A geek’s guide to Golf

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Golf's early origins can be traced back to China over millennia ago; however, the modern version of the sport was conceived in Scotland in the 1400’s. Today Golf is worth millions in prize money, and that is only taking into account the four major golf championships. It’s time to understand an “ace” from a “bogey.”

Golf's popularity has been around for a while, yet it has waned with accusations of elitism. Golf became more famous for the mass audience when Tiger Woods, hailing from more modest backgrounds took the sport by storm two decades ago.

Even though Woods has hit hard times, both on and off the course, newer stars including Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson competing with established veterans like Woods and Phil Mickelson; golf’s popularity, ratings and prize money continues to soar. This rising popularity led to golf to be once again added to the summer Olympic games in 2016 after an absence of 112 years (1904).

Aim of golf

The aim of golf is to get the ball with fewest strokes possible into each of the 18 holes. (Some courses have nine holes, but the four major championships play with 18 holes). The golfer "tees off" (starts the game) for each hole with the aim of getting the ball either as close to the putting green – or the hole as possible.

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Golf course and equipment

Golfers use a set of "clubs" to play the game. They may seem like a bag of sticks, but each club is very different and performs different functions when playing golf. The three variants are called woods, irons and putters.

Golfers use woods to strike the ball the farthest when teeing-off. Irons are used to play the ball out of tricky spots or to chip the ball onto the putting green. Golfers only use putters on the putting green to gently knock or glide the ball into a hole. Each golfer is permitted a maximum 14 clubs in total.

Hyo-Joo Kim slaps her putter after putting on the 14th green Hyo-Joo Kim slaps her putter after putting on the 14th green

Typically, golf balls are white, covered in pockmarks to permit the ball to fly faster through the air. Colourful variants of golf balls also exist, but white is the standard.

Golf, European Tour - International Open. Spanish golfer Sergio Garcia setting his ball. Golf, European Tour - International Open. Spanish golfer Sergio Garcia setting his ball.

When a game of golf begins, golfers use a tee, a small pin to place the ball on and keep still before striking along the green. Once hit, players are not permitted to use tees along the course.

Golfers wear one glove to maximise their grip on their club, so it does not slip out of their hand when striking the ball. The glove also helps to prevent painful blisters.

PGA golfer Brian Harman walks the 6th hole with his golf glove in his mouth during the second round of the Sony Open golf tournament PGA golfer Brian Harman walks the 6th hole with his golf glove in his mouth during the second round of the Sony Open golf tournament

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Scoring in golf

Golf scoring terms

Golf scores have a fascinating secondary terminology that you will hear commentators mention often:
  • Ace - Hole in one, the ball is stuck from the tee-off into the hole
  • Albatross - Three strokes 'under par' on a hole (-3) - also known as a double eagle in American English
  • Eagle - Two strokes 'under par' on a hole (-2
  • Birdie - One stroke 'under par' on a hole (-1)
  • Bogey - One stroke 'over par' on a hole, so four strokes to sink the ball (+1)
  • Double bogey - Two strokes 'over par' on a hole, so five strokes (+2)

Other important golf terms

Cup - What course holes are called

Marker - When afar from the hole, a flag is placed in the hole, so players can see from afar. The flag is removed when players are on the putting green.

Rough - Acting as the course border, it is the ground surrounding the runway and is neither grass or smooth. Hence, players wish to avoid "being in the rough."

Out of bounds - As its name suggests, where play is not permitted.

Sand Bunker - a sandy area of the course, again best to be avoided.

Water hazard - a body of water on the course where players also avoid. The ball in the water needs to be chipped out.

Fairway - The part of the course beginning at the tee-off and along the putting green.

Putting green - Usually referred to as the green, the smooth grassy surface is where players attempt to keep the ball on.

Drive - Usually the first strike of the ball with a club. The aim is to hit the ball as hard as they can to go as far as possible.

Chip - A short stroke used to chip the ball out of the rough or water and back onto the green.

Putt - when players tap the ball lightly to place it near or into a hole.

Caddy - The golfer's assistant who carries their clubs around.

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Golf’s four major championships

The most prestigious tournaments in the golfing calendar take place between April and August each year, referred to as the four majors. For professional players, winning one of these competitions is the pinnacle of their professional golf career.

Masters Tournament

Patrick Reed celebrates after making a putt on the 18th green to win the Masters golf tournament at Augusta National Golf Club. Patrick Reed celebrates after making a putt on the 18th green to win the Masters golf tournament at Augusta National Golf Club.

Held annually at the beginning of April, the event is held at the Augusta National Golf Club, and most people still associate it with the “Green Jacket.” A green jacket is awarded to the tournament winner who is permitted to wear the jacket for a year until the next competition. The previous winner always presents the jacket to the new winner. Total prize money awarded is $11 million.

The United States Open Championship

Brooks Koepka drives off the 18th tee as he shoots a -16 under par to win the the 2017 U.S. Open Championship Brooks Koepka drives off the 18th tee as he shoots a -16 under par to win the the 2017 U.S. Open Championship

Another annual event and it’s the 2nd major PGA tournament. The event happens every June, and many fans turn out due to the great weather. The competition is played on several courses so can be very demanding for players but leads to more exciting play. The competition is always scheduled, so the final day is on US Fathers’ Day. Total US Open prize money is $12 million.

Open Championship

USA's Stewart Cink celebrates winning the Open Championship 2009 USA's Stewart Cink celebrates winning the Open Championship 2009

Also known as the Open, it is the oldest major and the only one to be located outside of the United States, garnering popular global interest. First played in 1860 and administered by The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews. Courses are known as “links” – an old Scottish English term and being mainly in Scotland, conditions can be blustery and challenging for the best players to win. Prize money, even though based in the UK, is now in US dollars since 2017 and currently stands $10.25 million.

PGA Championship

The new champion Jimmy Walker after sinking the final putt on 18 to win the PGA Championship The new champion Jimmy Walker after sinking the final putt on 18 to win the PGA Championship

The PGA is the last annual major golf tournament, known as the US PGA for those outside of the USA. Played on a different course each year adds to its unpredictability to discover a winner, making it interesting for betting. The US PGA total prize money is $10.5 million.

Ryder Cup

Thomas Pieters of Belgium reacts after a birdie to win his match during the afternoon four-ball matches in the 41st Ryder Cup Thomas Pieters of Belgium reacts after a birdie to win his match during the afternoon four-ball matches in the 41st Ryder Cup

Although neither a singles event nor an annual one, the biennial Ryder Cup is hugely popular for both players and global fans alike. Contested between the best US and European players, the course is switched each time to somewhere either in America or Europe.

The Ryder Cup involves various match play competitions between players selected from two teams of twelve. Unlike the singles event, the players on both sides do not receive any prize money, representing their "continent" for prestige and led by a team captain. Because of this, the Ryder Cup is unpredictable, exciting and a fantastic event to bet on.

With this geeks guide to golf, you should have enough to get started watching and betting on golf. Of course, you will need to observe a few games before you start betting, but master these basics, and you'll find yourself begging to know more about the intricacies and strategies of this highly demanding and mentally challenging sport.

Words: David Bailey-Lauring

Images: PA

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