Golf has been played for over 500 years all over the world. Any avid player, whether they’re a pro or a beginner, should know where the game started and what’s in store for the future.
Where was golf invented? Who are the most notable players? Hit the green and get ready to learn more about the history of this favorite pastime.
1500s – 1600s
The first games of golf were played in Scotland in a kingdom named Fife. Golf was played with sticks, pebbles, and rabbit holes, and King James II hated all the fun because it interfered with wartime.
Golf clubs carved from wood made their debut in Scotland. King James IV was much more onboard with golf as he hired a bowmaker to make him his own set of clubs.
St. Andrews became known as the birthplace of modern golf. A famous clubhouse called the Royal and Ancient Golf Club came up with the rules and promoted golf as a proper sport.
Golf first came to the United States. The Royal Gazette in New York advertised clubs and balls to the select few Americans who were interested in playing the game at the time.
Dr. Robert Adams Paterson improved the game with the invention of gutta percha golf balls. These were made from rubber, weren’t very expensive to make, and were also known as “gutties.”
The first women’s golf club formed at St. Andrews. The group was organized because members of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club wanted to show their daughters how to golf.
The first U.S. Open for golf took place on a 36-hole course in Rhode Island. It was played in a single day and the winner was a 21-year-old man named Horace Rawlins who received a gold medal, trophy, and $150 in cash as a prize.
Dr. George Grant invented the golf tee. Before then, golfers had to build sand mounds at each hole that were used to mount and hold the balls in place.
It wasn’t officially the “Olympics” quite yet, but this marks the first time golf was part of the games. Four years later, golf was in the Olympics again in St. Louis.
James Barber designed one of the first mini golf courses in North Carolina. The course featured fountains, gardens, and the signature zigzag walkways found at mini golf courses today.
The first PGA Tour took place. In the early days, the tour was held on the West Coast and in Texas and Florida, but the event was more popular and spread out all over the country after World War II.
Phil Young had a bad putt during a golf match with a friend and was convinced the ball was to blame. This led him to x-ray the ball, find it was indeed off-center, and start his own company, Titleist.
The golf cart made its debut. It was originally created by JK Wadley to transport senior citizens to the grocery store, but it ended up a staple in the world of golf by the mid-50s.
The first Masters Tournament took place in Augusta, Georgia. The idea came from an amateur golfer named Bobby Jones who wanted to build a golf course after his retirement. The Masters is marked by the iconic green jacket that’s won by the champion.
The Zebra putter made its debut. The putter was named after the striped pattern on the club and was well-loved by players like Nick Price, especially throughout the 90s.
Callaway Golf started in California. The company is the premier manufacturer of clubs in the United States, the most famous of which is the “Big Bertha” Driver.
Nike became part of the golf industry. At first they released only shoes, but fourteen years later they started offering clubs, balls, bags, polos, and so much more.
Why go to an actual course when you can play golf right in your living room? Wii Sports by Nintendo makes that possible! You can also play tennis, baseball, bowling, and boxing.
Technology has made it so golf can even be played indoors! This is done through virtual simulators and screens where it looks as though you’re on a course.
What is Golf?
Golf is a game where players aim to hit a small ball in a hole in as few shots as possible.
The game is played with every player taking turns and using different clubs depending on the shot they’re trying to make. There are also rules that each player must follow and certain “pars” at each hole – which is a fancy way of saying the ball has to go in the hole in a certain amount of strokes.
Where Was the First Game of Golf Played?
The first game of golf took place in the 15th Century in Fife, a Scottish kingdom known for beautiful cathedrals, rolling hills, and fishing villages. Players hit a pebble around a grassy field full of sand dunes and rabbit holes.
Since then, golf has become a bit more sophisticated. The modern version was first played at the Royal and Ancient Golf Club in St. Andrews, Scotland in 1754. They came up with the rules and created actual courses for playing.
It wasn’t long before other clubs started opening throughout Europe and North America. From that point on, it was official – golf was a pastime that was here to stay!
What Equipment Was Used in Early Golf Games?
Golf wasn’t always played with the same clubs and balls we know today. The first players in Scotland used clubs made from beech, ash, or hazel. The ball, meanwhile, was covered in leather and stuffed with goose or chicken feathers. It was referred to as a “feathery.”
When Did Golf Become an Olympic Sport?
Golf became an Olympic sport in 1900. It was in Paris and only twelve men were part of the competition. It also wasn’t even known as the Olympics at the time, but was instead referred to as the “Championnats Internationaux.”
The U.S. Open had started five years earlier in Rhode Island, but the Olympics were huge as they really solidified the legitimacy of golf as a sport. Soon enough, other competitions were underway throughout the world like the PGA Tour, the Southeastern Open, and the Masters Tournament.
All these competitions are still going strong to this day. In fact, the 2019 PGA Tour has a grand prize of $9,250,000! Fore real!
Where Do Golf Words Come From?
A bunch of strange words and a few bird references are used in golf. You may be surprised to learn their origin story!
A score of three less than the assigned par for a given hole; going under par by three at a hole
An “albatross” is a British term that’s still used on the course, but most Americans refer to this score as a “Double Eagle.” This score is very rare, which is likely why it’s named after a rare bird.
A score of one less than the assigned par for a given hole; going under par by one at a hole
In 1911, a magazine referred to a golf shot as “bird,” which was slang for excellent at the time. The first use of the term “birdie” on the golf course was at the Country Club in Atlantic City.
A score of one more than the assigned par for a given hole; going over par by one at a hole
Back in 1890, a couple of men in the United Kingdom were golfing when one said to the other: “you’re a regular Bogey man.” He was likely referring to a popular song at the time that referred to a “bogle,” which was a Scottish goblin or devil.
A person who carries a player’s clubs and assists in other areas during a round of golf
A “le cadet” in France meant the youngest boy in the family. Caddie is a derivative of the word and was used in 18th Century Scotland to refer to general errand boys around town.
A score of two below the assigned par for a given hole; going under par by two at a hole
Eagle is an extension of birdie, which is an even better score in golf. The term was said to first be used in America, but it’s since become part of the golf dictionary.
Closely mown grass that defines the ideal landing zone for a par-4 or par-5 hole
Early golf courses were often set up close to harbors and shipping areas. Fairway was likely inspired by the water as it’s an old nautical term for a navigable channel.
A warning call on the course that is shouted if a ball may potentially hit someone
No one knows for sure the exact origins of “fore” in golfing, but many believe it comes from the early days of war where muskets were used. Soldiers would warn those in the front to keep their heads down by shouting “fore!”
A game in which clubs are used to hit a small, white ball into a number of holes
It’s not certain why the Scots started calling the game “golf,” but it’s not an acronym for “Gentlemen Only Ladies Forbidden” as some believe. The likely story is that it comes from the old Dutch colf, which means “stick, club, or bat.”
A second chance to perform an action, usually when the first chance went wrong because of bad luck or unusual circumstances
A popular theory is that “mulligan” was named after a golfer who always wanted second chances. People aren’t sure who this person was, but many believe it was David Mulligan, a player who was often seen at St. Lambert Country Club in Canada.
The number of strokes it should take to complete a given hole, which is determined by the length and difficulty of the hole
Par comes from the stock exchange where the same term is used to refer to a stock that may be above or below its normal. Today, there is a committee called the Council of National Golf Unions that determines pars and handicaps for each course.
To strike a golf ball gently so it rolls along the green into the hole; usually requires a putter
The golf term with the easiest origin to trace is “putt.” It comes from the Scottish term put, which means “to push or shove.” The word was used specifically in golf around 1743.
Put these words and phrases to use at your next golf outing! Your fellow players are sure to be impressed by your knowledge.
Who Are the Most Famous Golf Players of All Time?
The game of golf has had many incredible players throughout history. These are the men and women who changed the game forever.
The most famous golfers of all time include:
- Tom Morris
- Arnold Palmer
- Babe Zaharias
- Charlie Sifford
- Tiger Woods
- Walter Hagen
- Michelle Wie
- Jack Nicklaus
- Annika Sorenstam
- Gene Sarazen
Tom Morris is regarded as the first professional golfer. He was also the first player in history to make a hole-in-one and was the U.S. Open’s oldest winner at the age of 46.
You may already know the delicious drink, but Arnold Palmer was also a golf hero. Aside from PGA Tours and Majors wins, Palmer was also an accomplished aviator with several flying records during his lifetime.
Babe Zaharias is the first female golfer to qualify for the PGA Tour. She was also an accomplished Olympic track and field star who won gold medals in javelin and the 80-meter hurdles.
Charlie Sifford was the first African-American to play in the PGA Tour. He won in both Hartford and Los Angeles and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2004.
Most people know Tiger Woods is a pro golf player. Few know, though, that he holds the record for the most PGA Player of the Year awards with 11 total in his career.
A playboy with a real knack for golf, Hagen was the first player to make a bunch of money in the sport. He played exhibitions all over the world and won the U.S. Open twice.
While most 16-year-olds are learning how to drive, Michelle Wie was already a professional player with a bunch of fans. Both Nike and Sony ended up signing her up for multi-million dollar sponsorship deals.
It’s a tall order to be known as the best golfer in the 20th century, but Jack Nicklaus wore that honor with pride. He was nicknamed “The Golden Bear” and was in the top ten for 154 consecutive Majors.
From the mid-90s to the late 2000s, Anna Sorenstam had a serious winning streak. She was honored as the LPGA Player of the year and won countless Major championships during her career.
You know the guy that always looks dapper on the golf course? That was Gene Sarazen! He won seven Major championships, invented the sand wedge, and had a real enthusiasm for the game.
Of course, these are only a few of the great golfers in the game! Many others have played over the years, each as talented as the last.
What’s the Future of Golf?
Golf will always be a well-loved game to play, whether you’re doing the full 18 holes or hitting a colorful ball through a windmill during a putt-putt game.
Technology, meanwhile, is changing golf in some truly interesting ways. You can play the game virtually through Wii Sports, on golf simulators, and even indoors through advanced technology.
No matter what, you ultimately can’t beat a day on the range – driving around in golf carts, perfecting your game, and enjoying the sunshine!
The Bottom Line
You don’t have to go all the way to Scotland to enjoy a good game of golf. Put on your best pair of plaid pants, and maybe a nice visor, and find a course near you!
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