How Golf has Changed: The Origins of the Game to Now
Since its early beginnings on the shores of Scotland in the 15th century, the game of golf has progressed in many ways. We no longer have the Plus Fours-style bottoms, leather balls stuffed with feathers or heavy, impractical shoes. Everything about the game today, including the gear, clubs, the golf balls—even the way courses are designed—is exceptionally different from how the game began and has helped shape golfers’ technique, skills and overall enjoyment of the game.
Due to the advances made in the game of golf over the years, as well as developments to overall industrial technology, the design, maintenance and appearance of golf courses have also drastically changed. The way courses were designed in the 1800s was entirely beholden to the terrain and shape of the land on which they were built. Today, course designers are able to alter the land that courses are built upon much more extensively, allowing them to create the ideal track that challenges golfers and makes the golf course a one-of-a-kind experience. Courses designed to host tournaments for professional golfers are also built to be much longer, with bigger greens and more demanding conditions. New types of grass and better irrigation systems have improved course conditioning as well.
Equipment manufacturers are continuously searching for new ways to improve performance. Drivers have gone from being made of wood to steel, to titanium to carbon fibre. Clubs are also now larger and much more forgiving for golfers.
Originally, golf balls were made of leather stuffed with feathers, which were called “featheries”. The longest recorded drive ever hit with a feathery golf ball was 361 yards, blasted by a golfer named Samuel Messieux in 1836. Nowadays, golf balls are made of high-quality polymers designed to improve aerodynamics, resilience and density, and now the longest recorded PGA Tour drive in recent years is 515 yards, hit by Mike Austin.
Advances in golf have not only transformed the way the sport is played; it has changed its appearance, too. In a game that requires functionality blended as seamlessly as possible with style, the attire worn by players has progressed from formal and elegant to looser, bolder designs for performance. In the early days of golf, golfers wore “Plus Fours.” These originated from the knee breeches of English court dress, usually with a thick tweed jacket and even a waistcoat. Bulky tweeds provided a warm, thorn-proof shield against the elements, but were not in any way favourable to a strong shoulder turn or a smooth swing.
The turn of the 21st century has seen golf wear take on technical innovations; shirts with stretch panels, fabrics that block sunlight, trousers with vents and moisture-proofing materials that give the term “no sweat” new meaning.
Golf shoes were originally heavy, non-functional eyesores. They were not waterproof, and the only advantage they offered golfers was the metal spikes, which allowed them to grip the ground with some assurance. Over the years, manufacturers began looking at golf shoes more seriously. They became lighter, more comfortable, more stylish and much more efficient. The increased padding and support, as well as the top-quality, waterproof materials, have been critical to offering sure footing for pros and recreational golfers alike. Shoes are now designed to offer the most comfort possible, which has helped golfers walk their full 18 holes without pain, cuts and blisters.
Golf gloves are more than just a fashion statement. Gloves help golfers secure their grip and also prevent uncomfortable blisters or chafing. The older style golf gloves were inclined to dry out a lot and lose their efficiency. Modern developments have allowed today’s golf gloves to preserve their elasticity, giving golfers a more secure hold on the club and better longevity. Modern glove technology uses improved ventilation to keep the golfer’s hand from getting wet and forcing the club to slip, too.
Golf simulators have made countless advancements to the game of golf possible. They have helped to recreate a realistic golf experience through improved digital graphics and projection, providing golfers with year-round access to a dedicated space where they can hone their skills without braving the elements during bad weather.