There are several aspects of golf that seem to have come about a long time ago and have stuck around out of tradition. Like yelling “fore!” as you tee off. Where did it come from, and is it still relevant today?
Where Does Fore Come From?
Well in order to answer this question, we need to go all the way back to the Middle Ages. No, I’m serious. The prefix “fore-” originated in the Middle Ages and, in general, indicated that something is in front of or ahead of the subject.
Foremost, forerunner, and foreman are all words that can be defined as something or someone coming first. The golf term forecaddie was used in the 1700s and 18000s to describe a person that had been hired by golfers or courses specifically to keep a track of where each ball landed.
The forecaddie would set out ahead of the group and stand in roughly the area where the balls should end up. Then the players would know where their balls had landed and then rolled to.
This greatly cut down the amount of time it took to locate a ball, and also reduced the number of lost balls throughout the course of the game.
This is back in a time when labor was relatively cheap, and most people would be able to afford to hire a forecaddie. However, golf balls themselves were actually pretty expensive (just like they can still be nowadays).
And so, in a lot of circumstances, it made a lot more financial sense to hire someone that would keep a track of your golf balls than it did to just keep buying more as you lost them.
Because these workers were typically a pretty considerable distance away from the rest of the party, each player would yell out “forecaddie” in order to let them know that a ball was coming their way and that they needed to pay attention to where it landed.
Nowadays, forecaddies are only really used in professional golf tournaments but are more commonly referred to as spotters instead. Modern caddies are really only hired to carry clubs and maybe drive the players around in a golf cart.
But Wait, There’s More
That said, another theory suggests that golfers shout “fore” as an abbreviation of “beware before”. This was a military term used by artillerymen that would warn the infantry ahead of them on the frontlines that they needed to watch out for missiles that were about to be launched.
It wouldn’t be the first time that a military turn of phrase had been picked up and appropriated by laymen, for example, the phrase “no room to swing a cat” actually has nothing to do with kittens, and everything to do with a cat-o’-nine-tails, which was a practically Medieval device used to flog seaman with.
These floggings would take place below deck where there was very little headroom, so there was “no room to swing a can-o’-nine-tails. There you go, there’s a little tidbit of trivia you can bring up at your next dinner party.
The Tradition Lives
Though the names and roles have changed, the tradition of yelling “fore!” seems to have stuck around. However, most golfers generally only shout it now after they’ve hit an errant shot toward potentially unsuspecting bystanders or players as a way of telling people to watch out for an accidental injury lawsuit waiting to happen.
So it’s not used at every tee-off, only the poorly executed ones. So that’s the answer to why golfers still yell “fore!” when tee-ing off, now you know. Maybe you’ll be able to show off your newfound knowledge the next time you head off with a party of friends to the golf court.
More History Of Golf
If you found learning about the history of the word “fore” interesting, then you’re gonna love this next bit. Did you know that golf as we know it first originated in Scotland around the 15th century, although the actual ancient origins are unclear and are much debated?
The first ever written record of golf is actually of James ll banning the game in 1457 due to it being an “unwelcome distraction to learning archery”. The ban wasn’t actually listened to until 1502 when James IV became a golfer himself.
There are similar golf-like games that can be traced back to a Roman game named Paganica that involved players using a bent stick to hit a stuffed leather ball.
And whilst one theory suggests that paganica spread through Europe as the Romans conquered it, there are a lot of other games found in the ancient world that could also have been the origin of the modern game of gold as we know it today.
The oldest golf course in the world, as certified by the Guinness World Records, is Musselburgh Links, in East Lothian in Scotland.
However, most golfers consider the Old Course at St Andrew’s to be their traditional site of pilgrimage, where like-minded people come to play golf where thousands have before them for centuries.
The oldest surviving rules for golf were compiled in March 1744 for the Company of Gentlemen Golfers, which was later renamed The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers.
I have no idea what the rules might have looked like prior to this date, but presumably, the rules were written down somewhere, or at least they were shared verbatim.
There you have it – the true reason why golfers yell “fore”! So, next time you and your golfing friends are enjoying a well-earned drink in the clubhouse after an exhilarating trip around the golf course, you can wow them with your newfound knowledge!