There's always been a desired final destination for the golf ball--the bottom of the hole. But the size of the hole, or cup, wasn't always the same on every course. There was no standardized size for the hole when golf became popular in the late 15th century, and so the size would sometimes vary from course to course. Many times the size would be inconsistent from hole to hole. Golf's governing bodies eventually agreed on a uniform hole size that remains in place today.
As the game was becoming more popular, rules regarding the ball, clubs, and golf courses were needed to properly administer competitions. The size of the hole was important to that process. The oldest governing body for the game--the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews--set the dimensions at 4 1/4 inches in diameter and at least 4 inches deep. These became standardized measurements around the world when the R&A and the United States Golf Association agreed on the uniform size of the hole.
On today's courses, holes are not only the same size, but are structured in the same way. A hole-cutter produces a clean edge for the hole's perimeter. And inside the hole is a plastic cup or insert that holds the hole's structure in place, keeping the sandy soil from crumbling and eroding. This cup also promotes proper water drainage.
There is conflicting history on how the size of the hole was originally determined. Some sources suggest the hole size became standardized when golf officials began using a common drainage pipe to produce the hole. The diameter of the pipe was 4 1/4 inches. But there is also evidence that in 1829 officials at the Royal Musselburgh Golf Club in Scotland invented the first known hole-cutter or hole-maker. It produced a hole 4 1/4 inches wide. Because of the tool's popular use, the size became uniform in clubs all over Scotland.
Because all golfers eventually end up around the hole on a green, creating a lot of play around the hole itself, maintenance of the golf hole has become important to course care. Greenskeepers have developed more advanced, sharper hole-cutters that help lift the 4 1/4-inch plug out of the ground and insert it in another hole. This permits regular changes in the position of the hole, allowing for less wear and tear on the greens.
Movement for Change
Over recent years, some golf analysts, teaching professionals, and game advocates have suggested the golf hole be enlarged for amateur players. They cite improvement in player performance and a speed-up in playing time. Others have advocated making a bigger holes for par-3 courses or junior courses as a way to improve confidence in players just beginning the game. As of 2010, the movement has not progressed past the discussion stage.