The Third Leader: Golf war

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Stand well back: two of the world's most proud pioneering nations are laying claim to the same invention. One is China, responsible for, inter alia, gunpowder, paper, rocketry, and the wheelbarrow; the other is Scotland, responsible for, inter alia, the telephone, television, the pedal cycle, penicillin, radar, logarithms, the modern lawnmower and Bovril.

And they are arguing about? Golf. No, don't knock it. Mark Twain might have described it as a good walk spoiled, but golf has inspired exemplary good manners, bright check trousers, some of the finer works of P G Wodehouse, and helpfully confined many of those with small and partial minds to clubs most of us wouldn't want to join anyway.

The Scots, of course, have been knocking a ball into a hole with a stick since at least 1457. But now Professor Ling of Lanzhou University has discovered a reference to just such a game in a 10th-century Chinese book, the Dongxuan Records.

Hmm. I should point out that China acquired its first golf course in 1984, which is a long time to wait to tee off. Mao's game was tennis; if it had been golf, they'd probably still be on the Long March.

And then there's the book itself: it seems pretty clear to me that Dongxuan is a corruption of Donald Gxuan, who may well turn out to be the son of a Celtic adventurer with a strong short game, one of a line which also includes the inventor of another stick and ball activity, the Irishman, Marc O'Polo.

I fear, though, that my intervention is unlikely to be the last word, as I notice elsewhere that the Chinese also claim to have invented whisky.

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