History of Professional Golf

By Matthew Fortuna

Golf as a sport has been played since long before the Middle Ages. The history of the game dates back to Roman times when sticks were used to hit small stones. The game evolved during the Middle Ages in Europe and the game as we know it today was born in Scotland in the 1700s and 1800s. These early golfers formed the first "leagues" with groups of members who player regularly. These may be considered the first professionals, though the profession evolved greatly in the 1900s, from Ben Hogan to Jack Nicklaus to Tiger Woods.

Early History of Professional Golf

Golf emerged in the Middle Ages as a game of hitting an object from one area to another, in as few strokes as possible. In the 1700s, the earls and dukes of Scotland began playing the game competitively in what may be considered one of the early professional leagues. The game evolved in the sandy and rolling terrain of the Scottish countryside from around 1750 to 1850, where it was famously introduced at St. Andrews.

St. Andrews Golf History

The top golfers in Scotland began to gather in the early 1800s for meetings and competitions regularly at St. Andrews in Fife. Competitions consisting of dozens of rounds over days began to be played and the first St. Andrews professional broke a score of 80 on the developing course in 1853.

The Open Championship

In 1860, the first purpose-built golf course was completed by "Old" Tom Morris in Prestwick, Scotland. Soon after, the first Open Championship was played by top professionals in the country. The early Open Championship was dominated by Old Tom Morris and Willie Park, Sr. Soon after, the best golfers around Scotland began playing in organized events with prize money.

The Early 1900s

Golf expanded from Great Britain to the United States in the early 1900s, and was expanded by the founding of Professional Golf Associations first in Great Britain and then in Americs. This era was characterized by the play of three players on both sides of the Ocean. Harry Vardon, John Henry Taylor and James Braid played in and won most of the Open Championships and the U.S. Open Championships from 1890 to 1914. These golfers popularized the sport across the world, and the game would be dominated professional by Bobby Jones, Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan and Sam Snead from the 1920s to the 1960s.

Modern Professional Golf

Modern professional golf saw its beginning in the 1960s with the emergence of Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus by the 1970s. The professional game expanded around the world, through Asia and Africa, and tournaments became larger, prizes became bigger, audiences became larger and the equipment became more specialized. The level of play and skill increased year by year, and golfers like Greg Norman, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods boosted the popularity of the game through the 1990s and into the 2000s.

About The Author

Matthew Fortuna is a full-time freelance writer with a journalism degree from Wayne State University, living in the Detroit metropolitan area. He has written about a wide range of topics across varying publications, including Demand Studios, wiseGEEK.com and Suite101.com, among others. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Wayne State University.


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