views updated Jun 08 2018


Golf is one of the most popular outdoor sports in the world. It can be enjoyed from childhood to old age by both genders, and offers every kind of competition, in individual or team format: against other golfers, against personal or external records or standards—especially the standard score of "par" for each hole—and even against the elements, as weather can often affect performance. The handicap system of scoring allows players of differing abilities to enjoy more equitable competition, also. The sport is played in aesthetic, parklike surroundings that can accommodate large numbers of spectators, and is a healthy pastime around which a social etiquette involving a high degree of expected sportsmanship has evolved. Given the propensity of Americans to embrace sport, it is not surprising that the United States has attained a unique status in this challenging activity.

Origins and Early History

The origins of golf have been traced back to ancient Egypt, Imperial Rome, and later medieval European games such as jeu de mail and kolven, among others. However, the Scots deserve credit for the invention of modern golf, through the formation of the first clubs, codification, and export to other lands, during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, established in 1754, was the sole arbiter of the sport, until this responsibility was later shared with the United States Golf Association (USGA). In most countries where golf took root, emigrant Scots planted the seeds, and the United States was no exception.

American Origins

The origins of golf on the North American continent are obscure, with perhaps the earliest participation being "in days lang syne" at distant posts of the Hudson's Bay Company (chartered in 1670) in British North America (now Canada). A notice in the Charleston City Gazette (13 October 1795) provides definite evidence of a South Carolina Golf Club in existence there before 1800; other references indicate golf clubs in Georgia, also, between 1811 and 1818, although apparently none survived. American golf began its permanent existence with John Reid, "the Scotsman who re-introduced golf to the United States," in 1888, when Reid and some friends formed the St. Andrews Golf Club of Yonkers, New York, using a six-hole layout. Other enthusiasts founded the Shinnecock Golf Club on Long Island, the first incorporated club in the United States. Charles Blair Macdonald, educated in Scotland, designed and built the first eighteen-hole course in the United States for the Chicago Golf Club, formed in 1893. These founders represented a wealthy elite, with plenty of leisure time—reflected in the memberships by the inclusion of financial and industrial leaders and the professional classes. They were pioneers of the country club, an institution that later became even more significant in the development of American golf.

By 1894, several clubs existed, but delegates from only five clubs formed the USGA in December of that year. The USGA held its first amateur championship in 1895 at Newport, Rhode Island, and its first open championship on the same course the following day. For teaching purposes, golf and country clubs employed professionals, who could compete with amateurs in open tournaments and were heavily favored. Such championships "contributed mightily to the spread of golfing fever" (Betts, p .197), which soon gripped the American public. Illustrating the remarkable early popularity and progress of the American golf range, there were between 472 and 743 clubs by 1917, apparently one-fifth of them daily-fee courses. By then the United States had become a major golfing nation of nearly 2 million golfers, and women were a significant part of the development.

The Female Pioneers

At a time when Victorian taboos restricted female participation in most sports, golf's relatively genteel character and conservative dress allowed women to compete at any early stage, although they were grudgingly extended the privilege at certain times only. The first national tournament for American women was also held in 1895, although only thirteen ladies took part. Teenager Beatrix Hoyt set a high standard by winning three years running from 1896, an example followed by other consistent winners. Dorothy Campbell, between 1909 and 1911, won national championships in both Britain and the United States, demonstrating that golf competition had become an international event for all by this time. These pioneers paved the way for other female champions during the first half of the century, such as Patty Berg (1918– ), Betty Jameson, Louise Suggs (1923– ), and Olympic athlete and all-round sportswoman Mildred ("Babe") Didrikson Zaharias (1914–1956). When the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) was incorporated in 1950, these four players were the first ones to be inducted into its Hall of Fame a year later.

The Ouimet Factor

One individual who influenced early American golf in a unique way was Francis Ouimet. In 1913, this twenty-year-old defeated two of Britain's greatest golfers, Harry Vardon and Ted Ray, in a playoff at the U.S. Open, at Brookline, Massachusetts. It was the first such victory by an American and the first time an amateur had won this prestigious event. A former caddy from a modest background, Ouimet was "golf's version of the Horatio Alger success story" (Rader, p. 227). His victory was a turning point, and the balance now shifted toward American dominance of the sport for most of the remaining century. Ouimet went on to captain the U.S. team six times in the Walker Cup, a contest between American and British amateur golfers begun in 1922, in which the United States won twenty-nine of the first thirty-one matches. Vardon was one of "the "Great Triumvirate" (the others being British golfers J. Braid and J. H. Taylor), and soon after Ouimet's triumph, three American golfers could claim to be their immediate successors.

An American Triumvirate: Walter, Bobby, and Gene

The winner of the 1914 U.S. Open was an American professional, the flamboyant Walter Hagen (1892–1969), who did much to break down social barriers in golf with his unconventional behavior. Among other victories, this showman went on to win four British Opens, two U.S. Opens, and five U.S. Professional Golfers' Association (USPGA) championships (begun in 1916). Hagen's greatest rival was the intellectual amateur Bobby Jones (1902–1971), who, in a brief eight-year career, also enjoyed great success. In 1930, Jones achieved the "grand slam," winning the U.S. Amateur and Open titles alongside the two British equivalents in the same year, a feat never duplicated. (Four professional tournaments—"majors"—now constitute the modern grand slam: the U.S. and British Opens, the U.S. PGA championship, and the Masters tournament, which is always held at Augusta National and was founded by Jones himself in 1934.) Gene Sarazen (1902–1999) won seven majors; he is remembered also for his invention of the sand wedge, the club that revolutionized the technique of playing bunker shots.

Innovations in Equipment

Sarazen's invention was part of the constant quest for superior performance through better equipment. Thus, steel shafts replaced wooden ones early in the twentieth century, later joined by graphite and other composite materials. Wooden or iron clubheads also gave way to steel, until the more recent use of larger titanium versions, and other products of technological wizardry. The unreliable feathery golf ball, made with boiled feathers stuffed inside a leather casing, was replaced in the middle of the nineteenth century by the much cheaper gutta-percha ball. The introduction of a rubber-cored ball around the turn of the century was the invention of an American dentist, Dr. Coburn Haskell, and "brought about an even greater interest in the game" (Pinner, p. 26). Since then the modern game has been inundated by the manufacture of differently constructed balls made of various materials, all of them promising to increase accuracy and/or distance for millions of golfers worldwide, as companies attempt to cater to an almost insatiable demand for golf paraphernalia.

The Second American Triumvirate

Better equipment contributed to lower scores in the tournaments of the 1930s, when the number of golf and country clubs became lower, too, as about one-third of them folded due to the Great Depression. Still, this period saw the emergence of three American golfers who arguably would appear on any short list of the greatest of all time: Ben Hogan (1913–1997), Byron Nelson (1912– ), and Sam Snead (1912–2002).

Golf for All: Country Clubs and Public Links

Cheaper equipment and American heroes of both genders, together with "automobility," suburbanization, and the Gospel of Relaxation (Cross, pp. 184–196), served toward making golf one of the most popular outdoor recreations to date, but no innovation accomplished this more than the simultaneous evolution of the country club and the municipal golf course.

The first country club was founded at Brookline in 1882, but its activities did not include golf until 1893, following the example set by Reid and others elsewhere. Such clubs soon became the rage, with golf their most popular offering. The club movement received further impetus from Ouimet's triumph at Brookline, and carried these social institutions "into new regions and dotted the land with fairways and putting greens from Puget Sound to Palm Beach" (Krout, p. 295). By 1929, the number of country clubs was estimated at 4,500, the highest ever attained, until the Depression and World War II caused a significant decrease. They recovered during the 1950s and were estimated to be around 3,300 by 1962, with a membership of 1.7 million. Golf was apparently the main reason for joining, others being given as status and business contacts. By this time, too, country clubs generally fell into one of six categories—top status, middle class, minority, community, proprietary, and industrial—making membership widely available.

For urban-dwelling prospective golfers who did not wish to join "the country club set," an alternative arose in the form of "public links," beginning in 1895 when a group of New York golfers asked the Parks Commission to provide links in Van Cortland Park, which became the first municipal course in the country. (In 1895, also, the first American golf book, Golf in America: A Practical Manual, by James P. Lee, was published in New York.) Other public courses soon followed in Boston, Buffalo, Chicago, Indianapolis, and elsewhere, including Toledo, where the first municipal links championships were held in 1922, and President Harding presented a cup for intercity competitions a year later. By 1929, there were over 300 municipal courses in the United States.

Although the number of country clubs dropped drastically during the Depression—some becoming bankrupt, others adapting as daily-fee courses to survive—the number of municipal courses actually increased to about 700, many of them provided under Public Works programs. Of about 5,200 golf courses nationwide in 1941, some 2,000 were either municipal or privately owned daily-fee courses. By the dawn of the television age, then, Americans from all walks of life enjoyed more opportunities for golf as a popular recreation than ever before.

The Media and the Messengers

Initially, modern sporting exploits were broadcast by radio and depicted in black-and-white film, but the attractions of golf became manifest through the advent of television in the 1950s. Americans viewed President Eisenhower's enthusiastic participation in golf, accompanied by a host of celebrities (comedian Bob Hope was one famous example) and joined by large commercial concerns in the sponsorship of new tournaments. Reception was later enhanced by the use of color and satellite technology so that fans could enjoy viewing sports events in their homes from virtually anywhere.

The new medium was complemented in particular by one charismatic American golfer whose heyday coincided with its arrival: Arnold Palmer (1929– ). Aside from winning seven majors, Palmer's swashbuckling style of play won him a legion of followers, soon dubbed "Arnie's Army." Palmer's greatest rival was fellow American Jack Nicklaus (1940– ), who had an unsurpassed record of winning eighteen professional majors and was honored by Golf magazine (September 1988) as the "Player of the Century." The depth of American talent during the first three decades of the television age also included such champions as Nancy Lopez (1957– ), Lee Trevino (1939– ), Tom Watson (1949– ), and Kathy Whitworth (1939– ). However, the first triumvirate of television, broadcast as the "Big Three of Golf," consisted of Palmer, Nicklaus, and South African Gary Player (1935– ), the last providing the best individual example of the rising foreign challenge to American golfing supremacy.

Global Golf

As the United States had challenged British supremacy at the beginning of the twentieth century, so, too, has the rest of the world challenged American dominance in golf in the late nineteenth and early twenty-first centuries. Prior to 1978, Player was the only foreigner to win the Masters; by 2003, it had been won thirteen times by eight other non-Americans. Their names, and others, also appeared regularly in the World's Top Ten players' ranking. International players played on the most lucrative American tours, including the Champions Tour (launched in 1981 as the "Senior Tour" and renamed in 2002), while American golfers can be found competing on the European Tour, and others.

The most prestigious and now fiercely contested team competition is the Ryder Cup, a biennial match begun in 1927 and initially between professional golfers of the United States and Great Britain and Northern Ireland. However, the contests became so one-sided in the Americans' favor that in 1977 it was decided to include European players; since 1979, each side has claimed six victories. A similar event begun in 1994 is the President's Cup, between the U.S. PGA Tour and an international team named the Rest of the World (except Europe). Here the United States won three of the first five matches, against a loss and a controversial tie in 2003. Close competition ensues in other team competitions as well, such as the aforementioned Walker Cup, and in the Solheim Cup (the women's equivalent to the Ryder Cup, begun in 1990).

Eldrick "Tiger" Woods

In men's golf, in the early 2000s, American Tiger Woods threatened to reign supreme in the number-one spot for a record span of time and had the potential to eclipse Nicklaus's records and justify "the greatest golfer ever" label that many were already using to describe him. Woods inspired an international generation of young and fearless long-hitting challengers, and, as a black American role model, Woods was credited with encouraging more participation in golf by disadvantaged youth from minority ethnic backgrounds (see sidebar).

From Sport to Lifestyle

American golf is not immune to problems. Diplomacy is constantly necessary in relations between tours, players, and sponsors, especially where huge sums of money are involved (much of which is impressively donated to charities). The rules of golf elicit constant monitoring in a time of rapid technological change, and environmental concerns have subjected golf course maintenance and design to increasing scrutiny and legislation. Women's concerns revolve mainly around seeking more equitable purses for LPGA tournaments and ending discrimination by golf clubs with only male memberships (such as Augusta National). Yet the overall picture is one of optimism and progress. More than 27 million Americans are embracing golf as never before. Golf retail shops can be found at nearly every major airport. It is a staple of weekend television, and even has a cable channel devoted to it twenty-four hours a day: "Golf is a leitmotif for our 50 States, the de facto language of business, the second sport of professional athletes, and the preferred pastime of celebrities" (Yun, pp. 106–120).

A Grand (Tiger) Slam

Until the 1930s, amateur golf still produced players capable of challenging the professionals. At that time, the four championships that were regarded as the "majors" were the U.S. Open, the British Open, the U.S. Amateur, and the British Amateur. In 1930, the legendary Bobby Jones completed what became known as the "Grand Slam" when he won all four of those tournaments in the same year-the first man to do so.

With the introduction of The Masters tournament at Augusta National Golf Club in 1934, the four tournaments that made up the majors-and hence, the Grand Slam-changed. In place of the two national amateur championships, The Masters and the PGA Championship became part of the four tournaments that comprised the slam. In the years that followed, the golfing world waited and wondered if any golfer would ever equal Jones's feat and complete a modern Grand Slam. As of 2004, no one had been equal to the task.

In fact, only five golfers (four of them American, along with South African Gary Player) even completed what is known as the "career Grand Slam"-winning all four major tournaments over the course of their golfing career. Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Gene Sarazen, and Tiger Woods all won the four modern majors at some point in their careers-but never in the same calendar year. Other golfers came close to the career slam but came up one short, among them Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson.

Before Tiger Woods began to rewrite the record books, Ben Hogan came the closest to winning the Slam. In fact, he was actually treated to a victory parade in New York after he won the British Open in 1953, which followed on the heels of his victories in the U.S. Open and The Masters earlier in that year. However, injuries from a 1949 car accident kept Hogan from competing in the PGA Championship, so he never had the chance to complete the slam.

That leaves Woods. The wildly popular international star had already won seven majors by 2004. Woods won his first major, The Masters, in 1997 in a manner that proclaimed his potential for greatness. His four-round total of 270 broke the Augusta record, as did his margin of victory (twelve strokes). At the age of twenty-one, he was the youngest Masters champion ever. With wins in six more majors between 1998 and 2002 (including two more Masters) there was little doubt that he was the golfer with the best chance to pull off a Grand Slam Besides, Woods has already completed a Grand Slam of sorts-or at least he completed what has since become known as "the Tiger Slam."

The "Tiger Slam" unfolded in 2000 and 2001. In 2000, Woods won the U.S. Open, the British Open, and the PGA Championship, which were the final three majors of the year. Only a loss in The Masters in April kept him from the true slam. However, in 2001, Woods took care of that oversight when he opened the season with his second Masters title. With that win, he became the first man to hold all four majors titles at the same time. While purists were right to say that this wasn't a true Grand Slam, since all four wins were not in the same calendar year, Woods's feat was nonetheless a remarkable accomplishment.

For only the second time in his career, Wood failed to win a major in 2003 (although he was Player of the Year for the fifth straight year), and critics claimed his best golf was behind him. His supporters quickly dismissed such talk as ludicrous and in fact, many golf analysts did feel that Woods was still the golfer with the best chance to one day complete a true Grand Slam.

Golf courses—most of them lined with homes—were being built faster than Americans could use them, and there was a $75 billion boom in golf developments after the early 1990s. Perhaps the comprehensive status of American golf can best be summed up in a nutshell by the significant statement that golf "crossed the line from sport to lifestyle" (McCallen, p. 147).

See also: Professionalization of Sport, Suburbanization of Leisure, Tourism


Alliss, Peter, ed. Golf, a Way of Life: An Illustrated History of Golf. London: Cresset Press, 1989.

Arlott, John, ed. The Oxford Companion to Sports and Games. London: Oxford University Press, 1975.

Baker, William J. Sports in the Western World. Totowa, N.J.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1982.

Betts, John Rickards. America's Sporting Heritage, 1850–1950. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1974.

Boyle, Robert H. Sport: Mirror of American Life. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1963.

Campbell, Malcolm. The New Encyclopedia of Golf. London: Dorling Kindersley, 2001.

Cross. Gary. A Social History of Leisure since 1600. State College, Pa.: Venture Publishing, 1990.

Henderson, Robert W. Ball, Bat, and Bishop. New York: Rockport Press, 1947.

Krout, John Allen. Annals of American Sport. New York: United States Publishers Association, 1929.

McCallen, Brian. "Second Home Living." Golf (November 2002): 146–157.

Morrison, Ian. The Hamlyn Encyclopedia of Golf. Twickenham, Eng.: Hamlyn Publishing, 1986.

Pinner, John. The History of Golf. New York: Gallery Books, 1988.

"Player of the Century." Golf (September 1988): 44–78.

Rader, Benjamin G. American Sports: From the Age of Folk Games to the Age of Spectators. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1983.

Stirk, David. Golf: The History of an Obsession. Oxford: Phaidon Press Limited, 1987.

Williams, Michael. The Official History of The Ryder Cup, 1927–1989. London: Stanley Paul, 1989.

Yun, Hunki. "Who You Are: Report on the American Golfer." Golf (September 2002): 106–120.

Gerald Redmond


views updated May 23 2018


Golf is the strangest of games. Invented by the Scots perhaps as early as the 12th or 13th century, it is played in an area that can vary in size anywhere from 30 to 200 acres; it can be an individual or a team sport; it is essentially a mental game rather than a physical one; and it pays homage to a concept largely ignored in other sports: aesthetics. Golf also has an established code of honor that is a rarity in most sports. When a player breaks a rule, accidental or not, they are expected to penalize themselves. To the eye, golf appears a sedate game devoid of action. To the player, it is a mind-numbing, physically demanding, and more often than not, demeaning, sport—a test of character more than athletic ability. It is game played in the mind, on a field awash with lush grass, stately trees, meandering creeks, and manicured greens, each of which are physically endearing but taken together represent an obstacle course to be negotiated for 18 arduous holes. The ultimate and all-too-simple goal: to hit the ball as few times as possible.

The story of golf is as much a tale about change as it is tales about great players, miraculous shots, and dramatic victories. Great players have been the constant in a game that has changed dramatically over the last 700 years. From wooden balls (prior to 1440), to feather-stuffed, leather-covered balls known as "featheries" (1440 to 1848), to gutta percha balls made from the sap of trees indigenous to Malaysia (1848 to 1901), to rubber balls made from winding rubber thread around a solid rubber core (1901 to the present), to the solid core balls commonly used today, the game has relentlessly evolved. And, of course, as balls changed, so did clubs. The first clubs had shafts made of wood, probably ash. Wood clubs had long, broad heads while the irons tended to have large faces, square toes, and nicked sockets. Sometime during the feather ball period, perhaps in the late 1770s, club-making became profitable enough that artisans began taking up the craft. By the 1800s most shafts were made from ash or hickory, while all sorts of woods—beech, pear, apple—were used to fashion the heads of wooden clubs. Depending on the course, the number of holes also varied, usually ranging from five to 18. The shape and size of club heads also regularly were changed in the early years of the game, either to improve accuracy or increase distance, or both. As time passed, the number of clubs also increased: from two or three in the 1600s, to four or five in the 1700s, to five or six in the 1800s, to eight or nine or even ten by the late 1900s. Today, a normal set of clubs numbers 14, and can be made of materials with space age sounding names like graphic, tungsten, and titanium. Every year hundreds of companies produce thousands of variations of golf clubs in what appears to be a never-ending technological war, all with the purpose of helping a golfer hit a little white ball toward a very small hole an awful long distance away.

Not surprisingly, the first golf club and course was established at St. Andrews, Scotland, in 1754, the place many golf historians believe the game was first played (Some historians argue that the game may have been invented much earlier by the Romans, but there exists little substantial evidence to support this theory.). One hundred and three years later, in 1857, St. Andrews hosted the first National Club Championship with 11 clubs participating. Three years later Willie Park became the first British Open champion when he won at Prestwick. The popularity of golf in the British Isles spread throughout the second half of the nineteenth century, and by 1888, the first club in the United States, also called St. Andrews, was open for play. In 1895, the United States Golf Association (USGA) sponsored its first championship: the Men's Amateur. Before the end of the year, however, two other championships were contested: the Men's Open and the Women's Amateur. Championship golf was embraced by both the British and Americans, and would lay the groundwork for golf's vast growth in the twentieth century on both the amateur and professional levels.

Although the history of the game is difficult to compartmentalize because of its longevity, once golf clubs began to open and championships were initiated, three distinct periods can be discerned—the early period (1896-1916), the golden age (the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s), and the television era. The beginning of the early period is marked by Harry Vardon's victory in the British Open in 1896 and ends with the formation of the Professional Golfers' Association (PGA) in 1916. The golden age was marked by some of the greatest legends the game has seen. In the 1920s, two players dominated the game, Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen. By the 1930s, men like Gene Sarazen, Lawson Little, Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Ralph Guldahl, Craig Wood, Henry Picard, and Jimmy Demaret pushed the game to even greater popularity. In the early 1950s, Ben Hogan and Sam Snead held sway, but the popularity of the game reached an all-time high with the coming of Arnold Palmer and the television era. With his trademark attacking style and charismatic personality, Palmer revolutionized the game from a marketing standpoint, and television rushed in to capitalize. Although the game was still considered one played by the well-to-do, Palmer's dynamic style of play and his incredible popularity brought the game to millions of Americans who previously displayed little interest in the game.

Palmer's emergence in the 1950s as the dominant player also laid the groundwork for a recurring theme in golf—head-to-head competition for the top spot. In the 1920s, Jones and Hagen battled; in the 1940s it was Hogan and Snead. By the 1960s Palmer and Jack Nicklaus had become the marquee players. In each instance the result was the same—the game grew in popularity. Although Nicklaus has since been named golfer of the century, he, too, was challenged by players like Tom Watson, Johnny Miller, and, later, Greg Norman. By the 1990s, the newest "personalities" in golf—Tiger Woods and the Ryder Cup (a team competition between the best golfers in Europe and the United States)—have been responsible for popularizing the sport to heights never previously attained.

At the professional level, golf appears to be in an upward growth pattern. Besides the PGA pro tour in the United States, professionals play on tours in Asia, Europe, Africa, and Latin America. There is a women's tour, the LPGA, a senior tour, and the Nike tour, for players attempting to earn their way unto the more lucrative PGA tour.

Golf, however, still exists primarily for the amateur player. Perhaps the most dramatic change in recent years (besides the ongoing technological changes in club design and composition), has been demographic. More Americans than ever play—26.5 million in 1997—and more blue-collar workers—about 34 percent of all golf-ers—have taken up what once was once termed the "Royal and Ancient Sport." In the United States, woman now comprise almost 22 percent of the golfing population, and because of the influence of players like Tiger Woods, more minorities and children are playing the game. Since 1970, the number of players has increased by more than 15 million while the number of golf courses has risen by almost 6,000, from 10,848 to 16,010 in 1997. While the game has traditionally been considered one played by rich people on private courses, more than 70 percent of the courses in the United States are open to the public, and four out of every five courses being built are public facilities.

However, the exclusion of minorities from many private clubs, at least until recently, had for years been golf's "dirty little secret." The original constitution of the PGA of America required that members be Caucasian, and not until black golfer Bill Spiller filed suit against the PGA did that change in the early 1950s. Unfortunately, conservative traditionalism blended with elitism to keep most private country clubs "white only" facilities well into the 1980s. When it was revealed that Shoal Creek Country Club near Birmingham, Alabama, the site of the 1990 PGA championship, had no black members, adverse publicity seemed to accomplish what years of criticism failed to yield—a realization among many private clubs that exclusionary policies were both racist and non-productive. Within a year of the 1990 PGA, both Shoal Creek and Augusta National, the home of The Masters golf tournament and generally considered the last bastion of segregated golf, had black members. Other clubs around the country followed suit. With the emergence in the 1990s of Tiger Woods, who was part African American, as one of the best players in the world and the biggest drawing card since Arnold Palmer, the golfing public was more integrated than ever before.

—Lloyd Chiasson, Jr.

Further Reading:

Atha, Anthony. World of Golf: The History, the Classic Players, the Major Tournaments. New York, Smithmark, 1997.

Barkow, Al. Gettin' to the Dance Floor: An Oral History of American Golf. New York, Atheneum, 1986.

Browning, Robert. History of Golf. Norwalk, Connecticut, Classics of Golf, 1985.

Concannon, Dale. Golf: The Early Days. New York, Smithmark, 1995.

Grimsley, Will. Golf: Its History, People, and Events. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, Prentice-Hall, 1966.

Rice, Grantland, from the writing of O. B. Keeler. The Bobby Jones Story. Atlanta, Tupper & Love, 1953.


views updated Jun 08 2018


Golf is a sport played on an a course consisting of 18 areas, called "holes." For each hole, a hard, specialized ball is hit from a starting area (the tee) towards a target section of turf (called the green) located varying distances away. Located on the green is a cup into which is set a flagstick. The flag allows the golfer to locate the cup from his/her position on the tee and, because the flag can move in the breeze, to assess the wind speed and direction. The object of the sport is to hit the ball into the cup. Depending on the distance from the tee to the cup, a set number of shots (or "strokes") is allotted to get the ball from the tee into the cup. This number of shots is referred to as "par." On shorter holes, typically ranging from 90 to 200 yd (82-110 m) in length, the par is three. Holes between 200 yd (182 m) and approximately 470 yd (430 m) are usually par four, with longer holes rated as par five. The tally of the scores for the 18 holes represents the final score (the standard is 71 or 72). If a golfer has shot a lower score, he or she is said to have shot under par. A higher score is over par.

The game of golf today is very different in character and technology from a pastime that began on the eastern coast of Scotland in the fifteenth century. Then, equipped with a stick or club, shepherds would hit a small rock at targets set on sand dunes and pathways. At that time, there were no cups to aim at and no set number of holes. Within a few decades, ground was being specifically set aside and maintained for the pastime. By the latter decades of the sixteenth century, golf had become very popular throughout the British Isles. The game spread to France when Mary Queen of Scots went to study in that country. Indeed, the origin of the word "caddie" (a person who assists the golfer in judging what shots to play and carries the golfer's equipment bag) derives from the French term cadet for members of the French military, who assisted her during her golf outings.

The first golf club was formed in 1744. The Gentlemen Golfer's of Leith even sponsored an annual tournament and awarded a trophy to the winner. The course consisted of five holes.

Golf is famous for the numerous rules that govern play. Rules include the use of the same ball on a given hole unless the ball is lost, assessing an extra shot as a penalty if a ball has to be moved from water, having to play the ball from whatever position in which it has come to rest ("play the ball where it lies"), and playing in a determined order with the person farthest from the cup playing first. Many rules have been enacted to deal with the tremendous technological changes of the game. As scientific advances have altered the game (the equipment, the playing area), the rules have attempted to maintain the importance of human skill to the outcome.

By 1552, the St. Andrews Society of Golfers had been formed. The golf game played today stems from this club. For example, the club established the par-based scoring method (it is also referred to as stroke play) and built the first 18-hole course. By the end of the nineteenth century, the club (now renamed The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews) had assumed control for the rules of golf. Later, in 1894, the United States Golf Association was formed and assumed some responsibility for the rules.

By the mid-1880s, golf equipment had become more specialized; proper clubs had been devised. Wood was the material of choice for the shafts, and the club head of woods (clubs whose hitting surface was nearly perpendicular to the ground, and which were intended to propel the ball at a low angle for a long distance). Other clubs were forged of iron (called, logically, irons) and had a hitting surface that was oriented at various angles to the ground to produce shots of varying heights and distances. The club grip was typically of strips of wound leather. The golf ball was a sphere of wood or tightly packed feathers wrapped in a sphere made of stitched-together pieces of horsehide or cowhide.

The modern-day golf ball is similar to the original wooden or hide-bound golf ball only in its shape. A series of technological changes have completely changed the performance of the ball and, consequently, the game of golf.

The first innovation in golf ball design occurred in 1848, when balls formed from heated sap of the sapodilla tree were introduced. Once the sap cooled, these gutta-percha-resin golf balls ("gutties") were harder than their feather-cored predecessors ("featheries"). This allowed more of the energy built up in the club face during the golf swing to be transferred to the ball. The result was a longer flight of the ball. Also, because the balls became much less expensive to produce, golf became a sport that many could afford to play.

It was soon noted that a smooth-surfaced ball did not fly as far as a ball with surface pocks. Gutta-percha balls made with minute bulges over its surface became very popular.

In 1898, a golf ball was introduced in which a core consisting of wound rubber thread was covered with gutta-percha. The core increased the amount of energy transfer from club to ball, increasing shot length yet again. As well, recognizing the improved aerodynamics produced by surface pocks, various cover patterns were tried. By 1908, the dimple pattern had been introduced.

This pattern was refined still further during the 1930s. By blowing smoke over differently pattern balls, William Taylor experimented with different dimple patterns to find those that produced the most uniform movement of air over the ball's surface. The result was a ball that would not be directed off-course during flight by irregular patterns of air flow.

This consistent pattern of flight has provided another opportunity for golfers to affect the ball's flight. By imparting a clockwise or counterclockwise spin on the ball during impact with the club, a ball can be made to deliberately bend to the left or right during flight.

As golf ball design evolved, the rules of the game were revised to prescribe standards of ball weight, size, and dimple pattern. Then, as now, the intent is to standardize the technology so that human skill remains a predominant factor in scoring.

With the invention of the gutta-percha golf ball, control of the flight and distance of the ball became possible. This meant that the golf clubs then in use were outmoded. Golf club design was refined to provide this control. Shafts made of hickory and then of steel and aluminum provided more strength, making a quicker swing possible. As well, these shafts resisted the tendency to rotate during the back swing and down swing (rotational force is also called torque). More recently, shafts constructed of graphite have maintained the shaft strength while allowing clubs to become lighter and easier to swing more smoothly.

Steel, aluminum, and graphite shafts also allow the bulk of a club's weight and center of gravity to be concentrated in the club face. This permits most of the energy from a golf swing to be focused on the area of the club face that contacts the ball (called the "sweet spot").

The golfer's arsenal of clubs expanded during the mid-1880s to include club faces made of iron. Construction of differently angled club faces allowed the same swing to produce a shot that went lower and farther, or higher and shorter. This control allowed golfers to more precisely aim for the cup.

Originally, the face of an iron was smooth. Introduction of horizontal grooves in the club face and the roughening of its surface made it possible for the ball to travel up the club face during impact. As a result, the ball could spin off of the club face, rather than just flying off. Because the ball spins backward during flight, it will tend to stop more quickly on impact with the ground. This allows a golfer to shoot just beyond the cup and either to spin the ball back closer to the cup or to stop the ball almost immediately on impact. This has resulted in even more control of the ball near the cup.

Today, a golfer will carry several woods and about seven irons in their golf bag. The woods propel the ball the farthest; smaller woods offer more control if a target area is small and can be used more easily when attempting a long shot from the fairway. The designation wood is a misnomer today, since most of these clubs are made of metal. This innovation of the 1980s increased the energy transfer from club to ball. During the 1990s, introduction of composites of new materials allowed woods to be made much larger than before, while reducing the overall weight of the club. Many golfers find oversized clubs easier to control and capable of producing a longer shot.

On the green, a golfer will use a club called a putter to roll the ball over the grass and into the cup. There are literally thousands of different designs of putters.

The grips on a golf club have also changed, from leather strips to a variety of synthetic materials that cushion the hands, soak up moisture, and absorb the impact of the ball strike.

As with golf balls, the rules of golf have been revised to set standards for the construction, size, weight, and design of clubs.

Although not a necessary part of the game, golf shoes can be an aid to better golf performance. The reason is the sole of the shoe, which contains hard rubber discs that grip the grassy surface. This provides more stability for the golfer during the swing. As well, anchoring the leading foot can provide a pivot around which the golfer's weight can shift during the swing. Weight shift is another way that the energy of the swing can be efficiently transferred to the ball.

Until the 1980s, golf shoes were equipped with short metal spikes called cleats to provide the anchorage. But, spikes damaged the turf, and so were replace by the plastic discs.

The technology of golf, which is driven by science, has dramatically changed the way the sport is played since its inception. Yet, the fundamental nature of golf—to accurately control the forward progress of the ball—has remained unchanged over centuries.

see also Golf: Why graphite-shafted clubs produce longer drives; Tennis racquet construction.


views updated Jun 08 2018



Golf in America. Originating in Scotland around the fifteenth century, golf reached America during the colonial era, and Americans began playing the game after the American Revolution. The earliest clubs were established in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1786, and Savannah, Georgia, in 1795. Newspaper sources indicate that golf was regularly played at these clubs until the War of 1812. However Americans showed little interest in the game between the War of 1812 and the Civil War, one possible reason being that it was seen as an elitist sport and was therefore shunned.

Renewed Interest in Golf. The 1870s and 1880s witnessed a rekindled interest among Americans in golf. Charles Blair McDonald, a pioneer in the rejuvenation of the game, played golf in the Chicago area in 1875. Col. J. Hamilton Gillespie, a Scotsman who owned a lumber business in Sarasota, Florida, played golf there in 1883 or 1884. Andrew Bell of Burlington, Iowa, who attended the University of Edinburgh, set up a four-hole golf course in Burlington upon returning home and introduced the game to his friends. In 1884 Russell W. Montague, a New Englander, and four Scottish friends established a golf course near Montagues summer home in Oakhurst, West Virginia. U.S. Army soldiers stationed near the Rio Grande played golf in 1886, and Alex Findlay, a Scottish immigrant turned cowboy, played golf on the Nebraska prairies. Beginning in 1888 golf was played for three years at Rockwells Woods, near Norwich, Connecticut. Members of the exclusive Tuxedo Club, in Tuxedo, New York, began playing golf in 1889, as did members of the Casino Club in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1890.

Establishment of St. Andrews. The first modern golfing club in the United States, St. Andrews, named after the historic Scottish club, was established in Yonkers, New York, in 1888. The idea for the club originated when John Reid, a Scottish immigrant and ironworks executive, invited some neighbors to a cow pasture across the street from his home to drive some golf balls. In 1887 Bob Lockhart, a friend of Reid, traveled to Scotland and brought back some clubs and the newly introduced gutta-percha golf ball. With the new equipment, Lockhart, Reid, and another friend, John B. Upham, gave an exhibition of the game on a three-hole course laid out on the cow pasture. Golf soon became so popular with Reid and his associates that by the end of 1888 they had formally organized the St. Andrews Golf Club, with Reid as president and Upham as secretary. Over the next three years St. Andrews moved twice: at Grey Oaks it held the first unofficial U.S. championship; and at its final location, Mount Hope at Hastings, the club constructed an eighteen-hole course, the first course of that length in the nation. (Although the Dorset Field Club in Dorset, Vermont, and the Foxburg Country Club in Foxburg, Pennsylvania, claim to be the oldest modern golf courses

in the United States, established in 1886 and 1887, respectively, they do not have the documentation to prove it, as does St. Andrews.)

Establishment of the United States Golf Association. Golf grew rapidly in the United States during the 1890s. In 1894 the Amateur Golf Association (AGA) was formed to administer and standardize the game. Later that year the AGA changed its name to the United States Golf Association (USGA). The five charter-member clubs were St. Andrews, Newport, Shinnecock Hills, the Chicago Golf Club, and the Brookline Country Club in Massachusetts. On 22 December 1894 Henry O. Tallmadge, the secretary of the St. Andrews Club, held a conference of USGA officials to establish a site for a single national championship. They decided to hold both an amateur and an open championship tournament at the Newport Club in October 1895. Charles Blair McDonald won the 1895 USGA amateur title over Laurence Curtis, who, according to the New York Herald, was not in any way in the game against McDonald, for he a had low short drive compared to a long well directed drive of his opponent. The first U.S. Open was won by Horace Rawlins, the Newport assistant pro, against nine other professionals and an amateur. He won a $50 gold medal and $150 in cash. By 1895 there were seventy-five golf clubs in the United States. By the late 1890s golf had acquired such an elite following that Outing reported it as a sport restricted to the richer classes of the country.

Rise of Womens Golf. Golf, like tennis, offered women the opportunity for high-level competition. In 1894 the British Ladies Golf Union held the first womens golf championship. The USGA held the first womens amateur championship at the Meadowbrook Club on Long Island in November 1895. Mrs. Charles S. Brown won that inaugural event. The first player to dominate womens golf in the United States was Beatrix Hoyt, who won three consecutive amateur titles from 1896 to 1898. She won her first title at the age of sixteen and retired from competition at the age of twenty-one.


Will Grimsley, Golf: Its History, People and Events (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1966);

John M. Ross, ed., Golf Magazines Encyclopedia of Golf (New York: Harper & Row, 1979);

Herbert Warren Wind, The Story of American Golf: Its Champions and Its Championships (New York: Knopf, 1975).


views updated May 11 2018


GOLF originated in England and Scotland, and though American colonists played, the game quickly disappeared from the United States after the Revolutionary War. It came back in the 1880s, when the founders of the first country clubs discovered that golf suited their needs better than the traditional pastimes of horsing and hunting. Until the 1970s, private courses outnumbered municipal and daily-fee courses open to the public. The link between golf and the country club largely determined how the game developed, who played it, and how it has been perceived.

Elites developed country clubs in the late-nineteenth century to restore social order in the face of rapid immigration, industrialization, and urbanization. Country club members found golf especially appealing because it promised to revive the health of upper-class Victorians, some of whom believed they were suffering from a collective attack of nerves called neurasthenia. By the 1920s, country clubs had become appealing to the middle class. Modest clubs marked class, religious, and social distinctions as surely as wealthy white Protestant clubs did, but they also introduced golf to a wider audience. In 1916, there were fewer than 1,000 courses; by 1930, there were almost 6,000.

Golf also provided some of the earliest opportunities for women in sport. Though some clubs discriminate against women even today (by restricting weekend play to men, for example, or requiring wives or daughters to join in the names of husbands or fathers), many allowed women to play from the beginning. Men considered golf appropriate for the feminine constitution and temperament. It required more finesse than brute strength, and golfers competed against themselves and the course, not each other. Given the chance to play, however, women established themselves on their own terms. Olympic champion Babe Didrikson Zaharias pursued golf later in her career because she believed it would soften her unpopular androgynous image, but she immediately became famous for her powerful drives.

In 1894, representatives of the leading clubs created golf's first governing body, the United States Golf Association

(USGA), to promote the increasingly popular game, set rules, and sponsor tournaments. In 1916, a group of professionals, fed up with USGA policies that clearly favored amateurs, formed the Professional Golfers Association (PGA). The Ladies Professional Golfers Association was constituted in 1950.

American golfers lagged behind Europeans until 1913, when Francis Ouimet shocked the golf world by defeating England's best at the U.S. Open. Ouimet, who learned the game as a caddie, was the first of many working-class kids who taught themselves golf by carrying equipment at private clubs that would never accept them as members. The list also includes Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, and Byron Nelson. Hagen and Bobby Jones, an aristocratic amateur, dominated the game in the 1920s and became America's first golf superstars. Hagen won eleven "majors" in his career: two U.S. Opens, four British Opens, and five PGA Championships. Jones, who in the 1930s founded the fourth major, the Masters, took three British Opens and four U.S. Opens, plus five U.S. amateur titles. Together they established golf as a spectator sport.

During the Depression and World War II, golf's reputation suffered. Americans were feeling sober, and nothing seemed to symbolize the frivolous leisure class better than rich men in knickers chasing a ball around the manicured lawn of a private club. In the 1950s, the civil rights movement focused attention on the game's racism and on the segregation of most country clubs. As private organizations, the clubs were not required to integrate, and most did not. Many cities transferred public courses to private owners to keep them white. The golf establishment did not confront its race problem until 1990, when civil rights groups threatened to picket the PGA Championship, scheduled for the all-white Shoal Creek Country Club. Shoal Creek quickly admitted a black member, and the PGA promised to hold subsequent tournaments only at integrated courses. The same year, the U.S. Open champion Tom Watson resigned from his club because it refused a Jewish member. The desire for PGA events has encouraged most clubs to open their admission policies, but actual progress remains slow.

Nevertheless, golf has enjoyed years of fantastic growth. In the 1960s, Arnold Palmer, whose loyal fans are known as "Arnie's Army," and Jack Nicklaus, the "Golden Bear," helped make televised golf a success. At the beginning of the twenty-first century the game thrives inter-nationally, with celebrated players from all over the world and Ryder Cup competition between national teams. In 2002, Tiger Woods led the surge in the sport's popularity. As the game's most dominant player and first African American star, he introduced golf to a much wider demographic. With about 10,000 municipal or daily-fee courses and only half that many private courses, golf has become more accessible than ever.


Cayleff, Susan E. Babe: The Life and Legend of Babe Didrikson Zaharias. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1995.

Chambers, Marcia. The Unplayable Lie: The Untold Story of Women and Discrimination in American Golf. New York: Pocket Books, 1995.

Lowe, Stephen R. Sir Walter and Mr. Jones: Walter Hagen, Bobby Jones, and the Rise of American Golf. Chelsea, Mich.: Sleeping Bear Press, 2000.

Moss, Richard J. Golf and the American Country Club. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2001.


See alsoRecreation ; Sports ; Victorianism .


views updated Jun 08 2018

golf Game in which a small, hard ball is struck by a club. The object of the game is to hit the ball into a sequence of holes (usually 18), in the least number of shots. The length of each hole varies from c.100–550yd (c.90–500m) and consists of a tee, from where the player hits the first shot; a fairway of mown grass bordered by trees and longer grass, known as the rough; and a green, a putting area of smooth, short grass and the site of the hole. A player may have to circumvent course hazards, such as lakes or bunkers. Each hole is given a par, the number of shots it should take to complete the hole. Competition is usually over 18, 36 or 72 holes; the winner decided by the lowest total of strokes (stroke play) or the most holes won (match play). In 1754, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, St Andrews, Scotland, was formed and the basic rules of the game codified. Major tournaments are the US Open, British Open, US Professional Golfer's Association (PGA), and the US Masters.


views updated Jun 08 2018

golf / gälf; gôlf/ • n. 1. a game played on a large open-air course, in which a small hard ball is struck with a club into a series of small holes in the ground, the object being to use the fewest possible strokes to complete the course.2. a code word representing the letter G, used in radio communication.• v. [intr.] play golf: [as n.] (golfing) a week's golfing. DERIVATIVES: golf·er n.


views updated May 23 2018

golf. Though the Dutch game of kolf has been claimed as the origin, the first undoubted reference to golf was in 1457 when the Scottish Parliament deplored its popularity, along with that of football, since it took young men away from archery practice. James VI and I is said to have taken golf clubs with him when he moved south in 1603. But the great development of the game was in the later 19th cent. The handful of golf clubs in the early decades had risen to a dozen by 1870 and well over 1,000 by 1914. The first British open championship was held at Prestwick in 1860 and, since professionals dominated, an amateur championship at Hoylake in 1885. The main developments have been the standardization of the number of holes; the evolution of balls from the original wooden or feather-filled balls to cheaper gutta-percha balls in the 1840s and more aerodynamic rubber balls in the early 20th cent.; and the introduction of specialist clubs, up to a maximum of fourteen. The British governing body is the Royal and Ancient Club at St Andrews, founded in 1754.

J. A. Cannon


views updated May 23 2018

golf XV. of unkn. orig.