The History of the Golf Tee

Have you imagined that a thing as “trivial” as a golf tee has a much more interesting history that we might perceive?

The truth is – golf tees are anything but trivial. Without the golf tee, you cannot make longer and more accurate drives. It may be a simple piece of golfing equipment. It may look like a “supporting character” when it is one of the essential golf equipment.

Even though golfers aren’t necessarily required to use a tee for their tee shots, the majority of them do. Why strike the ball off the ground if you don’t have to, when you’ve got a tee to use?

The history of the golf tee dates all the way back to the 16th century. Before the invention of the golf tee, players used the practice of getting sand wet and shaping them into little heaps to get the ball off the ground. The sand was provided in boxes – which explains the historical name “tee boxes” for what is now known as “teeing ground.”

The earliest versions of golf tees lay flat on the ground and had a raised part to hold up the ball. But it all changed in the late 1800s, where the origins of the modern golf tee began to take shape.

According to the original rules from 1744, the ball must be “teed” from the ground. Golfers were permitted to go within one club length of the original hole and utilize the elements from the ground to tee it up. But as centuries went by, the game itself underwent many modifications. And so, there arose the need to separate putting locations from the teeing grounds. The legendary Scottish golfer Old Tom Morris (Thomas Mitchell Morris, who died in 1908) redesigned the Old Course at St. Andrews in this way during the 1860s.

Modern golf courses today have separate and designated tee boxes for each hole. For instance, the ninth hole of a course is played from the ninth tee to the ninth green, and it goes the same to the other holes.

You could imagine the amount of mess with creating just one tee, which led to the creation of the first golf tees. Golfers were in constant search for the perfect, replaceable golf tees. They started with paper, and then cork, and then rubber.

Then two Scots, William Bloxsom and Arthur Douglas, created what could be the earliest ancestor of the modern golf tee. They had it copyrighted in 1889, becoming the first patented golf tee. Their golf tee consisted of a small rubber plate with a raised part to prop the ball, in the form of a hollow cylinder or upright prongs. The tee rested up on top of the ground, instead of being pushed into the ground. The design turned out to be quite a disaster, particularly in windy conditions, causing the ball to roll away.

There must be a way to make it set to the ground. It led to the creation of “Perfectum,” which became the first-known tee to penetrate the ground. It was invented and patented by Percy Ellis of England in 1892. It was constructed of a spike made of iron cast and round rubber pegs to prop the stationary ball. The Perfectum became the first tee to be placed in the ground.

More developments of the golf tee’s design took place. Not long after the “Perfectum” came, Scottish inventor PM Matthews patented the “Vector” – a tee which consisted of a metal spike and rubber, the design which further kept the ball in place.

But the best-known earliest patents for a golf tee came from an African-American dentist and Harvard professor Dr. George Grant. While he obviously didn’t invent the golf tee, he sought to improve the features of Ellis’ “Perfectum” golf tee. Grant came up with a wooden cone or peg with a rubber sleeve to hold the ball in place. It was designed to be less rigid at the top while remaining stable at the bottom.
Grant obtained a patent for his wooden golf tee invention in 1899. His patent led to his recognition by the United States Golf Association in 1991 as the inventor of the wooden golf tee.

However, Grant never manufactured his wooden golf tee, nor he promoted or marketed it. So his invention was seen by nearly no one outside his circle of friends and peers.

Grant’s golf tee, as well as earlier inventions, failed to catch on with golfers. Perhaps because of tradition or habit, golfers still used heaps of sand. But Dr. William Lowell, Sr., would change all that.

The New Jersey-born dentist was the first to patent and market a golf tee, called the “Reddy Tee.” The highlight of his tee’s design was the hollowed-out top which became the golf standard today. In other words, it is the world’s first modern golf tee. Regarding the design of the “Roddy Tee,” it is a simple wooden peg with a flared top and a spike at the bottom end.

Unlike his predecessors, Dr. Lowell went all-out in marketing his golf tee, which required a lot of hard work, indeed. He even hired star golfer Walter Hagen to promote it.

Dr. Lowell’s gargantuan efforts finally paid off – sales of his “Reddy tee” began to take off. Its success ensured that the golf tee would enjoy widespread use. And most importantly, the golf tee would become a standard item in golf canon.

Even since the “Reddy Tee” was brought to every golfer’s consciousness, the basic golf tee’s fundamental design has remained unchanged. Wood and plastic are the most common materials used for making golf tees. There are fancier versions of the golf tees, such as those with bristles, prongs or tines to prop the ball. Technology has brought golf a long way, and golf tees are no exception. It’s unlikely that golf tees will never go out of every golfer’s radar. What’s next for golf tees? It remains to be seen!