Golf is a sport in which a player, using many types of clubs including a driver, a putter, and irons, hits a ball into each hole on a golf course in the lowest possible number of strokes. Golf is one of the few ball games that does not use a standardized playing area; rather, the game is played on golf “courses”, each one of which has a unique design and typically consists of either 9 or 18 holes. Golf is defined in the Rules of Golf as “playing a ball with a club from the teeing ground into the hole by a stroke or successive strokes in accordance with the Rules”
The first game of golf for which records survive was played at Bruntsfield Links, in Edinburgh, Scotland, in A.D. 1456, recorded in the archives of the Edinburgh Burgess Golfing Society, now The Royal Burgess Golfing Society. The modern game of golf spread from Scotland to England and has now become a worldwide game, with golf courses in the majority of affluent countries.
Golf competition is generally played as stroke play, in which the individual with the lowest number of strokes is declared the winner, or as match play with the winner determined by whichever individual or team posts the lower score on the most individual holes during a complete round.
Golf as a spectator sport has become increasingly popular, with several different levels of professional and amateur tours in many regions of the world. People such as Arnold Palmer, Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman, Lorena Ochoa, Pádraig Harrington, Annika Sörenstam, Severiano Ballesteros have become well-recognized sports figures across the world. Sponsorship has also become a huge part of the game and players often earn more from their sponsorship contracts than they do from the game itself.
The most accepted golf history theory is that golf (as practised today) originated from Scotland in the 12th century, with shepherds knocking stones into rabbit holes in the place where the famous Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews now sits. However, the origin of golf is unclear and open to debate.
Scholars have claimed references to a form of golf from hieroglyphs found on stone tablets dating to ancient Egyptian Pharaohs. Chuiwan (“ch’ui” means hitting and “wan” means small ball in Chinese) a game consisting of driving a ball with a stick into holes in the ground was first mentioned in Dōngxuān Records (Chinese: 東軒錄), a Chinese book of 11th century, and Chinese professor Ling Hongling of Lanzhou University claims that the game was brought to Europe by the Mongols in the 12th and 13th centuries. A Dutch game was mentioned on 26 February 1297 in a city called Loenen aan de Vecht. Here they played a game with a stick and leather ball. Whoever hit the ball into a target several hundreds of meters away the most number of times, won. The Scottish game of gowf was mentioned in two 15th century laws prohibiting its play. Some scholars have suggested that this refers to another game which is more akin to bandy, shinty or hurling than golf. There are also reports of even earlier accounts of a golf like game from continental Europe.
However, these earlier games are more accurately viewed as ancestors of golf, and the modern game of golf as we understand it today originated and developed in Scotland: The first golf club memberships were formed in Scotland. The earliest permanent golf course originated there too, as did the very first written rules, as did the establishment of the 18-hole course. The first formalized tournament structures also emerged there and competitions were arranged between different Scottish cities. Over time, the modern game spread to England and the rest of the world. The oldest playing golf course in the world is The Musselburgh Old Links Golf Course. Evidence has shown that golf was played here in 1672 although Mary, Queen of Scots reputedly played there in 1567.
As stated, golf courses have not always had eighteen holes. The St Andrews Links occupy a narrow strip of land along the sea. As early as the 15th century, golfers at St Andrews, in Fife, established a customary route through the undulating terrain, playing to holes whose locations were dictated by topography. The course that emerged featured eleven holes, laid out end to end from the clubhouse to the far end of the property. One played the holes out, turned around, and played the holes in, for a total of 22 holes. In 1764, several of the holes were deemed too short, and were therefore combined. The number was thereby reduced from 11 to nine, so that a complete round of the links comprised 18 holes. Due to the status of St Andrews as the golf capital, all other courses chose to follow suit and the 18-hole course remains the standard today.
In 2005 Golf Digest calculated that there were nearly 32,000 golf courses in the world, approximately half of them in the United States. The countries with most golf courses in relation to population, starting with the best endowed were: Scotland, New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, Canada, Wales, United States, Sweden, and England (countries with fewer than 500,000 people were excluded). Apart from Sweden, all of these countries have English as the majority language, but the number of courses in new territories is increasing rapidly. For example the first golf course in the People’s Republic of China opened in the mid-1980s, but by 2005 there were 200 courses in that country.
The professional sport was initially dominated by Scottish then English golfers, but since World War I, America has produced the greatest quantity of leading professionals. Other Commonwealth countries such as Australia and South Africa are also traditional powers in the sport. Since around the 1970s, Japan, Scandinavian and other Western European countries have produced leading players on a regular basis. The number of countries with high-class professionals continues to increase steadily, especially in East Asia. South Korea is notably strong in women’s golf.
In the United States, the number of people who play golf 25 times or more per year fell from 6.9 million in 2000 to 4.6 million in 2005, according to the National Golf Foundation. The Foundation reported a smaller decline in the number who played golf at all; it fell from 30 million to 26 million over the same period.
Golf is played in an area of land designated a golf course. A course consists of a series of holes, each with a teeing area, fairway, rough and other hazards, and the green with the pin(flagstick) and cup. Different levels of grass are varied to increase difficulty or to allow for putting in the case of the green. A typical golf course consists of eighteen holes, but many smaller courses have only nine. Early Scottish golf courses, and similarly designed courses, are mostly laid out on linksland, soil covered sand dunes directly inland from beaches. This gave rise to the common description of a seaside course as a golf links. The turn of the 20th century, with its widesread use of heavy earth-moving equipment, saw a movement toward golf course design with an emphasis on reshaping the land to create hazards, and add strategic interest. Modern golf course design has seen a return to its roots. Architects appreciate once again how to maximize the subtleties in the existing land while tempering how much dirt they move.