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Who invented golf?  We could say the Scots, but that wouldn’t be telling the whole story.  The ancient Romans, for instance, played a golf-like game called paganica, using a bent stick and a leather ball filled with feathers.  the Visigoths – known for their plundering and overall pillaging – for sure played paganica after they overthrew ancient Rome on August 4, 410, but may have played a golf-like game even before then.

Its been documented in writing and art that the Chinese played Chuiwan (“hitting ball”) as early as the tenth century, but the French swear that golf came from their ancient game jeu de mail.  Golf also might’ve come from an early British game called knur and spell, Belgium’s chole that goes back to the 1300s, or the Dutch game of kolven.

The truth is that no one knows the origins for sure.  Linguists agree that the word “golf” comes from an ancient Scottish word gowf, that meant “to strike.” And everyone agrees, as well, that the Scottish did love their golf.  In 1744, the Company of Gentlemen Golfers of Leith (Scotland) created the earliest known written golf code, consisting of thirteen rules.  Ten years later, Scotland’s St. Andrews Golf Club formed.

At the end of the nineteenth century golf really began to take off.  In 1873, the Royal Montreal Golf Club opened, making it the first permanent golfing club in the Western Hemisphere.  The first golf book in America, Golf In America:  A Practical Manual, was published in 1895.


Despite a myth spread enthusiastically by early promoters, baseball was not really invented by Abner Doubleday in Cooperstown, New York.  In fact, it wasn’t exactly invented at all – instead it evolved from the British games of cricket and rounders which, early on, were sometimes called “base ball.”

By the early 1800s, Americans had already begun adapting the games into new variations called “town ball” and “one old cat – two old cat – three old cat”.”  In 1845, Alexander Cartwright drew up some rules for the new York Knickerbocker Base Ball Club, arbitrarily fixing the diamond size at ninety feet square, and putting the batter at home plate instead of in a batters’ box nearby.  He also ruled out the deadly practice of “plugging” base runners – hitting them with a thrown ball to get them out.  But still, the game had quite a bit of evolving to do in the coming years before it became the game we know today.


The French originated tennis during the twelfth century.  They called it jeu de paume, (“game of the palm”) because, in the beginning, players used their hands to bat the ball back and forth over the net.  Rackets came later, and the name changed to tenetz (“get and hold”).

The father of modern tennis is Major Walter Clopton Wingfield of England, who in 1873, introduced the modern sport with the idea of playing it on grass courts.  Wingfield wasn’t quite as good at coining names – he called the game sphairistike, Greek for “playing ball.”

Most went back to the French name and tennis soon replaced croquet as England’s most popular outdoor sport, and in 1874, Mary Ewing Outerbridge, an American sportswoman, purchased tennis equipment from British army officers in Bermuda and introduced the sport to America.


Badminton was invented in the 1860s by the daughters of the Duke of Beaufort.  It was based loosely on an ancient game called battledore and shuttlecock, and used the same equipment.

They named the game after their dad’s Badminton House in Gloustershire, England, where they first played it.  The dimension of the modern official badminton court (44 feet long and 17 feet wide) reportedly matches those of the room where the young women developed the game.

Badminton has been an Olympic event since 1992, and it’s Malaysia’s official national sport


As early as 400 BC, Chinese athletes played a soccer-like game.  The Romans played a non-kick version in the third century.  By the 100s, London children played a form of soccer they called “football.”  Soccer moved into all English schools by the early 1800s, but each school interpreted the rules differently.  In 1848, school representatives met at trinity College in Cambridge an agreed upon a standardized set of soccer rules.


According to its legendary history, rugby was invented by a renegade schoolboy named William Webb Ellis at rugby School in Warwickshire, England.  One day in 1823, when his “football” (soccer) team was badly losing, Ellis picked up the ball and ran for the goal while onlookers watched in dumfounded amazement.  He was heavily penalized on the field and forced to write a letter of apology afterward.  However, his simple act of frustrated defiance inspired the idea of a game where you can kick, throw, or run with the ball, and “Rugby-styled football” eventually became jus “rugby.”

American Football

It’s hard to believe, but football was once so deadly that it was nearly outlawed in the United States.  In 1874, a team from Montreal’s McGill University visited Harvard and taught its soccer team how to play variation of rugby.  Harvard then introduced it to other Easter colleges.  Walter Camp, who had played for Yale from 1876 to 1882 established a scoring system, downs, yards to gain, and the center’s snap to the quarterback.

By 1900, football had become increasingly violent, but players still did not yet wear pads or helmets.  In 1909 alone, 27 players died and hundreds more were permanently injured.  Gunfighter-turned-sportswriter Bat Masterson, no stranger to mayhem, wrote, “Football is not a sport in any sense.  It is a brutal and savage slugging match between two reckless opposing crowds.  The rougher it is and the more killed and crippled, the more delighted are the spectators, who howl their heads off at the sight of a player stretched prone and unconscious on the hard and frozen ground.”

Woodrow Wilson, then president of Princeton University, convened an intercollegiate football rules committee to see if the game should be changed, or even outlawed.  After five month, the committee issued its recommendations, prohibiting some of the most dangerous practices, like diving tackles, blocking with linked arms, picking up and carrying ball carriers, and interfering with pass receivers.  Deaths and injuries went way down, however, some hardcore fans complained that the changes ruined the game forever.


“Basketball” could’ve easily been called “box ball” or even “trashcan ball.”  In 1891, James Naismith invented a dribble, pass, and shoot game for bored, snowbound students at a YMCA in Springfield, Massachusetts,  In designing the court, he had intended to use wooden boxes for his targets.  Unfortunately, when he asked the custodian for boxes, he said there were none in any of the club’s back rooms.  “But,” he added, “I have two old peach baskets down in the store room, if they’ll do you any good.

Naismith shrugged and nailed the peach baskets on the balconies at either end of the gym.  They just happened to be ten feet off the floor, which is why that came to be the regulation height for baskets.  Later, when it became clear that the thin wood baskets weren’t going to hold up for long, Naismith switched to wire trash cans, and then eventually to the hoop and netting combination we see today.


Volleyball was invented in Holyoke, Massachusetts by William Morgan in 1895 for sedentary businessmen who found the new sport of basketball too strenuous.


McGill University, which had an important role in the development of football, played an even more pivotal role in the invention of ice hockey.  But the game itself was invented by unknown members of the British Army.

It’s true that field hockey games – with balls and without the ice – were played by ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Arabs, Romans, and Persians.  Irish played “hurley” more than 2000 years ago, and native South Americans had a similar game when Columbus arrived in1492.  However, the dubious genius of trying to play the basic game while sliding on ice skates took a special kind of crackpot genius you’d expect to find only among extremely bored soldiers in a wintry clime.

And so it was:  British soldiers stationed in Canada in the mid-1850s came up with the basics of ice hockey.  The rules were refined and set down by students at McGill University in Quebec in 1879.  The name comes form the French word for a shepherd’s crook, hoquet.  By the beginning of the twentieth century, the sport had spread into the U.S. and later Europe.  In late 1917, professional players formed the National Hockey League.