From the Scottish Moors to the US Open, golf has experienced quite a few changes during its journey through time. Once restricted to the elite, golf has found its way into the television sets and hearts of enthusiasts across the globe. It hails from humble roots as a small feather ball and wooden club, and has since been modernized by the latest in laser technology and hybrid materials. Needless to say, there is a long-documented history of love for the game of golf.
The Early Evolution of Golf
Golf originated on the eastern coast of Scotland during the 15th century. Beginning as simple pebbles knocked around sand dunes, golf has come a long way since its early days.
- In 1457, the sport was banned because of an increased devotion to the games of golf and soccer, and a decreased interest for sports such as archery, that lended themselves more aptly towards military training.
- In 1502, the ban was lifted by James IV, who was himself a fan of the sport. As golf increased in popularity, King Charles I picked up the game in England, and Mary Queen of Scots broke ground as the first known female golfer. She brought the sport along to France where she coined the term ‘caddie’ in reference to her French military cadets who assisted her as she played.
- In 1744, the first golf club was formed: the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers. This club officiated the 13 rules of play.
- In 1786 the first golf club was formed outside of the UK, the South Carolina Golf Club in Charleston, United States.
- In 1860 the first tournaments began in Prestwick, Scotland.
- Fast forward to 1953, and the first golf tournament hit television screens, followed in 1990 by the Golf Channel, which brought the game into living rooms across the nation. By the early 20th century, golf began to look very much as it does today.
The Evolution of Golf Equipment
The first golf balls were made of hardwood, and were later replaced with leather pouches stuffed with feathers called “featherie” balls. These balls came with some issues; namely that they warped after being exposed to the elements or whacked around for a while. Since that time, the traditional golf ball has changed dramatically. In the mid-1800s, the gutta-percha ball, or “guttie” was created. Made from dry sap, it was heated and shaped, and was much cheaper to manufacture than feather balls. From then, golf balls have changed into the form we see today. Dimples in the ball were found to help with consistent flight, and a standard solid golf ball was eventually created in lieu of previous models with layered internal components. Now the market holds many types of balls, with varying numbers of pieces.
A dramatic evolution can also be seen in golf clubs over the years. Woods and metals were experimented with, along with varying centers of gravity. Players initially carved their own clubs (or more likely, had them carved) from wood such as beech, holly, pear, and apple. As the cost of creating clubs was steep, the game was initially limited to the elite. In the 1800s, a handful of Scottish club makers began exporting their crafted clubs around the world. By 1900, the slow adoption of steel-shafted clubs had begun, but they were not technically legal in the game until 1928. Because there were a wide number of clubs available, a 14 club rule was adopted in 1938 by the United States Golf Association. Since then, clubs have evolved through all matter of synthetic materials. In modern times, there are countless models of golf clubs on the market to serve just about any style of player.
The Evolution of Golf Attire
There’s more to the game of golf than simply the swing. Golf attire has been an important attribute of the golfing culture and can be traced back to the stylish outfits of Bobby Jones in the early 20th century. Back in those days, players dressed formally in dress shirts and ties. This formal dress relaxed over time, specifically during a heat wave in 1933 that encouraged players to ditch the wool and lighten their load with breezier fabrics such as flannel. Polos hit the scene in the 1950, and are credited to the golfer Ben Hogan. In the 1960s Doug Sanders flamboyantly marched across courses in rich colors and intricately patterned shirts and pants. Loud and proud polyester and plaid came aboard in the 1970s until Payne Steward revived traditional formal wear in the 1980s, when classic looks retook the greens. Later in 2010, Ryan Moore introduced updates to the traditional golf attire by adding cardigan sweaters, vests, and ties into the mix. Undoubtedly we will see the evolution continue as golf style remains a strong component of the sport.
New Technologies and Their Impact
New technologies are drastically changing the face of golf. Aerodynamics, club weights, and a wide variety of different materials have all contributed to the evolution of the game.
- Golf balls today have split from their standard one-piece construction. Although such a ball flies straighter, two- to five-piece balls can aid a player in increasing their distance, and are often adopted by more advanced players.
- Hybrid golf clubs have been introduced to help golfers launch their balls with better results – allowing new players to experience a club that is more forgiving to those with an imperfect swing.
- The putter face has also received a makeover in recent years to become more balanced and targeted.
- Golf shoes have become expertly crafted to include additional padding, support, and water proofing.
- Rangefinders help golfers decide just which club to use by providing laser technology that determines how far the golfer is away from a hole, and gauges slope and wind.
- Wearable tech enables golfers to improve on performance by analyzing swing speed, displaying slow-motion videos, and offering complex, real-time metrics.
Golf is a sport with deep origins, and is a common pastime for both the serious player and the after-work enthusiast. We will no doubt continue to see the game of golf evolve as we move into a future full of technological advances and a sustained passion to play a round or two on one of the countless courses across the world.