Rules Throwback: The Early Days of Golf (Goff?) in America August 25, 2016 By Jamie Wallace, USGA

The USGA first printed the Rules of Golf in 1897, three years after the Association was formed. (USGA Archives)

While the game of golf has retained many features from its early versions, it has also evolved greatly over time. In 1844, a book called Hoyle’s Games was published in Philadelphia, Pa. The book detailed the rules of many popular pastimes, including card games, board games and sports. There was an entry about golf, which was also called “goff” at the time, even though it would still be many years before the game would achieve broad popularity in the U.S. 

The game at that time was played under the first known Rules of Golf, which were created by The Honourable Company of Edinburgh (Scotland) Golfers in 1744. The Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews (The R&A) was founded a decade later and adopted these Rules for their own competitions in 1754. The USGA, which was founded in 1894, adopted the most recent available version of the R&A rules for their first championships. It was this 1891 set of R&A rules that the USGA added interpretations to in 1897, resulting in the first printed Rules of Golf issued by the USGA.

The entry (below) includes a number of interesting items – number and types of clubs used, the way a ball was constructed during that era, the varying number of holes in a round, the way a ball was teed, and the fact that there was no provision for replacing a broken ball during a hole!

Perhaps most notable, the format of play that is described for a group of four players is similar to what is now called "foursomes.”  The book describes a format in which a team of two players play only one ball, with the partners alternating shots. Prominent examples of this format being used today are in international team competitions such as the Walker Cup, Curtis Cup and Ryder Cup.

The entry continues on the top of the first page below.

Jamie Wallace is the manager of Rules education and digital content for the USGA. Email him at

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