemned and stopped. And that a pair of targets should be made up at all parish churches and shooting should be practised each Sunday ... And concerning football and golf, we ordain that [those found playing these games] be punished by the local barons and, failing them, by the King's officers.

“Utterly condemned and stopped”? You would think King James II was talking about stealing or something even worse. Lighten up, man! Talk about a guy who doesn't like to let his hair down.

Never mind. It looks like the dude had flowing locks that would make Tommy Fleetwood jealous. Good for him. We're still not fans, though, because he wasn't a fan of golf.

But we can’t just blame James II. James III and James IV ordered follow-up bans in 1471 and 1491, respectively. What an awful time to be live, huh? Fortunately, James IV wound up changing his mind and even took up the game. Talk about a redemption story!

Of course, it helped that the Treaty of Glasgow (more commonly known as the Treaty of Perpetual Peace) was signed with Henry VII of England in 1502. And Henry was a huge golfer. (** Looks up Henry VII on Wikipedia **). Nope, never mind. Henry VII was not a golfer, but he did a lot for England’s wool industry. The more you know.

But finally having peace certainly helped. It’s a lot easier to work on your short game when you're not constantly dodging arrows.

Anyway, play resumed and Scotland’s St. Andrews eventually became known as the “Home of Golf” instead of the “Home of Archery.” Thank goodness.