K N K B W e b m u s e u m
1200-1450 | 1450-1700 | 1700-1885 | 1885-now
Colf - Kolf - Golf
History of colf and kolf
Low Countries and Scotland
14th century: the first charters
15th century: Growth
16th century: Further growth and extension
17th century: The zenith and the end
Game of kolf
History of golf
Colf (early golf) in America
Kolf video in english (1984 | 8:14 min)
1. History of colf and kolf  
We shall divide the history of colf and kolf into two categories:
• The history of the long game in the Low Countries from about 1200-1700 AD, hereafter to be called: COLF.
• The history of the short game which developed out of the long game from 1700 to this day and is still played in Holland called: KOLF.
GOLF commenced in Scotland somewhere around 1450 and developed into the worldwide game of today. More or less probably this game is derived from colf.
Indexes to old records are rarely based on the development of sport. It is however a fortunate circumstance that the city- and country-magistrates did not favour the game in view of the damage caused by the players! The main cause must be looked for in the balls then in use. The wooden and leather balls of the earliest days had a tendency to veer off their intended line of flight with such results as broken windows in houses and churches, injuries to passers-by etc. With great zeal the authorities endeavoured to move the enthusiastic players, who could not make to stop their game altogether, out of the cities and onto the ramparts surrounding them, where the chances for misfortunes were slighter. In some case indeed, players enjoyed a certain measure of protection when playing there.
Thanks to the many ordinances made we can trace the game and its development quite easily as long as city ordinances were made. This takes us to the beginning of the 14th century as before that time there are hardly any ordinances of this nature. But fortunately we are further helped by a source of litery nature.
In 1261 colf exists already...*
That on the continent colf primarily denoted a stick becomes evident from the Boeck van Merlijn (Merlin's Book, 1261), poet Jacob van Maerlant’s adaption of Robert de Boron’s Livre de Merlin, in which young Merlijn is engaged in a stick-and-ball-game. Where in the French source Merlijn viciously hits one of his playmates with a crosse (a choule club), in Maerlant’s Flemish version the word used is koluen (= colf club).
In Van Vloten's transcript from 1880 of Jacob van Maerlant's manuscript from 1261 we find:
Dat ze to enen dorpe quamen
Dar liepen harde vele kinder
In enen mersche meere vnde mynder
Vnde slogen dar eynen bal
Merlijn de dit wiste al
Sach de boden want he was daer
Vnde he trat een deel dar naer
Vnde gaff den rikesten enen slach
Van den dorpe dat he lach
Mit ener koluen vor zine schene
Omb dat ene schelden zolde de gene
Dat kint weende vnde sprack to merlijne wart
Onreyne vaderloze bastert
Translation (by Geert & Sara Nijs):
At last the four messengers came in a village
where a group of children
were playing in a meadow
with a ball.
Merlin, who was one of them,
saw the messengers coming.
He went in their direction
and hit with his colf club the shin
of the richest boy of the village
so that the boy would abuse him.
The child shouted
and roared at Merlin:
‘Dirty fatherless bastard’.
Fortunately too the game proved attractive to many Dutch artists in the 16th and 17th centuries and even earlier and study of the many works of art from that period has produced useful data. Finally the research was extended to other sources. Records of Guilds, inasfar as these are still available, proved to be another useful source, mainly in connection with the manufacture of playing materials. Street names, name-stones on houses, tiles and many other artistic products provided more information.
Two further remarks must be made. In the search for the origin of any historical topic one should concentrate on the facts one can find. Many ordinance books have disappeared and it may well be that the game was played somewhere at an earlier date than can be proved now.In other cases the problem is simpler. If in a series of ordinances in the same place the game appears at some period, and other similar ordinances of earlier dates do not mention it, it is fairly save to assume that it was not played there before the first traceable date. In this account colf is mentioned as being played somewhere and at some time only if this can be established by documentary or iconographic evidence.
There is absolutely no doubt that colf was an early form of golf, as will appear later in this account. Medieval spelling is all but uniform. In the records it may be found as: spel metten colve, den bal mitter colven te slaen, colven, coluen, kolven, koluen, colffven, colfslaen, colf te speelen, cloten mitter colve, doen mit colven, etc..
The present account is based on research in 4 national record offices, 46 city record offices, 10 other public and private collections of pictures and prints (both at home and abroad) and a fairly sizeable volume of literature, but we do not pretend to have completed the work to the full.
Read more:
Low Countries and Scotland
14th century: the first charters
15th century: Growth
16th century: Further growth and extension
17th century: The zenith and the end
Game of kolf
History of golf
Colf (early golf) in America
By courtesy of the Early Golf Foundation (Steven J.H. van Hengel's book Early Golf, 1982). 
* The year 1297 is very much related to the history of Netherlandish colf. It is seen by many as the starting date of this game, but this opinion has been based on a mistake. Click here for the real story, unraveled by Geert and Sara Nijs.
Royal Dutch Kolf Union | St. Eloy's Hospice | Early Golf Foundation