Timing is everything. With the Eastmoreland 100 Launch Party in early planning stage for 2018, I had the pleasure to join in the 125th celebration at Gearhart Golf Links this past weekend. According to USGA, Gearhart is the oldest course west of the Mississippi, founded in 1892 (with evidence of a 3-hole makeshift course as early as 1888) by many of the founding members of Waverley. Much like the shangri-la of American golf - Bandon Dunes, the Gearhart Golf Links were built into the sandy dunes that reminded the Scottish immigrants of the sandy cliffs of their homeland.
Here's a little background history:
The word "links" comes via the Scots language from the Old English word hlinc : "rising ground, ridge" and refers to an area of coastal sand dunes and sometimes to open parkland. Links land is typically characterised by dunes, an undulating surface, and a sandy soil unsuitable for arable farming but which readily supports various indigenous browntop bents and red fescue grasses, that result in the firm turf associated with links courses and the 'running' game.
Thus "links" are a term referring to the terrain... and it's the attributes of the land that helped create a recreational game. Because the links were unsuitable for farming or building homes, the Kings and Lords of the day decreed that the links would remain public spaces for recreation and enjoyment of the people. Unlike most all other lands, that were held as estates and required grants of entry for use and passage. For example, even hunting in the forest could be considered crime without the express blessing of the King.
While golf is often seen as "elitist" the origins of the game are egalitarian as a recreational activity to be enjoyed by all people. You see, by decreeing that Links are open to the public the Kings and Lords of Scotland, literally opened the door for people to find ways to amuse themselves. the two primary sports that began to consume all their free time? Why golf and football, of course! (sound familiar?)
The exact origin of when the Scots started hitting rocks or feather stuffed leather balls with sticks sometime in the 15th century is not certain, however there is evidence similar games were played in Roman times and as far back as the Song Dynasty in China in 976. Afterall - who as a child did not pick up a stick and try to hit rocks or pine cones. It's the natural inclination to use tools that makes us human. Just like it's natural to kick a ball.
Now these Scottish Lords probably imagined the Links used for picnics, romantic walks on the beach... and military practice, specifically long-bow archery. When the young able bodied future soldiers began to whittle their time away practicing their approach shots with mashies,and countless chipping with a niblick, well... that was too much to bear. After all, even public recreation should serve the King, right? - and thus the Scottish Parliment banned the golf practice in 1457, along with football (soccer), because the sports were interfering with archery practice.
Author's note: If only the King knew that well practiced golfer like Dustin Johnson can drop bombs from 350 yards
While golf is often seen as "elitist" the origins of the game are egalitarian as a recreational activity to be enjoyed by all people.
I can only imagine these early golfers, surreptitiously sneaking away with their sticks, finding a grassy area behind some dunes. Like skateboarders culture, I imagine their kilts with hand sewn patches saying "Golf is not a crime!" with secret handshakes with their football playing brethren. A much better diplomacy for England and Spain to settle differences is 18 hole grudge match Rory and Sergio some 500 years later.
The elitist orgins in a way started because some 100 years later, probably in a time of peace, the King himself started to pick up the otherwise illegal but very popular game. It was then that it became a game for the elite... though because of the location on traditionally public land, all the ancient golf links are open to public at various hours and days. From the very early days, while the elite may have started to lay claim to the sport, as their own, most of the best golfers have always come from the ranks of greens keepers (Tom Morris) and caddies to dominate the sport. (Young Tom, Harry Varden, Francis Ouimet, Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and our Frank Dolp and Don Moe)
Fast forward to the late 19th century - where Oregon has been state barely 30 years old, and people began to build the earliest summer homes on the coast. Upon the sight of this gorgeous sandy links, what Scot wouldn't immediately send for golf clubs and have the kids place tin tomato cans with sticks and flags around? No one would build there of course, it was open space for the enjoyment and recreation - and there is a perfect game to do just that!
Thus, Oregon golf was born at Gearhart - originally not connected to the Hotel - though over time - the purveyors of the hotel recognized the draw and built the original "Sand Trap" clubhouse just next door and had the holes redesigned so the first tee was just a short walk from the hotel patio.