Golf is a club-and-ball sport in which players use various clubs to hit balls into a series of holes on a course in as few strokes as possible.
Golf, unlike most ball games, cannot and does not utilize a standardized playing area, and coping with the varied terrains encountered on different courses is a key part of the game. The game at the usual level is played on a course with an arranged progression of 18 holes, though recreational courses can be smaller, often having nine holes. Each hole on the course must contain a tee box to start from, and a putting green containing the actual hole or cup 4 1⁄4 inches (11 cm) in diameter. There are other standard forms of terrain in between, such as the fairway, rough (long grass), bunkers (or "sand traps"), and various hazards (water, rocks) but each hole on a course is unique in its specific layout and arrangement.
Golf is played for the lowest number of strokes by an individual, known as stroke play, or the lowest score on the most individual holes in a complete round by an individual or team, known as match play. Stroke play is the most commonly seen format at all levels, but most especially at the elite level.
The modern game of golf originated in 15th century Scotland. The 18-hole round was created at the Old Course at St Andrews in 1764. Golf's first major, and the world's oldest tournament in existence, is The Open Championship, also known as the British Open, which was first played in 1860 in Ayrshire, Scotland. This is one of the four major championships in men's professional golf, the other three being played in the United States: The Masters, the U.S. Open, and the PGA Championship.
A golf course consists of either 9 or 18 holes, each with a teeing ground that is set off by two markers showing the bounds of the legal tee area, fairway, rough and other hazards, and the putting green surrounded by the fringe with the pin (normally a flagstick) and cup.
The levels of grass are varied to increase difficulty, or to allow for putting in the case of the green. While many holes are designed with a direct line-of-sight from the teeing area to the green, some holes may bend either to the left or to the right. This is commonly called a "dogleg", in reference to a dog's knee. The hole is called a "dogleg left" if the hole angles leftwards and "dogleg right" if it bends right. Sometimes, a hole's direction may bend twice; this is called a "double dogleg".
A regular golf course consists of 18 holes, but nine-hole courses are common and can be played twice through for a full round of 18 holes.
Early Scottish golf courses were primarily laid out on links land, soil-covered sand dunes directly inland from beaches. This gave rise to the term "golf links", particularly applied to seaside courses and those built on naturally sandy soil inland.
The first 18-hole golf course in the United States was on a sheep farm in Downers Grove, Illinois, in 1892. The course is still there today.
Every round 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. Each hole is played once in the round on a standard course of 18 holes. The game can be played by any number of people, although a typical group playing will have 1-4 people playing the round. The typical amount of time required for pace of play for a 9-hole round is two hours and four hours for an 18-hole round.
Playing a hole on a golf course is initiated by putting a ball into play by striking it with a club on the teeing ground (also called the tee box, or simply the tee). For this first shot on each hole, it is allowed but not required for the golfer to place the ball on a tee prior to striking it. A tee is a small peg that can be used to elevate the ball slightly above the ground up to a few centimetres high. Tees are commonly made of wood but may be constructed of any material, including plastic. Traditionally, golfers used mounds of sand to elevate the ball, and containers of sand were provided for the purpose. A few courses still require sand to be used instead of peg tees, to reduce litter and reduce damage to the teeing ground. Tees help reduce the interference of the ground or grass on the movement of the club making the ball easier to hit, and also places the ball in the very centre of the striking face of the club (the "sweet spot") for better distance.
When the initial shot on a hole is intended to move the ball a long distance, typically more than 225 yards (210 m), the shot is commonly called a "drive" and is generally made with a long-shafted, large-headed wood club called a "driver". Shorter holes may be initiated with other clubs, such as higher-numbered woods or irons. Once the ball comes to rest, the golfer strikes it again as many times as necessary using shots that are variously known as a "lay-up", an "approach", a "pitch", or a "chip", until the ball reaches the green, where he or she then "putts" the ball into the hole (commonly called "sinking the putt" or "holing out"). The goal of getting the ball into the hole ("holing" the ball) in as few strokes as possible may be impeded by obstacles such as areas of longer grass called "rough" (usually found alongside fairways), which both slows any ball that contacts it and makes it harder to advance a ball that has stopped on it; "doglegs", which are changes in the direction of the fairway that often require shorter shots to play around them; bunkers (or sand traps); and water hazards such as ponds or streams.
In stroke play competitions played according to strict rules, each player plays his or her ball until it is holed no matter how many strokes that may take. In match play it is acceptable to simply pick up one's ball and "surrender the hole" after enough strokes have been made by a player that it is mathematically impossible for the player to win the hole. It is also acceptable in informal stroke play to surrender the hole after hitting three strokes more than the "par" rating of the hole (a "triple bogey" - see below); while technically a violation of Rule 3-2, this practice speeds play as a courtesy to others, and avoids "runaway scores", excessive frustration and injuries caused by overexertion.
The total distance from the first tee box to the 18th green can be quite long; total yardages "through the green" can be in excess of 7,000 yards (6.4 km), and when adding in the travel distance between the green of one hole and the tee of the next, even skilled players may easily travel five miles (8 km) or more during a round. At some courses, electric golf carts are used to travel between shots, which can speed-up play and allows participation by individuals unable to walk a whole round. On other courses players generally walk the course, either carrying their bag using a shoulder strap or using a "golf trolley" for their bag. These trolleys may or may not be battery assisted. At many amateur tournaments including U.S. high school and college play, players are required to walk and to carry their own bags, but at the professional and top amateur level, as well as at high-level private clubs, players may be accompanied by caddies, who carry and manage the players' equipment and who are allowed by the rules to give advice on the play of the course. A caddie's advice can only be given to the player or players for whom the caddie is working, and not to other competing players.
Golf clubs are used to hit the golf ball. Each club is composed of a shaft with a lance (or "grip") on the top end and a club head on the bottom. Long clubs, which have a lower amount of degree loft, are those meant to propel the ball a comparatively longer distance, and short clubs a higher degree of loft and a comparatively shorter distance. The actual physical length of each club is longer or shorter, depending on the distance the club is intended to propel the ball.
Golf clubs have traditionally been arranged into three basic types. Woods are large-headed, long-shafted clubs meant to propel the ball a long distance from relatively "open" lies, such as the tee box and fairway. Of particular importance is the driver or "1-wood", which is the lowest lofted wood club, and in modern times has become highly specialized for making extremely long-distance tee shots, up to 300 yards (270 m), or more, in a professional golfer's hands. Traditionally these clubs had heads made of a hardwood, hence the name, but virtually all modern woods are now made of metal such as titanium, or of composite materials. Irons are shorter-shafted clubs with a metal head primarily consisting of a flat, angled striking face. Traditionally the clubhead was forged from iron; modern iron clubheads are investment-cast from a steel alloy. Irons of varying loft are used for a variety of shots from virtually anywhere on the course, but most often for shorter-distance shots approaching the green, or to get the ball out of tricky lies such as sand traps. The third class is the putter, which evolved from the irons to create a low-lofted, balanced club designed to roll the ball along the green and into the hole. Putters are virtually always used on the green or in the surrounding rough/fringe. A fourth class, called hybrids, evolved as a cross between woods and irons, and are typically seen replacing the low-lofted irons with a club that provides similar distance, but a higher launch angle and a more forgiving nature.
A maximum of 14 clubs is allowed in a player's bag at one time during a stipulated round. The choice of clubs is at the golfer's discretion, although every club must be constructed in accordance with parameters outlined in the rules. (Clubs that meet these parameters are usually called "conforming".) Violation of these rules can result in disqualification.
The exact shot hit at any given time on a golf course, and which club is used to accomplish the shot, are always completely at the discretion of the golfer; in other words, there is no restriction whatsoever on which club a golfer may or may not use at any time for any shot.
Golf balls are spherical, usually white (although other colours are allowed), and minutely pock-marked by dimples that decrease aerodynamic drag by increasing air turbulence around the ball in motion, which delays "boundary layer" separation and reduces the drag-inducing "wake" behind the ball, thereby allowing the ball to fly farther. The combination of a soft "boundary layer" and a hard "core" enables both distance and spin.
A tee is allowed only for the first stroke on each hole, unless the player must hit a provisional tee shot or replay his or her first shot from the tee.
Many golfers wear golf shoes with metal or plastic spikes designed to increase traction, thus allowing for longer and more accurate shots.
A golf bag is used to transport golf clubs and the player's other or personal equipment. Golf bags have several pockets designed for carrying equipment and supplies such as tees, balls, and gloves. Golf bags can be carried, pulled on a trolley or harnessed to a motorized golf cart during play. Golf bags have both a hand strap and shoulder strap for carrying, and sometimes have retractable legs that allow the bag to stand upright when at rest.
A hole is classified by its par, meaning the number of strokes a skilled golfer should require to complete play of the hole. The minimum par of any hole is 3 because par always includes a stroke for the tee shot and two putts. Pars of 4 and 5 strokes are ubiquitous on golf courses; more rarely, a few courses feature par-6 and even par-7 holes. Strokes other than the tee shot and putts are expected to be made from the fairway; for example, a skilled golfer expects to reach the green on a par-4 hole in two strokes—one from the tee (the "drive") and another, second, stroke to the green (the "approach")—and then roll the ball into the hole in two putts for par. Putting the ball on the green with two strokes remaining for putts is called making "green in regulation" or GIR. Missing a GIR does not necessarily mean a golfer will not make par, but it does make doing so more difficult as it reduces the number of putts available; conversely, making a GIR does not guarantee a par, as the player might require three or more putts to "hole out". Professional golfers typically make between 60% and 70% of greens in regulation.
The primary factor for classifying the par of a relatively straight, hazard-free hole is the distance from the tee to the green, and they can vary between tournament play and casual play. A typical casual play par-3 hole is less than 250 yards (230 m) in length, with a par-4 hole ranging between 251–450 yards (230–411 m), and a par-5 hole being longer than 450 yards (410 m). The rare par-6s can stretch well over 650 yards (590 m). These distances are based on the typical scratch golfer's drive distance of between 240 and 280 yards (220 and 260 m); a green further than the average player's drive will require additional shots from the fairway. However, other considerations must be taken into account; the key question is "how many strokes would a scratch golfer take to make the green by playing along the fairway?". The grade of the land from the tee to the hole might increase or decrease the carry and rolling distance of shots as measured linearly along the ground. Sharp turns or hazards may require golfers to "lay up" on the fairway in order to change direction or hit over the hazard with their next shot. These design considerations will affect how even a scratch golfer would play the hole, irrespective of total distance from tee to green, and must be included in a determination of par. However, a par score never includes "expected" penalty strokes, as a scratch player is never "expected" to hit a ball into a water hazard or other unplayable situation. So the placement of hazards only affect par when considering how a scratch golfer would avoid them.
Eighteen-hole courses typically total to an overall par score of 72 for a complete round; this is based on an average par of 4 for every hole, and so is often arrived at by designing a course with an equal number of par-5 and par-3 holes, the rest being par-4. Many combinations exist that total to par-72, and other course pars exist from 68 up to 76, and are not less worthy than courses of par-72. Additionally, in some countries including the United States, courses are classified according to their play difficulty, which may be used to calculate a golfer's playing handicap for a given course.
The two primary difficulty ratings in the U.S. are the Course Rating, which is effectively the expected score for a zero-handicap "scratch golfer" playing the course (and may differ from the course par), and the Slope Rating, which is a measure of how much worse a "bogey golfer" (with an 18 handicap) would be expected to play than a "scratch golfer". These two numbers are available for any USGA-sanctioned course, and are used in a weighted system to calculate handicaps (see below).
The overall par score in a tournament is the summation of all the par scores in each round. A typical four-round professional tournament played on a par-72 course has a tournament par of 288.
The goal is to play as few strokes per round as possible. A golfer's number of strokes in a hole, course, or tournament is compared to its respective par score, and is then reported either as the number that the golfer was "under-" or "over-par", or if it was "equal to par". A hole in one (or an "ace") occurs when a golfer sinks their ball into the cup with their first stroke from the tee. Common scores for a hole also have specific terms.