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Remembering King James II's Edict

By: Bob Spiwak


You won't find it on your drugstore calendar, but March 4, 2012, will mark the 555th anniversary of Scottish King James II's edict banning golf in his country.

It was in 1457 that Scotland was in danger of invasion by England, one of its many wars over the centuries. The king's arsenal consisted of bows and arrows and archers to twang them toward the enemy, thus was archery the primary sport of the land. However, "Futeball" was on the rise as was "golfe" for the noncombatant masses.

The king one day looked from his battlement and noticed that the bowmen aiming at targets were rather off the mark. No cow, horse, house or milkmaid was immune from getting the shaft.

This prompted the king to take action, and here, like a fly on the wall, we join him in the castle.

"Scribe, come hither," yelled James, the eye-eye. The scribe opened the door and responded, "You rang for me, Your Grace?"

"Aye," replied the king. "I've an edict for you to be written."

"Let me boot up the computer. This Pee See is not happy to get warm."

As the king paced anxiously, the scribe announced he was ready to take dictation from the dictator.

Said the king, "That the futeball and golfe be utterly cryed doon and nay be vied."

"What do you mean by vied," asked the scribe as he tapped on the keyboard.

"It means usyt, you tiny fool," retorted the king.

"Usyt it shall be, but beggin' your pardon, if an educated peasant such as I does not understand others will not know either." The king agreed.

"There's more to the edict, but for now print it out and have the royal poster-people put them up and made fast upon walls and posts throughout the kingdom. And while you're at it, drop by the shop of the royal arsenal and have Tommy Armourer produce arrows better than what are flying about the links."

Just then a round object an inch in diameter flew through a stained-glass window near the two and exploded into a shower of feathers. "It's the remnants of a golf ball, your majesty."

"Aye," replied James, "and you can see why I hate this fooking game."

(Over half a millennium later, golfers are still unknowingly quoting the king in many world-wide languages as they play what is often termed "Hack and Seek.")

Thus it came to pass that the edict was posted throughout the land. At first a few ignored it and then some more and all were sent to the jails. This, however, did little to dissuade the many.

We have no record of whether the edict was formally rescinded. But golf became the leading manner of entertainment in Scotland, surpassing even downing drams of Johnny Walkerweiser.

Years later, Mary Queen of Scots took up the game and was seen frequently on the links. She loved the sport but was not very good at it and was beheaded 40 years after the king's edict.

There are many explanations for her execution. The two most likely are in response to her ignoring the edict, but more likely, for shaving strokes in a match.

Bob Spiwak took up golf in 1953 as a respite from the rigors of selling bibles door-to-door in North Dakota. Though suffering a four-year lapse, he's back to being a fanatical golfer. Now a contributing editor for Cybergolf, Spiwak has written articles for almost every golf magazine in the Western world. Bob's most treasured golf antiquity is a nod he got from Gerald Ford at the 1990 Golf Summit. Spiwak lives in Mazama, Wash., with his wife and several pets next to his fabled ultra-private Whispering Rattlesnakes Golf & Flubbers Club.