Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden

(Some original content has been changed to reflect current statistics and facts.)

A common misconception is that the word golf is an acronym for Gentlemen Only Ladies Forbidden. Sorry to disappoint but this acronym, according to the large majority of golf historians and other history researchers, is most definitely untrue. It is referrred to as folk etymology.

The first record of the organized game of golf in writing can be found on a Scottish statute of forbidden games but as the word gouf. The origin of the game is a bit ambiguous, but it is a widely accepted theory that the game of golf originated in Scotland during the 12th Century. The game apparently consisted of shepherds knocking stones into rabbit holes. How did the game become so popular and available in the United States? Well, Long Island played a very important role in the establishment of the game in America.

According to American golf history, a few well-to-do gentlemen by the names of William K. Vanderbilt, Edward Meade, and Duncan Cryder on vacation in southern France came upon a certain Scotsman named Willie Dunn. He had been building a golf course in the resort where these wealthy businessmen had decided to holiday. After being introduced to the game, Meade and Cryder came home to the States and decided to find appropriate land near New York City upon which to build a course of their own.

They chose an area just East of what is now the Shinnecock Canal. These visionaries solicited the help of the oldest golf club in North America, the Royal Montreal Club, who answered by sending Willie Davis, who in turn designed a 12 hole course with the help of many members from the Shinnecock Indian Nation. The course, while not the oldest in the country, set many “firsts” after its opening in 1891. The clubhouse opened the following year, making it the first and oldest clubhouse in America. Willie Dunn, the Scotsman responsible for introducing the game to the courses’ developers, ended up designing six more holes bringing the total to 18 and accounting for just under 5,000 yards of play.

Shinnecock Hills Golf Club was also the first to allow women, which it is important to note, did so from the very beginning. It is also one of five founding clubs of the United States Golf Association, or USGA as it is commonly called.

Shinnecock Hills Golf Club was also the first to make a stand in civil rights in the game. White professionals had protested the permission of two caddies to participate in the second U.S. Open. The two “minorities” that caused the ruckus was John Shippen who was African-American and Shinnecock Indian and Oscar Bunn a Shinnecock Indian. Then USGA President Theodore Havermayer explained to his white majority that these two young men would be playing and if someone didn’t like it they could withdraw their names and sit this one out. As far as the author could research, no one sat out. Although Oscar Bunn had been eliminated in the first round, John Shippen managed to tie for fifth place overall.

Since these groundbreaking events took place in the world of golf, the course has been redesigned numerous times, but remains no less than spectacular and difficult now coming in at just under 7,000 yards of play.

The Shinnecock Hills Golf Club has hosted the U.S. Open five different times over the last 4 decades of golfing, the last in 2018. It is slated to host again in 2026. This historic golf course helped pave the way and set the standards for courses and clubhouses across the United States. Long Island has been at the heart of the game since its introdruction more than 120 years ago, and was part of history again in 2009 when the U.S. Open returned to Long Island for that years high stakes competition at the infamous Bethpage Black course in Farmingdale, New York.

With an estimated quarter of a million Long Islanders enjoying golf each year on over 100 golf courses, one must wonder if Vanderbilt and his cronies had any inclination of the booming popularity the game would experience not only on Long Island but throughout the country and the world.

Photo Credit- Shinnecock Hills Golf Club

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