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What is the history of golf?

Historic Golf Traditions

Over its long history, golf has accumulated its own rich language and a wide variety of traditions.

Courtesies and Etiquette

Many golf traditions revolve around courtesy and they lend golf its distinctive feel. These include playing quickly, replacing divots, raking bunker footprints, calling penalties on oneself and keeping silent during a swing. Safety is paramount as well, and a golfer hitting an errant shot is expected to shout "fore," meaning "look out ahead."

Tournaments maintain their own particular courtesies. The reigning champion of the Masters, for example, hosts a dinner for competitors just before the next Masters tournament begins. The winner also traditionally donates a club to be put on display in the Augusta National clubhouse.


Awards for winning golf tournaments have varied considerably. Early on, golfers won silver clubs or silver balls. The first Open trophy, a "challenge belt" of silver and Moroccan leather, was replaced in 1873 by the first Claret Jug trophy (it resembled a 19th century wine server), which remains the award to this day. Each Open winner keeps the silver trophy for one year before exchanging it for a replica.

The Masters has awarded its famous green jacket to victors since 1949, in keeping with the traditional attire of Augusta National members. (Masters winners receive a one-year membership at the club.) Since 1954, the tournament has also awarded players crystal vessels for special performances, including a vase for the low round, a bowl for a hole-in-one and two goblets for an eagle.


We've discussed the origins of general terms like "tee," "club," and even "golf," and we'll learn more about the origins of "caddy" in a moment; but certain terms are unique to particular tournaments. Take the Masters (or, as tournament officials call it, "the tournament"), where spectators are "patrons," the back nine is known as the "second nine," and the rough is called the "second cut." The Augusta National 11th, 12th and 13th holes, crucial for winning the tournament, are appropriately nicknamed "Amen Corner."

In this next section, we'll see if GOLF really stands for "Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden."