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Golf born in France, not Scotland? If so, that changes everything

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

The Old Course in ScotlandYou say you're one of those anti-Francophiles who boycotts everything France, like brie, Francois Truffaut, and french fries?

Hope you're not a golfer; you may have to give up the game.

According to a new book, France - not Scotland - is the birthplace of the royal and ancient game.

Naturally, they're pissed in Scotland, and I don't necessarily mean inebriated. Such audacity, such heresy, such sacrilegious innuendo.

You take golf away from Scotland and what do you have? Some highlands, some lowlands and a little heather left over. The Old Course becomes The Young Course.

You go to Scotland either to play golf or look up some drunken ancestor.

This isn't some wee, fly-by-night researcher who's making the charge. "Golf Through the Ages: 600 Years of Golf Art" is an 11-pound work of art written by an American named Michael Flannery and laid out and designed by Richard Leech.

They spent nearly 13 years researching the book, visiting museums, private art collections and libraries.

No, golf was not invented in the 15th century in Scotland, they say. They say they have proof the game was first played in the Loire region of France, when shepherds took to hitting pebbles with their crooks.

That could describe the way most golfers play today, only Flannery says they were doing it in France a full three centuries before the Scots took it up.

From Hockey to GolfThe book traces the evolution from golf in its earliest days when it was a violent sport that resembled hockey. Now, there's a family tree for you - from hockey to golf. That makes the Scopes monkey trial look tame by comparison.

The book traces the first European stick-and-ball game from 1120 and features 364 illustrations, half of which have never been seen by the masses.

It includes a discovery of a prayer book in Chantilly, France, that shows how golf evolved from violent, hockey-like games to target-like games with putting strokes as early as 1480.

The book also includes a photograph of a 14th century painting called "A Game of Crosse," found in Copenhagen, that resembles golf.

Flannery has tried to ease the pain by calling his thesis an "original interpretation" of golf's history.

Original, certainly. Inflammatory, definitely.

If true, it has enormous ramifications. Can you imagine golf's ruling body in France instead of Scotland? They'd fight the USGA tooth and nail. They'd insist all rule changes pass through the United Nations.

Jean Van de VeldeWhen's the last time there has been a great French golfer? The most famous, or infamous, is Jean Van de Velde. Leading the 1999 British Open at Carnoustie, Van de Velde blew a five-stroke lead on Sunday.

Needing only a six to win on the 18th, he ended up in the water and, for a few ill-considered moments, considered blasting out. He finished with a triple-bogey seven and lost a playoff to Scotsman Paul Lowrie.

Van de Velde won a ton of tea and sympathy that day, but the enduring image of French golf is of Van de Velde standing in water, his trousers rolled up, looking dazed and confused.

Name one other French golfer. OK, Thomas Levet. Name another.

The point is, this changes the way the game looks at itself. It's like the Queen Mother finding out she's Irish, like St. Patrick finding out he was born in England, like George Bush finding out he was born in Connecticut and isn't actually a cowboy.

The book itself is an homage to the past, but is thoroughly modern when it comes to the price tag.

Bound in goatskin by four Scottish master craftsmen, made of hand-polished leather with a linen slip case, and using the most luxurious and expensive paper in the world, it sells for $950, or $3,000 for the "Imperial Edition."

I doubt there's a Scot in Scotland who would pay that much for a lousy book.

And yes, I know St. Patrick really was born in England.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.


 
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