- This article is about the sport of golf. For other meanings, see Golf (disambiguation).
Golfer teeing off at the start of a hole
Golf is an outdoor game where individual players or teams play a small ball into a hole using various clubs. It 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." Golf is believed to have originated in Scotland and has been played for several centuries in the British Isles. Although often viewed as an elite pastime, golf is increasingly popular and continues to attract ever more players around the world.
A round of golf consists of playing a number of holes, usually eighteen. A hole of golf consists of hitting a ball from the teeing ground (a marked area designated for the first shot of a hole), and continuing to strike the ball till it comes to rest in the cup. Once the ball is on the green (an area of finely cut grass or oiled sand) the ball is usually putted (hit along the ground) into the hole. The aim of holing the ball in as few strokes as possible may be impeded by various obstructions, such as bunkers and water hazards.
Competitive golf can be played by individual players (single) or by teams. Golf can be scored by stroke play or match play. In stroke play, the number of shots taken for the whole round or tournament is counted to produce the total score, and the player with the lowest score wins. A variant of stroke play is Stableford scoring, where a number of points (two for the target score) are given for each hole, and the fewer shots taken, the more points obtained, so the aim is to have as many points as possible. Another variant of stroke play, the Modified Stableford method, awards points on each hole in relation to par and then adds the points over a round; for more details on this method, see The INTERNATIONAL, a tournament that uses this method. In match play, every hole is played as a separate contest, with the goal of winning as many holes as possible; when one player's lead exceeds the number of holes remaining in the round, the match ends.
Anatomy of a golf course
Golf is played by holes. It should be noted that "hole" can mean either the actual hole in the ground into which the ball is played, or the whole area from the teeing ground (an area of specially prepared grass from where a ball is first hit) to the putting green (the area around the actual hole in the ground). Most golf courses consist of 9 or 18 holes. (The "19th hole" is the colloquial term for the bar at a club house.) For the shortest holes a good player requires only one stroke to hit the ball to the green. On longer holes the green is too far away to reach it with the first stroke, so that one or more strokes are played from the fairway (where the grass is cut so low that most balls can be easily played) or from the rough (uncut grass or ground not prepared at all).
Many holes include hazards, namely bunkers (or sand traps), from which the ball is more difficult to play than from grass, and water hazards (lakes, ponds, rivers, etc). Special rules apply to playing balls that come to rest in a hazard which make it highly undesirable to play a ball into one. For example, a player must not touch the ground in a hazard with a club prior to playing a ball, not even for a practice swing. A ball in a water hazard may be played as it lies or may be replaced by dropping another ball outside the water, but a penalty is incurred in the latter case.
The grass of the putting green is cut very short so that a ball can roll over distances of several metres. "To putt" means to play a stroke on the green where the ball does not leave the ground. The direction of growth of individual blades of grass affects the rolling of a golf ball and is called the grain. The hole must have a diameter of 108 mm and a depth of at least 100 mm. Its position on the green is not static and may be changed from day to day. This hole on the green has a flag on a pole positioned in it so that it may be seen from some distance (but not necessarily from the tee). It is also termed "the pin".
The borders of a course are marked as such, and beyond them is out of bounds, that is, ground from which a ball must not be played. Special rules apply to certain man-made objects on the course (obstructions) and to ground in abnormal condition.
Every hole is classified by its par. The par of a hole is defined by the distance from tee to green. Typical values for a par three hole range from 100 to 224 m, par four hole from 225 to 434 m, and a par five hole from 435 m. Par is also the theoretical number of strokes that an expert golfer should require for playing the ball into any given hole. The expert golfer is expected to reach the green in two strokes under par (in regulation) and then use two putts to get the ball into the hole. Many 18-hole courses have approximately four par-three, ten par-four, and four par-five holes. The total par of an 18-hole course is usually around 72.
At most golf courses there are additional facilities that are not part of the course itself. Often there is a practice range, usually with practice greens, bunkers, and a driving area (where long shots can be practiced). There may even be a practice course (which is often easier to play or shorter than other golf courses). A golf school is often associated to a course or club.
Play of the game
Every game of golf is based on playing a number of holes in a given order. A round typically consists of 18 holes that are played in the order determined by the course layout. On a nine-hole course, a standard round consists of two successive nine-hole rounds.
Players usually walk (or sometimes drive) over the course in groups of two, three, or four, sometimes accompanied by caddies who carry and manage the players' equipment and give them advice. Each player plays a ball from the tee to the hole, except that in foursomes, one player from each team tees off and the players then take alternate shots until the ball is holed out. When individual players have all brought a ball into play, the player whose ball is the farthest from the hole is next to play. In some teams events, a player who is farthest from the hole may ask his or her partner who may be closer to the hole to play first. When all players of a group have completed the hole, the player or team with the best score on that hole has the honor, that is, the right to play first on the next tee.
Each player acts as marker for one other player in the group, that is, he or she records the score on a score card. In stroke play (see below), the score consists of the number of strokes played plus any penalty strokes incurred. Penalty strokes are not actually strokes but penalty points that are added to the score for violations of rules or for making use of relief procedures in certain situations.
The two basic forms of playing golf are match play and stroke play.
- In match play, two players (or two teams) play every hole as a separate contest against each other. The party with the lower score wins that hole, or if the scores of both players or teams are equal the hole is "halved" (drawn). The game is won by that party that wins more holes than the other.
- In stroke play, every player (or team) counts the total number of strokes for a set number of holes and the party with the lower total score wins.
There are many variations of these basic principles, some of which are explicitly described in the "Rules of Golf" and are therefore regarded "official". "Official" forms of play are, among others, foursome and four-ball games.
A foursome (defined in Rule 29) 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 do 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 does the second shot, and so on. Foursomes can be played as match play or stroke play.
A four-ball (Rules 30 and 31) is also played between two teams of two players each, but every player plays his own ball and the lower score on each hole is counted. Four-balls can be played as match play or stroke play.
A popular non-"official" form of team play is the scramble, or ambrose. Each player in a team tees off on each hole and the players decide which shot was best. Every player then plays his second shot from that spot. and the procedure is repeated until the hole is finished.
See main article golf handicap.
A handicap is a numerical measure of an amateur golfer's ability. It can be used to calculate a so-called "net" score from the number of strokes actually played, thus allowing players of different proficiency to play against each other on equal terms. Handicaps are administrated by golf clubs or national golf associations.
Handicap systems are not used in professional golf. Most touring professionals play several strokes per round better than scratch.
Golf rules and other regulations
The rules of golf  are internationally standardised and are jointly governed by the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews (R&A) and the United States Golf Association (USGA). By agreement with the R&A, USGA jurisdiction on the enforcement and interpretation of the rules is limited to the United States and Mexico. The rules continue to evolve; amended versions of the rule book are usually published and made effective in a four-year cycle.
The underlying principle of the rules is fairness. As declared on the back cover of the official rule book: "play the ball as it lies", "play the course as you find it", and "if you can't do either, do what is fair". Some rules state that
- every player is entitled and obliged to play the ball from from the position where it has come to rest after a stroke, unless a rule allows or demands otherwise (Rule 13-1)
- a player must not accept assistance in making a stroke (Rule 14-2)
- the condition of the ground or other parts of the course may not be altered to gain an advantage, except in some cases defined in the rules
- a ball may only be replaced by another if it is destroyed, lost, or unplayable, and a penalty is incurred in the latter cases
The Decisions on the Rules of Golf are based on formal case decisions by the R&A and USGA and are published regularly.
The etiquette of golf, although not formally equivalent to the rules, are included in the publications on golf rules and are considered binding for every player. They cover matters such as safety, fairness, easiness and pace of play, and players' obligation to contribute to the care of the course.
There are strict regulations regarding the amateur status of golfers  . Essentially, everybody who has ever taught or played golf for money (or even accepted a trophy of more than a modest monetary value) is not considered an amateur and must not participate in amateur competitions..
Strandhill Golf Club in Ireland is an example of a coastal links course.
Golf course architecture and design
While no two courses are alike, many can be classified into one of the following broad categories:
- Links courses: the most traditional type of golf course, of which some century-old examples have survived in the British isles. Located in coastal areas, on sandy soil, often amid dunes, with few water hazards and few if any trees.
- Parkland courses: typical inland courses, often resembling traditional British parks, with lawn-like fairways and many trees.
- Heathland – a more open, less manicured inland course often featuring gorse and heather and typically less wooded than “parkland” courses. Examples include Woodhall Spa in England or Gleneagles in Scotland.
- Desert courses: a rather recent invention, popular in parts of the USA and in the Middle East. Desert courses require heavy irrigation for maintenance of the turf, leading to concerns about the ecological consequences of excessive water consumption. A desert course also violates the widely accepted principle of golf course architecture that an aesthetically pleasing course should require minimal alteration of the existing landscape. Nevertheless, many players enjoy the unique experience of playing golf in the desert.
Hitting a golf ball
To hit the ball, the club is swung at the motionless ball on the ground (or wherever it has come to rest) from a side-stance. Many golf shots make the ball travel through the air (carry) and roll out for some more distance (roll).
Every shot is a compromise between length and precision, as long shots are inevitably less precise than short ones. Obviously, a longer shot may result in a better score if it helps reduce the total number of strokes for a given hole, but the benefit may be more than outweighed by additional strokes or penalties if a ball is lost, out of bounds, or comes to rest on difficult ground. Therefore, a skilled golfer must assess the quality of his or her shots in a particular situation in order to judge whether the possible benefits of aggressive play are worth the risks.
There are several possible causes of poor shots, such as poor alignment of the club, wrong direction of swing, and off-center hits where the clubhead rotates around the ball at impact. Many of these troubles are aggravated with the "longer" clubs and higher speed of swing. Furthermore, the absolute effect of a deviation will increase with a longer shot compared with a short one.
Types of shots
- A tee shot is the first shot played from a teeing ground. It can be made with a driver (i.e. a 1-wood) off a tee for long holes, or with an iron on shorter holes. Ideally, tee shots on long holes have a rather shallow flight and long roll of the ball, while tee shots on short holes are flighted higher and are expected to stop quickly.
- A fairway shot is similar to a drive when done with a fairway wood. However, a tee may not be used once the ball has been brought into play, therefore playing from the fairway may be more difficult depending on how the ball lies. If precision is more important than length (typically, when playing on narrow fairways or approaching a green), irons are usually played from the fairway. Irons or wedges are also often used when playing from the rough.
- A bunker shot is played when the ball is in a bunker (sand trap). It resembles a pitch and is done with a wedge.
- On the green, putts are played along the ground.
An approach shot is played into the green from outside the green, usually over a intermediate or short distance. Types of approach shots are:
- Pitch: a high approach shot that makes the ball fly high and roll very little, stopping more or less where it hits the ground. Pitches are usually done with a wedge.
- Flop: an even higher approach shot that stops shortly after it hits the ground. It is used when a player must play over an obstacle to the green. It is usually played with a sand wedge or a lob wedge.
- Chip: a low approach shot where the ball makes a shallow flight and then rolls out on the green. Chips are done with a wedge or "short" (higher-numbered) iron.
The golf swing
Putts and short chips are ideally played without much movement of the body, but most other golf shots are played using variants of the full golf swing. The full golf swing itself is used in tee and fairway shots.
A full swing is a complex rotation of the body aimed at accelerating the club head to a great speed. For a right-handed golfer, it consists of a backswing to the right, a downswing to the left (in which the ball is hit), and a follow through. At address, the player stands with the left shoulder pointing in the intended direction of ball flight, with the ball before the feet. The club is held with both hands (right below left), the clubhead resting on the ground behind the ball, hips and knees somewhat flexed, and the arms hanging from the shoulders. The backswing is a rotation to the right, consisting of a shifting of the player's body weight to the right side, a turning of the pelvis and shoulders, lifting of the arms and flexing of the elbows and wrists. At the end of the backswing the hands are above the right shoulder, with the club pointing more or less in the intended direction of ball flight. The downswing is roughly a backswing reversed. After the ball is hit, the follow-through stage consists of a continued rotation to the left. At the end of the swing, the weight has shifted almost entirely to the left foot, the body is fully turned to the left and the hands are above the left shoulder with the club hanging down over the players' back.
Relatively few golfers play left-handed (i.e. swing back to the left and forward to the right), with even players who were strongly left-handed in their daily life preferring the right-handed golf swing. In the past, this may have been due to the difficulty of finding left-handed golf clubs. Today, more manufacturers provide left-handed versions of their club lines, and the clubs are more readily purchased from mail-order and Internet catalogues. A golfer who plays right handed, but holds the club left-hand-below-right is said to be "cack-handed". It is difficult to obtain the same consistancy and power with this arrangement as is possible with conventional technique.
The full golf swing is an unnatural, highly complex motion and notoriously difficult to learn. It is not uncommon for beginners to spend several months practising the very basics before playing their first ball on a course. It is usually considered impossible to acquire a stable and successful swing without professional instruction, and even highly skilled golfers may continue to take golf lessons for many years. Much has developed around how hard the golf swing is to learn and execute, and how one must be persistent to keep at it.
Besides the physical part, the mental aspect of the golf swing is very difficult. Golfers play against the course, not each other directly, and hit a stationary object, not one put into motion by an opponent. This means that there is never anyone to blame but oneself for a bad result, and in most competitive formats there are no teammates to directly help oneself out. Knowledge of this creates a great deal of psychological pressure on the golfer; this pressure exists at all levels of play. Even the best professional golfers sometimes succumb to this pressure, such as getting the "yips" and being unable to make short putts, or having collapses of their full swing.
Physics of a golf shot
A golf ball acquires spin when it is hit. Backspin is imparted in almost every shot due to the golf club's loft (i.e. angle between the clubface and a vertical plane). A spinning ball deforms the flow of air around it  and thereby acts similar to an airplane wing; a backspinning ball therefore experiences an upward force which makes it fly higher and longer than a ball without spin would. The amount of backspin also influences the behavior of a ball when it hits the ground. A ball with little backspin will usually roll out for a considerable distance while a ball with much backspin may not roll at all or in some cases even roll backwards. Sidespin occurs when the clubface is not aligned perpendicularly to the direction of swing. Sidespin makes the ball curve to the left or right, a hook or slice respectively for a right handed player; this effect can be made use of to steer it around obstacles or towards the safe side of a difficult fairway. However, it is difficult to control the amount of sidespin, and many poor shots result from uncontrolled or excessive spin that makes the ball curve sharply.
Main article: golf club (equipment)
A player usually carries several clubs during the game (but no more than fourteen, the limit defined by the rules). There are three major types of clubs, known as woods, irons, and putters. Wedges resemble irons and may also be counted among these. Woods are played for long shots from the tee or fairway, while irons are for precision shots from fairways as well as from the rough. Wedges are played from difficult ground such as sand or the rough and for approach shots to the green. Putters are mostly played on the green, but can also be useful when playing from bunkers or for some approach shots.
See main article golf ball
Sometimes transport is by special golf carts. Clubs and other equipment are carried in golf bags . Golfers wear special shoes with exchangeable spikes (or little plastic claws termed soft spikes) attached to the soles. Tees resemble nails with a flattened head and are usually made of wood or plastic. A tee is pushed into the ground to rest a ball on top of it for an easier shot; however this is only allowed for the first stroke (tee shot or drive) of each hole. When on the green, the ball may be picked up to be cleaned or if it is in the way of an opponent's putting line; its position must then be marked using a ball marker (usually a flat round piece of plastic or a coin). Scores are recorded on a score card during the round.
See also Timeline of golf history 1353-1850, Timeline of golf history 1851-1945, and Timeline of golf history 1945-1999.
Golf is usually regarded as a Scottish invention, as the game was mentioned in two 15th century laws prohibiting the playing of the game of "gowf". Some scholars however suggest that this refers to another game which is much akin to modern field hockey. They point out that a game of putting a small ball in a hole in the ground using golf clubs was played in the 17th century Netherlands. The term golf is believed to have originated from a Germanic word for "club".
The first golf club established outside the United Kingdom was the Royal Calcutta in India in 1829. The modern game evolved in the second half of the 19th century in Scotland. The rules of the game and the design of equipment and courses greatly resembled those of today. 1873 saw the establishment of the first North American golf club, Royal Montreal Golf Club in Canada. The major changes in equipment since the 19th century have been better mowers, especially for the greens, better golf ball designs, using rubber and man-made materials since about 1900, and the introduction of the metal shaft beginning in the 1930s. Also in the 1930s the wooden golf tee was invented. In the 1970s the use of metal to replace wood heads began, and shafts made of graphite composite materials were introduced in the 1980s.
Social aspects of golf
In the United States, golf is the unofficial sport of the business world. It is often said, in fact, that board meetings merely confirm decisions that are actually made on the golf course. For this reason, the successful conduction of business golf (which extends beyond merely knowing the game) is considered a useful business skill; many business schools include a "business golf" course.
Golf is not inherently an expensive activity; the cost of an average round of golf is USD $36  and the game is regularly enjoyed by over 26 million Americans. In fact, most regions of the country feature public courses which strive to be affordable for the average golfer. But the perception of golf as a sport for the wealthy elite and country clubs as a haven for corrupt businessmen is common among many. Films such as Caddyshack perpetuate this belief.
Golf is played professionally in many different countries. The majority of professional golfers work as club or teaching professionals, and only compete in local competitions. A small elite of professional golfers are "tournament pros" who compete full time on international "tours".
The professional game was initially dominated by British 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 and various 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 Asia. South Korea is notably strong in women's golf.
, a professional golfer who was ranked No. 1 in the World Golf Rankings for more than five years
See also the main article about professional golf tours.
There are at least twenty professional golf tours, each run by a PGA or an independent tour organisation, which is responsible for arranging events, finding sponsors, and regulating the tour. Typically a tour has "members" who are entitled to compete in all 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.
The most widely known tour is the PGA TOUR (correctly rendered in all caps), which attracts the best golfers from all the other men's tours. This is due mostly to the fact that most PGA TOUR events have a first prize of at least eight hundred thousand dollars. PGA TOUR wins can mean endorsement deals, automatically provide the winner a minimum two-year exemption to play in other tournaments, and supply the prestige earned by beating the best of the best. The PGA European Tour, which attracts a substantial number of top golfers from outside North America, ranks only slightly below 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. There are several other men's tours around the world.
Golf is unique in having lucrative competition for older players. There are several senior tours for men over fifty, the best known of which is the U.S. based Champions Tour.
There are five principal tours for women, each based in a different country of continent. The most prestigious of these is the U.S based LPGA Tour.
The "majors" for men are:
These tournaments are distinguished in that qualification for entry into the field is far more stringent than for other tournaments.
The Masters has been played at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, GA since its inception in 1934. The U.S. Open and PGA Championship are played at various courses around the United States, while the British Open is played in the U.K.
Winning a major is the crowning achievement in many professional golfers' careers. Most pros will never accomplish it. Jack Nicklaus, who is widely regarded as the best golfer of all time, has won 18 majors. Tiger Woods, who is possibly the only contender to Nicklaus' record, has won nine majors, all before the age of thirty. Woods also came closest to winning all four majors in one season (known as a Grand Slam) when he won them consecutively across two seasons: the 2000 U.S. Open, Open Championship, and PGA Championship; and the 2001 Masters. This feat is now known as a Tiger Slam. Ominously, the man who won the 2000 Masters to prevent Tiger's Grand Slam is Vijay Singh, who would displace Woods as world number one in 2004.
Prior to the advent of the PGA Championship and The Masters, the four Majors were the US Open, the US Amateur, the Open Championship, and the British Amateur. These are the four that Bobby Jones won in 1930 to become the only player ever to have earned a Grand Slam.
Women's golf does not have a globally agreed set of majors. The LPGA's list of majors has changed several times over the years, with the last change in 2001. Like the PGA TOUR, the LPGA currently has four majors:
Only the last of these is also recognised by the Ladies European Tour. Click here to go to the main article about women's majors.
Environmental concerns over the use of land for golf courses have grown over the past 30 years. Specific concerns include the amount of water and chemical pesticides and fertilizers used for maintenance, as well as the destruction of wetlands and other environmentally important areas during construction.
Wildlife is sometimes seen on golf courses but not encouraged due to damage it causes to the course.
These, along with health and cost concerns, have led to significant research into more environmentally sound practices and turf grasses. The modern golf course superintendent is well trained in the uses of these practices and grasses. This has led to reductions in amount of chemicals and water used on courses. The turf on golf courses is an excellent filter for water and has been used in many communities to cleanse grey water. While many people continue to oppose golf courses for environmental reasons, there are others who feel that they are beneficial for the community and the environment as they provide corridors for migrating animals and sanctuaries for birds and other wildlife.
A major result of modern equipment is that today's players can hit the ball much further than previously. In a concern for safety, modern golf course architects have had to lengthen and widen their design envelope. This has led to a ten percent increase in the amount of area that is required for golf courses today. At the same time, water restrictions placed by many communities have forced many courses to limit the amount of maintained turf grass. While most modern 18-hole golf courses occupy as much as 60 ha (150 acres) of land, the average course has 30 ha (75 acres) of maintained turf. - [Sources include the National Golf Foundation and the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA)].
Golf courses are built on many different types of land, including sandy areas along coasts, abandoned farms, strip mines and quarries, deserts and forests. Many Western countries have instituted significant environmental restrictions on where and how courses can be built.
In some parts of the world, attempts to build courses and resorts have led to significant protests along with vandalism and violence by both sides. Although golf is a relatively minor issue compared to other land ethics questions, it has symbolic importance as it is a game normally associated with the wealthier Westernized population, and the culture of colonization and globalization of non-native land ethics. Resisting golf tourism and golf's expansion has become an objective of some land reform movements, especially in the Philippines and Indonesia.
In Saudi Arabia, golf courses have been constructed on nothing more than oil-covered sand. However, in some cities such as Dhahran, modern grass golf courses have been built recently.
In Coober Pedy, Australia there is a famous golf course that consists of nine holes dug into mounds of sand, diesel and oil and not a blade of grass or a tree to be seen. You carry a small piece of astroturf with you to tee from.