Colf


Al meer dan honderd jaar is er een ‘felle’ discussie gaande over een mogelijk Nederlandse oorsprong van het Schotse golf. Hoewel vanuit Schotland met een bestraffende vinger naar de leugenachtige Nederlanders wordt gewezen, zijn het toch voornamelijk de Britten (Engelsen en Schotten) die de Nederlandse oorsprong claimen. Maar langzaam maar zeker schudden Nederlandse golf-/colfhistorici hun schuchterheid af en komen met historische gegevens naar buiten die ons laten geloven dat een Nederlandse oorsprong zeker wel mogelijk is.
Een van deze historici, Ab Bloemendaal, heeft een luchthartig maar niet minder duidelijk verhaal geschreven over de relatie tussen golf en colf, genaamd ‘Een Kleine Golfgeschiedenis Een korte blik op de herkomst van golf’ wat u op deze website onder het hoofd colf kunt vinden.
Veel leesplezier.

It was 1982 when the renowned Netherlandish colf and golf historian, Steven van Hengel, disclosed in his book ‘Early golf’ the history of the colf match in Loenen aan de Vecht in 1297. This colf match was held and continued to be held for more than 500 years to commemorate the death of the ‘Good Count’, Floris V of Holland, and to celebrate the death of his murderer. The story caused much upheaval in the international golf history circles.
Several historians took exception to the research of Van Hengel and tried to take the edge of the historic value of the Loenen match.
In the magazine ‘Golfika’ of the European Association of Golf Historians and Collectors we wanted, in turn, to enervate the arguments of the adversaries of the Loenen match. Please find under the heading ‘Colf’ on this website the article ‘The year 1297: facts or fairy tales?’.

Some time ago we were made a present of ancient ‘sloffen’ (plural of one ‘slof’) as they are called in the Netherlandish language. Sloffen are the metal club heads of the colf clubs used in the ancient golf related game of colf. This game was played in the Low Countries between the 13th century and the beginning of the 18th century.
These club heads were mainly made of a lead-tin alloy, although also copper and bronze were used.
No information exists about the locations where the sloffen were found, nor their age or where they were used.
However, after closer look we found the following.

slof ka-do 01

The larger damaged slof was made of a lead-tin alloy. The club head is 9 centimetres long, 3.5 centimetres high and weights 250 grams. The loft of the face is approximately 10° – 15°. The shaft probably made of ash is missing, completely mouldered after hundreds of years. The club head with the ash shaft was used by an adult who was right-handed. When and where the colf club was used cannot be decided on examining the club head. At the end of the back of the slof near the connection to the shaft a small simple line decoration is visible.

There were two main periods in which this game of colf was played: on land in the period between the 13th century and 1550 and in the second period on the ice of frozen canals, harbours, ponds, rivers, etc. during the Little Ice Age between 1550 and 1700. After 1700 the long game of colf was replaced by a short game played often indoors and called ‘kolf’. The requirements for this short game needed for bigger and heavier clubs (and balls).

slof ka-do 02

The little ‘slof’, also made of a lead-tin alloy, measures only 6 centimetres and the height of the face is 2 centimetres. The weight of the ‘mini’ slof is only 75 grams. Here also the ash shaft has completely mouldered away. The loft is very upright, nearly as a ‘putter’ in golf.
At the back of the little slof a simple decoration is visible.
It is clear that the slof when fixed to the shaft was used by a right-handed child. It cannot be concluded by examining the slof if the young boy or girl played colf on land or on the ice. So the age of the slof cannot be defined. The find of this little slof shows that colf was not only played by adults, but also by boys and girls.

Till the beginning of the 18th century the game of colf has been very popular in the Low Countries. This is shown by regular finds of such metal club heads during archaeological excavations and by people who are looking for metal objects in the fields with their metal detectors.

If you want to know more about club and balls used in the ancient game of colf and in the game of kolf, why don’t you pay a visit to the web museum of the KNKB (Royal Netherlandish Kolf Society). Be patient. It is a very big museum.

This year it is 30 years ago that the late Steven J.H. van Hengel, the Netherlandish colf and golf historian, published his study ‘Early Golf’. It was the first ever research on the continental colf game and its relation to Scottish golf. His findings stirred the international golf history community as no other ‘golf history’ book had done before.
The reactions on the research of Steven van Hengel were and still are divers.
The majority of authors have accepted the research as genuine and used the information in their own publications. Others just burked the information probably because the findings were not of interest in the history of golf. Again others fulminated against the research outcome because it did not fit in the conservative conclusive ideas of golf history.
On the occasion of this anniversary we republish an article about Steven van Hengel, previously published in the December 2007 issue of the magazine ‘Through The Green’.
There are still copies available via Rick van den Boom, rvdboom@xs4all.nl, the author of the article.

copper slof

In January we reported about this bronze slof (head) of a colf club which the seller dated from the period between 1586 and 1625 (see underneath).
Advancing knowledge however shows that this precious copper slof is not from that period. Experts from the ancient ‘Kolf society Aan is Winst’ in Venhuizen in the Netherlandish province of North-Holland had a good look at our photographs and had to come to the conclusion that ‘our’ slof was not from the above mentioned period.
In their knowledgeable opinion the slof is not a colf slof to play the long game of colf, (until the end of the 18th century) but a kolf slof for the short indoor game of kolf which came into view at the end of the 18th century. They have in their collection a kolf slof which looks identically to the slof on the picture and they have dated it from around 1874, the year that their society was founded. For more details about the indoor game, have a look at our book ‘Games for Kings & Commoners’, the chapter ‘From Colf to Kolf’.
The kolf players from Venhuizen are of the opinion that next to repairing the tear and wear of the sole, it could also be that the sole strip was added to manipulate the centre of gravity of the club head.

ancientgolf ice 01

We all know the world-famous paintings from Flemish and Netherlandish painters from the 16th and 17th centuries showing many skaters, including the colf players, enjoying themselves on the frozen canals, ponds, lakes and rivers.
Nothing has changed since then. We are today temporarily confronted which Ice Age temperatures in a larger part of Europe. Many Europeans are shivering from cold and prefer to stay indoors as much as possible.

ancientgolf ice 02

But not the Netherlanders! Hundreds of thousands men and women, young and old, have taken their skates and face the cold with a smile to go and to enjoy themselves on the ice like their ancestors 400 years ago.
Alas, what we don’t see any more are the colf players as on the foreground of most of the ‘Golden Age’ paintings.

Just a few days ago we received an interesting email from Andrew Gauld, Scotsman and a golfing pro in Germany, the author of the ‘Golfer’s Pocket Referee/Der kleine Platzrichter’. Some time ago he acquired an ancient colf slof (the metal head of a colf club). Finding such colf slofs is not extremely exceptional. The game was very popular in the Low Countries between the 13th and 18th century. However this slof was made of bronze while normally a tin-lead alloy was used. The size of the slof is 14 centimetres; the weight was not less than 500 grams.

slof mussel back

To get to know more about this interesting find we brought in our friend and colf/kolf expert, Do Smit, member of the Kolf Society St Eloy Utrecht, member of the Foundation Early Golf and webmaster of the Royal Netherlandish Kolf Federation’s Web Museum. He examined the pictures of the bronze slof and came to the following findings. The slof was made for a left-handed player because the right side is flat while the left side has a mussel back.
Normally such slofs were made of a tin-lead alloy and therefore not so exceptional to find them. Slofs were also made of bronze and copper while children often played with wooden slofs.
Copper and bronze ‘heads’ were more uncommon because the material was more expensive and furthermore casting moulds were needed. The tin-lead heads were often just cut out of flat plates and folded or slipped around the end of a wooden shaft.

slof lines

The most interesting part of this slof is the sole. Looking at the lines at the side of the slof and the difference in colour it looks like that an additional plate of another material was fixed to the bronze sole. This is unique. It could be that this iron plate was attached because therefore the slof could perhaps more glide somewhat easier over the ice.
On the other hand, the striking face is slightly damaged which could imply that the colf club was used mainly on land. Based on material found at the excavation place the club could be dated between 1585 and 1625. This period lies still somewhat before the real start of the Little Ice Age (1650 until the end of the 18th century), so probably the colf club was used more on land than on the frozen canals, lakes, rivers and ponds.
The slof was probably found near the city of Haarlem in the Netherlands.
Its size (14 centimetres) and weight (500 grams) are also remarkable for not many slofs of that size have been found so far.

If you found or possess a colf slof please tell us about where you got it, the kind of material (if you know) and the size and weight of the slof.

book of hours charles V

Already in the late 15th century and the early 16th century pictures were drawn or painted of colf players. These representations in the form of decorative miniatures in religious books were made by artists and monks, mainly from Flanders, the cradle of the colf game. These religious books, called ‘books of hours’, were written and painted by hand mainly for royals and nobility.

The best known colf miniature dates from around 1500 and was represented in the so-called ‘Golf Book’. It shows colvers swinging, approaching and putting a colf ball. Less known is a similar illumination in the so-called ‘Other Golf Book’ (or ‘Quaritch Book of Hours’ or ‘Book of Hours of Charles V’). This illumination dates also from around 1500 and was discovered and written about some 100 years ago.

We thought it of interest to show you the article about this illumination published in the American magazine ‘Golf Illustrated & Outdoor America’ in August 1915, written by the chief editor Max Behr.

Happy reading!

jacob v maerlant

For colf historians the year 2011 was a special year. Exact 750 years ago colf was mentioned in the medieval poem of the Flemish poet Jacob van Maerlant. He used the words ‘mit ener coluen’ (with a colf club).
Some years ago the meaning of these words were questioned. Not colf (the one target stick and ball game) was meant, but the aggressive precursor of modern hockey.
On the defence of the ‘colf cause’ our publication in the English language appeared in the magazine Golfika and in our book ‘Games for Kings & Commoners’.
On the special anniversary occasion of Netherlandish colf we have added a Netherlandish version to the ‘colf’ part of our website. This version is already included in the web museum of the Royal Netherlandish Kolf Bond at www.colf-kolf.nl.

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