Chuiwan (transliterated from Chinese as “hitting-ball”) was a medieval Chinese ball game very similar to golf. In fact, this sport may have contributed to the development of golf, as detailed under Origins and History further down. In this game, players would use a variety of clubs to drive wooden balls of different sizes to a goal, usually small hole in the ground. The development of this sport over several centuries led from a short-range game akin to mini golf to a larger scale game with more similarities to modern golf.
Origins and History
The earliest known evidence of chuiwan is a mural from approximately 950 AD, currently housed in the Guangsheng Temple located in Shanxi, China. This mural depicts several men playing a game that matches the description of chuiwan. Interestingly, this illustration shows the man aiming for some sort of plate rather than a hole in the ground, suggesting the hole and flag weren’t used toward the beginning of the sport’s history.
The earliest literary reference to the game lies in the 11th century AD in a book titled Dongxuan lu, in which a character teaches his daughter how to dig small holes in the ground to use as goals in chuiwan. This would suggest that in the century following the mural discussed above, hole goals were introduced.
The last references to chuiwan lie in the 15th century AD, suggesting the sport fell out of practice during this period or shortly after. In 1457, the same century, Scottish parliament passed regulations to ban both football games and golf, which serves as the earliest reference to golf in Europe (though references kolf, which is likely related, predate this). Some theories suggest that chuiwan was brought back to Europe after initial contact with China beginning in the 13th century AD, leading to the development of the game of golf.
How to Play
Within every depiction of chuiwan, the primary elements of the game remain the same. Using a club of some sort, the goal was to drive a ball into a certain zone – possibly a small plate initially, but a simple hole for most of the sport’s history.
Chinese illustrations show that when striking the ball in most situations, the player would stand slightly hunched over, with either one or both hands on the club, much like the stance used in modern golf. However, for short shots, the player would squat, sometimes supporting himself with one hand on the same knee, and using the other hand to swing the club closer to parallel with the ground.
Much like within modern golf, chuiwan players had a variety of clubs to choose from. Early depictions show clubs with a “ladle” head – this is, instead of somewhat flat head with an angled face, the entire bottom of the head was rounded out like a ladle. Over the life of the sport, the primary club evolved to incorporate a flatter head, making it more accurate and more suitable for longer distances. A variety of other clubs were used as well.
Mirroring the use of different clubs for different situations, wooden balls in a variety of sizes were used for different purposes within the game. For example, a smaller ball would sometimes be used for shots over greater distances. This was especially helpful during the period in which ladle clubs were primarily used, as their shape made it difficult to accurately drive the ball past a certain level of force. Of course, the introduction of flat-faced clubs would have reduced the need for smaller balls, bringing the sport even closer in similarity to modern golf.
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