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To the inexperienced, golf can seem quite challenging and complex to follow. However, for those that take their time to learn more about it, the game becomes easy to understand. From the terms used and the rules of play to the equipment and the course setup, there’s a lot of information about golf that individuals can learn as they play. Kevin Neal, a former independent financial advisor with years of experience, enjoys playing the game at Hanbury Manor where he’s been a member for 20 years.

The modern golf game has its roots in 15th century Scotland, when the king at the time considered it a distraction. The Old Course at St. Andrews is regarded as the home of the sport, while other venues such as the Old Links at Musselburgh and Royal Aberdeen have staked their claim as some of the more popular courses for golfers.

From a general perspective, the aim of the game for any player is to get their ball from the starting point (the tee) into a marked hole in the putting green with a minimal number of shots as possible. Many golf courses have many ‘instances’ of this playing area (from tee to the green), with the standard course having 18 holes.

The Golf Course

The design of the golf course is considered a speciality subject in landscape architecture and a separate field of study in some circles. Regardless, the layout is expected to follow various principles, including the number of holes (nine and 18 are most common) and their par values. Additionally, course designers take into consideration the need to place the tee box of the next hole close to the putting green of the previous one. This minimises the distance players have to travel as they compete.

As space is a finite aspect, many golf courses tend to design the holes in an oppositional tiling pattern that packs as many holes as possible in the available land area. Various 18-hole golf courses separate the first nine holes (front 9) from the last nine (back 9), with older courses using a loop pattern that starts and ends at the clubhouse. In more modern designs, the front and back 9s are separate loops that lead back to the clubhouse, mainly to make it easy for players to access the clubhouse during breaks between 9-hole rounds.

A typical golf course has some of the following special areas:

  • Teeing Ground: This is the area at the start of each hole from where players begin. The grass in this section is closely mown and is a little bit higher than the surrounding fairway.
  • Putting Green: Known as the green, this is a relatively flat, even area where the marked hole is situated. Players have to be precise with their shots on this area, as the aim is to get the ball into the cup. The putting green is flatter than other areas, though designers add gentle slopes to make it more challenging for players.
  • Hazards: These are design features meant to add an element of environmental challenge to the golf course. Hazards can be in the form of bunkers (sand traps) or water hazards such as rivers, lakes and ponds. Playing a ball in a hazard requires adherence to special rules.

The Rules

Before standardised rules were enforced, golf clubs around the world implemented their own set of rules. Most of these rules were similar, save for a few differences that impacted the game. The earliest set of written rules is stored in the National Library of Scotland, having been produced in March 1744 and consisting of 13 rules that have formed an important part of the modern game.

The sport’s governing bodies – The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews (R&A) and the United States Golf Association (USGA) – publish the modern rules of golf for both professional and amateur players. These rules are released every four years and cover a host of areas, including the appropriate equipment, golf etiquette, competition rules, and rules governing play for individuals with disabilities.