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The Rise of Golf

Golf is easily one of the most popular sports in the world. It is played in hundreds of countries around the globe, and by people of all ages and persuasions. Here are a few brief facts about the evolution of the game.

Where Did It Begin?

Modern golf is widely believed to have originated in 15th century Scotland, although there are records of a golf-like game as early as 1297 in the Netherlands, as well as new evidence of a similar game in ancient China. The Scots spelled it “gowf,” which may be an alteration of “kolf,” the Dutch word for “club.”

The St. Andrews Links golf course, located in Scotland, is considered by many to be the "home of golf.” The game has been played there since the 15th century, and the evolution of the modern fairway and 18 hole-course all took place at this sports landmark.

The Evolution of Golf Equipment

For a couple of hundred years, golf was played with a “featherie,” a ball with a hand-sewn leather exterior stuffed with goose feathers. Over time, these were replaced by a more solid ball composed of a rubbery substance called “gutta-percha.” It wasn’t until 1898 that Coburn Haskell, a golfer from Cleveland, pioneered the modern multi-layer golf ball, sans the dimples, which were later added to improve aerodynamics.

In an effort to keep the game exclusive, early clubs were made of wood, making them unaffordable to many. Different kinds of clubs were used for driving and medium and short-range shots, with different types of wood used for the club head and shaft. Manufacturers started casting individual club heads in 1963, and the graphite shaft was invented a decade later. Developments like these made golf equipment more affordable, and the popularity of the game subsequently increased.

Golf Becomes Professional

It was The Prestwick Golf Club in Scotland that organized the first Professional Championship in 1860. This event was a precursor to the British Open, and its success played a key role in establishing golf as a professional sport whose popularity spread to the United States and India.

The United States Golf Association was created and the first US Open held in 1895. Shortly thereafter, the first golf magazine began circulating. As the game became more popular, businesses noticed a sizeable opportunity for exposure, and began to sponsor the championships.

Several years later in 1901, the first Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) was founded in the United Kingdom, and the United States followed suit in 1916. The PGA of America was actually established on somewhat of a whim when a department store owner had the idea that professional golfers could enhance equipment sales by forming an association – marking one of the very first instances of golf marketing! Soon after, the PGA schedule of events, originally limited to the winter season, was extended to offer year-round events – and more opportunities to market equipment, players, golf courses, you name it.

In the years that followed, golf found widespread popularity. Today, approximately 50 million Americans play the game each year on about 16,000 golf courses throughout the country. Moreover, when Tiger Woods won the US Masters in 1997, the world of golf expanded to include a new generation of fans. With the number of junior golfers (ages 12-17) increasing at an impressive rate, golf marketing opportunities are virtually limitless.

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