Outdoor game in which a small rubber-cored ball is hit with a wooden- or iron-faced club into a series of holes using the least number of shots. On the first shot for each hole, the ball is hit from a tee, which elevates the ball slightly off the ground; subsequent strokes are played off the ground. Most courses have 18 holes and are approximately 5,500 m/6,000 yd in length. The modern game of golf developed in Scotland in the 15th century, but the game's ancient origins are unclear.
The hole Each hole is made up of distinct areas: the tee, from where players start each hole; the green, a finely manicured area where the hole is located; the fairway, the grassed area between the tee and the green, not cut as finely as the green; and the rough, the perimeter of the fairway, which is left to grow naturally. Natural hazards such as trees, bushes, and streams make play more difficult, and there are additional hazards in the form of sand-filled bunkers and artificial lakes.
Clubs Clubs consist of woods and irons, and are numbered according to the angle at which the face of the club is set (the higher the number, the more acute the angle; clubs with a straight face send the ball the furthest). Most players also carry a wedge, a faced iron set at a sharp acute angle with a deep flange, this being ideal for bunker play. All carry a putter for holing out on the greens; this is the only club that has a wide variety of shapes to suit individual styles.
Stroke and match play Golf is played in two principal forms: stroke play (also known as medal play) and match play. In stroke play the lowest aggregate score for a round determines the winner. Play may be more than one round, in which case the aggregate score for all rounds counts. In match play, the object is to win holes by scoring less than one's opponent(s).
Handicaps Golf's handicap system allows for golfers of all levels to compete on equal terms. Players are handicapped according to the number of strokes they take for a round; for example, a player who took 83 shots to go round a course with a par (standard score) of 71 would be given a handicap of 12. Handicapping enables players of different standards to compete on even terms by conceding or receiving strokes. In all championships and in all major tournaments, however, competitors play level.
Competitions The major golfing events are the British Open (first held in 1860), US Open (first held 1895), US Masters (first held in 1934), and US Professional Golfers Association (PGA) (first held in 1916). A men's World Cup for teams of two has been played annually since 1953. The Ryder Cup, established in 1927, is played every two years between 12-man teams from the USA and Europe. A women's version of the Ryder Cup, the Solheim Cup, was introduced in 1990.
History The name ‘golf’ is almost certainly derived from the German kolbe, meaning club. It was also called goff and in vulgar Scots gowff. Games of club and ball were common to all countries, and at their simplest consisted in trying to hit a ball furthest with a single stroke (as in the very early version of the French game pall-mall). The next development was to try to cover a much longer distance in the fewest possible strokes (as in the Flemish game chole). Another variant was a test of accuracy, the ball having to strike a mark (as in the Dutch game kolven). It was, however, the Scottish game that became the basis of modern golf, combining distance-hitting with the test of aiming the ball into a hole, and the essential idea of the independent progress of the contestants, each playing free from any interference by their opponent.
The links at Leith Up to the middle of the 18th century the emphasis was still on hitting for distance. The original links (coastal golf course) at Leith, at that time the metropolis of the golfing world, had only five holes, at distances varying from 379 to 453 m (414 to 495 yds). Three ‘turns’ of the five holes constituted the accepted ‘round’. Players had to put up with any natural roughness of the ‘lies’ in which the ball came to rest, and even the putting greens were kept short only by rabbits.
The first golf clubs The offer of trophies for annual competitions at various golf centres led to the formation of the first properly constituted clubs, the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers in 1744, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews in 1754, the Royal Blackheath Golf Club in 1766, and the Royal Musselburgh Golf Club in 1774. These clubs gradually accepted a vague responsibility for looking after the condition of the links over which their members played. The deterioration of the Leith links and the growing fame of St Andrews brought about the universal imitation of the St Andrews round of 18 holes of widely varied lengths.
Development of the ball The introduction of balls of gutta-percha in 1848 greatly increased the popularity of the game, for ‘gutties’ cost less than a third of the price of the leather balls stuffed with feathers which they superseded. Their greater durability also made possible the use of iron-headed clubs for strokes up to the green, while their more regular shape allowed greater accuracy when putting. The invention of the rubber-cored ball in 1902 greatly increased the distance over which the ball could be struck, and so necessitated greater care in the design and preparation of the playing ground.
Expansion of the game By the second half of the 19th century, Scottish emigrants had introduced golf to all parts of the British Empire and the USA. New Zealand's first club was at Otago in 1871, Canada's at Montreal in 1873, and Australia's at Sydney in 1882. The first club in the USA was St Andrews, New York in 1888. Golf became truly international with the establishment of clubs in France in 1857, Belgium in 1888, Switzerland in 1892, Spain in 1891, Holland in 1893, Germany in 1895, Russia in 1895, Italy in 1898, Austria in 1901, Sweden in 1902, Japan in 1903, and Denmark in 1908. Golf is now so popular all over the world that, despite the regular opening of new courses, there are not enough to meet the demand, and waiting lists to become a member of a club can last several years.
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