Golf, unlike most ball games, cannot and does not utilize a standardized playing area, and coping with the varied terrains encountered on different courses is a key part of the game. The game at the highest level is played on a course with an arranged progression of 18 holes, though recreational courses can be smaller, usually 9 holes. Each hole on the course must contain a tee box to start from, and a putting green containing the actual hole or cup (4.25 inches in diameter). There are other standard forms of terrain in between, such as the fairway, rough (long grass), sand traps (or "bunkers"), and various hazards (water, rocks, fescue, gravel, pine needles) but each hole on a course is unique in its specific layout and arrangement.
Golf is played for the lowest number of strokes by an individual, known as stroke play, or the lowest score on the most individual holes in a complete round by an individual or team, known as match play. Stroke play is the most commonly seen format at all levels, but most especially at the elite level.
While the modern game of golf originated in 15th-century Scotland, the game's ancient origins are unclear and much debated.
The modern game originated in Scotland, where the first written record of golf is James II's banning of the game in 1457, as an unwelcome distraction to learning archery. James IV lifted the ban in 1502 when he became a golfer himself, with golf clubs first recorded in 1503-1504: "For golf clubbes and balles to the King that he playit with". To many golfers, the Old Course at St Andrews, a links course dating to before 1574, is considered to be a site of pilgrimage. In 1764, the standard 18-hole golf course was created at St Andrews when members modified the course from 22 to 18 holes. Golf is documented as being played on Musselburgh Links, East Lothian, Scotland as early as 2 March 1672, which is certified as the oldest golf course in the world by Guinness World Records. The oldest surviving rules of golf were compiled in March 1744 for the Company of Gentlemen Golfers, later renamed The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, which was played at Leith, Scotland. The world's oldest golf tournament in existence, and golf's first major, is The Open Championship, which was first played on 17 October 1860 at Prestwick Golf Club, in Ayrshire, Scotland, with Scottish golfers winning the earliest majors. Two Scotsmen from Dunfermline, John Reid and Robert Lockhart, first demonstrated golf in the US by setting up a hole in an orchard in 1888, with Reid setting up America's first golf club the same year, St. Andrews Golf Club in Yonkers, New York.
A golf course consists of either 9 or 18 holes, each with a teeing ground that is set off by two markers showing the bounds of the legal tee area, fairway, rough and other hazards, and the putting green surrounded by the fringe with the pin (normally a flagstick) and cup.
The levels of grass are varied to increase difficulty, or to allow for putting in the case of the green.
A regular golf course consists of 18 holes, but nine-hole courses are common and can be played twice through for a full round of 18 holes.
Early Scottish golf courses were primarily laid out on links land, soil-covered sand dunes directly inland from beaches.
The first 18-hole golf course in the United States was on a sheep farm in Downers Grove, Illinois, in 1892. The course is still there today.
Play of the game
Every round of golf is based on playing a number of holes in a given order.
Playing a hole on a golf course is initiated by putting a ball into play by striking it with a club on the teeing ground (also called the tee box, or simply the tee). For this first shot on each hole, it is allowed but not required for the golfer to place the ball on a tee prior to striking it. A tee is a small peg that can be used to elevate the ball slightly above the ground up to a few centimetres high. Tees are commonly made of wood but may be constructed of any material, including plastic. Traditionally, golfers used mounds of sand to elevate the ball, and containers of sand were provided for the purpose. A few courses still require sand to be used instead of peg tees, to reduce litter and reduce damage to the teeing ground. Tees help reduce the interference of the ground or grass on the movement of the club making the ball easier to hit, and also places the ball in the very centre of the striking face of the club (the "sweet spot") for better distance.
When the initial shot on a hole is intended to move the ball a long distance (typically more than 225 yards (210 m)), the shot is commonly called a "drive" and is generally made with a long-shafted, large-headed wood club called a "driver". Shorter holes may be initiated with other clubs, such as higher-numbered woods or irons. Once the ball comes to rest, the golfer strikes it again as many times as necessary using shots that are variously known as a "lay-up", an "approach", a "pitch", or a "chip", until the ball reaches the green, where he or she then "putts" the ball into the hole (commonly called "sinking the putt" or "holing out"). The goal of getting the ball into the hole ("holing" the ball) in as few strokes as possible may be impeded by obstacles such as areas of longer grass called "rough" (usually found alongside fairways), which both slows any ball that contacts it and makes it harder to advance a ball that has stopped on it; "doglegs", which are changes in the direction of the fairway that often require shorter shots to play around them; bunkers (or sand traps); and water hazards such as ponds or streams.
In stroke play competitions played according to strict rules, each player plays his or her ball until it is holed no matter how many strokes that may take. In match play it is acceptable to simply pick up one's ball and "surrender the hole" after enough strokes have been made by a player that it is mathematically impossible for the player to win the hole. It is also acceptable in informal stroke play to surrender the hole after hitting three strokes more than the "par" rating of the hole (a "triple bogey" - see below); while technically a violation of Rule 3-2, this practice speeds play as a courtesy to others, and avoids "runaway scores", excessive frustration and injuries caused by overexertion.
The total distance from the first tee box to the 18th green can be quite long; total yardages "through the green" can be in excess of 7,000 yards (6,400 m), and when adding in the travel distance between the green of one hole and the tee of the next, even skilled players may easily travel five miles or more during a round.
Rules and regulations
The rules of golf are internationally standardised and are jointly governed by The R&A, spun off in 2004 from The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews (founded 1754), and the United States Golf Association (USGA).
The underlying principle of the rules is fairness.
There are strict regulations regarding the amateur status of golfers.
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, 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.
Penalties are incurred in certain situations.
A lost ball or a ball hit out of bounds result in a penalty of one stroke and distance (Rule 27–1).
Golf clubs are used to hit the golf ball. Each club is composed of a shaft with a lance (or "grip") on the top end and a club head on the bottom. Long clubs, which have a lower amount of degree loft, are those meant to propel the ball a comparatively longer distance, and short clubs a higher degree of loft and a comparatively shorter distance. The actual physical length of each club is longer or shorter, depending on the distance the club is intended to propel the ball.
Golf clubs have traditionally been arranged into three basic types.
A maximum of 14 clubs is allowed in a player's bag at one time during a stipulated round.
The exact shot hit at any given time on a golf course, and which club is used to accomplish the shot, are always completely at the discretion of the golfer; in other words, there is no restriction whatsoever on which club a golfer may or may not use at any time for any shot.
Golf balls are spherical, usually white (although other colours are allowed), and minutely pock-marked by dimples that decrease aerodynamic drag by increasing air turbulence around the ball in motion, which delays "boundary layer" separation and reduces the drag-inducing "wake" behind the ball, thereby allowing the ball to fly farther. The combination of a soft "boundary layer" and a hard "core" enables both distance and spin.
A tee is allowed only for the first stroke on each hole, unless the player must hit a provisional tee shot or replay his or her first shot from the tee.
Many golfers wear golf shoes with metal or plastic spikes designed to increase traction, thus allowing for longer and more accurate shots.
A golf bag is used to transport golf clubs and the player's other or personal equipment. Golf bags have several pockets designed for carrying equipment and supplies such as tees, balls, and gloves. Golf bags can be carried, pulled on a trolley or harnessed to a motorized golf cart during play. Golf bags have both a hand strap and shoulder strap for carrying, and sometimes have retractable legs that allow the bag to stand upright when at rest.
The golf swing is outwardly similar to many other motions involving swinging a tool or playing implement, such as an axe or a baseball bat; however, unlike many of these motions, the result of the swing is highly dependent on several sub-motions being properly aligned and timed, to ensure that the club travels up to the ball in line with the desired path, the clubface is in line with the swing path, and the ball impacts the centre or "sweet spot" of the clubface.
Golfers start with the non-dominant side of the body facing the target (for a right-hander, the target is to their left).
The golfer chooses a golf club, grip, and stroke appropriate to the distance:
- The "drive" or "full swing" is used on the teeing ground and fairway, typically with a wood or long iron, to produce the maximum distance capable with the club.
- The "approach" or "3/4 swing" is used in medium- and long-distance situations where an exact distance and good accuracy is preferable to maximum possible distance, such as to place the ball on the green or "lay up" in front of a hazard.
- The "chip" or "half-swing" is used for relatively short-distance shots near the green, with high-lofted irons and wedges.
- The "putt" is used in short-distance shots on or near the green, typically made with the eponymous "putter", although similar strokes can be made with medium to high-numbered irons to carry a short distance in the air and then roll (a "bump and run").
Having chosen a club and stroke to produce the desired distance, the player addresses the ball by taking their stance to the side of it and (except when the ball lies in a hazard) grounding the club behind the ball.
Accuracy and consistency are typically stressed over pure distance.
A golf stroke uses muscles on core (especially erector spinae muscles and latissimus dorsi muscle when turning), hamstring, shoulder, and wrist. Stronger muscles on wrist can prevent wrists from being twisted at swings, while stronger shoulders increase the turning force. Weak wrists can also deliver the impacts to elbows and even neck and lead to injury of them. (When a muscle contracts, it pulls equally from both ends and, to have movement at only one end of the muscle, other muscles must come into play to stabilize the bone to which the other end of the muscle is attached.) Golf is a unilateral exercise that can break body balances, requiring exercises to keep the balance in muscles.
Putting is considered to be the most important component of the game of golf.
Other notable putting styles include "the claw", a style that has the grip directly in between the thumb and index finger of the dominant hand while the palm faces the target.
Scoring and handicapping
A hole is classified by its par, meaning the number of strokes a skilled golfer should require to complete play of the hole.
The primary factor for classifying the par of a relatively straight, hazard-free hole is the distance from the tee to the green.
Eighteen-hole courses typically total to an overall par score of 72 for a complete round; this is based on an average par of 4 for every hole, and so is often arrived at by designing a course with an equal number of par-5 and par-3 holes, the rest being par-4.
The two primary difficulty ratings in the U.S. are the Course Rating, which is effectively the expected score for a zero-handicap "scratch golfer" playing the course (and may differ from the course par), and the Slope Rating, which is a measure of how much worse a "bogey golfer" (with an 18 handicap) would be expected to play than a "scratch golfer".
The goal is to play as few strokes per round as possible.
In a typical professional tournament or among "scratch" amateur players, "birdie-bogey" play is common; a player will "lose" a stroke by bogeying a hole, then "gain" one by scoring a birdie.
There are two basic forms of golf play, match play and stroke play.
Two players (or two teams) play each hole as a separate contest against each other in what is called match play. The party with the lower score wins that hole, or if the scores of both players or teams are equal the hole is "halved" (or tied). The game is won by the party that wins more holes than the other. In the case that one team or player has taken a lead that cannot be overcome in the number of holes remaining to be played, the match is deemed to be won by the party in the lead, and the remainder of the holes are not played. For example, if one party already has a lead of six holes, and only five holes remain to be played on the course, the match is over and the winning party is deemed to have won "6 & 5". At any given point, if the lead is equal to the number of holes remaining, the party leading the match is said to be "dormie", and the match is continued until the party increases the lead by one hole or ties any of the remaining holes, thereby winning the match, or until the match ends in a tie with the lead player's opponent winning all remaining holes. When the game is tied after the predetermined number of holes have been played, it may be continued until one side takes a one-hole lead.
The score achieved for each and every hole of the round or tournament is added to produce the total score, and the player with the lowest score wins in stroke play. Stroke play is the game most commonly played by professional golfers. If there is a tie after the regulation number of holes in a professional tournament, a playoff takes place between all tied players. Playoffs either are sudden death or employ a pre-determined number of holes, anywhere from three to a full 18. In sudden death, a player who scores lower on a hole than all of his opponents wins the match. If at least two players remain tied after such a playoff using a pre-determined number of holes, then play continues in sudden death format, where the first player to win a hole wins the tournament.
The other forms of play in the game of golf are bogey competition, skins, 9-points, stableford, team play, and unofficial team variations.
A bogey competition is a scoring format sometimes seen in at informal tournaments.
What's known as the skins game is a variation on the match play where each hole has an amount of money (called "skin") attached to it. The lump sum may be prize money at the professional level (the most famous event to use these rules was the "LG Skins Game", played at Indian Wells Golf Resort in California until 2008), or an amount wagered for each hole among amateur players. The player with the lowest score on the hole wins the skin for that hole; if two or more players tie for the lowest score, the skin carries over to the next hole. The game continues until a player wins a hole outright, which may (and evidently often does) result in a player receiving money for a previous hole that they had not tied for.
If players tie the 18th hole, either all players or only the tying players repeat the 18th hole until an outright winner is decided for that hole - and all undecided skins.
A nine-point game is another variant of match play typically played among threesomes, where each hole is worth a total of nine points.
The Stableford system is a simplification of stroke play that awards players points based on their score relative to the hole's par; the score for a hole is calculated by taking the par score, adding 2, then subtracting the player's hole score, making the result zero if negative. Alternately stated, a double bogey or worse is zero points, a bogey is worth one point, par is two, a birdie three, an eagle four, and so on. The advantages of this system over stroke play are a more natural "higher is better" scoring, the ability to compare Stableford scores between plays on courses with different total par scores (scoring an "even" in stroke play will always give a Stableford score of 36), discouraging the tendency to abandon the entire game after playing a particularly bad hole (a novice playing by strict rules may score as high as an 8 or 10 on a single difficult hole; their Stableford score for the hole would be zero, which puts them only two points behind par no matter how badly they played), and the ability to simply pick up one's ball once it is impossible to score any points for the hole, which speeds play.
The USGA and R&A sanction a "Modified Stableford" system for scratch players, which makes par worth zero, a birdie worth 2, eagle 5 and double-eagle 8, while a bogey is a penalty of -1 and a double-bogey or worse -3.
- Foursome: defined in Rule 29, this is played between two teams of two players each, in which each team has only one ball and players alternate playing it. For example, if players "A" and "B" form a team, "A" tees off on the first hole, "B" will play the second shot, "A" the third, and so on until the hole is finished. On the second hole, "B" will tee off (regardless who played the last putt on the first hole), then "A" plays the second shot, and so on. Foursomes can be played as match play or stroke play.
- Fourball: defined in Rules 30 and 31, this is also played between two teams of two players each, but every player plays their own ball and for each team, the lower score on each hole counts. Fourballs can be played as match play or stroke play.
- Scramble: also known as ambrose or best-shot; each player in a team tees off on each hole, and the players decide which shot was best.
- Champagne scramble: a combination of a scramble and best-ball, only the first shot of each hole is a scramble; all players tee off, decide on the best tee shot, then each player plays their own ball starting at that point until they hole out, without deciding any further "best shots".
- Better ball or best-ball: like fourball, each player plays the hole as normal, but the lowest score of all the players on the team counts as the team's score for the hole.
- Greensome (also known as Scotch Foursomes): also called modified alternate shot, this is played in pairs; both players tee off, and then pick the best shot as in a scramble.
- Wolf (also known as Ship, Captain & Crew, Captain, Pig): a version of match play; with a foursome an order of play for each player is established for the duration of the round.
Shotgun starts are mainly used for amateur tournament play. In this variant, each of the groups playing starts their game on a different hole, allowing for all players to start and end their round at roughly the same time. All 18 holes are still played, but a player or foursome may, for instance, start on hole 5, play through to the 18th hole, then continue with hole 1 and end on hole 4. This speeds the completion of the entire event as players are not kept waiting for progressive tee times at the first hole. This form of play, as a minor variation to stroke or match play, is neither defined nor disallowed by strict rules and so is used according to local rules for an event.
A handicap is a numerical measure of an amateur golfer's ability to play golf over the course of 18 holes.
Calculating a handicap is often complicated, the general reason being that golf courses are not uniformly challenging from course to course or between skill levels.
By USGA rules, handicap calculation first requires calculating a "Handicap Differential" for each round of play the player has completed by strict rules.
The most recent Differentials are logged, up to 20 of them, and then the best of these (the number used depends on the number available) are selected, averaged, multiplied by.96 (an "excellence factor" that reduces the handicap of higher-scoring players, encouraging them to play better and thus lower their handicap), and truncated to the tenths place to produce the "Handicap Index".
Once calculated, the Course Handicap is applied in stroke play by simply reducing the player's gross score by the handicap, to produce a net score.
Handicap systems have potential for abuse by players who may intentionally play badly to increase their handicap ("throwing their 'cap") before playing to their potential at an important event with a valuable prize.
In 2005 Golf Digest
The number of courses in other territories has increased, an example of this being the expansion of golf in China. The first golf course in China opened in 1984, but by the end of 2009 there were roughly 600 in the country. For much of the 21st century, development of new golf courses in China has been officially banned (with the exception of the island province of Hainan), but the number of courses had nonetheless tripled from 2004 to 2009; the "ban" has been evaded with the government's tacit approval simply by not mentioning golf in any development plans.
In the United States, the number of people who play golf twenty-five times or more per year decreased from 6.9 million in 2000 to 4.6 million in 2005, according to the National Golf Foundation. The NGF reported that the number who played golf at all decreased from 30 to 26 million over the same period.
In February 1971, astronaut Alan Shepard became the first person to golf anywhere other than Earth. He smuggled a golf club and two golf balls on board Apollo 14 with the intent to golf on the Moon. He attempted two drives. He shanked the first attempt, but it is estimated his second went more than 200 yards.
Number of golf courses by country in 2015.
The majority of professional golfers work as club or teaching professionals ("pros"), and only compete in local competitions. A small elite of professional golfers are "tournament pros" who compete full-time on international "tours". Many club and teaching professionals working in the golf industry start as caddies or with a general interest in the game, finding employment at golf courses and eventually moving on to certifications in their chosen profession. These programs include independent institutions and universities, and those that eventually lead to a Class A golf professional certification. Touring professionals typically start as amateur players, who attain their "pro" status after success in major tournaments that win them either prize money and/or notice from corporate sponsors. Jack Nicklaus, for example, gained widespread notice by finishing second in the 1960 U.S. Open to champion Arnold Palmer, with a 72-hole score of 282 (the best score to date in that tournament by an amateur). He played one more amateur year in 1961, winning that year's U.S. Amateur Championship, before turning pro in 1962.
Golf instruction involves the teaching and learning of the game of golf.
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.
Perhaps the most widely known tour is the PGA Tour, which tends to attract the strongest fields, outside the four Majors and the four World Golf Championships events. This is due mostly to the fact that most PGA Tour events have a first prize of at least 800,000 USD. 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. Since 2010, both tours' money titles have been claimed by the same individual three times, with Luke Donald doing so in 2011 and Rory McIlroy in 2012 and 2014. In 2013, Henrik Stenson won the FedEx Cup points race on the PGA Tour and the European Tour money title, but did not top the PGA Tour money list (that honour going to Tiger Woods).
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). The Japan, Australasian, Sunshine, PGA, and European Tours are the charter members of the trade body of the world's main tours, the International Federation of PGA Tours, founded in 1996. The Asian Tour became a full member in 1999. The Canadian Tour became an associate member of the Federation in 2000, and the Tour de las Américas (Latin America) became an associate member of the Federation in 2007. The Federation underwent a major expansion in 2009 that saw eleven new tours become full members – the Canadian Tour, Tour de las Américas, China Golf Association, the Korea Professional Golfers' Association, Professional Golf Tour of India, and the operators of all six major women's tours worldwide. The OneAsia Tour, founded in 2009, is not a member of the Federation, but was founded as a joint venture of the Australasia, China, Japan, and Korean tours. In 2011, the Tour de las Américas was effectively taken over by the PGA Tour, and in 2012 was folded into the new PGA Tour Latinoamérica. Also in 2012, the Canadian Tour was renamed PGA Tour Canada after it agreed to be taken over by the PGA Tour. All men's tours that are Federation members, except the India tour, offer points in the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) to players who place sufficiently high in their events. The OneAsia Tour also offers ranking points.
Golf is unique in having lucrative competition for older players.
There are six principal tours for women, each based in a different country or continent.
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.
The major championships are the four most prestigious men's tournaments of the year.
The fields for these events include the top several dozen golfers from all over the world.
Prior to the advent of the PGA Championship and The Masters, the four Majors were the U.S.
Women's golf does not have a globally agreed set of majors.
Senior (aged fifty and over) men's golf does not have a globally agreed set of majors.
Of the five events, the Senior PGA is by far the oldest, having been founded in 1937.
After a 112-year absence from the Olympics games, golf returned for the 2016 Rio Games. 41 different countries were represented by 120 athletes.
- Golf at the Asian Games
- Golf at the Pan American Games
- Golf at the Summer Olympics
- Golf at the Summer Universiade
- Ryder Cup
- Presidents Cup
- Solheim Cup
- International Crown
- Seve Trophy
- EurAsia Cup
- Walker Cup
- Curtis Cup