Despite the claims of some that the name of this game is an acronym, its origin is unknown. The place of origin, however, is known and it should come as no surprise that the game comes from Scotland.
The earliest known reference to golf is from 1457 in the Acts of James II of Scotland, where it is banned. It seems that golf was taking too much time away from military training:
And at the fut bal ande the golf be vtterly cryt downe and nocht vsyt.
(And [playing] at the football and the golf is to be utterly condemned [lit. “cried down”] and not engaged in [lit. “used”].)
It is sometimes claimed that golf comes from the Dutch kolf or kolv, literally club, and is the name of a sporting implement in a variety of games. There are some problems with this explanation, however. The Dutch words appear later than the Scottish and none of the Dutch games resemble golf, so they are not likely predecessor games. Nor are any of the Dutch games named kolf or kolv, although one is named kolven. Finally, the early Scottish forms are with an initial g. If the Dutch word is the origin we should expect a c or a k.
Another claim is that it comes from the Scots gowf, meaning a blow with an open hand or used as a verb meaning to strike. Still, evidence of 15th century use of this word is lacking, so that term could just as easily come from the game instead of the reverse.
As for the allegation that it is an acronym standing for Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden, that is just silly.
(Source: Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition)
Copyright 1997-2015, by David Wilton