||Golf has increasingly turned into a spectator game, with several different levels of professional and amateur tours in many regions of the world. People such as Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Lorena Ochoa and Annika Sörenstam have become well-recognized sports figures across the world.
The Major Golf Championships
The major championships are the four most prestigious men's tournaments of the year. In chronological order they are: The Masters, the U.S. Open, The Open Championship and the PGA Championship.
The fields for these events include the top several dozen golfers from all over the world. The Masters has been played at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia since its inception in 1934. It is the only major championship that is played at the same course each year. The U.S. Open and PGA Championship are played at courses around the United States, while The Open Championship is played at courses in the UK.
The number of major championships a player accumulates in his career has an impact on his stature in the sport. Jack Nicklaus is considered to be one of the greatest golfers of all time, largely because he has won a record 18 professional majors, or 20 majors in total if his two U.S. Amateurs are included. Tiger Woods, who may be the only golfer in the foreseeable future likely to challenge Nicklaus's record, has won 14 professional majors (17 total if his three U.S. Amateurs are included), all before the age of 33. (To put this total in perspective, Nicklaus had won 11 professional majors and two U.S. Amateurs by his 33rd birthday, and did not win his 15th professional major until he was 35.) Woods also came closest to winning all four current majors in one season (known as a Grand Slam completed first by Bobby Jones) when he won them consecutively across two seasons: the 2000 U.S. Open, Open Championship, and PGA Championship; and the 2001 Masters. This feat has been frequently called the Tiger Slam.
Prior to the advent of the PGA Championship and The Masters, the four Majors were the U.S. Open, the U.S. Amateur, the Open Championship, and the British Amateur. These are the four that Bobby Jones won in 1930 to become the only player ever to have earned a Grand Slam.
The Main Golf Tours
There are at least twenty professional golf tours, each run by a PGA or an independent tour organization, which is responsible for arranging events, finding sponsors, and regulating the tour. Typically a tour has "members" who are entitled to compete in most of its events, and also invites non-members to compete in some of them. Gaining membership of an elite tour is highly competitive, and most professional golfers never achieve it.
The most widely known tour is the PGA Tour, which tends to attract the strongest fields, outside the four Majors and the three World Golf Championships events. This is due mostly to the fact that most PGA Tour events have a first prize of at least USD 800,000. The European Tour, which attracts a substantial number of top golfers from outside North America, ranks second to the PGA Tour in worldwide prestige. Some top professionals from outside North America play enough tournaments to maintain membership on both the PGA Tour and European Tour.
The other leading men's tours include the Japan Golf Tour, the Asian Tour (Asia outside Japan), the PGA Tour of Australasia, and the Sunshine Tour (for Southern Africa, primarily South Africa). These four tours, along with the PGA and European Tours, are full members of the trade body of the world's main tours, the International Federation of PGA Tours. Two other tours, the Canadian Tour and the Tour de las Américas (Latin America), are associate members of the Federation. All of these tours, except for the Tour de las Américas, offer points in the Official World Golf Rankings to golfers who make the cut in their events.
In 2005 Golf Digest calculated that there were nearly 32,000 golf courses in the world, approximately half of them in the United States. The countries with most golf courses in relation to population, starting with the best endowed were: Scotland, New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, Canada, Wales, United States, Sweden, and England (countries with fewer than 500,000 people were excluded). Apart from Sweden, all of these countries have English as the majority language, but the number of courses in new territories is increasing rapidly. For example the first golf course in the People's Republic of China opened in the mid-1980s, but by 2005 there were 200 courses in that country.
The professional sport was initially dominated by Scottish then English golfers, but since World War I, America has produced the greatest quantity of leading professionals. Other Commonwealth countries such as Australia and South Africa are also traditional powers in the sport. Since around the 1970s, Japan, Scandinavian and other Western European countries have produced leading players on a regular basis. The number of countries with high-class professionals continues to increase steadily, especially in East Asia. South Korea is notably strong in women's golf.