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From The Hobbit:

If you have ever seen a dragon in a pinch, you will realize that this was only poetical exaggeration applied to any hobbit, even to Old Took's great-granduncle Bullroarer, who was so huge (for a hobbit) that he could ride a horse. He charged the ranks of the goblins of Mount Gram in the Battle of the Green Fields, and knocked their king Golfimbul's head clean off with a wooden club. It sailed a hundred yards through the air and went down a rabbit-hole, and in this way the battle was won and the game of Golf was invented at the same moment.

Is there any other mention of golf in Tolkien's work? The existence of golf seems out of place with the rest of Middle-earth.

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    Interestingly, the Goblin king's original name (in the early drafts) was Fingolfin, which would have really messed things up if he'd published using that.
    – user8719
    Dec 29 '14 at 21:22
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    Why would there NOT be a game similar to golf in Middle Earth? Dec 29 '14 at 21:30
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    @eliyahu-g - well, I would strongly suggest that, if there was one thing that Hobbiton - and Middle Earth - had in a great surplus - it would be empty space for golf courses. Basic gold can be played with wood sticks that are easier to make than a bow; and a ball that's... well, pick a goblin and take its head off. Dec 29 '14 at 21:35
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    Now, the anachronism aspect is a valid concern, OTOH. But for all we know, Middle Earth Golf was more like cricket/baseball, which is WAY older. Dec 29 '14 at 21:36
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    “The existence of Golf seems out of place with the rest of Middle Earth” — a bunch of old white guys ruining a nice country walk with some goal they’ve suddenly decided is really important? Lord of the Rings looks a lot like golf to me. Apr 27 '15 at 12:24
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This is the only mention of golf in Tolkien's writings.

Regarding it being out of place, it's important to remember that this mention of golf is made in the voice of the narrator, not of one of the characters in the story. The narrator is very specifically addressing a modern audience (and an audience of children, at that), and so there are other similar anachronisms throughout the Hobbit (we had a recent similar question relating to guns in Middle-earth, for example).

Tolkien deals with this in his own Letter 215:

When I published The Hobbit – hurriedly and without due consideration – I was still influenced by the convention that 'fairy-stories' are naturally directed to children (with or without the silly added waggery 'from seven to seventy'). And I had children of my own. But the desire to address children, as such, had nothing to do with the story as such in itself or the urge to write it. But it had some unfortunate effects on the mode of expression and narrative method, which if I had not been rushed, I should have corrected.

What all of this means is that one should not assume that mention of anything in the voice of the narrator reflects in any way on what may or may not actually exist in Middle-earth.

Letter 194 emphasises this point:

...the narrator might occasionally venture an interpretation of more than mere plot-events...

And there are other examples throughout Tolkien's letters where he distinguishes the narrator from events or characters in his story.

Although none of these have specific reference to the game of golf, in this case the narrator can be safely assumed to be merely telling a joke to amuse his audience, and nothing more.

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  • Another anachronism in the Hobbit was the mention that dwarves haven't taken to matches much -- even though matches as we know them were a 19th century invention and the "sulfur matches" available in medieval times weren't a source of ignition, but an easy way to transfer and magnify a coal made in tinder by a flint.
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Nov 18 at 13:54
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Tolkien's earlier drafts show a little more golf things that didn't make it into the book, but the passage quoted is the only appearance of golf in any of Tolkien's published works. Later Tolkien considered removing even that.

The earliest surviving manuscript of the passage shows that Tolkien had a different goblin name to pun with (Fingolfin instead of Golfimbul), and that he also included an invention of chess in the same battle.

if you have ever seen a dragon in a pinch you would realize that this was only poetical exaggeration applied to any hobbit, even the Old Took’s great uncle Bullroarer who was so large he could sit on a Shetland pony; and charged the ranks of the goblins of the Mount Gram in the battle of the Green Fields of Fellin and knocked their King Fingolfin’s head clean off with a wooden club. It sailed two hundred yards and went down a rabbit hole, and in this way the battle was won by checkmate and the games of Golf & chess invented simultaneously.
The History of The Hobbit - "The Pryftan Fragment"

In the typescript Tolkien made following this, he goes on to say that Gloin was a big golf fan, and thus knew the story of Bullroarer Took very well.

Tell me what you want me to do, and I will try it, if I have to walk from here to the last desert in the East and fight the Wild Wireworms of the Chinese. I had a great-great-great-uncle, Bullroarer Took, and –’

‘We know, we know’ said Gloin (he was very fond of golf); ‘holed out in one on the Green Fields! But I assure you the mark was on the door
The History of The Hobbit - "The The Bladorthin Typescript"

In 1960, Tolkien embarked on an (eventually abandoned) attempt to rewrite The Hobbit to be more in the style of The Lord of the Rings. In this version, nearly everything golf-like about the scene was to be removed, such as the beheading, the rabbit-hole, and even the "golf" part of the goblin king's name.

No doubt an exaggeration; but Gandalf was doing his best in a difficult situation. For Bandobras had been the Old Took’s great-granduncle, and usually called Bullroarer. He was so huge (for a hobbit) that he rode a small horse. At the Battle of the Green Fields, when the hobbits were driven back, he charged the ranks of the Goblins of Mount Gram, and smote their king Gulfimbul to the earth with his great wooden club. So the battle was won, and there had been none since in the Shire. Even the dwarves had heard of Bullroarer Took.
The History of The Hobbit - "The 1960 Hobbit"

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It is possible that in this account the game of golf is a translation of a Middle-earth game with a different name - possibly fimbul, for example. Or possibly the orc was name Nargrut and the game was named narg and the "translator" changed the names to golfimbul and golf to make it sound more familiar to modern audiences.

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  • OK, so now we have some evidence from @Ibid's answer that Tolkien wasn't thinking along these lines when he wrote the passage, and when he did start thinking along these lines, tried to write the passage about golf out of the story. So, while this answer might have added something 5 years ago, perhaps it doesn't add anything any more.
    – Spencer
    Nov 18 at 14:40

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