‘Profaning the Sabbath’ – the history of Sunday golf

News & Tour

Golf was not always played on a Sunday, as Karl Hansell discovers.

The final rounds of the Masters, the Open and, every two years, the Ryder Cup.

Think about your favourite moment in golf and the chances are it happened on a Sunday.

For the younger generation of golf fans it seems almost unthinkable that tournaments wouldn’t come to their climax on Sunday, that’s just how it’s always been.

Actually, Sunday finishes only began in 1976 on the European Tour, and only at selected tournaments. It wasn’t until Tom Watson’s victory in 1980 that the Open would finish on a Sunday.

In many ways golf was at the forefront of the shift to Sunday sports, which for many years caused controversy as Christian sportsmen battled their faith as to whether they should play on the Lord’s day. 
‘The final group, on Sunday at the Masters, is the greatest feeling in the world for the professional golfer’ – Phil Mickelson The first Sunday horse racing didn’t take place until 1992 at Doncaster and Sunday football only really began in 1981.

The iconic film Chariots of Fire is about runner Eric Liddell’s refusal to race at the Olympics when he discovered the final of the 100m was to take place on a Sunday.

Liddell said no, but with a professional career impossible without working no Sundays, other sportsmen quickly came to terms with the shift.

Over 90 per cent of professional golf tournaments now involve Sunday play, but it is a controversy that in golf has been documented for more than 400 years.

It began, as most things in golf do, in Scotland. The local barons began to fear that golf was distracting their warriors from archery practice and the lawmakers banned the playing of golf on Sundays in 1592.

Fours years later a goldsmith named Walter Hay was brought before the authorities at Elgin for “playing at the boulis and golff upoun Sundaye in the tyme of the sermon”. He was made to promise, under the threat of a fine, never to do it again on the Lord’s Day.

By all accounts Hay got off lightly and in 1611, in what is the earliest reference of golf in North Berwick, Thomas Gowan and Alex Lockart were made to sit on ‘pillory stools’ while the parish minister Thomas Bannatyne preached to them a sermon about the dangers of playing golf on a Sunday.

Sunday golf, it was feared, would distract good Christian men away from the Lord and lead them astray. Heaven only knows how he’d react to today’s golfing schedule.

Non-Sunday finishing tournaments

Deutsche Bank Championship, PGA Tour, has ended on Labor Day since its inception in 2003.

Hyundai Tournament of Champions has a Monday finish to avoid NFL play-offs.

The 2015 Turkish Ladies Open will be the first tournament on any major tour to finish on a Wednesday in a move to boost television coverage of women’s golf

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