Golf is a club-and-ball sport in which players use various clubs to hit balls into a series of holes on a course in as few strokes as possible.
It 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.
A golf course consists of either 9 or 18 holes, each with a teeing ground or “tee box” 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 word “golf” was first mentioned in writing in 1457 on a Scottish statute on forbidden games as gouf, possibly derived from the Scots word goulf (variously spelled) meaning “to strike or cuff”. This word may, in turn, be derived from the Dutch word kolf, meaning “bat” or “club”, and the Dutch sport of the same name.
The origin of golf has long been debated. Some historians trace the sport back to the Roman game of paganica, which involved using a bent stick to hit a wool- or feather-stuffed leather ball. According to one view, paganica spread throughout several countries as the Romans conquered much of Europe during the 1st century BC and eventually evolved into the modern game. Others cite chuiwan (ch’ui-wan) as the progenitor, a game played in China during the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) and earlier and described
as “a game in which you hit a ball with a stick while walking.” Chuiwan is thought to have been introduced into Europe by traders during the Middle Ages. However, upon close examination, neither theory is convincing.
Another early game that resembled modern golf was known as cambuca in England and chambot in France. The Persian game chowkan is another possible ancient origin, albeit being more polo-like. In addition, kolven (a game involving a ball and curved bats) was played annually in Loenen, Netherlands, beginning in 1297, to commemorate the capture of the assassin of Floris V, a year earlier.
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 1744, the Honorable Company of Edinburgh Golfers wrote down the first rules of the game, known as the Thirteen Articles, for their tournament at the Leith Links in Edinburgh. Over the next 100 years, those 13 rules were adopted by more than 30 clubs.
As early as 1819 the English traveler William Ousely claimed that golf descended from the Persian national game of chaugán, the ancestor of modern polo. Later, historians, not least because of the resemblance of names, considered the French cross-country game of chicane to be a descendant of chaugán.
The Industrial Revolution of the Victorian era brought with it many changes. The birth of the railways allowed ordinary people to explore outside of their towns and cities for the first time, and as a consequence golf clubs began to appear all over the countryside. Mass production methods were adopted to manufacture the clubs and balls, making the game more affordable to the average person. The game’s popularity exploded!
Golf’s first major, and the world’s oldest tournament in existence, is The Open Championship, also known as the British Open, which was first played in 1860 at the Prestwick Golf Club in Ayrshire, Scotland. This is one of the four major championships in men’s professional golf, the other three being played in the United States: The Masters, the U.S. Open, and the PGA Championship.
There wasn’t an attempt to create a standardized set of rules until the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews (R &A) delivered the first consolidated rules code in 1899. During this same period the United States Golf Association was being formed in New York City. The USGA’s rules converged significantly with those from the R&A, consolidating those two entities as the two main governing bodies of the game.
In 1903 a group of British expatriates established the first golf club in Japan, at Kobe. In 1913 the Tokyo Golf club at Komazawa was established for and by native Japanese who had encountered golf in the United States, but it was moved to Asaka in Saitama prefecture in 1932. In 1924 the Japan Golf Association was established by the seven clubs then in existence.
The Ladies Professional Golf Association was formed in 1950 as a way to popularize the sport and provide competitive opportunities for golfers. The competitions were not the same for the men and women. It was not until 1972 that U.S. Congress passed the Title IX of the Education Amendments.