In 1983, President Ronald Reagan designated Feb. 11 as National Inventors' Day in honor of Thomas Edison’s birthday. While Edison wasn’t a golfer, his advances in lighting and communication helped bring the game into everyone’s homes.
That got us thinking: what are the best inventions in golf?
The game has evolved significantly since its origins in the 15th century. In the early years, clubs were made exclusively of wood, balls were stuffed with feathers and the game was played on tracts of land that more closely resembled cow pastures than the finely manicured surfaces that we know today.
Creativity, technological advancement and luck have all contributed to the game’s progress throughout the years. While some may long for the days of balata golf balls and persimmon drivers, I think we can all agree that we’re better off with waterproof rain jackets and lighter golf bags.
Whether it’s the clothes you wear, the implements you play with or some of the tools that are behind the scenes, golf has arguably benefited from the work of inventors more than any other sport.
With apologies to ball retrievers, golf sandals and the thousands of others that didn’t make the cut, here are three inventions that have changed golf for the better.
1. The golf tee
While you might think the golf tee dates back as far as the game itself, the instrument used for propping the ball up has only been in use for about a century. Prior to its invention, courses would supply a box of wet sand at the beginning of each hole from which the golfer would fashion a raised mound using either his hands or a cone-shaped mold to elevate the ball.
In 1899, Boston dentist Dr. George Grant, frustrated with this tedious and messy process, invented a wooden golf tee. But it wasn’t until William Lowell, another dentist, invented the Reddy Tee in the early 1920s that using a tee became common practice.
Although most golfers use a tee on every hole, others, such as 2018 U.S. Senior Women’s Open champion Laura Davies, prefer to use the turf itself.
2. The Stimpmeter
Have you ever wondered how fast the greens were rolling at your course? So did Edward Stimpson after watching players struggle with extremely fast greens during the 1935 U.S. Open at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club.
He invented a device that accurately measures the speed of a putting green. In 1978, the USGA debuted the Stimpmeter, a modified version of Stimpson’s tool, which has allowed superintendents to provide more consistent playing conditions.
How does it work? A ball is placed in a notch and when the Stimpmeter is slowly lifted from one side, gravity releases the ball from the indentation. The ball rolls down the tool and along the green. The average distance traveled by the ball after a number of attempts represents the speed of the green.
3. The “Arnold Palmer”
Thankfully, golf inventions haven’t been limited to equipment. The “Arnold Palmer,” an eponymously named beverage consisting of iced tea and lemonade created by the golf icon, has become so popular it has its own TV commercial and has been served to guests at the White House since the 1970s.
How did it come to be? According to Palmer, his wife, Winnie, had been making him the refreshing combination for years. Then, in the late 1960s, Palmer was ordering lunch in Palm Springs, Calif., and asked the waitress for a mixture of lemonade and iced tea. A woman sitting nearby overheard what he ordered and told the waitress, “I’ll have that Arnold Palmer drink.”
Half a century later, the “Arnold Palmer” is now available in clubhouses, restaurants and grocery stores around the world.
Michael Trostel is the senior content producer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.