When teaching Harry the rules of Quidditch, Wood makes his ignorance about the nuances of Muggle sport plain for all to see.

"The Chasers throw the Quaffle and put it through the hoops to score," Harry recited. "So - that's sort of like basketball on broomsticks with six hoops, isn't it?"
"What's basketball?" said Wood curiously.
"Never mind," said Harry quickly.
(Philosopher's Stone, Chapter 10, Hallowe'en).

At first this seems like the standard ironic wizarding response to Muggle society. 'Magic is normal, Muggles are weird and so why would any wizards know anything about the strange ways of Muggles?' and so on.

Yet, barely a page later, Wood is shown to not only be aware of golf but to have a whole collection of Muggle golf balls.

"We won't practice with the Snitch yet," said Wood, carefully shutting it back inside the crate. "It's too dark, we might lose it. Let's try you out with a few of these."
He pulled a bag of ordinary golf balls out of his pocket, and a few minutes later, he and Harry were up in the air, Wood throwing the golf balls as hard as he could in every direction for Harry to catch.
(Philosopher's Stone, Chapter 10, Hallowe'en).

If Wood doesn't know anything about basketball then how could he know anything about golf? His basketball comment could only come from someone who was completely clueless about even the most basic elements of that sport. He hasn't even heard of it.

So how did he come to have his stash of golf balls? Is there some magical connection with golf that I'm not aware of? Or is there some way in which Wood may have come across golf balls whilst not encountering basketball?

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    Golf is a much older game that developed in Europe. It is pretty much established that conventional things make it into the HP world, but slowly – Raditz_35 Sep 8 '17 at 12:06
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    Hogwarts is in Scotland which has many golf courses. – TheMathemagician Sep 8 '17 at 12:29
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    @TheDarkLord Yes. I do not want to write answers in this SE, but I'm sure someone else will. Golf is over 400 years old. Take shoes for example. Of course JK might not know that, but they use the kind of shoes that is way younger than Golf. Basketball is particularly American and wasn't even that popular until the early 90ies, Wood not knowing the game actually seems believable – Raditz_35 Sep 8 '17 at 12:35
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    They could belong to Madam Hooch, and be used simply for training – fez Sep 8 '17 at 12:41
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    Is there any indication anywhere that Wood knew them as "golf" balls and not just some random usefully-sized balls for entry-level Quiddich orientation? – Beanluc Sep 8 '17 at 21:59

Obviously, any answer to this would be speculative, but my guess is that they aren't Wood's. The crate of Quidditch balls almost certainly isn't, so why would the golfballs be?

Considering Wood never identifies them as golfballs, it's entirely plausible that, they were simply stored in the broomshed as a training tool, and were left there by a muggleborn player or captain. If you've ever been in a sports storage closet at a school, they're always full of the strangest stuff. In high school, ours had two bags of red solo cups that belonged to no one in particular, but all the tennis players used for practicing serves.

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    Maybe they weren't golf balls at all, just something that Harry thought were golf balls. – Skooba Sep 8 '17 at 18:21
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    There's a quote in Chamber of Secrets which backs up your point that the balls are Hooch's, not Wood's. “But the Bludgers have been locked in Madam Hooch’s office since our last practice, and there was nothing wrong with them then …’ said Wood, anxiously.” That seems to be the one piece of concrete evidence we've got to go on. – The Dark Lord Sep 9 '17 at 7:51
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    Be careful thanking @TheDarkLord. One minute, you're thanking him -- the next, you're stuck giving him a hand in whatever schemes he's plotting ;-) – tonysdg Sep 9 '17 at 19:12
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    @tonysdg You say that like it's a bad thing! ;) – Obsidia Sep 10 '17 at 1:21
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    @Mal: You may get a hand in return, but a fake silver lining. – user21820 Oct 8 '20 at 5:10

I reckon that Wood just walked into a sports shop near his home, presumably a muggle shop, and picked up snitch-sized balls. Harry recognised them as muggle golf balls, but that doesn't mean that Wood did.

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    While speculative, this is a pretty good answer. There's no indication in the quoted passage that Wood knows any more about golf than he does about basketball. – F1Krazy Sep 8 '17 at 13:47
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    Is there any indication of a wizard using muggle shops for anything? – not store bought dirt Sep 8 '17 at 15:55
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    Yes, if you count flirting with girls who work there as "using the shop." Fred and George went to a paper shop in Ottery St. Catchpole to do that. – Alarion Sep 8 '17 at 16:10
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    @notstoreboughtdirt Not directly, but Harry & Co. wear "trainers", which I read to mean ordinary sneakers or tennis shoes. In fact, all of the clothes they wear, with the exception of robes, I expect were bought in muggle shops. – scott Sep 8 '17 at 16:11
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    @Alarion Flirting doesn't require Muggle money. Granted, we know there's some kind of exchange rate between Muggle money and wizard money (Hermione's parents change money in Diagon Alley near the beginning of Prisoner of Azkaban), but it seems a little inconvenient. Although scott makes a good point about the Muggle clothes...but to play devil's advocate, we don't actually know that they buy the clothes from Muggles. There could be an enterprising wizard with a "Muggle imports" shop somewhere. – MJ713 Sep 8 '17 at 18:58

Several other people have pointed this out, but technically the book never actually says that Wood knows exactly what the golf balls are for or what they're called, and it doesn't say exactly where he got them (or even if they belong to him). The fact that he had just admitted that he had no idea what basketball was suggests that he may not know about golf, either, but that's not necessarily the case.

With that said, there is at least some degree of knowledge of Muggle sports among Wizards (e.g. soccer), so it's quite possible that Wood would know about at least some Wizard sports.

It's also not unheard of for Wizards to have Muggle objects without knowing exactly what Muggles use them for. For example, Arthur Weasley collects plugs and various other Muggle objects, even though he has only a vague idea of how electricity works (he doesn't even seem to know exactly how to pronounce it in the 4th book) and appears only dimly aware of what some of the objects he collects are even used for.

The other answers have already pointed out several possible ways that Wood could have acquired them (buying them in a Muggle shop, borrowing them from Madam Hooch, etc.). Many of the ways that he could have acquired them don't necessarily require him to have a detailed knowledge of golf.

We can't really say based on the books exactly how much Wood knew about Muggle golf given that there are numerous possible ways the could have acquired (or had access to) them. It's quite possible that he did know about golf, but it's also quite possible that he was just using the balls without a clear idea of what Muggles used them for.

TL;DR The books don't say. Maybe he borrowed them, maybe he bought them. We don't really know how much he knew about golf.

  • For that matter, what do we know about Wood's birth status? I recall that Harry ran into Wood at the Quidditch World Cup, but did he also meet Wood's parents? Could Wood possibly be muggle-born or have a muggle parent (or grandparent, for that matter)? There are so many possibilities that do (or don't) allow for the golf-balls to belong to Wood or even for him to know (or not know) something about golf that this question is nearly impossible to answer. – Doug R. Sep 11 '17 at 14:08

The premise of the question is very transatlantic: In Scotland, golf is practically a national sport, and has been for centuries; basketball is minority sport played mainly in high school, introduced in last 40 years or so.

The ignorance of Wood in respect of basketball would be shared by many older people in Scotland. Golf, however, would be fully understood by all.

I think that the comment is more about Wood's old-fashioned view than of a muggle/magic contrast.

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    I live in Scotland and the idea that people here don't know about basketball is frankly ridiculous. – The Dark Lord Sep 11 '17 at 16:13
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    @DarkLord I'm referring to that older generation that steadfastly refuses to acknowledge anything that their grandfathers didn't know. And golf would certainly be understood by them. – Conor Sep 11 '17 at 23:44
  • I think even highly traditional people know what a basketball is. To suggest otherwise is absurd. You seem to be vearing off from Harry Potter to make vague and generic statements about what older Scots are aware of. – The Dark Lord Sep 11 '17 at 23:48
  • @DarkLord Perhaps you're correct. But Wood is depicted as a traditionalist, and as such, it's not unreasonable to suggest that that is the reason that he doesn't know about basketball, rather that the fact that it is a muggle game. Suggesting that any adult traditionalist Scot wouldn't know a LOT about golf is truly absurd. However, suggesting that a traditionalist Scot might not know (or acknowledge) anything about a recently (within the last two generations) introduced foreign game would be in keeping with his depicted character, in my opinion. – Conor Sep 11 '17 at 23:59

Maybe Wood simply chances to live next to a golf course, and balls keep getting knocked onto his property. Naturally he might pick up a few.

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    This seems like pure guesswork without foundation. Maybe he lives under the flightpath of a wandering albatross with a passion for golfballs but a very poor grip. – Valorum Sep 8 '17 at 14:49
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    I do love the concept though. "What on earth are these muggles doing whacking these bumpy broken snitches into my yard? How could they possibly find that entertaining?" – Doktor J Sep 8 '17 at 15:00
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    @Valorum, this answer is exactly as guessworky and without foundation as Daniel B and PadfootedProngs answers. – Sam Sep 8 '17 at 19:12
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    @Sam Occam's Razor begs to differ. – Southpaw Hare Sep 8 '17 at 21:00
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    @can-ned_food Well, that depends, is it an african, or european albatross? – Daniel B Sep 9 '17 at 18:20

I think the simplest answer is this: Golf balls are (apparently) an effective piece of Quidditch training equipment while Basketballs aren't, so that is how Wood knows about them.

e.g. a person who is good at running knows everything about running shoes, but probably nothing about the art of cobbling.

To make a simple answer more complicated: His not knowing basketball doesn't imply a complete blank for all muggle sports as a rule. It's more that he doesn't know much about them, but since we can use golf balls to train for Quidditch, he does know a bit about them, and possibly (but not necessarily) knows a thing or two about how Golf is played.

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