Golf is an increasingly popular international sport. Golf originated in the United Kingdom but, despite golf’s rich tradition in Britain and Ireland, for most of the 20th century it was the Americans that led the sport. For proof of this just look at the results of the Ryder Cup, which is played every two years and matches up the United States against the best Europe has to offer. There have been 39 matches in the history of the Ryder cup and the United States has won 25 of those.
This dominance is not likely to continue. The spread of golf’s popularity internationally has made the tournament much more competitive in recent years. Before 1979, America’s competition in the Ryder Cup was composed solely of players from Ireland or Great Britain. The addition of players from the continent gave Europe the boost they needed; since then Europe has won 9 Ryder Cups to the United States’ 7.
Despite this apparent equality in competition, it is the American based PGA tour that is easily the most well-known professional golf tour. The tour is still dominated by Americans and its tournaments are almost entirely in the continental United States. The PGA European tour, which is considered second to the American PGA tour in prestige, traditionally acts as a stepping stone for European golfers wanting to make it to the States. All of this raises the question: how and when did golf’s spotlight start shining on the United States?
As early as 1297, a golf-like game was reportedly supposed to have taken place in the Netherlands. The Dutch played the game with sticks and tried to hit a leather ball into a target several hundred yards away. Other people argue that a game fairly similar to modern golf was also played in China 500 years before it was even mentioned in Scotland.
The origins that most closely resemble what we now call golf, however, are found in Scotland. What really set golf apart from other stick and ball games are the standard 18 holes. The first documented mention of golf in Scotland appears in an 1457 act of parliament which prohibited the playing of gowf because it was causing a distraction from archery practice in the army. From this we see that from a very early date golf was enthusiastically pursued in Scotland.
Going Through a Rough Patch
The sport was apparently banned off and on for the next few hundred years until about the 19th century when both Scotland and England saw a huge boom in the amount of golf that was being played. In 1880 England had 12 golf courses. By 1887 the number had risen to 50 and just 27 years later the 1,000th golf course was built in the country.
It was around this same time that golf began growing quickly in the United States. Although it is unclear which was the first golf course in America by 1894 there were enough golf clubs that many of them joined together to form the United States Golf Association (USGA). Golf continued to grow through the rapid expansion of the upper class during the 1920’s. By 1980 there were over 5,000 USGA affiliated courses.
With its stronger economy and expanded television networks it is no wonder that golfers quickly had more incentive to play in the United States. This American advantage persisted until very recently but now the promise of large prize money and increased tournament prestige has caused many of the world’s best golfers to frequently take part in tournaments outside of the United States.
About the Author: Phil Oscarson is an avid golfer/golf analyst. He currently resides in the southern California region so he’s able to golf year round. No matter where you want to golf, there is always a place to find great public golf courses.
Photo Credits: Wikipedia