Answers to recent questions posed by our History Sub-Committee provide some interesting history of the game and rules of golf.
The last question has particular relevance to the most recent US Open staged at Chambers Bay where the USGA found it necessary to clearly mark the perimeter of the greens.
Question #1. How many Opens (British) did Peter Thomson win
Five: 1954, 1955, 1956, 1958, 1965
Question #2. How many Opens (British) did Norman von Nida win
None, though he was often in contention. His best performance was tied third in 1948.
Question #3. At the Australian Open in 1951 what was the area of the 18th putting green at Metropolitan?
A good and an acceptable answer is 1256.64 square yards (or 1050.71 square metres) that includes the area occupied by the hole, 18.06 square inches (or 27.42 square centimetres). In fact the other seventeen putting greens at Metropolitan had the same area, as indeed did every putting green in Australia.
In 1951 the putting green was defined as the area within 20 yards of the hole. (Area of a circle = πr2, for those who remember their school geometry, 20 yards being the radius). This was a left over from the club rules of the R&A in 1875, when the area around the hole was generally indistinguishable from the fairway. In 1952 the definition was changed to one we would recognise today, namely an area especially prepared for putting.
The point of asking this question was to remind golfers that many of the rules in golf have changed radically over the years. For the pedants even that wonderfully precise figure of 1256.64 square yards is not good enough for two reasons. First, humps and hollow on the green add more area of grass than would be if the green were flat. Second, in 1951 water hazards and bunkers within twenty yards of the hole, wherever it may have been cut, were not considered part of the putting green.
The history of the Rules of Golf can be explored on www.ruleshistory.com , which has transcriptions of the Rules from the earliest, 1744, to the present.
Relevance to the latest US Open at Chambers Bay
During the time when all greens were declared by way of radius from the hole, golf course maintenance equipment was also far less precise than it is today. Playing surfaces were often maintained by grazing animals. In many climates, there was no difference in grass variety between that grown on the fairway and that grown within 20 yards of the hole.
Chambers Bay Golf Course is an example of how many courses today are cultivated with similar grass varieties and with only a subtle change in blend of grass from fairway to green in order to achieve an acceptable putting surface.
And so they are left with great difficulty in recognising an area especially prepared for putting. The USGA was forced to mark the perimeter of the greens to accommodate the current rules of golf. That is, the area of the green needed to be recognisable so players could mark, clean and replace their balls on the green.