What is the Game of Golf?
Golf is a sport played on a grass course, where clubs are used to hit a small ball to get it into a series of holes along the course. Players compete individually, earning a score that reflects the number of strokes taken during the match. The player with the fewest total strokes at the end of the game wins.
When Was Golf Invented?
Stick-and-ball games similar to golf were played in ancient Rome thousands of years ago. However, the game of golf first appeared around the 15th century.
Who Invented Golf?
The game originated in Scotland, where it was originally played by royalty and elite members of society.
The Basic History of Golf
By hitting a stuffed leather ball with a bent stick, ancient Romans created the earliest form of golf around 100 B.C. Later, a game called chuiwan which involved hitting a ball with a stick at a walking pace was played in China as far back as the 10th century. While these games were similar to golf, they aren’t considered to be directly related to the sport that is played today.
It wasn’t until the 15th century that modern golf first appeared. It is traced back to Scotland, where it was actually banned for several decades in an effort to focus on archery and other military training efforts. After the ban was lifted in 1500, King James IV of Scotland took up the game and contributed to its growing popularity in the country.
The first official rules of the game were established by the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers in 1744. The Society of St. Andrew Golfers, another influential group in the sport, was formed in 1754. This quickly became known as the world’s premier golf club. In 1764, St. Andrews reduced the number of holes on the course from 22 to 18, creating the familiar format that is still used today.
Golf Spreads Internationally
Mary Queen of Scots had also become a fan of golf by the mid-16th century. In fact, she is sometimes credited as the first known female golfer, as she was introduced to the game in France while studying there. French military cadets acted as her aides, which is where the term “caddie” originated.
Early references to golf in England date back to the 1600s. Around this time, King James VI and King Charles I helped to popularize the game in the country. In 1682, two Scotsmen and two Englishmen participated in the first international golf match held at Leith near Edinburgh, with the Scottish coming out victorious.
The first official golf club that was formed outside of Scotland was the Royal Blackheath Golf Club near London in 1766. By the 1800s, the game began to catch on throughout India, New Zealand, Australia, France, Ireland, India, and the British Isles, largely due to the spread of the British Empire. Great Britain held its first Amateur Championship in 1885.
The sport was introduced to the U.S. and Canada due to the arrival of settlers from across the Atlantic. The game became more popular and spread across the continent as settlers moved inland. The Royal Montreal Golf Club was established in Canada in 1873. In the U.S., early golf clubs were created in Yonkers, New York; Newport, Rhode Island; and Wheaton, Illinois. The United States Golf Association (USGA) was established in 1894, and one year later the first U.S. National Amateur, Women’s Amateur, and Open championships were held. By 1900, there were more than 1,000 golf clubs throughout the United States.
The Evolution of Golf Equipment
The first clubs for modern golf were constructed of wood, typically taken from either beech trees or fruit trees. Golf balls were originally made of wood as well, but lighter balls composed of feathers stuffed inside stitched leather were introduced in the early 17th century. These balls were difficult to make and quite expensive, and they quickly became soggy in damp conditions.
Equipment became more sophisticated during the 18th century. Some club heads were made from iron rather than wood, adding more force to each stroke. Players began to use more clubs, with different designs applied for specific types of strokes. In addition, balls were made from gutta-percha, a plastic substance sourced from Malaysian trees. These balls were the first to feature indented surfaces for improved flight distance. They were also easier to produce and more affordable.
In the 20th century, rubber balls were first introduced to the game. Englishman William Taylor secured a patent for the dimpled ball surface. This allowed golfers to hit the ball further, and many courses moved teeing grounds back as a result. Around that time, many players began using clubs with steel shafts. Later, lightweight metals like titanium were used to manufacture golf clubs.
Though the sport had started out as a game played by the elite and wealthy due to the expensive, handcrafted equipment, advancements in the production of golf balls and clubs brought down costs and made the game much more affordable for those of more modest means.
The Basic Rules & Gameplay of Golf
What Is the Objective of Golf?
The objective of golf is to get the ball into the holes on the course using as few strokes as possible. Players also try to avoid obstacles along the course, such as bunkers, water features, or trees, in order to keep their score low. The player with the fewest total strokes at the end of the game wins.
What Are the Basic Rules of Golf?
- Team size – Golfers typically compete on an individual level. However, some groups of golfers compete as a team, like for school sporting events or for a team tournament.
- Match length – A standard game of golf is played on a course with 18 holes. Some courses have only nine holes, which players can complete once for an abbreviated game or twice for a standard round.
- Scoring/Par – Players get one point for each stroke they take on a hole. Each hole has an assigned “par,” which is the number of strokes an expert player is expected to take in order to get the ball in the hole. A player’s score is typically noted by whether it is higher, lower, or even with the par score using the following terms:
- Par: Even with the par score (E)
- Birdie: One under par (-1)
- Eagle: Two under par (-2)
- Double eagle/albatross: (-3)
- Triple eagle/double albatross/condor: (-4)
- Bogey: One over par (+1). Related terms include double bogey (+2), triple bogey (+3), and quadruple bogey (+4).
- Hole-in-one: Hitting the ball from the tee to the hole with one stroke
- Handicaps – Players are assigned handicaps based on their skill level and previous performance. This handicap is then used to adjust their score so they can play fairly against other players of different skill levels. The handicap is subtracted from the total number of strokes to calculate an adjusted score.
- Hitting the ball – Golfers begin each hole at a specific area called the teeing ground. The player places the ball on a small wooden or plastic peg called a tee and hits it toward the hole. From there, players must hit the ball from where it lands on the fairway or green until they get it into the hole, with each hit counting as a stroke. Some common types of strokes on a golf course include:
- Tee shot: Hit with a driver for a longer distance when teeing off.
- Fairway shot: Similar to a tee shot, but often completed with a higher numbered club.
- Pitch/fop: A shot where the ball has a high, short flight path and rolls very little after hitting the ground.
- Chip: A low approach shot onto the green with the ball rolling a little after landing.
- Bunker shot: A shot taken from the sand trap, usually with a high-pitch iron or a sand wedge, to get the ball up and out of the sand.
- Putt: A shot taken on the green where the ball rolls on the ground toward the hole.
- Penalties – Players are penalized when violating a rule of the game or when their ball is hit into an unplayable area. Typically, a one- or two-stroke penalty is accrued, meaning that the player must add one or two points to their score for that hole. Common reasons a penalty is awarded include:
- Hitting the ball into a water hazard
- Declaring their ball to be unplayable
- Cleaning a ball in play
- Hitting another player’s ball
- Equipment violations, such as carrying too many clubs
- Officiating – Most golf games are played without referees, and players call their own penalties. However, rules officials are often used for major events and tournaments.
The Basic Equipment in Golf
The essential equipment for golf includes balls, tees, and clubs.
The size of the ball was originally standardized using what was called the “1.62 formula,” meaning it would have a maximum weight of 1.62 ounces and a minimum diameter of 1.62 inches. The size was increased to 1.68 inches in 1932. Tees are made from wood or plastic and feature a flat top to place the ball on and a tapered end that can be inserted into the ground.
There are a number of clubs used in golf.
Overall, the lower the number of the club, the farther it can hit the ball, while the higher the number, the higher the ball can be hit. There are several categories of golf clubs:
- Woods: Used for hitting the ball over long distances (200 to 350 yards). Despite the name, they are now made of metal. They have large, rounded heads with a flat bottom that glides over the ground during a swing. Woods are typically numbered 1-5, with a 1-wood (driver) capable of hitting the ball the farthest.
- Irons: Used for hitting the ball less than 200 yards. Irons have a flat, angled face and a shorter shaft. They can hit the ball higher than woods but not as high as wedges. Irons are numbered one 1-9, with the 9-iron capable of the highest loft and the 1-iron capable of the longest distance within this category. The 1- and 2- iron are sometimes not included in a standard set because they’re difficult to use effectively.
- Wedges: Used to hit the ball high over a short or mid-range distance. The pitching wedge, which can be used for shots of up to 130 yards, is the most common. Other wedges include the gap wedge, sand wedge, and lob wedge.
- Putters: Used to roll the ball when making a shot on the green. It features a flat blade and the length of the shaft corresponds to the player’s height. Most golfers carry just one putter.
A standard golf course has 18 holes which measure from 100 to 600 yards each (with most courses measuring 6,500 to 7,000 yards total). Each hole features the following areas:
- Teeing ground: The area where the tee must be placed for the first stroke on the hole. Also known as the tee box.
- Fairway: The long, narrow area that stretches from the teeing ground to the green. Grass is cut shorter in this area.
- Rough: The area on either side of the fairway. Grass is not cut short, and players try to avoid hitting the ball into this area.
- Green: Relatively smooth ground with short-cut grass around the hole. Also known as the putting green.
- Hole: A cup inserted into the ground with a flag sticking out so players can see it from a distance.
- Hazards: Bodies of water (streams, ponds, etc.) and/or bunkers (depressions filled with sand, also known as sand traps) on the course that players try to avoid.