Old Golf Term: 'Break-Club' Explained

"Break-club" is an old — very old — golf term. So old that it appears in the original written rules of golf, 13 rules set down in 1744 by the Gentlemen Golfers of Leith. The fourth of those 13 rules was this:
"You are not to remove stones, bones or any break-club for the sake of playing your ball, except upon the fair green, and that only within a club's length of the ball."
Do you know what "break-club" means? Can you guess based on the context of the above rule from 1744?

"Break-club" means, very simply, anything on a golf course that could literally break your golf club if you hit it. Centuries ago, when links were not specific areas set aside for golf but were just common areas used by, among many others, golfers, there were all kinds of condition issues with the ground and objects lying about.

There were stones, rocks, pebbles; there were ruts worn by cart wheels (hence the old club called the rut iron); there were objects dropped by other people who wandered over and around the linksland being used by golfers. And the golf clubs had wooden heads and wooden shafts. The breaking of clubs is something that wasn't uncommon at all in the time of those original rules of the game.

The Historical Dictionary of Golfing Terms (affiliate link) defines break-club as "an object or obstruction that might break a club." Its earliest citation is the one we provided above, the 1744 rule. The book includes an 1890 citation, as well, showing that break-club was still in use at that point.

Doing a non-exhaustive survey of public domain books, we've found the term included in golf glossaries into the 1910s. Spalding's Official Golf Guide of 1915, for example, uses the term only in its glossary, providing this definition: "An obstacle lying near a ball of such a nature as might break the club when striking at the ball."

Appearances of the term later than that appear to exclusively be in the sharing of those original rules of golf, or in articles such as this one. So conversational uses of the term probably ranged from the 1600s to the late 1800s, then the term lingered on in glossaries and remembrances for another couple decades.

More definitions:

Popular posts from this blog