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golf hole

Golf

[golf, gawlf; Brit. also gof]
Golf is a sport in which a player, using many types of clubs including a driver, a putter, and irons, hits a ball into each hole on a golf course in the lowest possible number of strokes. Golf is one of the few ball games that does not use a standardized playing area; rather, the game is played on golf "courses", each one of which has a unique design and typically consists of either 9 or 18 holes. Golf is defined in the Rules of Golf as ''"playing a ball with a club from the teeing ground into the hole by a stroke or successive strokes in accordance with the Rules

The first game of golf for which records survive was played at Bruntsfield Links, in Edinburgh, Scotland, in A.D. 1456, recorded in the archives of the Edinburgh Burgess Golfing Society, now The Royal Burgess Golfing Society. The modern game of golf spread from Scotland to England and has now become a worldwide game, with golf courses in the majority of countries.

Golf competition may be played as stroke play, in which the individual with the lowest number of strokes is declared the winner, stableford points play (as devised in 1931 by Dr. Frank Stableford of the Wallasey & Royal Liverpool Golf Clubs), in which the individual with the highest points score is declared the winner, or as match play with the winner determined by whichever individual or team posts the lower score on the most individual holes during a complete round. In addition, team events such as fourball have been introduced, and these can be played using either the stroke, stableford or matchplay format. Alternative ways to play golf have also been introduced, such as miniature golf, sholf and disc golf.

Golf has increasingly turned into a spectator game, with several different levels of professional and amateur tours in many regions of the world. People such as Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Lorena Ochoa, Pádraig Harrington and Annika Sörenstam have become well-recognized sports figures across the world. Sponsorship has also become a huge part of the game and players often earn more from their sponsorship contracts than they do from the game itself.

Etymology

The word Golf was first mentioned in writing in 1457 on a Scottish statute on forbidden games as gouf, possibly derived from the Scots word goulf (variously spelled) meaning "to strike or cuff". This word may, in turn, be derived from the Dutch word kolf, meaning "bat," or "club," and the Dutch sport of the same name. It is often claimed that the word originated as an acronym for "gentlemen only, ladies forbidden", but this is strictly a false etymology.

History

Golf is a game the exact origins of which are unclear. The origin of golf is open to debate as to being Dutch or Scottish. However, the most accepted golf history theory is that golf as practised today originated from Scotland in the 1100s.

Scholars have claimed references to a form of golf from hieroglyphs found on stone tablets dating to ancient Egyptian Pharoahs. A game somewhat similar to golf was first mentioned in Dōngxuān Records (東軒錄), a Chinese book of 11th century. It was also mentioned on 26 February 1297 in the Netherlands in a city called Loenen aan de Vecht. Here the Dutch played a game with a stick and leather ball. Whoever hit the ball into a target several hundreds of meters away the least number of times, won.

Modern golf is considered to be a Scottish invention, as the game was mentioned in two 15th century laws prohibiting the playing of the game of gowf. Some scholars have suggested that this refers to another game which is more akin to modern shinty, hurling or field hockey than golf. A game of putting a small ball into a hole in the ground using clubs was played in 17th century Netherlands. Flourishing trade over the North Sea during the Middle Ages and early Modern Period led to much language interaction between Scots, Dutch) and other languages. There are also reports of even earlier accounts of a golf like game from continental Europe.

However, these earlier games are more accurately viewed as ancestors of the game we call golf, as the fact remains that the modern game of golf we understand today originated and developed in Scotland: The first golf club memberships were formed in Scotland. The earliest permanent golf course originated there too, as did the very first written rules, as did the establishment of the 18-hole course. The first formalized tournament structures also emerged there and competitions were arranged between different Scottish cities. Over time, the modern game spread to England and from there to the rest of the world. The oldest playing golf course in the world is The Musselburgh Old Links Golf Course. Evidence has shown that golf was played here in 1672 although Mary, Queen of Scots reputedly played there in 1567.

As stated, golf courses have not always had eighteen holes. The St Andrews Links occupy a narrow strip of land along the sea. As early as the 15th century, golfers at St Andrews, in Fife, established a customary route through the undulating terrain, playing to holes whose locations were dictated by topography. The course that emerged featured eleven holes, laid out end to end from the clubhouse to the far end of the property. One played the holes out, turned around, and played the holes in, for a total of 22 holes. In 1764, several of the holes were deemed too short, and were therefore combined. The number was thereby reduced from 11 to nine, so that a complete round of the links comprised 18 holes. Due to the status of St Andrews as the golf capital, all other courses chose to follow suit and the 18-hole course remains the standard today.

The major changes in equipment since the 19th century have been better mowers, especially for the greens, better golf ball designs, using rubber and man-made materials since about 1900, and the introduction of the metal shaft beginning in the 1930s. Also in the 1930s the wooden golf tee was invented. In the 1970s the use of steel and then titanium to replace wood heads began, and shafts made of "graphite" (also known as carbon fiber) were introduced in the 1980s. Though wooden tees are still most popular, various designs of plastic tees have been developed in recent years, and the synthetic materials composing the modern ball continue to be developed.

Golf balls are famous for "dimples". These small dips in the surface of the golf ball decrease aerodynamic drag which allows the ball to fly farther. Golf is also famous for the use of flags. These show the position of the hole to players when they make their first drive and are too far away from the hole to aim accurately. When all players in a group are within putting distance, the flag is removed by a "caddy" or a fellow competitor to allow for easier access to the hole.

World popularity

In 2005 Golf Digest calculated that there were nearly 32,000 golf courses in the world, approximately half of them in the United States. The countries with most golf courses in relation to population, starting with the best endowed were: Scotland, New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, Canada, Wales, United States, Sweden, and England (countries with fewer than 500,000 people were excluded). Apart from Sweden, all of these countries have English as the majority language, but the number of courses in new territories is increasing rapidly. For example the first golf course in the People's Republic of China opened in the mid-1980s, but by 2005 there were 200 courses in that country.

The professional sport was initially dominated by Scottish then English golfers, but since World War I, America has produced the greatest quantity of leading professionals. Other Commonwealth countries such as Australia and South Africa are also traditional powers in the sport. Since around the 1970s, Japan, Scandinavian and other Western European countries have produced leading players on a regular basis. The number of countries with high-class professionals continues to increase steadily, especially in East Asia. South Korea is notably strong in women's golf.

The last decade or so has seen a marked increase in specialised golf vacations or holidays worldwide. This demand for travel which is centered around golf has led to the development of luxury resorts which cater to golfers and feature integrated golf courses.

In the United States, the number of people who play golf 25 times or more per year fell from 6.9 million in 2000 to 4.6 million in 2005, according to the National Golf Foundation. The Foundation reported a smaller decline in the number who played golf at all; it fell from 30 million to 26 million over the same period.

Golf course

Golf is played in an area of land designated a golf course. A course consists of a series of holes, each consisting of a teeing area, fairway, rough and other hazards, and the green with the pin and cup. A typical golf course consists of eighteen holes, but many smaller courses have only nine. Early Scottish golf courses were mostly layed out on linksland, soil covered sand dunes directly inland from beaches. This gave rise to the common description of a seaside course as a links.

Play of the game

Every round of golf is based on playing a number of holes in a given order. A round typically consists of 18 holes that are played in the order determined by the course layout. On a nine-hole course, a standard round consists of two successive nine-hole rounds. Playing a hole on the golf course consists of hitting a ball from a tee on the teeing box (a marked area designated for the first shot of a hole, a tee shot), and once the ball comes to rest, striking it again. This process is repeated until the ball is in the cup. Once the ball is on the green (an area of finely cut grass) the ball is usually putted (hit along the ground) into the hole. The goal of resting the ball in the hole in as few strokes as possible may be impeded by hazards, such as bunkers and water hazards. In most typical forms of gameplay, each player plays his or her ball from the tee until it is holed.

Players can walk or drive in motorised carts over the course, either singly or in groups of two, three, or four, sometimes accompanied by caddies who carry and manage the players' equipment and give them advice.

Each player often acts as scorer for one other player in the group, that is, he or she records the score on a score card. In stroke play (see below), the score consists of the number of strokes played plus any penalty strokes incurred. Penalty strokes are not actually strokes but penalty points that are added to the score for violations of rules or utilizing relief procedures.

Par

A hole is classified by its par, the number of strokes a skilled golfer should require to complete play of the hole. For example, a skilled golfer expects to reach the green on a par-four hole in two strokes (This would be considered a Green in Regulation): one from the tee (the "drive") and another, second, stroke to the green (the "approach"); and then roll the ball into the hole in two putts for par. Traditionally, a golf hole is either a par-three, -four or -five; some par-six holes exist, but are not usually found on traditional golf courses.

Primarily, but not exclusively, the par of a hole is determined by the tee-to-green distance. A typical length for a par-three hole ranges between 91 and 224 metres (100–250 yd), for a par-four hole, between 225 and 434 metres (251–475 yd). Typically, par-five holes are at between 435 and 630 metres (476–690 yd), and nontraditional par-six holes are any longer distance. These distances are not absolute rules; for example, it is possible that a 450 metre (492 yd) hole could be classed as a par-four hole, since the par for a hole is determined by its 'effective playing length'. If the tee-to-green distance on a hole is predominantly downhill, it will play shorter than its physical length and may be given a lower par rating. Par ratings are also affected by factors affecting difficulty; the placement of hazards or the shape of the hole for example can sometimes affect the play of a hole such that it requires an extra stroke to avoid playing into the hazard or out-of-bounds.

Eighteen hole courses may have four par-three, ten par-four, and four par-five holes, though other combinations exist and are not less worthy than courses of par 72. Many major championships are contested on courses playing to a par of 70, 71 or 72. In some countries, courses are classified, in addition to the course's par, with a course classification describing the play difficulty of a course and may be used to calculate a golfer's playing handicap for that given course (c.f. golf handicap).

Penalties

Penalty strokes are incurred in certain situations. Most often a penalty stroke is assessed because a player has hit into a situation from which they cannot or choose not to play the ball as it lies (e.g. in a water hazard), or because they have lost their ball (out of bounds (OB)) and must play a substitute. Penalty strokes are counted towards a player's score as if they were an extra swing at the ball. Penalty strokes can be added on for many different reasons. It could be a wrongful move that results in a penalty (moving an object that effects the ball to move.) Or a penalty could be because of a lost ball. Most rule infractions lead to a stroke penalty but also can lead to disqualification. Disqualification could be from cheating, signing for a lower score, or from rule infractions that lead to improper play.

Scoring

In every form of play, the goal is to play as few strokes per round as possible. Scores for each hole can be described as follows:

Term on a
scoreboard
Specific term Definition
-4 Condor (or triple-eagle) four strokes under par
-3 Albatross (or double-eagle) three strokes under par
-2 Eagle two strokes under par
-1 Birdie one stroke under par
0 Par strokes equal to par
bgcolor=#EFEFEF align="center"
1
Bogey one stroke more than par
bgcolor=#EFEFEF align="center"
2
Double bogey two strokes over par
bgcolor=#EFEFEF align="center"
3
Triple bogey three strokes over par

The two basic forms of playing golf are match play and stroke play/Stableford Points scoring.

  • In match play, two players (or two teams) play each hole as a separate contest against each other. The party with the lower score wins that hole, or if the scores of both players or teams are equal the hole is "halved" (drawn). The game is won by the party that wins more holes than the other. In the case that one team or player has taken a lead that cannot be overcome in the number of holes remaining to be played, the match is deemed to be won by the party in the lead, and the remainder of the holes are not played. For example, if one party already has a lead of six holes, and only five holes remain to be played on the course, the match is over. At any given point, if the lead is equal to the number of holes remaining, the match is said to be "dormie", and is continued until the leader increases the lead by one hole, thereby winning the match, or until the match ends in a tie. When the game is tied after the predetermined number of holes have been played, it may be continued until one side takes a one-hole lead.
  • In Stroke or Stableford Points play every player (or team) counts the number of shots taken for each hole. In Stroke Play the score achieved for each and every hole of the round or tournament is added to produce the total score, and the player with the lowest score wins (Stroke play is the game most usually played by professional golfers). In Stableford Points Play (originated by Dr Frank Stableford, 1870-1959, was first used on 16 May 1932 at Wallasey Golf Club, Cheshire, England) the player gains points for the score achieved on each hole of the round or tournament (1 point for a bogey, 2 points for a par, 3 points for a birdie, 4 points for an eagle). The points achieved for each hole of the round or tournament is added to produce the total points score, and the player with the highest score wins (Stableford Points scoring is favoured by higher handicap golfers because it does not force completion of a hole no matter the score).

There are variations of these basic principles, some of which are explicitly described in the "Rules of Golf" and are therefore regarded "official." "Official" forms of play are, among others, foursome and four-ball games.

Team play

A foursome (defined in Rule 29) is played between two teams of two players each, in which each team has only one ball and players alternate playing it. For example, if players A and B form a team, A tees off on the first hole, B will play the second shot, A the third, and so on until the hole is finished. On the second hole, B will tee off (regardless who played the last putt on the first hole), then A plays the second shot, and so on. Foursomes can be played as match play or stroke play.

A four-ball (Rules 30 and 31) is also played between two teams of two players each, but every player plays his own ball and for each team, the lower score on each hole is counted. Four-balls can be played as match play or stroke play.

There are also popular unofficial variations on team play:

  • In a scramble (also known as Ambrose), each player in a team tees off on each hole, and the players decide which shot was best. Every player then plays his second shot from within a clublength of where the best ball has come to rest, and the procedure is repeated until the hole is finished. In a champagne scramble, each player in a team tees off on each hole. The best drive is used and all players play their own ball from this spot. The rest of the hole is played as stableford and the best score counts. In best ball, each player plays the hole as normal, but the lowest score of all the players on the team counts as the team's score.
  • In a greensome, also called modified alternate shot, both players tee off, and then pick the best shot as in a scramble. The player who did not shoot the best first shot plays the second shot. The play then alternates as in a foursome.
  • A variant of greensome is sometimes played where the opposing team chooses which of their opponent's tee shots the opponents should use. The player who did not shoot the chosen first shot plays the second shot. Play then continues as a greensome. Such a format is known as either gruesomes, bloodsomes or gruesome greensomes.

There is also a form of starting called "shotgun," which is mainly used for tournament play. A "shotgun start" consists of groups starting on different holes, allowing for all players to start and end their round at the same time.

Handicap systems

A handicap is a numerical measure of an amateur golfer's ability to play golf over 18 holes. Handicaps can be applied either for stroke play competition or match play competition. In either competition, a handicap generally represents the number of strokes above par that a player will achieve on an above average day.

In stroke play competition, the competitor's handicap is subtracted from their total "gross" score at the end of the round, to calculate a "net" score against which standings are calculated. In match play competition, handicap strokes are assigned on a hole-by-hole basis, according to the handicap rating of each hole (which is provided by the course). The hardest holes on the course receive the first handicap strokes, with the easiest holes receiving the last handicap strokes.

Calculating a handicap is often complicated, but essentially it is representative of the average over par of a number of a player's previous above average rounds, adjusted for course difficulty. Legislations regarding the calculation of handicaps differs among countries. For example, handicap rules may include the difficulty of the course the golfer is playing on by taking into consideration factors such as the number of bunkers, the length of the course, the difficulty and slopes of the greens, the width of the fairways, and so on.

Handicap systems are not used in professional golf. Professional golfers often score several strokes below par for a round and thus have a calculated handicap of 0 or less, meaning that their handicap results in the addition of strokes to their round score. Someone with a handicap of zero or less is often referred to as a 'scratch golfer.'

Rules and other regulations

The rules of golf are internationally standardised and are jointly governed by the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews (R&A), which was founded 1754 and the United States Golf Association (USGA). By agreement with the R&A, USGA jurisdiction on the enforcement and interpretation of the rules is limited to the United States and Mexico. The national golf associations of other countries use the rules laid down by the R&A and there is a formal procedure for referring any points of doubt to the R&A.

The underlying principle of the rules is fairness. As stated on the back cover of the official rule book: "play the ball as it lies", "play the course as you find it", and "if you cannot do either, do what is fair". Some rules state that:

  • every player is entitled and obliged to play the ball from the position where it has come to rest after a stroke, unless a rule allows or demands otherwise (Rule 13-1)
  • a player must not accept assistance in making a stroke (Rule 14-2)
  • the condition of the ground or other parts of the course may not be altered to gain an advantage, except in some cases defined in the rules
  • a ball may only be replaced by another during play of a hole if it is destroyed (Rule 5-3), lost (Rule 27-1), or unplayable (Rule 28), or at some other time permitted by the Rules. The player may always substitute balls between the play of two holes.

The Decisions on the Rules of Golf are based on formal case decisions by the R&A and USGA and are revised and updated every other year.

There are strict regulations regarding the amateur status of golfers. Essentially, everybody who has ever received payment or compensation for giving instruction or played golf for money is not considered an amateur and may not participate in competitions limited solely to amateurs. However, amateur golfers may receive expenses which comply with strict guidelines and they may accept non-cash prizes within the limits established by the Rules of Amateur Status.

In addition to the officially printed rules, golfers also abide by a set of guidelines called Golf etiquette. Etiquette guidelines cover matters such as safety, fairness, easiness and pace of play, and a player's obligation to contribute to the care of the course. Though there are no penalties for breach of etiquette rules, players generally follow the rules of golf etiquette in an effort to improve everyone's playing experience.

Variations and similar games

Variations of golf are games or activities based on or similar to the game of golf, in which the player utilizes common golf skills. Some are essentially identical to golf, with only minor rules changes, while others are more distant and arguably not simple variations but distinct games. Examples include Skins and Bingo Bango Bongo.

Hitting a golf ball

To hit the ball, the club is swung at the motionless ball wherever it has come to rest from a side stance. Many golf shots make the ball travel through the air (carry) and roll out for some more distance (roll).

Every shot is a compromise between length and precision, and long shots are often less precise than short ones. A longer shot may result in a better score if it helps reduce the total number of strokes for a given hole, but the benefit may be more than outweighed by additional strokes or penalties if a ball is lost, out of bounds, or comes to rest on difficult ground. Therefore, a skilled golfer must assess the quality of his or her shots in a particular situation in order to judge whether the possible benefits of aggressive play are worth the risks.

Types of shots

Strictly speaking, every shot made in a round of golf will be subtly different, because the conditions of the ball's lie and desired travel path and distance will virtually never be exactly the same. However, most shots fall into one of the following categories depending on the purpose and desired distance:

  • A drive is a long-distance shot played from the tee or fairway, intended to move the ball a great distance down the fairway towards the green. The driver or 1-wood is used for this shot which is the longest and largest golf club.
  • An approach shot is made with the intention of placing the ball on the green. A drive may place the ball on the green as well, but the term "approach" typically refers to a second or subsequent shot with a shorter-range iron club, usually a 4-7 iron is chosen depending on the distance required.
  • A putt is a shot designed to roll the ball along the ground. It is normally made on the putting green using a putter, though other clubs may be used to achieve the same effect in different situations. A lag is a long putt designed less to try to place the ball in the cup than simply to move the ball a long distance across the putting green for an easier short putt into the cup.
  • A chip shot is a very short lofted shot, generally made with an abbreviated swing motion. Chip shots are used as very short approach shots (generally within ), as a "lay-up" shot to reposition the ball on the fairway, or to get the ball out of a hazard such as a sand trap. This requires a sand wedge or a 10-iron. A bump and run is a variation of a chip shot, which involves running the ball along the ground with a medium- or high-lofted club using a putting motion.
  • Punch or knock-down shots are very low-loft shots of varying distance. They are used to avoid hitting the ball into the canopy of trees or other overhead obstructions, or when hitting into the wind which causes the ball to climb higher than normal.
  • Lay-up shots are made from the fairway after a drive or from the rough, but intended to travel a shorter distance than might normally be expected and/or with a higher degree of accuracy, due to intervening circumstances. Most often, a lay-up shot is made to avoid hitting the ball into a hazard placed in the fairway, or to position the ball in a more favorable position on the fairway for the next shot. They are "safe" shots; the player is choosing not to try to make a very long or oddly-placed shot correctly, therefore avoiding the risk that they will make it incorrectly and incur penalty strokes, at the cost of requiring one or more additional strokes to place the ball on the green.
  • Flop Shot is when a player uses a very open club like a lob wedge to get the ball high very quickly over an obstacle or to get the ball to stop quickly when it hits the ground.
  • A draw is when a player shapes a shot from right to left in a curving motion (or left to right for a left-handed player). This occurs when the clubface is closed relative to the swingpath. A shot which draws too much, or unintentionally and thus uncontrolled, is called a "hook" or a "pull".
  • A fade is when a player shapes a shot from left to right in a curving motion (or right to left for a left-handed player). This occurs when the clubface is open relative to the swingpath. A shot which fades too much, or unintentionally and thus uncontrolled, is called a "slice" or a "push".
  • A hook might be needed to go around a tree or obstacle. It has a strong right-to-left ballflight and is a larger version of the draw.
  • A slice also might be needed to go around a tree or obstacle. It has a strong left-to-right ballflight and is a larger version of the fade
  • A shank occurs when the club strikes the ball close to the joint between the shaft of the club and the club head, called the hosel, and thus flies at a sharp angle to the right of the intended direction (or to the left, for a left-handed player). It is often called a "lateral" describing the path of the shot. Shanking can become difficult to stop when started.
  • A topped or bladed shot occurs when the forward edge of the club head strikes the ball too high, ie at the centre of the ball or "over the top" instead of underneath as intended, and the ball thus flies very low or rolls along the ground.
  • A duffed shot occurs when the club head strikes the ground behind the ball, instead of striking the ball cleanly, thus slowing the club head velocity as it propels the ball and/or altering the alignment of the club head to the ball, with various consequences for the quality of the shot. This is also known as "hitting fat".
  • A chunked or turfed shot occurs when the club head strikes the ground behind the ball at a steep angle, causing the club to nearly stop as it pulls up a very large divot, or "chunk" of turf, causing the ball to come up extremely short of the desired target.

Swinging the golf club

Putts and short chips are ideally played without much movement of the body, but most other golf shots are played using variants of the full golf swing. The full golf swing itself is used in tee and fairway shots.

A full swing is a complex rotation of the body aimed at accelerating the club head to a great speed. For a right-handed golfer, it consists of a backswing to the right, a downswing to the left (during which the ball is hit), and a follow through. The fastest recorded golf club head speed is .

The full golf swing is a complex motion that is often difficult to learn. It is common for beginners to spend several months practicing the very basics before playing their first ball on a course. Generally, even once a golfer has attained professional status, a coach is still necessary in order for the player to maintain good fundamentals.

Relatively few golfers play left-handed (i.e., swing back to the left and forward to the right). The percentage of golfers in the U.S. who play left-handed is estimated to be anywhere from 4% to 7%. Even some players who are strongly left-handed in their daily lives prefer the right-handed golf swing. In the past, this may have been due to the difficulty of finding left-handed golf clubs. Today, more manufacturers provide left-handed versions of their club lines, and the clubs are more readily purchased from mail-order and Internet catalogues, as well as golf stores. A golfer who plays right-handed, but holds the club left-hand-below-right is said to be "cack-handed" or "cross-handed".

The positioning of the golf ball depends on the club being used. For woods, the ball should be positioned parallel to your left foot if you are a right-handed golfer, and right foot if you are a left-handed golfer. The longer the club, the closer the ball should be to the direction you are hiting it in, and the shorter the club, the more centered the ball should be between your feet. A golf ball acquires spin when it is hit. Backspin is imparted for almost every shot due to the golf club's loft (i.e., angle between the clubface and a vertical plane). A spinning ball deforms the flow of air around it similar to an airplane wing; a back-spinning ball therefore experiences an upward force which makes it fly higher and longer than a ball without spin. However, too much backspin can negatively impact distance travelled; the increased lift wastes the ball's momentum in gaining altitude rather than in traveling along its flight path. The amount of backspin also influences the behavior of a ball when it impacts the ground. A ball with little backspin will usually roll out for a few metres/yards while a ball with more backspin may not roll at all, or even roll backwards. Sidespin occurs when the clubface is not aligned perpendicularly to the plane of swing. Sidespin makes the ball curve left or right, and can be used intentionally or occur unintentionally. For a right-handed player, a subtle curve to the left is called a draw. A severe curve to the left and downward is a hook. A subtle curve to the right is a fade, while a severe curve away and upward is a slice. Draws and fades are caused by slight misalignments between the clubface and swing plane because of a slightly "open" or "closed" clubface at contact; a skilled player can control the amount of draw or fade to make the ball curve along the path of the fairway. Slices and hooks however indicate a severe misalignment, mistiming or other flaw in the player's swing, such as a swing not parallel to the desired line of travel, the club contacting the ball early or late in the swing, etc. They are generally undesirable as they reduce carry distance, are difficult to predict and therefore difficult to adjust for, and cause the ball to veer sharply away from the fairway and into hazards, trees and/or out-of-bounds.

Equipment

The golfer uses equipment such as golf clubs, golf balls, golf shoes, golf books, and golf bags.

Professional golf

The majority of professional golfers work as club or teaching professionals (pros), and only compete in local competitions. A small elite of professional golfers are "tournament pros" who compete full time on international "tours". Many club and teaching professionals working in the golf industry start as caddies or a general interest in the game, finding employment at golf courses and eventually moving on to certifications in their chosen profession. These programs include independent institutions and universities, and those that eventually lead to a Class A golf professional certification.

Golf tours

There are at least twenty professional golf tours, each run by a PGA or an independent tour organization, which is responsible for arranging events, finding sponsors, and regulating the tour. Typically a tour has "members" who are entitled to compete in most of its events, and also invites non-members to compete in some of them. Gaining membership of an elite tour is highly competitive, and most professional golfers never achieve it.

The most widely known tour is the PGA Tour, which tends to attract the strongest fields, outside the four Majors and the three World Golf Championships events. This is due mostly to the fact that most PGA Tour events have a first prize of at least USD 800,000. The European Tour, which attracts a substantial number of top golfers from outside North America, ranks second to the PGA Tour in worldwide prestige. Some top professionals from outside North America play enough tournaments to maintain membership on both the PGA Tour and European Tour.

The other leading men's tours include the Japan Golf Tour, the Asian Tour (Asia outside Japan), the PGA Tour of Australasia, and the Sunshine Tour (for Southern Africa, primarily South Africa). These four tours, along with the PGA and European Tours, are full members of the trade body of the world's main tours, the International Federation of PGA Tours. Two other tours, the Canadian Tour and the Tour de las Américas (Latin America), are associate members of the Federation. All of these tours, except for the Tour de las Américas, offer points in the Official World Golf Rankings to golfers who make the cut in their events.

Golf is unique in having lucrative competition for older players. There are several senior tours for men 50 and older, the best known of which is the U.S.-based Champions Tour.

There are six principal tours for women, each based in a different country or continent. The most prestigious of these is the United States based LPGA Tour.

All of the leading professional tours for under-50 players have an official developmental tour, in which the leading players at the end of the season will earn a tour card on the main tour for the following season. Examples include the Nationwide Tour, which feeds to the PGA Tour, and the Challenge Tour, which is the developmental tour of the European Tour. The Nationwide and Challenge Tours also offer Official World Golf Rankings points.

Men's major championships

The major championships are the four most prestigious men's tournaments of the year. In chronological order they are: The Masters, the U.S. Open, The Open Championship (referred to in North America as the British Open) and the PGA Championship.

The fields for these events include the top several dozen golfers from all over the world. The Masters has been played at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia since its inception in 1934. It is the only major championship that is played at the same course each year. The U.S. Open and PGA Championship are played at courses around the United States, while The Open Championship is played at courses in the UK.

The number of major championships a player accumulates in his career has an impact on his stature in the sport. Jack Nicklaus is considered to be the greatest golfer of all time, largely because he has won a record 18 professional majors, or 20 majors in total if his two U.S. Amateurs are included. Tiger Woods, who may be the only golfer in the foreseeable future likely to challenge Nicklaus's record, has won 14 professional majors (17 total if his three U.S. Amateurs are included), all before the age of 33. (To put this total in perspective, Nicklaus had won 11 professional majors and two U.S. Amateurs by his 33rd birthday, and did not win his 15th professional major until he was 35.) Woods also came closest to winning all four current majors in one season (known as a Grand Slam completed first by Bobby Jones) when he won them consecutively across two seasons: the 2000 U.S. Open, Open Championship, and PGA Championship; and the 2001 Masters. This feat has been frequently called the Tiger Slam.

Prior to the advent of the PGA Championship and The Masters, the four Majors were the U.S. Open, the U.S. Amateur, the Open Championship, and the British Amateur. These are the four that Bobby Jones won in 1930 to become the only player ever to have earned a Grand Slam.

Women's major championships

Women's golf does not have a globally agreed set of majors. The list of majors recognised by the dominant women's tour, the LPGA Tour in the U.S., has changed several times over the years, with the last change in 2001. Like the PGA Tour, the (U.S.) LPGA has four majors: the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the LPGA Championship, the U.S. Women's Open and the Women's British Open. Only the last of these is also recognised by the Ladies European Tour. The other event that it recognises as a major is the Evian Masters, which is not considered a major by the LPGA (but is co-sanctioned as a regular LPGA event). However, the significance of this is limited, as the LPGA is far more dominant in women's golf than the PGA Tour is in mainstream men's golf. For example, the BBC has been known to use the U.S. definition of "women's majors" without qualifying it. Also, the Ladies' Golf Union, the governing body for women's golf in the UK and Republic of Ireland, states on its official website that the Women's British Open is "the only Women’s Major to be played outside the U.S. For many years, the Ladies European Tour tacitly acknowledged the dominance of the LPGA Tour by not scheduling any of its own events to conflict with the three LPGA majors played in the U.S., but that changed in 2008, with the LET scheduling an event opposite the LPGA Championship. The second-richest women's tour, the LPGA of Japan Tour, does not recognise any of the U.S. LPGA or European majors as it has its own set of three majors. However, these events attract little notice outside Japan.

Senior major championships

Like women's golf, senior (50-and-over) men's golf does not have a globally agreed set of majors. The list of senior majors on the U.S.-based Champions Tour has changed over the years, but always by expansion; unlike the situation with the LPGA, no senior major has lost its status. The Champions Tour now recognises five majors: the Senior PGA Championship, the U.S. Senior Open, the Senior British Open, The Tradition and the Senior Players Championship.

Of the five events, the Senior PGA is by far the oldest, having been founded in 1937. The other events all date from the 1980s, when senior golf became a commercial success as the first golf stars of the television era, such as Arnold Palmer and Gary Player, reached the relevant age. The Senior British Open was not recognised as a major by the Champions Tour until 2003. The European Seniors Tour recognises only the Senior PGA and the two Senior Opens as majors. However, the Champions Tour is arguably more dominant in global senior golf than the U.S. LPGA is in global women's golf.

Environmental impact

Environmental concerns over the use of land for golf courses have grown over the past fifty years. Specific concerns include the amount of water and chemical pesticides and fertilizers used for maintenance, as well as the destruction of wetlands and other environmentally important areas during construction. The UN estimates that golf courses use 2.5 billion gallons of clean water daily, enough to provide fresh drinking water for 4.7 billion people. Diazinon is a toxic chemical used on golf courses. In 1988, the US Environmental Protection Agency prohibited the use of Diazinon on golf courses and sod farms because of decimation of bird flocks.

These, along with health and cost concerns, have led to research into more environmentally sound practices and turf grasses. The golf course superintendent is often trained in the uses of these practices and grasses. This has led to some reduction in the amount of chemicals and water used on courses. The turf on golf courses is an excellent filter for water and has been used in communities to cleanse grey water, such as incorporation of bioswales. People continue to oppose golf courses for environmental and human survival reasons, as they impede corridors for migrating animals and sanctuaries for birds and other wildlife. It is claimed that the effective non-native monoculture of golf courses systematically destroys biodiversity.

A result of modern equipment is that today's players can hit the ball much further than previously. As a result, out of a concern for safety, golf course architects have had to lengthen and widen golf courses. This has led to a ten percent increase in the amount of area that is required to build those. At the same time, water restrictions placed by communities have forced courses to limit the amount of maintained turf grass. While most modern 18-hole golf courses occupy as much as 60 square hectometers (150 acres) of land, the average course has 30 hm² (75 acres) of maintained turf. (Sources include the National Golf Foundation and the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America GCSAA.)

Golf courses can be built on sandy areas along coasts, abandoned farms, strip mines and quarries, deserts and forests. Many Western countries have instituted environmental restrictions on where and how courses can be built.

In some parts of the world, attempts to build courses and resorts have led to protests along with vandalism and violence by both sides. Golf has symbolic importance as it is a sport normally associated with the wealthier Westernized population, and the culture of colonization and globalisation of non-native land ethics. Resisting golf tourism and golf's expansion has become an objective of some land-reform movements, especially in the Philippines and Indonesia.

In the Bahamas, opposition to golf developments has become a national issue. Residents of Great Guana Cay and Bimini, for example, are engaged in legal and political opposition to golf developments on their islands, for fear the golf courses will destroy the nutrient-poor balance on which their coral reef and mangrove systems depend.

In Saudi Arabia, golf courses have been constructed on nothing more than oil-covered sand. However, in some cities such as Dhahran, modern, grass golf courses have been built. In Coober Pedy, Australia, there is a golf course that consists of nine holes dug into mounds of sand, diesel and oil, with no grass anywhere on the course. Players carry a small piece of astroturf from which they tee the ball. In New Zealand it is not uncommon for rural courses to have greens fenced off and sheep graze the fairways. At the 125-year-old Royal Colombo Golf Club in Sri Lanka steam trains, from the Kelani Valley railway, run through the course at the 6th hole.

Extreme golf is played on environmentally sustainable alternatives to traditional courses. A cross between hiking and golf, the course layout exposes players to a wide range of natural obstacles and challenging terrains.

Based on the growing popularity of the U.X. Open Alternative Golf Tournament the extreme golf course features un-mowed meadows and forest instead of fairways, with "goals" scored on temporary greens (a circle in diameter).

Events

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