No one really knows the true origin of the golf term mulligan, which is a do-over. One of the more popular theories suggests that it came from a fellow by the name of David Mulligan. In the 1920’s David would drive his golf buddies to the golf course and in doing so would drive over some fairly rough roads causing his hands to suffer in the process. His buddies allowed him an extra shot off the first tee.
You may hear a few other theories as well, but there is one theory that is not well known and may very well be the true source of inspiration.
The story actually dates back to 1735. In the heart of Edinburgh, Scotland, there lived a small group of garden gnomes that witnessed the birth of golf. Aristocrats from Edinburgh would spend their leisure time on the lawns of Edinburgh Castle playing a new type of sport with hand carved sticks and a small ball. The gnomes who were well hidden in the nearby trees would watch intently as the gentlemen batted the balls into strategically placed holes in the ground. The gnomes were captivated by this new game and would watch for hours.
One day, Mulligan the Garden Gnome, who was notorious for being mischievous, decided to play a little trick on the golfers. He gathered the other gnomes and whispered his plan. The others giggled with excitement. They hadn’t had a good laugh in a long time and this seemed like the perfect prank. The gnomes hid among the bushes and trees and anytime one of the golfers hit the ball near them, the gnomes would take the ball and hide it. The golfers were perplexed as to what was happening to their golf balls. They began to suspect each other and soon rounded up some of the peasants to act as guards or caddies. The caddies would keep a close watch on the ball and would stand next to it so that the golfer would be able to his next shot. The gnomes were still able to carry out their prank on occasion and each time the ball went missing, the gentlemen would take a do-over shot.
This continued on for several years as gnomes never tire of a good prank. The gnomes simply returned the golf balls they collected to their owners. The gnomes got a big kick out of seeing the expression on the gentlemen’s faces when they discovered that the missing golf balls ended up in their possession. However, Mulligan the gnome didn’t return the golf balls he collected. He would carve his name on each ball and hide them safely in the large oak tree on the castle grounds. He wasn’t sure why he wanted to keep them, but he liked his little prank so much, it seemed like a good idea at the time.
The groundskeepers were grooming the lawns one day. It was unusually hot and the sun was brutal. One of the groundskeepers decided to take a nap and nestled next to the large oak tree that harbored Mulligan’s golf balls. By this time, however, the tree held so many golf balls that one of them eventually was squeezed out of a knothole in the tree and landed on the sleeping groundskeeper. The groundskeeper woke up and looked at what had interrupted his nap. He soon discovered that the tree was full of these little balls and brought them to the gentlemen who were just gathering for the start of their game. The gentlemen noticed the name Mulligan on all the golf balls. Although they questioned everyone they knew and all the peasants in the village, the mystery was never solved. The gentlemen enjoyed a good laugh after realizing that someone was having fun with them. And from that day on, each time the ball disappeared everyone referred to the do-over as a mulligan.
So there you have it. The true story of the mulligan, made famous by our very own Mulligan the gnome! The next time your golf ball disappears, you’ll know that Mulligan must be nearby and up to his old tricks.
Please click here to view a a larger image or purchase: Mulligan Garden Gnome.