Your kilt flaps in the breeze!

June 23, 2022

Next time you jump out of a $2,000 golf cart and grab a $300 driver from your $150 golf bag and set your feet on the tee box wearing your $100 golf shoes, imagine doing the same thing in the mid-1500s in Scotland.

Saturday, Aug. 12, 1547, tee time 7:15 a.m., Greenwich mean time. It’s a balmy morning on the links. The wind is calm, blowing about 40 mph in your face, and you haven’t seen the sun in days. A salty mist is flowing in from the ocean and as you step to the first tee, your kilt is flapping in the breeze. It’s a great day for golf! 

You are out for a round with your lads on a course without a tree in sight. Tall grass, mounds and weeds are everywhere and hitting a sheep with your drive is not a penalty.  You step up to the first tee and fluff up some dirt and grass to make a small mound, on which to place your feathery ball for lift-off.

You set your feet in a wide stance, wearing heavy leather “golf shoes,” with small nails driven through the soles to give you traction.  In your non-gloved hands you are holding your favorite club, a mashie, which you have carved from a large piece of wood.

You look down the fairway past the sheep to a long stick with an old kilt tied to it, (on what could loosely be called a “green,” by today’s standards), and then let the big mashie eat! Your next shot is about 150 yards from the kilt and since you don’t have a golf bag, you drop all your clubs, (which only you have been carrying) and look for your niblick.

Your niblick shot comes to rest about 10 feet from the hole and once again you drop your clubs on the ground, this time near the green.  You pick up your cleek and putt for a birdie. But as fate would have it, your feathery ball hits a “sheep pie” and you have to settle for a double bogey. You do this again for 11 more holes (18 did not become the standard until 1857) or until you are frozen solid from wearing a kilt.

Golf was simple in those days; if you wanted a new driver (mashie) you could carve it yourself or if you were rich, have a craftsman carve it to your liking. In later years, most clubs were made from two different types of wood. The shaft was usually made from hazel or ash and the head of the club was made from a hardwood such as beech, blackthorn, pear or apple. They were attached together with a shim or split method, then tied tight with twine.

Besides mashie (driver), niblick (iron) and cleek (putter), other strange names were given to clubs.  Wedges were known as “blasters,” 4-woods were “baffies” and 2-woods were “brassie.” In the 1800s, metal clubs came on the scene and the term “irons” came into play, with specific irons being called “jiggers” and “sammys.”

To keep pace, new golf balls were also being invented, because the old feathery ball now would explode when hit with a jigger or sammy. In 1905, the modern-day golf ball was born with a hard rubber core and dimples to enhance spin and distance.

In 1908, grooves were placed on clubs to improve play once more and many rich golfers had their own clubs designed to help them out in different conditions of play. Case in point, Walter Hagen had his own sand wedge designed with an extended flange and concave face (it was later outlawed by the U.S. Golf Association).

Today, you can find just about any type of club, from steel to graphite to titanium, with any type of flex, grip and custom fit you want. Golf has come a long way since kilts and mashies were in vogue.

19th Hole Trivia:

• In the 1960s, aluminum golf clubs were introduced to the public, but they were soon phased out because the shafts would bend easily (especially around a tree).

• In 1502, King James IV of Scotland had his own set of custom carved clubs made for him.

• In 1502, King James IV did not carry his own clubs during his round of golf.

• Duffer means “dull, stupid person” in Scottish golf language.

• Golf carts are a $200 million industry used not only on golf courses, but in retirement communities, shopping malls, security companies and airports.

• NASA’s Mars Rover is referred to as an $820 million dollar golf cart.

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