Golf is a very old sport in which players use a variety of stick-like devices, known as clubs, to hit or stroke a small ball into holes in the ground.

A left-handed golfer uses one of his irons to loft the ball over water and toward the green.

A left-handed golfer uses one of his irons to loft the ball over water and toward the green. Golf is an outdoor sport that can be enjoyed by people of all ages, as there is little specialized physical training that is needed in order to participate.


The object of a golf game is to traverse a golf course in the fewest possible number of strokes (opportunities to hit the ball). Professional golf courses contain 18 holes, although smaller courses with only nine holes are also available. A form of golf known as miniature golf, in which players have to play their way through a variety of challenging obstacles such as moving windmills and waterfalls, is also available, but is not recognized as a legitimate version of the sport of golf itself.


Golf is a sport that can be played by almost anyone, from the age of 6 to 96, both men and women. Research, in 2015, indicates that there are over 34,000 golf courses worldwide, with approximately 576,500 golf holes and more than 50 million regular players. The United States has the largest number of golf courses of any nation in the world (about 16,000) and the largest number of golfers (25.1 million in the spring of 2015, according to ). Europe has more than 7,000 courses with over 4 million registered golfers. The greatest rate of increase in golfing numbers has occurred in China, whose first course opened only in 1984. Since that time, 682 additional courses have been added. However, beginning in the early 2010s, China has closed many golf courses and restricted the building of new ones in an attempt to conserve water and land. The majority of golfers are amateurs, who take part in the game purely for pleasure. A small minority of players are designated as professional because teaching and playing golf constitute their main source of income. As of 2016, more than 28,000 men and women were members of the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) of America, whose members are primarily club professionals. The PGA Tour is a separate membership organization for tournament players only. The Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) listed, in 2016, over 1,700 teaching and playing members. Golf is also played at the high school and college level around the world.


Jack Nicklaus (The Golden Bear) started playing golf at age 10, and at age 13, he held a three handicap. He joined the United States Professional Golf Association (USPGA) in 1961.

Golf fans loved to debate who was the “Greatest Golfer of All Time”—Jack Nicklaus or Arnold Palmer. They didn't compete against each other very often but when they did, the match didn't disappoint. The year 1962 was the first Palmer/Nicklaus match and Nicklaus won the playoff and stole the U.S. Open Championship from Palmer. This caused Nicklaus to be termed the enemy amongst the vocal “Arnie's Army” Palmer fans. Even with fans heckling him, Nicklaus was able to keep his focus and persevere throughout his career.

Nicklaus finished the 1960s with 30 wins. He added 36 wins in the following decade and won the 1975 Masters Tournament. In 1986, at age 46, Nicklaus became the oldest player to win the Masters.


(© Jerry Coli/


The origins of golf are not known. Some scholars suggest that the game may date as far back as 2600 BCE. Egyptian tomb paintings show individuals apparently playing a game that involved hitting a roundish object on the ground with hockey-stick-like devices. Other historians argue that the sport originated in Rome in the first century BCE with a game known as paganica, in which participants struck a leather ball filled with feathers. These authorities suggest that, as Romans conquered most of western Europe, they brought with them the game of paganica, which eventually evolved into modern-day golf.

Most historians date the origin of modern-day golf to Scotland in the mid-fifteenth century. The first mention of the sport comes from an edict by King James II, banning the sport. A half century later, that ban was rescinded and King James IV made the first recorded purchase of a set of golf equipment, indicating that the sport was once more in good graces with the royalty. In choosing a date for the origin of modern golf, some historians select the year 1552, in which the town council of St. Andrews, Scotland, adopted a resolution that allowed residents to “play at golf, futball, schueting… with all other manner of pastimes” on public areas. The first recorded international golf match was played in 1682 between pairs of English and Scottish golfers, with the latter pair the winners of the match. The first association of golfers, the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, was created in 1744, and perhaps the most famous golf club in the world, St. Andrews Golfers, later the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, was created a decade later in 1754. Another decade later, the St. Andrews club formalized an 18-hole course, which has since become the standard for professional players throughout the world.

The first mention of golf in the United States came, as it did in Europe, as the result of a ban on the sport. In 1659, city officials in Fort Orange (now Albany), New York, banned the playing of golf on the streets of the city because of the risks of residents' being struck by a golf ball and the damage being caused to windows in homes facing on the streets. Yet, the sport of golf survived and thrived in the United States, as it had in Europe. According to records at the port of Leith, Scotland, a shipment of 96 golf clubs and 432 golf balls were sent to Charleston, South Carolina, in 1743. South Carolina was also home to the first golf club formed in the United States, the South Carolina Golf Club, established in 1786.

The Professional Golf Association (PGA) of America was created in 1916 at a meeting of golfing professionals and leading amateurs in New York City. The association sponsored the nation's first professional championship in the same year, a match-play contest won by James M. Barnes over Jock Hutchinson. The championship competition was cancelled in 1917 and 1918 because of World War I, but was resumed in 1919. It has been held every year since, except for 1943, when the contest was cancelled because of World War II. The most recent winners of the PGA championships, currently called the PGA Championship (or sometimes shortened to the U.S. PGA), have been Jason Day, of Australia, in 2015, and Jimmy Walker, of the United States, in 2016. The most prolific winners of the championship have been Walter Hagen and Jack Nicklaus, with five championships each. The PGA of America is an organization for male golf professionals.

In 1968, the PGA Tour spun off from the PGA of America. The PGA Tour organizes over 40 golf tournaments each year for its tournament player members. However, they are not involved in the Masters Tournament, the U.S. Open, The Open Championship, the PGA Championship, or the Ryder Cup. Members of this organization primarily earn their living from the prize money awarded at each tournament. It is limited to male professional golfers, although a few females have been allowed to try and qualify for certain events. The PGA Tour also sponsors several charitable funds to assist various programs in the cities where tournaments are held.

The Ladies' Professional Golf Association (LPGA) was founded in 1950 by a group of 13 professional women golfers, including all of the major figures in the sport at the time. It is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing tournaments for professional female golfers and giving back to the community through a variety of women's programs and charities. The group sponsored the first national championship in 1955, a contest won by Beverly Hanson. The most recent winners of the contest, currently called the KPMG Women's PGA Championship, have been Inbee Park, of South Korea, in 2015, and Brooke Henderson, of Canada, in 2016. The most prolific winner of the contest has been Mickey Wright, of the United States, who was declared champion four times, in 1958, 1960, 1961, and 1963.

A number of national and international golf championships are regarded as being of the first order and are sometimes called the “grand slam” of golf. That title is an unofficial one that has different meanings. For men, the term usually applies to the Masters Tournament, the U.S. Open, the British Open, and the PGA Championship. The women's grand slam is generally thought to include the ANA Inspiration (formerly known as the Kraft Nabisco Championship (roughly comparable to the Masters), the KPMG Women's PGA Championship, the U.S. Women's Open, The Evian Championship, and the RICOH Women's British Open. The leader in grand slam championships among men is Jack Nicklaus, with 18 titles in the four events, and, among women, Mickey Wright, with 13 titles.


Golf is played on a piece of land roughly divided between the playing area itself and the surrounding regions, which includes the out-of-bounds and rough areas. The playing area consists of a region in which the ball is put into play, the teeing ground (or simply, the tee), the putting green (or simply, the green), and a manicured grassy area connecting the two, the fairway. The player's objective is to hit the ball from the tee, along the fairway, and onto the green in as few attempts (shots) as possible. This task is made more difficult by the inclusion of areas in which hitting the ball is difficult or impossible, sand traps and water hazards. Sand traps are regions where grass has been replaced by beach sand, a material that makes striking a golf ball cleanly especially difficult. A ball that lands in a water hazard is simply unplayable and must be replaced before play can be continued.

Play commences when a participant hits the ball with a club from the tee toward the green. The ultimate target on the green is a hole in the grass (called the cup), 4.25 in. (10.8 cm) in diameter and at least 4 in. (10 cm) deep. The position of the hole is indicated by the presence of a pole to which a flag is attached with a number indicating which hole it is in the sequence from hole 1 to hole 18 (or hole 9 on a nine-hole course).

The distance between a tee and a hole can vary considerably. The longest holes in professional golf usually measure 450–550 yd. (411–503 m), and the shortest, about 100 yd. (91 m). There are some dramatic exceptions to these rules, however, with the world's longest hole (at the Meadow Farms Golf Course in Virginia) measuring 841 yd. (769 m). Associated with each hole on a course is an estimate of the number of shots (or strokes) a player needs to get from the tee to the hole. This number is called par for the hole. The longest holes typically have a par of four or five, while the shortest holes have a par of three. The total of par scores for all 18 holes (or nine holes, for shorter courses) is called the par for the course. Most championship golf courses have a par of about 70. A player who manages to sink the ball in one less stroke than par is said to have made a “birdie.” Sinking the ball in two strokes less than par earns an eagle, and three less than par, a double eagle. Eagles and double eagles are rare in golf. Sinking the ball in one stroke over par earns a player a “bogey,” while two, three, or more strokes over par earn a “double bogey,”“triple bogey,” or the like. Most golf championships are won with scores of six or more under par for the length of the tournament.

As with any sport, golf follows a detailed set of rules. These rules are largely guided by a single overwhelming principle: Play the ball where it lies and the course as it is. Otherwise, be fair in all decisions that have to be made. The official rule book has a number of penalties for certain eventualities or behaviors. For example, a ball that cannot be played because it is out of bounds elicits a one-stroke penalty. The far more serious penalty of disqualification is assessed for a number of behaviors, such as playing the holes out of order or not signing a score card.


Some observers have suggested that little specialized physical training is needed in golf. That may be true for the vast majority of “weekend players,” who play the game as a form of socialization and relaxation. However, professional golf players are increasingly relying on a whole host of training exercises to increase their skills and improve their strength, power, flexibility, endurance, balance, and stability.

A golf score that is one less than par for a hole.
A golf score that is one more than par for a hole.
A golf score that is two less than par for a hole.
An extensive manicured plot of grass connecting the tee and the green on a golf course.
A type of golf club used to hit for accuracy, generally at distances shorter than those for which woods are used.
The number of strokes that an average player is expected to take in placing the ball into the cup on a particular hole.
A golf club with a flat face designed for directing a ball into the hole on a green.
Putting green—
The destination for a series of golf shots that contains the hole in which one attempts to sink the ball.
Teeing ground (tee)—
The area from which a golf ball is initially hit.
A type of golf club used for hitting long distance. Woods are also called metals orfairway metals.

Other than a set of clubs, golf balls, and tees, golfers require no more than a golf cart in which to ride around the course. Many golfers still walk the whole course distance and do not even use a cart. Clothing ranges from the formal to the absurd at amateur clubs, but always leans toward dressy casual in professional tournaments. A key piece of equipment for most golfers is a good set of shoes with cleats that hold tightly to the ground.

Training and conditioning


Golfers do not typically face the physical risks associated with a number of violent contact sports, such as football and hockey. However, there are a small number of serious injuries caused by a player throwing his or her club in disgust, by one player standing too close to and being struck by another player, and by causing muscle damage by hitting the club on the ground rather than solidly against a ball. Far more common golf injuries are those associated with the extreme stress placed on a player's body in the process of hitting a ball at speeds of up to 100 mph (160 km/h). Among both amateur and professional golfers, the most common injury is lower back pain caused by the rotation and extension involved in hitting a ball. The second most common injury is damage to the elbow, either medial epicondylitis (golfer's elbow or thrower's elbow) and lateral epicondylitis (also known as tennis elbow). Both injuries are usually caused by an improper swing and increase with the frequency with which a person plays and the player's age. Other types of golf injuries involve damage to the wrist that results from overuse of the flexor and extensor tendons and rotator cuff problems that also are caused by overuse.


Many golf injuries can be prevented by recognizing in advance the types of risks a golfer faces and training to strengthen the body parts involved. Because the sport involves overuse of certain body parts, such as wrists and knees, injuries cannot be completely avoided, but their severity and frequency can be reduced by proper training procedures.




Davies, Craig, and Vince DiSaia. Golf Anatomy. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2010.

Editors of Golf Magazine. Golf: The Best Short Game Instruction Book Ever! New York: Time Home Entertainment, 2009.

Kuhn, Jeffrey S., and Bryan A. Garner. The Rules of Golf in Plain English, 4th ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016.

Price, Rob. Ultimate Guide to Weight Training for Golf. Chicago: Price World Publishing, 2006.

Tamayo, Juan F. Finally—The Golf Swing's Simple Secret: A Revolutionary Method Proved for the Weekend Golfer to Significantly Improve Distance and Accuracy from Day One. Eastbourne, UK: Gardners Books, 2010.


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“Golf History and the USGA Museum.” USGA Museum. (accessed January 20, 2017).

“Golf Tips Instruction.” Golf Link. (accessed January 20, 2017).


Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA), 100 International Golf Dr., Daytona Beach, FL, 32124-1092, (386) 274-6200, Fax: (386) 274-1099,, .

PGA Tour, 100 PGA Tour Blvd., Ponte Vedra Beach, FL, 32082, (904) 285-3700, .

The PGA of America, 100 Avenue of the Champions, Palm Beach Gardens, FL, 33410, (561) 624-8400, .

The United States Golf Association (USGA), PO Box 78, Far Hills, NJ, 07931, (908) 234-2300, Fax: (908) 234-9687,, .

David E. Newton, AB, MA, EdD

  This information is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for professional care.