GOLF

Golf has a murky history tied to colonial exploitation, say scholars

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Golf is known as an elegant sport for a civilized player, but according to a new exhibit, it has a murky history linked to colonial exploitation.

Researchers from the University of St Andrews claim that the game was “imposed” by the British Empire in colonial countries around the world during the 19th century.

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Golf is linked to imperial exploitation by the British because balls were once made from rubber harvested in these colonial territories, they say.

Gutta-percha, a natural rubber material found in trees native to Southeast Asia, has been harvested to make golf balls for the European market.

St Andrews is known as the ‘home of golf’ for its 600-year history of play, but the university has now looked at the sport’s controversial links in the new exhibit.

Golf balls were the product of colonial exploitation, according to the University of St Andrews, while the game itself was ‘imposed’ around the world by the British Empire (file photo)

Gutta-percha (pictured), a natural rubber found in trees native to Southeast Asia, is a tree in the genus Palaquium.  In the 19th century it was harvested to make golf balls for the European market

Gutta-percha (pictured), a natural rubber found in trees native to Southeast Asia, is a tree in the genus Palaquium. In the 19th century it was harvested to make golf balls for the European market

Gutta-percha, a natural rubber material found in trees native to Southeast Asia, has been harvested to make golf balls for the European market

Gutta-percha, a natural rubber material found in trees native to Southeast Asia, has been harvested to make golf balls for the European market

The ‘Re-collecting Empire’ exhibition at the Wardlaw Museum in St Andrews is now open to the public and runs until October 22.

WHAT IS GUTTA PERCHA?

Gutta-percha is a natural rubber found in trees native to Southeast Asia and is a tree in the genus Palaquium.

In the 19th century, it was harvested to make golf balls for the European market.

Its natural bounce made it ideal for crafting a new “gutta ball”, which replaced the older “feather ball” made of feathers and stitched leather.

The gutta-percha core revolutionized the game of golf, according to British science historian James Burke.

It is part of St Andrews’ commitment to continue to “examine the legacies of empire in our collections and explore how we can build a more equitable future”.

It’s also part of a larger trend of academic “decolonization” accelerated by the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020.

“The exhibition opens at a time when museums and galleries across the UK and beyond are rethinking how best to care for objects in their collections that were acquired during periods of colonial rule,” said Dr Emma Bond, exhibition consultant and St Andrews scholar.

“Multiple voices need to be involved in these important conversations so that museums can move forward in a more equitable way.

“I hope Re-collecting Empire marks the beginning of a productive and transparent conversation with these groups about how to accommodate the legacies of empire that are present in the University’s collections.”

Golf originated in Scotland in the 15th century, although it was banned by King James II on the grounds that the games were a distraction from military training.

Restrictions on gambling were removed with the Treaty of Glasgow, which came into force in 1502.

The natural bounce of gutta-percha made it ideal for creating a new

The natural bounce of gutta-percha made it ideal for creating a new ‘gutta ball’ (pictured), which replaced the older ‘feather ball’ made of feathers and stitched leather

Saint Andrews Links located in the town of St Andrews, Fife, Scotland is widely recognized as the

Saint Andrews Links located in the town of St Andrews, Fife, Scotland is widely recognized as the “birthplace of golf”

GOOD GOLFERS LEARN TO PLAY WITH THEIR BAD HAND, STUDY SAYS

Good golfers learn to play the sport “upside down” by switching hands when holding the club, according to a 2021 study.

From a sample of 150 golfers, researchers found that successful players tend to hold their golf club in an “upside-down position.”

Traditionally, if a person is right-handed, they would place their right hand at the bottom of the club when gripping.

Conversely, a right-hander who places his left hand down would play in a so-called “reversed” position.

Left-handers who play right-handed – or vice versa – might have a better chance of excelling in the sport, as major championship winners Phil Mickelson and Jordan Spieth have demonstrated.

Read more

By the end of the 19th century, golf had spread to Ireland, the United States and other parts of Europe, and it had also reached the territories of the British Empire, including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Egypt, South Africa, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Hong Kong. .

But the exhibit claims that cricket as well as golf was ‘imposed’ across the Empire when British enthusiasts set up clubs overseas.

An exhibit at the exhibition states: ‘By recreating and imposing British sports in the colonized countries, golf and cricket spread throughout the world.

“The natural resources of colonized countries were exploited to manufacture sports equipment.”

The information is displayed alongside the Karachi Golf Club Cup, the prize awarded by one of the many clubs founded by the British in India during the Empire era.

Gutta rubber has grown most abundantly in Malaysia, which was once British-held, and some experts have said harvesting the rubber for Western markets is causing ecological damage.

Victorian scientists had discovered that rubber was a perfect and cost-effective material for covering booming telegraph wires.

Its natural bounce also made it ideal for making a new “gutta ball”, said to have been invented in 1843 by St Andrews student Robert Adams Paterson, who replaced the old “feathery ball” made of feathers and leather sewn.

The Re-collecting Empire exhibit also includes exhibits arguing that European textile mills created items inspired by styles “that originated overseas” in the colonies.

The 'Re-collecting Empire' exhibition at the Wardlaw Museum in St Andrews is now open to the public and runs until October 22

The ‘Re-collecting Empire’ exhibition at the Wardlaw Museum in St Andrews is now open to the public and runs until October 22

The textile mills therefore “exploited the original culture” by exploiting their styles and selling them for a profit.

The exhibition is funded by Museum Galleries Scotland, which has also supported a Scotland-wide examination of national links to the slave trade.

Exhibits also include a copy of the Quran that once belonged to the Sultan of Mysore, a Tibetan stone, a Chinese bell used in sacred ceremonies, and a statue of a Buddhist monk.

Contributions also include personal reflections, annotations and quotations, as well as poetry and art, which offer voices and perspectives “that have often been excluded”.

“This exhibition is the result of much thought and extensive consultation on how we approach colonial heritage in our collection,” said Dr Catherine Eagleton, Director of Libraries and Museums at the University of St Andrews.

“It’s an attempt to explore these stories publicly and try new ways to tell them, with the voices of those who have often been excluded front and center.”

A BRIEF HISTORY OF GOLF

The game of golf as we know it today can be traced to the Scots, although there are records of several stick and ball games throughout history.

As early as the 13th century, the Dutch played a game where a leather ball was hit with the intention of hitting a target several hundred yards away.

The winner would be the player who hit the target with the fewest shots.

However, the Scottish variant of the sport was distinguished by the goal of getting the ball into a hole.

When talking about the modern 18-hole game, the history of golf dates back to 15th century Scotland.

The game is first mentioned in an Act of the Scottish Parliament in 1457, which called for it to be banned alongside football.

King James II of Scotland forbade playing games as a distraction from military training, so he felt perfecting archery was more worthwhile.

After several further prohibitions throughout the 15th century and golf castigated as an unprofitable sport, restrictions on the game were removed with the coming into force of the Treaty of Glasgow in 1502.

The oldest recorded rules for the game date back to the year 1744, when the Honorable Company of Edinburgh Golfers published “Articles and Laws in Playing at Golf”.

This ancient piece of golfing history, now housed in the National Library of Scotland, made Muirfield Club famous as the oldest club in golfing history.

Scottish soldiers, immigrants and expatriates have played a central role in the history of golf.

They were responsible for spreading the game to the British Isles in the 18th century.

However, it was not until the 19th century that the game began to gain an international presence, including in the British Empire.

The oldest golf courses outside of Britain are in neighboring France, with the establishment of the Royal Calcutta Golf Club in 1829 and the Club de Pau in 1856.

By 1880 golf had spread to Ireland, many other parts of Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Singapore and South Africa.

Meanwhile, back in Britain, the game enjoyed growing popularity. In 1880, England had 10 golf courses, which quickly grew to 1000 by 1914.

Source: Keizer University College of Golf

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