Baku 2015: British diving success down to 'mental toughness'

The legendary golfer Bobby Jones once said his sport was 'a game that is played on a five-inch course – the distance between your ears' - and it...


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Several countries claim to be the birthplace of golf, but it is widely accepted that it originated in Scotland in the middle ages when golfers, playing among the sand dunes along the coast, would use a stick to hit a pebble towards a target in the least number of shots. Over the next few centuries, specialist wooden clubs were developed as was a ball made from stuffing goose feathers into a leather pouch and the game became popular with the upper classes as well. This led to a desire for the game to become more organised and structured and eventually in 1754 this role was taken on by The Society of St Andrews Golfers that would assume Royal patronage and a change in name in 1834 to The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews

The early courses were built on links close to the sea and were accessible via rail. Over the next 150 years the game increased in popularity and clubs and golf courses spread all over the world. In the UK the popularity of the sport amongst the middle classes led to the development of a plethora of golf clubs as the professional classes moved out to the suburbs. This also led to the development of governing bodies in different countries, always along gender lines, with the intention to organise competitions and look after the needs of the amateur golfers. The Ladies Golf Union, covering Great Britain and Ireland was formed in 1893 followed by The Welsh Golf Union (1895), The Welsh Ladies' Golf Union and Scottish Ladies Golf Association (1904), The Scottish Golf Union (1920), The English Golf Union (1924) and the English Ladies Golf Association (1952). In Wales and England mergers between the two genders have led to the Golf Union of Wales and Golf England as the governing bodies. The professional side of the game was developed by the formation of The Professional Golfers' Association in 1901, formed by the leading players in Great Britain of that time and it is recognized as the oldest PGA in the world. 

The R&A remains responsible for the administration of the Rules of Golf having held that role of providing a uniform approach to the Rules since 1897 – a role currently performed with the consent of 143 organisations from the amateur and professional game, and on behalf of 128 countries throughout Europe, Africa, Asia-Pacific and the Americas. Meanwhile, the USGA, an organisation with whom The R&A has jointly issued the Rules of Golf since 1952, is the governing body in the USA and Mexico.

The amateur game, as well as providing recreational golf for millions around the world, also provides various levels of amateur tournaments, with national championships attracting international competitors. Although in the early days of 'Open' tournaments, where amateurs and professionals competed together, amateurs had some success', the 20th and 21st centuries has seen the dominance of the professional player, with no amateur winner of the majors since 1930 in the men’s game. In addition, all the top professionals, not least Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia served notice of their potential as amateurs before opting to join the paid ranks. Some, however, such as Sir Michael Bonallack, Jessie Valentine, Peter McEvoy and Carol Semple Thompson remained career amateurs as did the American, Bobby Jones, who is regarded as the most successful amateur ever.  Jones, who won the US Amateur five times, the British Amateur once also beat the best professionals of the period with wins in the US Open (five) and the Open Championship (three). In 1930 he won all four championships in the same year, the 'Grand Slam', before retiring from competitive golf at the age of 28. Four years later he started the Augusta Invitational Tournament at the club he had founded in 1931, August National and the tournament would eventually become known as The Masters.

The R&A has also continued to run The Open, one of golf’s four ‘Major’ championships, a quartet completed by the US Open, the US PGA Championship and The Masters. The Open, which is always contested on links (coastal) courses in reflecting the game’s origins, was first staged in 1860 at Prestwick, Scotland. It was won by a Scot, Willie Park senior, and his compatriots including himself and his son, went on to win the next 28 championships before an Englishman broke the sequence. The Claret Jug, which is the trophy presented to the winner, was won by an overseas player for the first time in 1907 – Arnaud Massy of France – and Jock Hutchison became the first winner from the USA 14 years later. Hutchison’s countrymen such as Walter Hagen, Bobby Jones and Gene Sarazen followed suit before the outbreak of the Second World War and, following the end of hostilities, the nationality of the winner reflected the growth of the game internationally. Since 1946 players from seven different countries, including Argentina, New Zealand and Zimbabwe have won the Championship.

Ironically, players from Scotland and England dominated the first 16 US Opens after it was first contested in 1895 before Americans took a stranglehold on proceedings. Similarly victories by non-Americans in the US PGA Championship, which was first staged in 1916, are rare. However, wins by players from Fiji, Germany and South Korea again both confirms the game’s increasing appeal worldwide.

Meanwhile, The Masters, the youngest of the four majors, which started in 1934 and, unlike its three siblings, is always contested on the same course – Augusta National – was initially dominated by Americans until South Africa’s Gary Player won in 1961. Since then players from Spain, Canada, Argentina, Germany, Australia, Fiji England and Wales have been successful at this the most idiosyncratic Major.

Whatever the winner’s nationality, however, major victories are a mark of a player’s standing in the game’s pantheon and in this respect it is American golfers who top the major winner’s roll of honour with Jack Nicklaus (18), Tiger Woods (14) and Walter Hagen (11). Britain's leading major winner is Harry Vardon with seven wins, the last of them in 1914. More recently Nick Faldo has won six major championships.

It is fair to say, though, that the ladies professional circuit is more cosmopolitan than its male equivalent: at the end of August 2013, the list of the top 10 players in the world comprised players from seven nations. Four of those came from South Korea and another from China – evidence of the increasing presence of the game in the Far East and the excellence of its leading protagonists.

Just as the R&A organises the Open, it is the Ladies Golf Union (LGU) that has run the Women’s British Open since 1976, one of five major championships for women. The others are the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the LPGA Championship and the US Women’s Open, which are staged in the USA, and the Evian Championship which, introduced in 2013, is contested in France.

In terms of the women’s professional game, Patty Berg of the USA is its most successful with 15 major wins; Mickey Wright and Louise Suggs, also of the USA, have 13 and 11 respectively while the recently retired Annika Sorenstam of Sweden is the leading European with 10. For Great Britain and Ireland, Laura Davis leads the way with four titles, a tally matched by South Korea’s Inbee Park, whose most recent success came in 2013.

There are two major team competitions in professional golf. The Ryder Cup has been played between the top male players originally in 1927 between Great Britain and the United States, and then in 1949 when the Irish joined the Great Britain side and finally in 1979 when a European team was chosen to play against the United States. This reflected the fact that up to that time victories for the GB&I team were few and far between. However since that point, Europe has held the trophy on ten occasions to seven by the USA. The women players from Europe and America have their own version, the Solheim Cup which was inaugurated in 1990. USA lead the wins in this competition by eight to five.  Both competitions are played every two years (men now in even years, women odd years), the venues alternate between Europe and the US and both are played with a mixture of fourball, foursomes and single match play. 

In amateur golf Great Britain and Ireland’s males take on the USA for the Walker Cup. This was established 1922 and the USA have dominated with 35 wins to 8. The females do battle for the Curtis Cup which was founded in 1932 with again the USA dominating proceedings with 27 wins to 7 (with three matches tied). These matches are also held biannually in even years and again follow the matchplay format.


Golf has only ever twice appeared on the schedule at the Olympic Games – in 1900 and 1904, and will make its return at Rio 2016 after a 112-year absence.

Margaret Ives Abbott became America’s first female Olympic Champion when she won the nine-hole golf tournament at the Paris 1900 games, but died without realising her achievement due to the poor organisation of the tournament.

Four years later in St Louis, Missouri, golf made its last appearance at an Olympic Games. George Lyon of Canada won the men’s individual gold medal, while the United States won the team event, which had been brought in to replace the women’s individual.


The proposed format for Olympic Golf at Rio 2016 is a 72-hole individual stroke-play match for men and women. This entails adding the score achieved from each hole to produce a total score, the person with the lowest score wins. This will mirror the format used for many of the sport’s major championships.


Golf is a club sport where the objective is to hit a ball from a teeing ground into a hole, using a variety of clubs and the minimum amount of strokes possible.

Golf can also be played in matchplay format - a head to head match between two players or team.

It is not played, however, on a standardised arena. Instead, golfers play on a course that traditionally consists of 18 individual ‘holes’.

Each one begins with a series of teeing grounds, designed to alter their length and characteristics for all abilities of player, with a hole being located on a putting green.

One of the game’s most alluring features is that courses can be built over drastically different types of terrain, including deserts, seaside links, parkland, heathland, and amongst mountains, each landscape brings its own unique challenge.

Depending on the length of each hole it will most often have a ‘par’ of either 3, 4 or 5, signifying how many strokes it should take the golfer to complete.

Most holes have a variety of hazards such as bunkers filled with sand, rivers and lakes and playing conditions will also vary depending on grass length and type and the proliferation of trees and bushes, not to mention weather conditions.

Many famous courses take great pride in preparing all playing surfaces to the highest possible standard.


Learning, practicing or playing golf requires specific equipment.  Golf clubs can be made from different materials; you are likely to find modern clubs with titanium or steel heads and fitted with steel or graphite shafts.  These materials are strong and light.  They are a far cry from the days when clubs were hand carved and player’s used equipment with names such as a long nose or a spoon.  The construction of golf balls has changed significantly also.  Nowadays players could be using balls that are made up from 2, 3, 4 or even 5 different pieces, with a dimpled pattern to create more distance, lift and stability throughout the ball’s flight.  Originally players used a solid wooden ball, followed by a small leather pouch stuffed with a hatful of feathers, aptly called the feathery.

There are specific regulations concerning golf equipment, as stipulated by the governing bodies; either the R&A (Royal and Ancient) or the USGA (United States Golf Association), depending on what part of the world you are in.  However the governing bodies agree these regulations and so they are the same throughout the world.

A golf club will usually be made up of 3 main components:

  • Head – the part the ball is hit with.  Usually made of a type of metal.
  • Grip – what the player holds onto the club with and usually made from either a man made or natural rubber to provide a good grip on the club.
  • Shaft – This connects the hitting end to the holding end.  Shafts can be made of different materials (steel or graphite) and will vary in length, weight and how much bend (flex) they have.

One of the regulations when playing golf is that a player can have up to 14 clubs, so the clubs all have different jobs, depending on the activity being performed. There are 3 main types of golf club, they can be categorised as follows:

  • Drivers – This type of club is usually defined by the bigger head and longer shaft, this club is used for achieving the longest distance – but they are the hardest clubs to use!  Drivers are often used from the teeing area and are hit from off a tee peg to start the hole.  Most drivers are now made of various types of metal – steel or titanium; formally they were made from wood.  They have always been known as “woods” and even nowadays with metal heads they are still referred to as woods.
  • Putter – Usually only used on the putting green to finish off the hole that is being played.  Putters can have a number of different head styles, depending on the player’s requirements and personal preference.
  • Irons – These clubs will often be played from the ground and will have different shaft lengths and head angles, known as loft, to hit the ball different distances.  There are different types of iron club such as the sand iron, mainly used to play shots from the sand bunkers, this club will have the shortest shaft length and have a lot of face (loft) angle to get the ball up into the air and the bottom of the club is designed to help get the club through the sand.  
  • Another versatile club is the pitching wedge, it is most commonly used as the player approaches the putting green and due to the high amount of loft it will help produce shots with lots of lift.

It should be noted that these are not hard and fast roles and there may be some variations on the basic descriptions above.  For example some woods are designed for playing directly off the ground and are known as fairway woods; sometimes players will use clubs which are a blend of woods and irons and these are known as hybrids.

People that play golf will be different heights, strengths, age, gender and dexterity (left or right handed), so the equipment they require to play golf needs to be suitable for them to use.

Clubs will often be categorised as follows:

  • Men’s
  • Ladies
  • Junior

Each of these categories will depend on whether the player is left or right handed, but remember a left-handed person may play golf right handed.

The equivalent ladies club (compared to a men’s club) is likely to be shorter in length, lighter in overall weight and the grip and shaft will be thinner.  Junior clubs will vary in length (usually shorter), depending on the young person’s height, be lighter and again have thinner shafts and grips.  It is important that juniors do not use adult clubs that have been cut down in length as they will usually be too heavy and the shaft will not have enough bend when the club is swung.  It is also likely that the grip and shaft size will be too large for their hand size.  It is worth noting that some junior clubs will vary in the materials they are made from, some will follow the construction of adult clubs and some will be all plastic.

The overall club specifications are important for the individual player also, for example a club of the correct length will enable the player to generate maximum distance from their shots and assist them to stand correctly to the ball.

The type of shaft is important.  The shaft will actually bend, twist and bow slightly during the swing.  Swing characteristics and the speed the player swings the club will influence what shaft is required.  Shafts tend to be constructed from two materials, steel or graphite. Graphite shafts tend to be lighter and can help people who are not able to swing the club as quickly.  A graphite shaft will also help to dampen (or reduce) the vibrations felt when a shot is hit and this can be beneficial if the player has any injuries.  This does not mean that one type of shaft is better than another, it means selecting the best one for that particular player.

This brings us on to the overall weight of the club.  This can be influenced by the head and shaft material.  Often you would recommend a lighter club to someone that lacks physical strength or cannot generate much speed in their swing.

There are two other specifications that are important – loft and lie.  Loft and lie angles will be present on all different club types and will vary accordingly.

The loft on the club varies between each one and is the major influence as to how far the player can hit the ball.  Usually the driver will have the least amount of loft and will be the longest club; the shortest club in the set will be the most lofted. Lofts between each club are important so that player hits each club a specific distance, but also that the distance hit between each club is consistent.  The loft required is important to establish as the ability of the player and the speed the club is swung at can be an influence.

The lie angle of a club is the angle made by the shaft and the sole (bottom) of the club, the correct position is important at the impact as it can influence the direction the balls travels. It is most applicable to iron clubs, becoming more influential as the loft of the club increases.   Obtaining the correct lie angle requires testing to be carried out dynamically (while the player is hitting shots) and requires the use of specific equipment, an understanding of how the shaft bows during the swing and therefore the correct knowledge.

Having the suitable equipment is important for beginners and professionals alike and a PGA Professional is the best person to seek advice from.  So you should now understand that:

  • Players need suitable equipment
  • There are different types of club for different shots
  • The specifications of each club varies
  • Clubs are constructed in different ways and different types of materials can be used
  • Clubs are subject to the regulations of the governing bodies


The etiquette section of the Rules of Golf provides guidelines on the manner in which the game of golf should be played. It includes sections on safety and the pace of play. The overriding principle is that consideration be shown to others on the course at all times and the course itself.

Golf is also played for the most part without the supervision of a referee or umpire. The game relies on the integrity of each individual to show consideration for other players and the course and to abide by the Rules.

All players should conduct themselves in a disciplined manner, demonstrating courtesy and sportsmanship at all times, irrespective of how competitive they may be.  This is the unique fact that makes golf so inclusive and enjoyable for all people regardless of gender, age or upbringing. It is known as the ‘Spirit of the game of golf’.

The Rules of Golf have evolved over many years and are written, maintained and published by the R&A and United States Golf Association, golf’s global governing bodies. The ‘Rules’ consist of a single code and they rule the entire game with its huge variation of courses, players and abilities. Their objective is to make play as fair and consistent as possible for all.

Fundamentally, the Rules dictate that a golfer must play the ball as it lies. The course cannot manipulated so if the ball cannot be played as it lies, (for example if it finishes in a lake or river, outside the course boundary, or otherwise ‘unplayable’, the Rules provide the player with set options to enable them to get their ball back ‘into play’.

Sometimes the Rules proscribe penalties in the event that a player breaches a Rule. In such cases strokes are added to their score, or in the case of a head-to-head Match, players may automatically ‘lose’ holes.

Equally, in some cases a player’s ball may come to rest against an ‘obstruction’. Obstructions are artificial objects such as roads, paths and buildings. In such cases the Rules provide the player with relief from the obstruction to allow the player to continue unhindered.

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