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Golf consists of “playing a ball with a club from the teeing ground into the hole by a stroke or successive strokes in accordance with the Rules”. That’s the first rule in the Rules of Golf.
Golf is undoubtedly one of the oldest existing codified sports. Indeed, it was in the city of St Andrews in Scotland that the first rules were established in 1754. But some research shows that a similar sport was practised beforehand under the name “colf” or “kolven” in the Netherlands, and arrived on the British Isles in the 15th century.
The competition formats and rules date from the second half of the 18th century, and have hardly changed since. At the end of the 19th century, the first women’s tournaments were established. The first golf course was constructed in England in 1864.
The Scottish officers who practised this sport in the British armed forces moved on to the four corners of the world, thus leading to the expansion of this sport and its popularity. Today there are over 30,000 golf courses, and the sport is played by over 60 million men and women worldwide.
For a long time, the major golf tournaments were divided between amateur and professional tournaments. Then the open tournaments appeared, bringing together these two categories of players. The world’s best compete in four major championships, both in the women’s and men’s games.
Two of the most utilised formats at golf tournaments are stroke play and match play.
Stroke play consists of counting the total number of shots that the player has taken to reach the end of the course. The current major tournaments take place over four days, and the players must therefore play the same course of 18 holes four times (i.e. 72 holes). The player who has the fewest number of strokes at the end of the four rounds wins the event.
Match play is a competition format in the form of a duel. Golfers compete hole by hole, and the golfer who wins the most holes wins the match. Match play matches do not have to go the full 18 holes. They often do, but just as frequently one player will achieve an insurmountable lead and the match will end early. For example, if a player is 6 ahead with 5 holes to play, the other player cannot possibly win, so the match ends.
Golf has been on the Olympic programme twice: in 1900 and 1904. At the 1900 Games in Paris, two events were staged: one for men and one for women. Americans Margaret Ives Abbott and Charles Edward Sands were the first Olympic champions in the two events. In 1904 in St Louis, the women’s event was replaced by a team event.
At the 121st IOC Session, held in October 2009 in Copenhagen, the IOC members voted in favour of re-introducing golf to the Olympic programme. It will therefore be in Rio in 2016 that the titles of Olympic golf champion will be awarded – for the first time in over 100 years! The proposed Olympic tournament is the “stroke play” format for both the men and women. The best players in the world will therefore compete over 72 holes to find out who will be crowned Olympic champions.