History & the Applied Science of Golf Swing Theories: The Early Period (Leather-and-Feather Ball)


"I found that the only way of playing at the Golve is to stand as you do at fenceing with the small sword bending your legs a little and holding the muscles of your legs and back and armes exceeding bent or fixt or stiffe and not at all slackning them in the time you are bringing down the stroak (which you readily doe) ..."
Thomas Kincaid, 1687
The above is an excerpt from a diary of Thomas Kincaid written in 1687. It is found to be one of the earliest known instructions for playing golf. The description of the motion of a golf swing hints at a carefully controlled movement of the body, rather than uncontrolled slash at the golf ball. Distance, at this period of the game, was not a significant source of motivation. A carefully controlled direction was considered more important. This was due to the high cost and the hard labor that was involved in making a golf ball. Making a single  leather-and-feather ball was a costly art form practiced only by handful of people at the time. The cost of a single ball was equal to the cost of the whole set.
Prior to the invention of cheaper gutta percha ball (aka. guttie) in the late 1840s, there are 3 noticeable swing characteristics. It is interesting to note that they all relate to, and direct result of, the available equipment of the time.
The main characteristic to note was the flat swing plane. This was due to the fragile nature of the hickory shaft. More upright and chop down stroke could not be done without the risk of the hickory shaft snapping. In order to produce, knowingly or unknowingly, flat swing plane, golfers normally would take a closed stance. This also induced a low hooking shot which was needed to keep the costly ball rolling on the ground and in sight. Short backswing was also needed in order to control the ball striking and the direction of the ball.
There were no golf professionals at this period in time and the instruction was limited to observation and imitation. Any instruction, if any, would have been from the caddies.
The new development of different swing styles were made in the 1860s when cheaper and softer Gutta Percha golf balls are introduced. 

Lee J.H. Lee,
PGA of Canada Class A
Emirates PGA
Titleist Performance Institute Level 2
Lee is the Executive Director at the Links Times. He is also the creator of Hush Golf. He teaches golf from Sharjah Golf & Shooting Club (United Arab Emirates) and at the Bear Mountain Golf Resort (Canada). Follow Lee on Twitter @leejhl@UAEgolf and @linkstimes. Also Friend Lee on Facebook at Facebook.com/leejhlee or Search "Dubai Golf Chat with Lee"