The American Society of Golf Course Architects (ASCGA) estimates that more than 30 million people play the game of golf in the United States, completing more than 650 million rounds annually. There are roughly 16,000 facilities in this country alone, while Nevada has 116 courses with a total of 415 miles of fairways. Today’s architectural marvels that can create a tropical oasis or Scottish highlands in the middle of the Nevada desert bear little resemblance to the game’s humble beginnings.
Golf’s illustrious history starts many hundreds of years ago along the coast of Scotland. While no records exist to tell us who invented the game, it is known that early courses evolved on the rolling hills known as “linksland” that created natural rises and dips that often covered a fair amount of land. Many early courses were created and took their names from nearby towns, most notably St. Andrews. As early as 1414, there are records indicating a golf course was located on this site, and it has come to be known as the birthplace of the game.
By the mid-1800s golf had spread throughout the British Isles. The game was originally brought to the U.S. in the 1700s but did not gain widespread popularity until the late 1800s. The United States Golf Association, originally the Amateur Golf Association, was established in 1894 to administer the game as new courses were built and the game gained a following in this country.
In the 1920’s, golf gained a huge following. This period, known as the “Golden Age of Golf,” saw the first celebrity players such as Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen, attract large followings of fans. During this period, many of the most celebrated courses, such as Cypress Point, Pebble Beach, Augusta National and Shinnecock Hills were opened and course designers like Alister MacKenzie became known for their signature styles.
While the Depression and World War II caused an understandable wane in interest in the game, the 1950s saw a resurgence in its popularity with an estimated 3 million players and 5,000 facilities. Television coverage of golf tournaments helped increase interest in the game, and by the end of the ’60s, another 1 million players had joined the club, including many women players.
The next two decades saw golf’s popularity continuing to rise, with 17,000,000 golfers playing the game by the mid-’80s. The following decade, emphasis was placed on attracting junior players to the game. The PGA began its Junior Tour program in 1996, which allows junior players to compete against others in their age group, teaching golfing etiquette and the rules of the game.