We all know that, whatever size the golf hole is, it’s never quite big enough. But it’s that size for a reason – well, sort of, by accident.
Golf holes all over the world today measure 4¼ inches (even in metric countries, where that is approximately 10.8 centimetres), and they have been this size since 1891. In that year, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews (R&A), at the time golf’s sole governing body, issued a new rule book stipulating, amongst other things, that the hole size should be standard on golf courses everywhere at 4¼ inches.
The reason for that precise diameter is that Royal Musselburgh Golf Club had invented, in 1829, the first known hole-cutter. It is still in existence and on display at the club, and had become the accepted norm at clubs in that part of Scotland, which is the home of golf. It measured exactly 4¼ inches although, sadly, no-one knows why.
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The earliest golf holes were simply dug out with a trowel to an approximate size (and the teeing area of the next hole was deemed to be “within a club’s length of the hole”). But Musselburgh pioneered the cleanly cut, standard-sized hole, by using an object, probably a piece of old drainage pipe found near the links, which just happened to be that size.
There is an ongoing debate on the merits of a larger hole, which would reduce the emphasis on putting and give more reward for accurate approach play.
The legendary Ben Hogan, who suffered greatly from the putting “yips” in his later years, although arguably the greatest ball-striker of all time, was a great advocate of this, as was Gene Sarazen, but it is not high on any official agenda at the time of writing.