The game of golf is thought to have originated in Rome in about 100 B.C.E. when men used bent sticks to hit a stuffed leather ball. Another theory dates the game to China in about 1000 C.E. when players hit a ball with leather clubs. Most authorities point to 15th century Scotland and St. Andrew’s Golf Club as the place of origin of the game as we know it today. In the 15th through 17th centuries, Scottish royalty including James IV, Mary Queen of Scots, and James VI played.

The first mention of golf in print in the American colonies was a mention of clubs in the 1729 estate inventory of Massachusetts governor William Burnet.

Clarification of the rules occurred, as did changes in the composition of both the clubs and balls. Each improvement in equipment changed the nature of the game, which became more popular during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Although Mark Twain is believed to have described golf as “a good walk spoiled,” the exercise provided by the game was considered to be healthy for the businessmen of the day who were believed by physicians to be suffering anxiety due to a lack of fresh air, sunshine, and physical activity.

In 1903, golf came to Sedalia when the Missouri State Fairgrounds allowed a group of Sedalians to build a golf course on the fairgrounds. Two years later, the Sedalia Country Club was organized; they purchased a plot of land to the south of the fairgrounds and in 1907 built a golf course. President Taft golfed there when he visited Sedalia in 1910.   

Golf continued to increase in popularity; in 1916, The Professional Golfers’ Association organized in the United States. Tournaments became popular. In 1921, Ryder’s Cup teams from the United Kingdom and from the U.S. began to host an annual tournament. In 1934, the first Masters’ Tournament was played In Augusta, Georgia.  

In 1926, Horton Smith, an 18-year-old man from Joplin, Missouri, became a professional. He had been born in Springfield and attended Southwest Missouri College. He won the Oklahoma Open Tournament in 1928 and on played on the Ryder’s Cup teams in 1929, 1931, 1933, 1935, and 1937. While playing professionally, in 1927 he took a job as the club pro at the Sedalia County Club.

Smith continued to improve as a golfer, and in 1934, he won the first Masters’ Tournament. In 1936, he won the Masters’ again. That year, he was listed as the top money winner. Over his career, he accumulated 32 PGA Tour titles and four other titles.

The Sedalia Democrat covered Smith’s career in great detail. In 1928, he defeated Walter Hagen, recognized as a great golfer, at the Catalina Island Open. The article mentioned his position in Sedalia, noting he had won “many admirers among local golf fans.” 

After serving in World War II, he left the military as a captain and took a position as the pro at the Detroit Golf Club. He remained there until his death in 1963 at the age of 55. He was buried in Springfield.

 

Contributing Columnist

Rhonda Chalfant is the president of the Pettis County chapter of NAACP and the Pettis County Historical Society. 

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