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Scottish Croquet: The English Golf Boom, 1880-1914

John Lowerson shows how, at the turn of the century, the English middle class seized with enthusiasm on the sport of golf, for it was leisurely, sociable - and affordable.

 Pub sign of the Golf Tavern on Bruntsfield Links, one of the oldest links in Scotland. Photo / Kim TraynorIt seems a major paradox that turn-of-the-century England, with its powerful cult of athleticism, should have developed a golf craze, yet golf has probably had a more lasting significance as a middle-class legacy than pounding running tracks or playing rugby. Derided-in the mid-nineteenth century as the recreation of an essentially barbaric subject race, 'Scottish croquet' enjoyed more than its fair share of the late Victorian enthusiasm for things north of the border. In so doing it illustrated major shifts in English middle-class attitudes and reflected a growing pattern of investment in providing for leisure.

The figures of the resulting boom are impressive. In 1850 England boasted only one golf club, the two-hundred-year old Blackheath, by 1880 the figure had reached twelve or so, by 1887 fifty and by 1914 over 1,200, playing over 1,000 courses. Probably over 200,000 golfers used these courses by 1914.

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