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  • The Historical Dictionary of Golfing Terms, from 1500 to the Present
  • Rick Knott
Davies, Peter. The Historical Dictionary of Golfing Terms, from 1500 to the Present. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005. Illustrations by Fran Carson. Pp. 188. $18.95.

Peter Davies' work The Historical Dictionary of Golfing Terms is a reference work of golfing terms that appear in popular literature. It is organized alphabetically by term, and there is not only a definition of the term but numerous citations demonstrating how it is used in print. These citations are ordered chronologically so one could observe how the meaning of the term has changed over time. The sources for the work go back to the Acts of the Parliaments of Scotland, in 1457, to articles appearing in Golf Magazine in the late twentieth century. According to Davies, golf is "a game, probably evolved from Dutch antecedents, first recorded in Scotland in the 15th century, and played under codified rules since the middle of the eighteenth century." The history of the term, also spelled glove, gowf, gouf, and colf, meant "game played with club." The sources Davies used are appropriate, and the ones historians of golf would use. There were frequent references to Wedderburn's Vocabulary, 1673, an early English dictionary, as well as early publications of the first codified written rules of golf, such as Articles & Laws in Playing Golf, 1744, and other rule books right up to the present. Davies made extensive use of articles from Bailey's Magazine, Golf, and The Outing from the late nineteenth century, Golf Illustrated, and Illustrated Outdoor News from the early twentieth century, and Golf Magazine, Golf Digest, and Golf Illustrated from the late twentieth century, in addition to some selected newspaper articles. As expected, Davies makes frequent use of the writings of popular golf authors such as Horace Hutchinson, and Bernard Darwin, and the writings of some of the top golfers of their era, such as Vardon, Hagen, Hogan, Snead, and Nicklaus. There are approximately one hundred illustrations of equipment that are valuable, and significantly add meaning to the work.

The research is quite thorough, and Davies does an excellent job documenting how the language of golf has changed over the years. For example, the term "bird" as it first appeared meant anything that occurred that was excellent, or wonderful, or a long excellent shot. Sometime in the twentieth century it became quantified as one shot under par on a hole. The term "tee" has multiple meanings, even today. Originally it meant the "small heap of sand used to elevate the ball for driving." It also means the "tee ground," or the designated area from which the first shot of the hole is taken. It is also a wooden peg that most golfers carry in their pocket to use in place of that pile of sand, also used to elevate the ball for driving. Today we also tee it up, hit a tee-shot, tee off, and some golfers get teed off!

One of the significant limitations of this work is that it only focuses on the written documentation of golfing language. Some terminology, such as getting "teed off," is part of an oral tradition in golf, and albeit contemporary, is widely used and omitted from this work because it is largely verbal. When one hears that the "greens have been bikini waxed," or "that putt went right in the jar," or in the "clown's mouth," these understandings would be lost if they never appear in print. The changing meaning of the word occurs in the verbal vernacular sooner than in written prose. Mass media certainly accelerates these changes.

Late nineteenth- and twentieth-century sources are disproportionately represented in the work, but that is understandable since they parallel the growth in golf's popularity. [End Page 162] Although the sources are excellent, overdependence upon the works of popular historians and professional golfers has allowed them to define the history of golf, and therefore adds little to our body of knowledge on the subject. Few would argue that golf has its own vernacular, its own unique language. Birdies, pars, bogies, and mulligans are understood by golfers everywhere. If it...


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