What golfers in 1892 thought the game would look like in 2000

Graphics by Megumi Diaz and Nicole Beck
What did golfers in 1892 think the game would look like in the year 2000? Scottish futurist J. McCullough took his best shot and was surprisingly close on a few things.
By Dan McDonald
PGA.com

Series: Golf Buzz

Published: Monday, April 17, 2017 | 10:13 a.m.

Unless you’re a golf historian or a Jeopardy grand champion, you probably haven’t heard of obscure 1890s Scottish author (and avid golfer) J. McCullough.

But while he might not be a Ralph Waldo Emerson-type figure, he most certainly had a keen eye for the future and how we would be playing golf today.

McCullough’s Golf in the year 2000: Or what we are coming to is an early work of time-travel fiction that made some surprisingly accurate predictions about modern-day golf.

The premise of the book is that the main character, Alexander John Gibson fell into a trance on the night of Thursday, March 24, 1892 after playing a round of golf with his friend in Scotland. He would proceed to sleep for 108 years and woke up on March 25, 2000.

The world he found was obviously much different than the one he fell asleep in. McCullough goes on to describe what the world of Great Britain might look like -- and does a surprisingly good job of it.

Some of the technology he saw coming was the subway system, Trans-Atlantic travel under 2 hours, color photography, elevator lift systems and shaving without a razor, instead using a brush with a liquid which left his face smooth.

But as for golf, McCullough made some pretty radical guesses on what the future would look like. Some of them were surprisingly close, others we are very glad don’t exist. Here are some of the ideas he had:

The Fore Jacket

Imagine during your swing, you’re interrupted by a loud “fore” before you’ve even hit your shot. By golf conventions in 1892 and today, this is rude, distracting and likely will lead to an undesirable shot. In this vision, McCullough saw a jacket -- it used to be proper attire to wear a golfing jacket -- that during the swing, the airflow would cause the jacket to shout a preemptive “fore” to alert other golfers of your shot.

Prediction grade: F
Modern-day equivalent: There isn’t one, and for that, we are very grateful.

Putter

Putting becomes much more simplified in McCullough’s version of the year 2000. Instead of needed to worry about turning your shoulders or wrists, the putter of his design would have the golfer hold the grip, choose a distance and hit a button. This would cause the shaft of the club to swing like a pendulum and strike the ball. All the golfer would need to do is account for the line and slope of the putt.

Prediction Grade: C+
Modern-day equivalent: Anchored putter. The idea of McCullough’s putter was basically to eliminate some of the variables of putting. Anchored putting accomplishes that by making the putter as much of a pendulum as possible.

Televised golf matches

McCullough was pretty spot on with this prediction. He envisioned being able to watch events on a large mirror within a house or theater-type setting from anywhere in the world. Instead of cameras and transmitting via satellites and cables, his vision was that a large system of mirrors would be used to give viewers a look at what was going on. When the “signal” got to its final destination, a large magnifying glass would enlarge and project the image onto a large piece of glass.

Prediction Grade: A+
Modern Day Equivalent: Television. He might have missed on exactly how images would be transmitted, but the concept was so far beyond technology at the time that we have to give this the highest of marks.

Club design

In 1892, clubs were primarily made of wood, in particular, hickory. McCullough took several takes at what drivers and irons would look like. The one that he perfectly predicted was that clubs would be made of steel.

A cool concept that didn’t quite work out the way it was imagined was that the clubs would keep the score for you via a dial on the club. Instead of keeping score on a scorecard, the club secretary would calculate your score by adding up the strokes taken on each club. Another dial on the sole of the club would calculate your carry distance for the shot you just hit.

Prediction grade: B
Modern-day equivalent: Arccos Driver Performance Tracking System. While we still use a scorecard, we do have the ability to put a piece of equipment on our golf clubs to see how far the shot goes. But as far as the dials go, he wasn’t completely wrong since we can change the loft on drivers and the weight distribution to create/cure draws, fades, hooks and slices.

Some other predictions:

  • There would be the ability to control the weather so rain would never interrupt your round.
  • The powers of Europe decided to end wars fought with guns and bombs. Instead, disputes were settled by golf matches. While they were rare, a match between countries would include teams of 100 men to a side. 50 would play in each country. “Fancy the fate of an empire hanging on a putt -- the hopes of a country shattered by a bad lying golf ball!”
  • A tricycle-looking contraption that golfers dragged behind them which carried their clubs for them instead of a caddie. Sounds an awful lot like a pull cart doesn’t it?