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Golf is a sport where individual players or teams hit a ball into a hole using various clubs, and is one of the few ball games that does not use a fixed standard playing area. It is defined in the "Rules of Golf" as ""playing a ball with a club from the teeing ground into the hole by a stroke or successive strokes in accordance with the Rules.""
Golf originated in Scotland and has been played for several centuries in the British Isles. The oldest course in the world is The Old Links at Musselburgh. Golf has been played on Musselburgh Links since 1672. Although often viewed as an elite pastime, golf is increasingly popular.
Anatomy of a golf course
Golf is played on a tract of land designated as "the course". The course consists of a series of "holes". A "hole" means both the hole in the ground into which the ball is played (also called the "cup"), as well as the total distance from the "tee" (a pre-determined area from where a ball is first hit) to the "green" (the area surrounding the actual hole in the ground). Most golf courses consist of 9 or 18 holes. (The "nineteenth hole" is the colloquial term for the bar/grill at a club house).
The first stroke on each hole is done from the "tees" (officially, "teeing ground"), where the grass is well tended to facilitate the "tee shot". After teeing off, the player hits the ball from the "fairway" (where the grass is cut so low that most balls can be easily played) or from the "rough" (grass cut much longer than fairway grass, or which may be uncut) until the ball comes to rest in the cup. Many holes include "hazards", which may be of two types: water hazards (lakes, rivers, etc.) and bunkers. Special rules apply to playing balls that come to rest in a hazard, which make it undesirable to play a ball into one. For example, in a hazard, a player must not touch the ground with his club prior to playing a ball, not even for a practice swing. A ball in any type of hazard may be played as it lies without penalty. If it cannot be played from the hazard for any reason, it may be removed by hand and dropped outside the hazard with a penalty of one stroke. If a ball in a hazard cannot be found, it may be replaced by dropping another ball outside the hazard, again with one stroke penalty. Exactly where a ball may be dropped outside a hazard is governed by strict rules. Bunkers (or "sand traps") are hazards from which the ball is more difficult to play than from grass. As in a water hazard, a ball in a sand trap must be played without previously touching the sand with one's club.
The grass of the "putting green" (or more commonly the "green") is cut very short so that a ball can roll easily over distances of several yards. To "putt" means to play a stroke, usually but not always on the green, wherein the ball does not leave the ground. The direction of growth of individual blades of grass often affects the roll of a golf ball and is called the "grain". The cup is always found within the green, and must have a diameter of 108 mm and a depth of at least 100 mm. Its position on the green is not static and may be changed from day to day. The cup usually has a flag on a pole positioned in it so that it may be seen from some distance, but not necessarily from the tee. This flag and pole combination is often called the "pin".
The borders of a course are marked as such, and beyond them is "out of bounds", that is, ground from which a ball must not be played. Some areas on the course may be designated as "ground under repair", meaning that a ball coming to rest in them may be lifted and then played from outside such ground without penalty. Certain man-made objects on the course are defined as "obstructions", and specific rules determine how a golfer may proceed when the play is impeded by these.
Every hole is classified by its "par". The par of a hole is primarily but not exclusively determined by the distance from tee to green. Typical lengths for par three holes range from 100 to 224 m, for par four holes from 225 to 434 m, and for par five holes 435 m and greater. Par is the theoretical number of strokes that an expert golfer should require for playing the ball into any given hole. The expert golfer is expected to reach the green in two strokes under par ("in regulation") and then use two putts to get the ball into the hole. Many 18-hole courses have approximately four par-three, ten par-four, and four par-five holes. The total par of an 18-hole course is usually around 72. In many countries, courses are classified by a "course rating" in addition to the course's par. This rating describes the difficulty of a course and may be used to calculate a golfer's playing handicap for that individual course (see golf handicap).
At most golf courses there are additional facilities that are not part of the course itself. Often there is a "practice range", usually with practice greens, bunkers, and a driving area (where long shots can be practiced). There may even be a practice course (which is often easier to play or shorter than other golf courses). A golf school is often associated with a course or club.
Play of the game
Every game of golf is based on playing a number of holes in a given order. A "round" typically consists of 18 holes that are played in the order determined by the course layout. On a nine-hole course, a standard round consists of two successive nine-hole rounds. A hole of golf consists of hitting a ball from a tee on the "teeing ground" (a marked area designated for the first shot of a hole), and, once the ball comes to rest, striking it again, and repeating this process until the ball at last comes to rest in the cup. Once the ball is on the "green" (an area of finely cut grass) the ball is usually "putted" (hit along the ground) into the hole. The aim of holing the ball in as few strokes as possible may be impeded by various hazards, such as bunkers and water hazards.
Players walk (or in some countries, often drive in motorized electric carts) over the course, either singly or in groups of two, three, or four, sometimes accompanied by caddies who carry and manage the players' equipment and give them advice. Each player plays a ball from the tee to the hole, except that in the mode of play called "foursomes", two teams of two players compete, and the members of each team alternate shots using only one ball, until the ball is holed out. When all individual players or teams have brought a ball into play, the player or team whose ball is the farthest from the hole is next to play. In some team events, a player whose ball is farther from the hole may ask his partner to play first. When all players of a group have completed the hole, the player or team with the best score on that hole has the "honor", that is, the right to play first on the next tee.
Each player acts as "marker" for one other player in the group, that is, he or she records the score on a "score card". In stroke play (see below), the score consists of the number of strokes played plus any "penalty strokes" incurred. Penalty strokes are not actually strokes but penalty points that are added to the score for violations of rules or for making use of relief procedures in certain situations.
The two basic forms of playing golf are match play and stroke play.
*In match play, two players (or two teams) play every hole as a separate contest against each other. The party with the lower score wins that hole, or if the scores of both players or teams are equal the hole is "halved" (drawn). The game is won by the party that wins more holes than the other. In the case that one team or player has taken a lead that cannot be overcome in the number of holes remaining to be played, the match is deemed to be won by the party in the lead, and the remainder of the holes are not played. For example, if one party already has a lead of six holes, and only five holes remain to be played on the course, the match is over. At any given point, if the lead is equal to the number of holes remaining, the match is said to be "dormie", and is continued until the leader increases the lead by one hole, thereby winning the match, or until the match ends in a tie. When the game is tied after the predetermined number of holes have been played, it may be continued until one side takes a one-hole lead, and thereupon immediately wins by one hole.
*In stroke play, every player (or team) counts the number of shots taken for the whole round or tournament to produce the total score, and the player with the lowest score wins. A variant of stroke play is "Stableford" scoring, where a number of points (two for the target score) are given for each hole, and the fewer shots taken, the more points obtained, so the aim is to have as many points as possible. Another variant of stroke play, the "Modified Stableford" method, awards points on each hole in relation to par and then adds the points over a round; for more details on this method, see the article on The INTERNATIONAL, a tournament that uses Modified Stableford scoring.
There are many variations of these basic principles, some of which are explicitly described in the "Rules of Golf" and are therefore regarded "official". "Official" forms of play are, among others, "foursome" and "four-ball" games.
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