The etymology of the word “golf” is uncertain, but it’s unlikely that “golf” is an acronym. It is sometimes claimed that “golf” is an acronym of a sign that was posted at a Scottish club, “Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden.”
“Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden” has been cited in print only since the 1990s—many centuries after the game of golf began. “Gentleman Only, Ladies Forbidden” is a backronym (back acronym) of an existing word.
The word is first known in English from the 15th century from Scots. Although the etymology is uncertain, the most likely origin is that it comes from the Middle Dutch colve or colf (“club”).
1. (sports) A ball game played by individuals competing against one another in which the object is to hit a ball into each of a series of (usually 18 or nine) holes in the minimum number of strokes.
Wikipedia: History of golf
The word golf was first mentioned in writing in 1457 on a Scottish statute on forbidden games as gouf, possibly derived from the Scots word goulf (variously spelled) meaning “to strike or cuff”. This word may, in turn, be derived from the Dutch word kolf, meaning “bat,” or “club,” and the Dutch sport of the same name. But there is an even earlier reference to the game of golf, and it is believed to have happened in 1452 when King James II banned the game because it kept his subjects from their archery practice.
There is a persistent urban legend claiming that the term derives from an acronym “Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden”. This is a false etymology, as acronyms being used as words is a fairly modern phenomenon, making the expression a backronym.
A View from the Red Tees:
The Truth About Women and Golf
By Dorothy Langley
New York, NY: Kensington Publishing Corp.
Getting Corporate Approval for the Gentlemen-Only Game
I once golfed with a man who told me the name of golf was derived from a very old sign in an even older Scottish clubhouse, “Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden.” I think he was mistaken. I think he must have gotten it mixed up with a business golf outing.
Week of June 1, 1997
Trailblazing new attitudes in golf
By Bruce Berlet
“I don’t have all the answers,” Kelley said, “but at least I want to try to help free people from suffocating themselves in old golf attitudes.” Especially the thought she heard when she was 10 years old: Golf stands for “Gentlemen only ladies forbidden.”
“I don’t remember who said it, but it had to be some wise old man,” Kelley said, laughing. “It didn’t affect me because I had my dreams and goals, and knew I was still going to play the game. But it has taken on more meaning the past few years.
OCLC WorldCat record
Golf : gentlemen only ladies forbidden, or is it golden oldies live forever? : a 152.800 (100 point) research thesis presented in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Business Studies at Massey University
Author: Gail Helen Aldridge
Dissertation: Thesis (M.B.S.)--Massey University, Palmerston North, 2004.
Edition/Format: Thesis/dissertation : Thesis/dissertation : Manuscript Archival Material : English
OCLC WorldCat record
Gentlemen only ladies forbidden : the unwritten rules of golf.
Author: Percival Farquhar
Publisher: [S.l.] : Plexus Publishing Ltd, 2014
Edition/Format: Book : English