The Most Important Dates in Golf History

Our History of Golf class has come to an end. We just took our final exam today, but I thought I would leave you with a list of the most important dates in golf history:

No one knows for sure where golf came from, but the Dutch have a pretty good argument with colf.
No one knows for sure where golf came from, but the Dutch have a pretty good argument with “colf.”

1296 – Across the North Sea from Scotland, The Dutch are already reportedly playing a game called colf on what’s called a colf course. Be glad the name colf didn’t stick.

1744 – The first set of golf rules is introduced by the Honourable Company of Edinburgh (Scotland) Golfers. My favorite? Rule No. 4: You are not to remove Stones, Bones or any Break Club, for sake of playing your Ball, except upon the Fair Green and that only within a club’s length of your ball. Bones? Really? Were they playing golf in a cemetery?

1754 – The Society of St. Andrews Golfers is formed. Players dress for play in bright red coats, one of the earliest documented reasons why golf is considered an “elitist” sport.

1764 – A round at St. Andrews is reduced from 22 holes to 18, the number that would become the worldwide standard.

1840s – James Paterson, a Scottish missionary based in India, sends a statute of the Hindu god Vishnu to his brother in St. Andrews. The statue is cushioned for shipment with chunks of gutta percha, the coagulated milk of a Malayan gum tree. The material is later cut into strips, softened in hot water, rounded into a ball by hand, and then dropped into cold water to harden. Gutties are cheaper and easier to make than their feather-stuffed counterparts. Now, the working man can afford golf balls.

1858 – Allan Robertson, the first golf professional, rolls in a birdie on the 18th hole at St. Andrews, making him the first man to break 80 on the Old Course.

1860 – The first Open Championship is played at Prestwick Club. The prize? A red, Moroccan leather belt embroidered with silver medallions! And you thought the green jacket was hideous. Willie Park beats Old Tom Morris 176 to 174 over 36 holes.

1868 – Old Tom Morris wins the Open Championship at age 46. Old Tom is still the oldest Open Champion.

1869 – Young Tom Morris (Old Tom’s son) wins the Open Championship at the age of 17. He remains the youngest Open Champion.

For winning his 3rd consecutive Open Championship in 1870, Young Tom Morris got to keep the red Moroccan leather belt.
For winning his 3rd consecutive Open Championship, Young Tom Morris got to keep this hideous leather belt.

1870 – Young Tom wins the Open Championship for the 3rd straight year, meaning he takes permanent possession of that gaudy Moroccan leather belt.

1888 – John Reid and five other men, a group later dubbed The Apple Tree Gang, meet in a cow pasture in Yorkers, New York to give golf a try. Golf in the United States is born. The gang derives its name from the tree that serves as St. Andrew’s Golf Club’s makeshift clubhouse.

1894 – A group of the best amateur golfers in the U.S. assembles at Newport Golf Club in Rhode Island to crown a National Champion. Egomaniac Charles Blair (C.B.) Macdonald loses by a stroke. A stickler for the Rules, Macdonald later argues the result was invalid because one club can’t run a national championship. Later that year, the United States Golf Association (USGA) is founded.

1895 – The first United States Amateur Championship is held at Newport. Macdonald wins the match play format 12-and-11. While he would never win again, Macdonald would get the last laugh by coining the term “golf architect” and creating out of bounds in 1899.

1898 – Coburn Haskell of Cleveland, Ohio drives to nearby Akron for a round of golf with the superintendent of the B.F. Goodrich Company. While waiting in the plant for his playing partner, Haskell picks up some rubber thread and winds it into a ball. After putting a cover on the ball, the Haskell ball becomes arguably the single most important contribution in the history of the game. The new ball flies a full 20 yards farther than the old gutty ball.

1899 – Employing a more modern, upright golf swing, Englishman Harry Vardon wins his 3rd Open Championship and his 2nd in-a-row. Vardon goes on to win six Open Championships, the most of any player… ever.

1910 – The Royal & Ancient (R&A) bans the center-shafted putter but the USGA does not. This marks the first time the USGA and the R&A fail to agree on a piece of equipment.

1912 – Three of the game’s greatest players, Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, and Sam Snead are born.

1913 – A 20-year-old local named Francis Ouimet wins the U.S. Open at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, the first amateur ever to win the U.S. Open. He does it by beating two of the heaviest hitters of the day – Vardon and Ted Ray.

1916 – The PGA of America is founded. England’s Jim Barnes wins the inaugural PGA Championship at Siwanoy Country Club in Bronxville, New York.

1921 – Walter Hagen becomes the first American to win the PGA Championship at Inwood Country Club in Far Rockaway, New York.

1922 – Hagen becomes the first American to win the Open Championship at Royal St. George’s in Sandwich, England.

1924 – Steel shafted clubs are permitted. Goodbye hickory. It was nice knowing ya!

1927 – The inaugural Ryder Cup is played at Worcester Country Club in Worcester, Massachusetts. Hagen captains the U.S. side to victory, 9 1/2-2 1/2.

Jones wins
For winning all four national championships in 1930, Bobby Jones got a ticker-tape parade through Manhattan.

1930 – Bobby Jones wins all four national championships in one season – the U.S. and British Amateurs as well as the U.S. Open and Open Championships. Some call the Grand Slam the “Impregnable Quadrilateral,” quite possibly the worst name ever given to such a major accomplishment. Jones is given a 2nd ticker-tape parade in New York City, the only sports figure ever to receive two.

1934 – Jones and Clifford Roberts co-found Augusta National Golf Club. Horton Smith wins the first Augusta National Invitational Tournament. The USGA declines Jones’ petition to host a U.S. Open at the site, and it later becomes The Masters.

1935 – While flying in a plane with billionaire Howard Hughes, Gene Sarazen gets the idea for the sand wedge. He solders a thick flange onto the back of his 9-iron and angles it so the flange hits the sand first, allowing the club to bounce up and splash the ball out. Sarazen uses the club to help him win the modern Grand Slam (The Masters, U.S. Open, Open Championship, and PGA).

1938 – The USGA adopts the 14-club Rule. Many still argue that more clubs are needed to play the game effectively.

No one was better than Byron Nelson in 1945 when he won 18 times, including 11 in-a-row.
No one was better than Byron Nelson in 1945 when he won 11 times in-a-row.

1945 – Byron Nelson wins 11 tournaments in-a-row (no one has ever won more than six straight) and 18 of the 35 tournaments on the schedule. He finishes 2nd seven times and never finishes lower than 9th. Nelson’s earnings that year? A whopping $63,000. It’s the greatest single-season in golf history. Nelson’s scoring average for the year is 68.33, a mark unsurpassed until Tiger Woods in 2003 (68.13). Nelson would retire the following year at the age of 34.

1947 – The USGA “simplifies” the Rules from 61 down to 21 (I disagree with the “simplifies” part).

1950 – The Ladies Professional Golfer’s Association (LPGA) is founded. Patty Berg is the Association’s first president.

1951 – The R&A and the USGA come together on a uniform Rules of Golf.

1953 – Ben Hogan wins The Masters, The U.S. Open, and the Open Championship. He doesn’t win the PGA Championship because he doesn’t enter. The final day of the PGA is literally scheduled on the same day as the start of Open Championship qualifying. Because Hogan has to travel by boat, and because apparation still hasn’t been discovered by Harry Potter, he can’t be in two places at once. Hogan gets a ticker-tape parade in New York City upon his return. No player since has been so honored.

Ben Hogan won The Masters, the U.S. Open, and the Open Championship in 1953.
Ben Hogan won The Masters, the U.S. Open, and the Open Championship in 1953.

1954 – The U.S. Open is televised for the first time at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, New Jersey. Credit George S. May, the P.T. Barnum of golf.

1956 – Yardages for determining Par are increased:
Par 3 – Up to 250 yds.  Par 4 – Up to 470 yds.  Par 5 – 471 yds. and over

1960 – Arnold Palmer wins his only U.S. Open with a seven-under-par final round of 65 at Cherry Hills Country Club in Denver, Colorado. What makes this so great is that Palmer actually predicts his score to a couple of sportswriters in the clubhouse before the round.

1962 – Jack Nicklaus wins his first major championship, the U.S. Open at Oakmont, by beating the local favorite Palmer. The press and the public referred to Nicklaus as “Fat Jack” and “Nick Louse.” Nicklaus has the last laugh – 18 major victories to go along with 19 runner-ups, more than anyone else in history.

1968 – Argentina’s Roberto De Vicenzo signs an incorrect scorecard following the final round at The Masters. Instead of forcing an 18-hole playoff with Bob Goalby, it’s Goalby who wins the green jacket, prompting De Vicenzo to utter the single-greatest line by a losing golfer, “What a stupid I am!”

1975 – Lee Elder becomes the first African-American player to qualify for The Masters. This is long overdue and paves the way for one Tiger Woods more than 20 years later.

1977 – Al Geiberger uses 11 birdies and an eagle to shoot the first 59 in PGA Tour history at the Memphis Classic at Colonial Country Club. The following week, television shows all 18 holes of the U.S. Open at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma for the first time. Hey TV! What took you so long?

1979 – TaylorMade introduces the first metal wood. It’s about time. The persimmon population was in sharp decline.

1986 – Yes sir! Jack Nicklaus wins the Masters for his 18th and final major championship. Australia’s Greg Norman has the 54-hole lead in all four majors but can only win one, the Open Championship at Turnberry.

Tiger Woods became the youngest man, and the first African-American ever to win The Masters in 1997.
Tiger Woods became the youngest man, and the first African-American ever to win The Masters in 1997.

1997 – Woods wins The Masters by 12 strokes at 18-under par, the youngest man (at age 21 yrs., 4 mos.) and the first African-American player ever to win at Augusta.

2000 – Woods wins the Career Grand Slam at age 24 (the youngest man ever to do so).

2015 – Jordan Spieth becomes the 2nd-youngest player ever to win The Masters. He does it in impressive fashion, becoming the first wire-to-wire winner since Ray Floyd in 1976.

Leave a Reply