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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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).
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.
|Term on a |
|-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"||Bogey||one stroke more than par|
|bgcolor=#EFEFEF align="center"||Double bogey||two strokes over par|
|bgcolor=#EFEFEF align="center"||Triple bogey||three strokes over par|
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.
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:
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.
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.'
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:
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).