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On & Off the Course

August 7, 2011

ON AND OFF THE COURSE: Golf… simplified!

TERRE HAUTE — Golf is not a simple game.

A golf course is made up of 18 holes, all different. There are par-3s, par-4s and par-5s; they all vary in length and elevation, and each has its own challenges. There can be water hazards, trees, sand bunkers, tall grass, hills, valleys — and then, if that’s not enough, there’s probably wind too. 

The goal in the game of golf is to get a golf ball from the tee to a hole in the green in as few strokes as possible. In order to do that, we are allowed to hit the ball with a bagful of clubs, no more than 14 clubs in the bag at a time.

The golf ball is at least 1.680 inches in diameter, with a maximum weight of 1.620 ounces. The hole that it must be hit into has a diameter of 4 1/4 inches.

How did the size of the hole become established? Purely by chance, really. A course called Musselburgh, near Edinburgh, Scotland, had invented the first known hole-cutter in 1829, using a pipe that happened to be 4 1/4 inches in diameter. The Royal & Ancient decided for its rules in 1891 that hole sizes should be standard, and they liked that 4 1/4-inch size. Then the rest of the golf world followed suit.

The tools that we use to get the ball from tee to green have changed drastically over the years to the clubs that are made today, which are actually pretty easy to swing and aim with some degree of regularity. The first “clubs,” I imagine, were shepherd’s crooks, just like a boy with a stick and rock, just hitting it around due to boredom.

Somehow, eventually golf was invented, using clubs that we have in museums now that look much like shepherd’s crooks but with a flat face to them, and possibly some metal added. The earliest reference to a set of specially made clubs was in 1502, when King James IV of Scotland commissioned a bow-maker to make his a set. A set of clubs at the time consisted of “Play clubs,” or longnoses, for driving; fairway clubs for medium-range shots; “spoons” for short-range shots; “niblicks,” which were like today’s wedges; and a “putting cleek.”

Nowadays our clubs are a driver, fairway woods (which are sometimes referred to as “metal-woods,” oddly enough), irons, wedges and a putter. Relatively new to the golf-club arena are hybrids, which are a combination of fairway woods and irons. They’re supposed to be easier to hit, and in my experience they are. Many of the sets of clubs sold today have hybrids in place of a few of the longer irons. Sets never come with a 1-iron or 2-iron anymore, and even a 3-iron is getting pretty rare.

The first known golf balls were made out of wood, but in 1618 the “Featherie” was introduced, which was made by stuffing goose feathers into a sphere made of horsehide or cowhide. They were fashioned while wet; then, as the ball dried out, the leather shrank and the feathers expanded, making it a tightly packed and hardened ball. The featherie was used for a couple hundred years, until the gutta percha ball was introduced in 1848. It was made from the rubber-like sap of the gutta tree, found in the tropics.

The golf club and golf ball have come a long way. The game of golf has become an industry unto itself, with clubs, balls, shoes, clothes and accessories all being manufactured and readily available to the public. Many golf courses are being redesigned to keep up with the changes in technology that allow us to hit a golf ball farther, but basically they’re still 18 holes, made up of par-3s, par-4s and par-5s, with various hazards and challenges along the way.

We have clubs and balls today that make the goal of getting the ball into the hole easier than it used to be, but it’s still not easy.

We try to have a repetitive swing that produces a predictable shot, whether it be straight or with a slight draw or a slight fade. Once you can do that, your scores will start getting lower and lower.

If you don’t have enough time or energy to perfect your swing, work on your putting and your short game. Getting down in two from around the green will save you enough strokes so that you can finally break 90 or 80, whichever your goal is. Then you might even think that golf is an easy game.

Quote of the Day: “Golf is a game in which one endeavors to control a ball with implements ill adapted for the purpose.” — Woodrow Wilson

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