Consider for a moment the humble golf tee the next time you play. In your hand you will be holding a piece of history that tells in part the story of how golf has evolved since its early beginnings.
There is something magical about an invention as it represents a departure from the conventional thinking of the day. In a flash of inspiration, similar to Archimedes' Eureka exclamation to celebrate his discovery, the inventor rejects the established way of accomplishing a task and offers us an alternative.
Golf started way back in the mists of time, yet it was only in the 1890s that a challenge came to the way the ball was cradled at the start of each hole.
Up until then the ball was perched on a mound of sand that the caddie prepared for the player. For convenience a sand box was placed nearby with a container for water to moisten the sand.
Curling House - Tee
The adopted name in golf comes from the Gaelic word 'tigh' meaning house and takes its origin from the sport of curling. In curling the centre of the three coloured scoring circles (referred to as the house) is called a tee.
Under the first rules of golf drafted in 1744 the player was required to position his or her ball within a club's length of the previous hole. In 1802 the circular area around the hole was extended, and the Rules stated that no ball shall be nearer the hole than two club lengths and no farther from it than four.
The initial break with the traditional use of sand occurred in 1889 when two Scottish golfers lodged a patent for a portable golf device made from rubber. It was a small plate that rested flat on the ground with three vertical prongs to hold the ball in place.
Three years later in 1892 Percy Ellis patented his own device to overcome the annoying habit of the tee that rested on the surface to fly away when the ball was struck. His 'Perfectum' solution to this problem was secured in the ground by a metal peg crowned with rubber pins.
The way forward now had momentum and other innovations and patents soon followed. In 1899 an African-American dentist George Grant registered his patent for an improvement in design. In 1922 another dentist William Lovell marketed commercially the 'Reddy Tee', a conical piece of wood with a red-painted top for easy visibility.
Tradition has a strong hold and the obvious advantages of the new forms were not enough to convince the majority of golfers to abandon the familiar pile of sand. It was only when Walter Hagan endorsed the product while touring that the barriers of resistance were broken.
We move now to modern times and the golf manufacturing industry embraces all colours, shapes, designs and types of material from wood, to plastic to bio-degradable resin.
The only restrictions come from the Official Bodies of Golf who rule that the length must not be longer than four inches, or its equivalent in millimetres, and cannot indicate the line of play nor influence the movement of the ball.
So at the start of your next game don't just take that small piece of architecture for granted. As you hold it in your hand, pause to reflect the inventors who have gone before you and who have made it a marvel of engineering.
1 = cogeco.ca
2+3 = Golf A History by Ted Barrett