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)
   
     
5. 16th century: Further growth and extension  
 
At the beginning of this period we find the first pictures of colfers. At that time it was customary to decorate the pages of Books of Hours, missals and breviaries for persons of repute with secular pictures, often landscapes with scenes of everyday life. In these pictures we find the first colf players. In the magnificent Book of Hours in the British Museum, there known as the 'Golf Book', we find four colf players near a hole. One of them is putting while kneeling.
 
This was a popular style of putting in those days and there are several examples of players depicted that way. They play a four ball with iron headed clubs (the construction of the heads makes it unlikely that these were made of lead). Three of the four balls in play are brown (wood), while one is white (leather), In other religious books we find simular scenes.
 
Towards the middle of the 16th century we find the first pictures of colfers playing in the winter. It should be realized that, for a very practical reason, most of the play went on from autumn until spring. In the summer it was difficult to locate balls since there were no mown courses (except in Haarlem). This is why there are so many winter and ice scenes. The conclusion that colf was only played on the ice is quite wrong, however. In Scotland, too, early golf was an autumn and winter game. For the same reason. Other seasons are depicted just as well. An anonymous painter [ainting the castle of Egmond and its surroundings around 1560 shows us some colf players in midsummer.
 
Towards the end of the 16th century a series of very attractive children's portraits with colf clubs and balls commences. The first of these series, of which only a pencil drawing remains, has been attributed to Jacob Willemse Delff. It shows the great lawyer Hugo Grotius at the age of 4 with a club in his right hand and a leather ball at his feet. One often wonders why the subjects were often children, all of them between the age of 2 and 12. At the time there was war in the Low Countries, for the Eighty Years War against the Spaniards was raging. Under the circumstances it was childish for a man to be painted with attributes of a game in his hands. One sees them most of the time in the posture of valiant soldiers or earnest merchants waging economic warfare, which was as important then as it is now. War stopped in winter, however, so in that season one also sees grown-ups in the snow or on the ice, playing their favorite game of colf.
 
The 16th century lead to a wider spread of colf. Outside its traditional home counties we find it in Friesland, at Leeuwarden and Dokkum and at Kampen. Inside the old territories it bacame even more popular. Sailors played their part in spreading the game and pictures show that it was played right beside the ships on sandy beaches.
 
Looking at the hundreds of city ordinances one finds them to be repetitions of the earlier ones with some slight amendments. Some cities tried different methods to stop the game where they did not want it. In Veere clubs were confiscated in addition to fines. Only the city of Schiedam assumed a more positive attitude. In an ordinance of 1550 players were allowed to play 'on the long earthen wall from the mill right up to the bridge'. If they played there nobody was allowed to hold them up.
 
About this time the effect of the Reformation becomes noticeble. When the mighty abbot Hendrick van Kessel of the huge convent of St.-Boniface at Dokkum braces himself to pull the magistrates of the adjoining city of Dokkum before the Court of Friesland at Leeuwarden, because they had shown themselves 'unwilling and lacking' to forbid their citizens and skippers to play colf within the boundaries of his convent, the Reformation reaches Dokkum in 1580 and he loses his authority.
 
At Schiedam and Woerden play during the time of religious services is prohibited. If in earlier days play was forbidden near the churches because of the noise and the chances of damage and breakage it was now felt that it would be better if the players listened to sermons instead of playing colf.
 

The increase of play led to an increasing demand for clubs and balls. Around 1520 Clubmakers' Alley (Kolfmakerssteeg) in Leyden gots its name, which it still carries today. Clubmaking in and around Leyden was a thriving craft from then on and led to the formation of a guild of club makers in the next century. As late as 1800 an inscription on one of the houses in Clubmakers' Alley read:

'Praise God above all, here one sells you club and ball'

 
Ball making had commenced in earlier days at Middelburg, Bergen op Zoom and Steenbergen, but now the village of Goirle in Brabant and the cities of Delft and Amsterdam joined them as ball making centres. In Goirle the first ball maker is mentioned in a document of 1552, but there must already have been others. From then until 1800 practically the whole village lived of the making of balls: the inhabitants of Goirle are locally known by their nickname of 'ball stuffers' (ballefrutters) to this day.
 
When in 1588 Sebastian van Warendorp, an army commander of the Duke of Parma in the Spanish war, appeared with an army fore the village of Tilburg near Goirle he held Tilburg to ransom for 12.000 balls, to be supplied at short notice. If not, Tilburg would be burned down. Tilburgers did not make balls, but their neighbours in Goirle did. In their plight they went there and the Goirle villagers told them not to worry. As a first instalment they went round the village to collect the available stock of balls and returned with 6.500!
 
A system of apprenticeship was known: in 1560 a master ball maker, Frans Peterssen, sues his former apprentice Jan Cornelis Geryts Hermanssen in court for failure to pay him the two Rhineland guilders which he had agreed to pay for his training during which time his master had 'washed and wrung him and had given him soup'!
 
There are indications that ball makers from Goirle went to Rotterdam and Delft and this may well have been the beginning of ball making there. Brabant was then a dominion to the Netherlands and tariffs made sales from the dominion to the 'United Provincies' all but easy.
 
The city fathers of Delft were more concerned with pollution. In 1586 they ordained that ball makers were not to wash the 'hair serving for the balls' in the city waters any more, since they 'infested and spoiled' them. To prevent further 'uncleanliness and putrefaction' they were instructed to wash their hair henceforth in the canal outside the city, near the plaque hospital, known by the name of Korstangien. There the putrefaction seemed to make no difference! The washing was (and still is) done to rid the hair of cow dung.
 
In Amsterdam the ball makers lived outside the city on the Margrietenpad, probably for the same reason. The ball makers of Delft united in a guild: the St. Michael's or Ball makers' Guild. This guild included button makers as well as ball makers for buttons were also stuffed with hair. Although the guild dates from the 17th century, at least on the evidence of charters which have been preserved, its name suggests that it must date from before the Reformation.
 
Read more:
History of colf and kolf
Low Countries and Scotland
14th century: the first charters
15th century: Growth
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). 
     
     
Royal Dutch Kolf Union | St. Eloy's Hospice | Early Golf Foundation
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