Date: November 04, 2015
Author: The Australian Golf Heritage Society

Q and A Golf History DZ Ed. #87-#88

Answers to Previous History Quiz from Drop Zone #88:

1.      On the basis of evidence, when and where was golf first played in Australia?

Answer. Key words are “evidence” and “first”. On the 25th of May 1839 golf was first played in Australia in Sydney. It was played on Grose Farm, land now occupied by RPA Hospital, Sydney University and Victoria Park. The evidence for this is contained in the diaries of Alexander Brodie Spark, a reliable witness, sometimes referred to as a “Respectable Sydney Merchant”. The original diaries are held in the Mitchell Library, Sydney. There are ten entries on golf from 25th May 1839 to 17th August 1839. An image of the first diary entry referring to golf is shown below.

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The golf course at Grose Farm and Golf Club of 1839 no longer exist. There are at least two competing claims for golf played in Australia earlier than 1839. Neither of these claims has been backed up by primary source evidence. For a copy of a recent research article on the golf at Grose Farm go to and contact the History Sub-Committee.

2.      Below you’ll see an extract from a mock-heroic poem published in 1743. What process is the poem describing?

… two balls …

That with Clarinda’s breasts for colour vye,

The work of Bobson; who with matchless art

Shapes the firm hide, connecting ev’ry part,

Then in a socket sets the well-stitched void,

And thro’ the eyelet drives the downy tide;

Crowds urging Crowds the forceful brogue impels,

The feathers harden and the Leather swells;

He crams and sweats, yet crams and urges more,

Till scarce the turgid globe contains its store:

The dreaded falcon’s pride here blended lies

With pigeons glossy down of various dyes;

The lark’s small pinions join the common stock,

And yellow glory of the martial cock.

Answer. The process described is the making of a featherie golf ball. The featherie was the ball of choice, for those who could afford it, until superseded by the cheaper and more robust guttie ball about 1850. Featherie ball making was a highly skilled job and a ballmaker would be stretched to make three balls in a day. Each ballmaker would have had his trade secret, but the basic process was to stuff an enormous pile of wet feathers into a small leather pouch. The poem describes an imaginary golf match played in Leith, Edinburgh. The Goff, an Heroi-Comical Poem, in Three Cantos was composed by Thomas Mathieson, a young Edinburgh lawyer. The poem is important to golf historians because prior to its publication in 1743 little was known about the details of how golf was actually played. Matheson’s poem considerably expands our knowledge. When published the poem cost four pence. Some years back the USGA commissioned a limited facsimile; they can now be bought second hand for about $150 and up. If you wanted to buy an original first edition in reasonable condition, it would cost between $150,000 and $200,000. An excellent purchase would be a second hand copy of The Thorn Tree Clique by David Hamilton, about $250 if you’re lucky. This is a beautifully printed and bound copy of the poem, and it includes a facsimile of the original. It also gives a scholarly interpretation of the text.


Questions for the Next History Quiz

In 1951 the Australian Open at the Metropolitan Golf Club in Melbourne was won by Peter Thomson by four strokes over Norman von Nida.

  1. How many Opens (British) did Peter Thomson win?
  2. How many Opens (British) did Norman von Nida win?
  3. At the Australian Open in 1951 what was the area of the 18th putting green at Metropolitan? Hint: there are three levels (good, better and best) of answer to this question.