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China’s Ancient Game?


With the fairway beckoning, you tee up, take a practice swing and prepare to indulge in that classic Scottish game: golf. But does it really originate from there?

China’s Ancient Game?


With the fairway beckoning, you tee up, take a practice swing and prepare to indulge in that classic Scottish game: golf. But does it really originate from there?

Lifestyle > Sports


 

China’s Ancient Game?

October 27, 2017 / by Bob Robertson

Image above: Patrick Reed of the United States plays his shot from the first tee during round two of The Northern Trust at Glen Oaks Club on August 25, 2017 in Westbury, New York

Ming Dynasty painter Du Jin’s painting portrays women playing chuiwan in court, collected by the Shanghai Museum

Ming Dynasty painter Du Jins painting portrays women playing chuiwan in court, collected by the Shanghai Museum

The Scots may well have codified golf as we know it – including, after a few false starts, making it a game of 18 holes. But the jury’s still out on who first came up with the idea of an open-air game that involves using a stick to hit a ball towards a target. The Romans played a game called paganica, in which a ball stuffed with feathers and wool was hit with a bent stick, while the Dutch played a stick-and-ball game called colf as early as the 13th century. 

But the most intriguing – and in many ways convincing – documented evidence of an early version of golf comes from China. A game called chuiwan (捶丸) – chui meaning to hit and wan meaning ball – became popular in the Song dynasty (960–1279) and was featured in paintings as late as the Ming dynasty (1368–1644). Players used ten clubs to hit wooden balls towards brightly coloured flags – sound familiar? They had a club for long distances, a precursor of the modern-day driver, and the tee was called the ji (基), or base in Chinese.

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Emperor Xuanzong of the Ming Dynasty at Leisure, collected by The Palace Museum, portrays the emperor playing chuiwan

Emperor Xuanzong of the Ming Dynasty at Leisure, collected by The Palace Museum, portrays the emperor playing chuiwan

A mural painting of Yuan dynasty-era chuiwan is preserved on the wall of a Water God Temple in Hungtung County, Shanxi Province. The painting depicts a Mongolian official (on the left, wearing a fur hat), Han officials and assistants. The sticks and devices are fairly identical to those of modern golf

A mural painting of Yuan dynasty-era chuiwan is preserved on the wall of a Water God Temple in Hungtung County, Shanxi Province. The painting depicts a Mongolian official (on the left, wearing a fur hat), Han officials and assistants. The sticks and devices are fairly identical to those of modern golf

There was even an early equivalent of the R&A Rules of Golf: the “Wan Jing” (丸經) or “Classic of the Ball”, published during the Yuan dynasty (1271–1368). It lays out the rules, and places great emphasis on sportsmanship and correct behaviour – echoes of modern golf, where etiquette is such an important element of the game. There’s also a reference in an ancient book to a magistrate of the Southern Tang dynasty (937–976) telling his daughter to “dig holes in the ground” so he could hit a ball into them using a special stick.

The old imperial paintings show clubs bearing a striking similarity to modern golf equipment – long, narrow shafts with distinct heads for striking the ball. One depicts the Ming dynasty’s Emperor Xuanzong playing chuiwan on a course that’s clearly marked out with flag sticks and that looks identical to a modern putting green.

The game seems to have died out in China during the Qing dynasty (1644–1912), while golf as we know it today was first played in Scotland in the 15th century. (It was even briefly banned by James II of Scotland in 1457 because it distracted players from learning archery – a skill required for the army.) The first rules of golf were drawn up by the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers in Muirfield in 1744. Ten years later, the Society of St Andrews Golfers, the forerunner of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, was formed and became the governing body.

The debate over who got there first will go on as long as the game is played, but at least two things are certain. First, chuiwan, played by Chinese emperors 1,000 years ago, certainly qualifies as a royal and ancient game. And second, it was definitely the Scots who invented that other great golfing tradition: the 19th hole – that moment when you step up to the bar in the clubhouse and order a dram of whisky to erase the memory of the last putt that got away.

Images: Shanghai Museum; The Palace Museum; Andrew Redington/Getty Images North America/AFP

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You Spin Me Round


From disc golf to fast-action team games and even to dog competitions, flying discs have come a long way since their inventor, Fred Morrison, started selling his Flyin’ Cake Pans around California beaches in the late 1930s

You Spin Me Round


From disc golf to fast-action team games and even to dog competitions, flying discs have come a long way since their inventor, Fred Morrison, started selling his Flyin’ Cake Pans around California beaches in the late 1930s

Lifestyle > Sports


 

You Spin Me Round

June 30, 2017 / by Bob Robertson

Flying discs (Frisbee is a brand trademark by Wham-O) have long been a great source of fun on hot summer days. But the humble plastic disc has gone high-tech, and Ultimate – a team game roughly modelled on American football, but with no player contact – is played competitively by millions around the world.

If you think a disc is a piece of simple moulded plastic, then think again. Pad Timmons is general manager of Discraft, whose UltraStar is the official disc of the national governing body USA Ultimate and the leading disc used by players around the world. Speaking from the company headquarters in Wixom, Michigan, he says the company has a “secret recipe” for making the UltraStar, similar to the secret recipe Coca-Cola uses to make its beverage. “It’s a fine-tuned piece of sporting equipment,” he explains.

The key is in the design and manufacture, which ensure the discs have a consistent flight pattern; Discraft now supplies its cutting-edge discs to 70 countries. Timmons says he has played disc sports for more than 40 years, designed 40 disc golf courses and won top disc competitions. He concludes, “Flying discs have been my life.”

While Ultimate is a team game played on a pitch, disc golf replicates the “royal and ancient game”, except that players swap their clubs and balls for specially designed flying discs that they try to land in a metal basket fixed to a pole. Timmons explains that players carry up to 20 discs in their disc golf bags. This includes long-range “drivers”, mid-range discs that are easier to control but don’t go as far, and “putters” – discs with a pronounced edge that can catch the chains in the basket. Like traditional golf, disc courses have nine or 18 holes.

Other competitions include freestyle, where players do tricks like spinning the discs on their fingers; disc dog, where dogs catch discs thrown by their human teammates; and Beach Ultimate. The discs themselves can come with special features – some glow in the dark, while UV discs turn purple in sunlight. There’s even the Disc Jock-e, produced by Tucker Toys, which connects via Bluetooth to iPhones and other devices, and plays streaming music as it flies. There’s also a market for collectible, limited edition discs with rare designs. 

It’s all a far cry from the humble origins of the flying disc game, when 17-year-old Fred Morrison and his girlfriend, Lucile Nay, playfully threw a popcorn bucket lid back and forth at a family picnic in California in 1937. They decided that Fred’s mother’s pie tins were easier to use, and were playing on a beach one day when a passer-by offered to buy one for 25 cents. The tin cost five cents, and, seeing a business opportunity, Fred launched his Flyin’ Cake Pan business.

After honing his knowledge of aerodynamics while serving in the US Air Force during the Second World War, he developed the business and marketed his Pluto Platter in the 1950s. Toy company Wham-O took over in 1957 and changed the product’s name to Frisbee. “I thought the name was a horror,” recalled Morrison many years later, though he admitted warming to it as millions of dollars in royalties flowed in. 

The sport is developing rapidly in Hong Kong, where around 150 enthusiasts play regularly in matches organised by the Hong Kong Ultimate Players Association. The association was created by expatriates 20 years ago, but now membership is equally divided between expatriates and Hongkongers, says association president Kevin Ho. Around 300 to 400 secondary school students are also playing Ultimate today, thanks to the association’s outreach programme. 

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What makes a great Ultimate player? “Being explosive and agile are the two most important things, because the nature of the game is predicated on being able to get free of your defender,” says Ho. “You need to be able to accelerate and run around in short bursts, and be able to jump high and far so that you can catch discs that are high up in the air.”

Many of the best players come from other sports such as football, basketball and volleyball, and apply their specific skills to Ultimate. The game matches two teams of seven players, and each squad has up to 20 members who are frequently substituted because of the amount of running involved.

In Hong Kong, the game is played on football or rugby pitches, and points are scored by catching the disc in the opposing team’s “end zone”. The first team to score 15 points wins, and if neither team has won within 90 minutes, then the side with the highest score wins. Unusually, there is no referee, so players are solely responsible for following and enforcing the rules, even at the World Championship level.

Ho says that the nature of the discs makes the game unique. “When you’re playing with a ball, you can only really throw it one direction, but with a disc you can make it bend and curl around defenders. That’s what makes the strategy completely different.”

Where does Ultimate go from here? Discraft’s Timmons says that the World Flying Disc Federation has just been recognised by the International Olympic Committee. “The hope is to get Ultimate into the Olympics,” he says. “It may not be too far off.” Flying discs at the Olympics? It’s enough to make your head spin.

Images: Discraft, Inc/Discraft; Wham-O; Disc Ace; Tucker International; Wikimedia Commons: Marco Consani/Creative Commons (Freestyle Frisbee handstand catch by Claudio Cigna); Wikimedia Commons: Wikotto/Creative Commons (English: Adrian Stoica & Rory, 2014: World Champions (UFO) and European Champions (AWI, UFO, Skyhoundz))

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Game Changer


Making golf simpler – and faster – with an overhaul of the rules

Game Changer


Making golf simpler – and faster – with an overhaul of the rules

Lifestyle > Sports


 

Game Changer

March 31, 2017 / by Bob Roberson

The rules of golf, first drawn up in 1744, have always seemed designed to make a difficult game even harder and more frustrating. Your ball bounces off a tree, flies back and hits you on the chest? A two-stroke penalty. You think your ball fractionally moved on the green, but you’re not sure? Yes, you should call a one-stroke penalty on yourself just in case. Confused about what to do in a given situation during a round? If you don’t find the answer in the actual rulebook, with its hundreds of rules and sub-rules, you can always try to find the solution in the accompanying 752-page Decisions on the Rules of Golf.

The bodies jointly responsible for all of this – The R&A and the US Golf Association (USGA) – finally decided that it’s time to bring the rules up to date and have announced a major overhaul. The reason, as if golfers didn’t already know: “The rules are complicated and their purpose isn’t always clear.”

It makes you wonder what they’ve been doing all these years. The good news is that the changes are designed to make the rules simpler and fairer, and should help speed up the pace of play. They include scrapping the penalty for being hit by your own ball, allowing you to keep the flag in the hole while putting, loosening rules about the order of play, limiting the number of strokes you can record on one hole, changing the way of dropping the ball and setting a time limit – 40 seconds – for you to hit your shot.

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Golfers have until the end of August to give their views via a survey posted on The R&A and USGA websites, which takes about ten minutes to fill out. Once the consultation period is over, the new rules will be finalised and come into effect on January 1, 2019. Hong Kong pro golfer and commentator Dominique Boulet, for one, welcomes the changes. “Simplifying the rules and speeding up the pace of the game is crucial,” he says. “The slow pace of play is a huge problem – I walked off the course after two or three holes recently because I’m not interested in taking four-and-a-half or five hours to play a game of golf.”

He says that slow play is a particular problem in Asia because often four beginners, with no real understanding of the rules or etiquette, play together. “In Australia, Britain or the US, you usually start off playing with established golfers, so you learn from them. But the culture is different here.” He adds that anything to simplify the rules will be good. “It’s amazing how ignorant 99% of players are of the rules. Even many pros don’t have a great knowledge of them.”

As the governing bodies move to speed up play, one of the proposed rule changes might make buying that high-tech golf ball tracker a great idea after all – the time you can spend looking for a lost ball is going to be cut from five to a scant three minutes. 

Image: The R&A and USGA

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Tee off, Tech on


From apps that instantly analyse your swing to customised Segways that speed you around the fairways and gizmos that find your lost balls, high tech is transforming the way people play golf

Tee off, Tech on


From apps that instantly analyse your swing to customised Segways that speed you around the fairways and gizmos that find your lost balls, high tech is transforming the way people play golf

Lifestyle > Sports


1. Korean American golfer Michelle Wie; 2-3. The Zepp Golf 2 device analyses all aspects of your game

1. Korean American golfer Michelle Wie; 2-3. The Zepp Golf 2 device analyses all aspects of your game

Tee off, Tech on

February 24, 2017 / by Bob Robertson

Huge advances in club design have already helped golfers hit the ball farther and straighter. Today, a whole range of new gear is changing every aspect of the game. For one, sophisticated swing-tracking technology that connects wirelessly to a smartphone app has made it possible to get instant tuition on the practice range.

One of the cutting-edge brands is US sports technology company Zepp, whose Smart Coach system works via a sensor attached to the back of your golf glove. When you swing, it tracks key factors like club speed, club plane, hip rotation and tempo, and sends the data via Bluetooth to the mobile app. The app instantly displays a 3D graphic of your swing, analyses it and gives coaching advice. Korean-American golf star Michelle Wie, who uses the device, says that “technology is definitely changing the game – it is definitely changing the way we practise” thanks to what she calls the “instantaneous feedback” it gives.

Once you’ve used this device to get your swing in good shape, another essential on the course is knowing how far you are from the pin so you can select the right club. That used to involve a lot of mental arithmetic, as you paced out the distance from your ball to yardage markers, and then calculated the distance to the flag. That all changed with the arrival of hand-held laser rangefinders, which give the distance with pinpoint accuracy. Today, GPS-based apps such as the free-download Hole19, loaded with maps of courses all around the world, can give the distances to key locations like greens and hazards.

 

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4-5. The Golf Ball Finder glasses by Thumbs Up help you find your ball

4-5. The Golf Ball Finder glasses by Thumbs Up help you find your ball

When it comes to getting around the course, forget carrying your own clubs, paying a caddy to do it for you or jumping in a golf cart with a friend – the Segway PT X2 Golf gives you the best of all worlds. With extra-wide tyres to avoid damaging the precious fairway turf, the Segway is fitted with a special attachment for holding your golf bag. Just lean in the desired direction and the electric-powered, self-balancing “Personal Transporter” will speed you to your ball, all the while giving you a feel of the terrain that a golf buggy cannot.

Of course, all the technology in the world won’t prevent you from hitting the inevitable bad shots, which send your ball flying off into deep rough or trees. However, all isn’t lost – the tech experts have worked out some clever ways to retrieve your ball. One of the highest-tech solutions is the Prazza Golf Ball Finder, a smartphone-sized handset developed in the Netherlands that tracks a microchip embedded in the brand’s specialist golf balls. To find your ball, just follow the direction of the arrow in the display; a graphic of a ball gets bigger as you get closer, accompanied by quickening beeps and vibrations.

If that’s a bit too high-tech, you can always try the wraparound Golf Ball Finder glasses produced by Thumbs Up, a manufacturer of quirky gadgets. The brand says that the blue lenses illuminate everything white, so there shouldn’t be many hiding places for your errant ball.

Armed with all this technology, you should be ready to maximise your potential on the golf course. But don’t forget that one golden rule – when you pull out your smartphone to check how your swing is looking or the distance to the hole, the only thing you aren’t allowed to do on the golf course is make a phone call.

Images: Segway Inc., ©2017 Segway Inc.; Thumbs Up UK; Zepp Labs

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6-7. The Segway PT X2 Golf redefines the traditional golf cart

6-7. The Segway PT X2 Golf redefines the traditional golf cart

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Getting into the Swing


Fancy taking up golf, but don’t know where to begin? Avail yourself of our advice on taking those first tentative steps on the fairway

Getting into the Swing


Fancy taking up golf, but don’t know where to begin? Avail yourself of our advice on taking those first tentative steps on the fairway

Lifestyle > Sports


 

Getting into the Swing

December 9, 2016 / by Bob Morris

Before you start, there’s one thing to always remember about golf: it’s not fair. If you keep that in your head, then you might just avoid throwing your brand-new titanium driver into the lake after you whack your first tee shot into the club carpark, or refusing to shake your opponent’s hand when he or she has just fluked a winning shot, or (heaven forbid) letting out a stream of expletives and kicking your golf bag in full view of the clubhouse when you duff a chip shot.

Golf is the most maddening and the most difficult game. It’s also rewarding, sociable, challenging, physical (without being too physical), great for networking and played in some of the most beautiful locations on the planet. The handicapping system also means that even a mediocre player can have an enjoyable, competitive game against an accomplished professional. 

The game of golf is a constant battle against yourself, your opponent, the terrain, the elements and plain luck. One day it all comes together and you’re Tiger Woods at his peak – and the next you feel you’ve been struck by some primeval curse from the angry gods of golf and just want to give it all up. And the terrible thing is that not even the best players know when or why that will strike.

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The idea, of course, is simple – hit a ball into a hole with a stick, in as few shots as possible. Do it 18 times and the person who takes the fewest shots goes home the winner. But how to get started? There are three fundamentals: arranging lessons, buying clubs and finding a good place to play. Oh, and let’s not forget the clothes. 

The good news is that most club pros are available to teach non-members. The bad news is that you are about to be confronted with the weird language and contradictions of golf. In the first lesson, you’ll learn that the most important thing is your grip – how to hold the golf club. Once the pro finishes showing you, you’ll feel like your hands have become an amorphous mass of 20 competing fingers. Then there’s your posture:
“Imagine you are sitting on a high stool.” “Keep your back straight.” “Bend your knees – but not too much.” “Align your feet with the line of the shot.” “Lift your chin.” “Look down your nose at the ball.” Every professional has their pet phrases and gimmicks to get you started. 

A lot of it feels counter-intuitive, because it is. When you take your first clumsy swing and the club bounces off the rubber mat a foot behind the ball, your teacher will utter the words that have dogged golfing beginners since time immemorial: “You lifted your head.” 

When it comes to equipment, the technology has advanced to the stage that it’s much easier to quickly reach an acceptable level of play than in the old days, although the beginner faces a bewildering selection of clubs – and terminology. The basic rule, though, is that you can’t buy a golf game. So forget splashing out on the most expensive, high-tech gear at the start and ask your pro to recommend some user-friendly, medium-priced, beginner-level equipment. Once you discover the strengths and weaknesses of your game, you can trade up. (And yes, you have to buy your clubs – renting them is like wearing someone else’s cast-offs.)

Finding a place to play is relatively simple, although most courses demand a handicap card, which is a classification based on your average scores that shows your ability as a golfer. And despite its exclusive, clubby image, golf is relatively egalitarian; many countries have reasonably priced public courses and most private clubs allow non-members to play at restricted times. 

And then there’s the final hurdle to becoming a golfer – getting through the front door of the clubhouse. If you think you can rock up with your cool T-shirt hanging out over a pair of designer jeans and trainers, forget it. Most private clubs have strict dress codes, although, golf being golf, none of them are usually the same – so what is accepted in one club won’t necessarily work in another. Likewise on the course, most clubs
expect you to tuck your golf shirt into your “tailored” shorts, keep your socks pulled up and wear proper golf shoes. It can seem irritating and outdated, but as you’ll learn with all things in golf, rules are rules.

Finally, etiquette is fundamental to the golf ethic. Bad behaviour on the course will get even the best player shunned by his or her fellow golfers. So here are ten dos and don’ts for that first full day on the course. Happy golfing!

  • Do say “good shot” to your opponent, even if it hurts.
  • Do help your opponent look for their ball, even if you secretly hope they lose it.
  • Do replace divots and rake bunkers after playing, even if you can’t be bothered.
  • Do shout “fore” if your ball is heading towards someone – it just might save their life.
  • Do resist the temptation to tee off before the slow coaches in front are out of range.
  • Don’t ever throw your club – you might not get invited back.
  • Don’t moan – nobody wants to hear it.
  • Don’t ever cheat – not even a little bit.
  • Don’t fidget and move around, even if your partner takes forever to putt.
  • And don’t lick your ball clean – you never know what they put on the grass.