The First Modern Golf Tee
Golf's most under appreciated invention.

The first wooden peg golf tee was invented and patented by Dr. George Grant of Boston. His patent was issued on December 12, 1899 and was given number 638,920. Dr. Grant was not only a golfing genius but a dentist and a professor at Harvard University in Cambridge Massachusetts as well.

He was Harvard's first African-American professor which I mention only as an aside as it may have had something to do with the invention of the golf tee. 

Prior to the invention of Dr. Grant's "peg tee", golf tees were little mounds made of mud or sand by the player or the his caddie for the purpose of elevating the ball from the ground for the first shot on each hole.

Vintage photo of George Grant, inventor of the first modern golf tee.


 

Now before I get to far into my irreverent opinion let's take a look at what the history web sites tell us about Dr. Grant and his invention;

Let's start with inventors.about.com  "George Grant, an avid golfer, was also interested in the physics of golfing. He set about to improve the game of golf and as a result he received U.S. patent No. 638,920 on December 12, 1899 for an improved golf tee." We agree the tee did improve the game, but was that his objective, seems like a pretty broad statement for a patent  to me.

This from recordonline.com "Hitting a golf ball became a lot easier after Dr. George Grant invented and patented the first golf tee in 1899. A devoted golfer, Grant was frustrated with the movement of the ball when he tried to hit it from the sand mound." Yes it did get a lot easier to hit the golf ball, but "frustrated with the movement of the ball" and ease of hitting his objective.....well we're not so sure

From blackinventor.com "....enabling the player greater control with his wooden club and therefore of the direction and speed of the drive." Yes again his invention helped with both direction and the club head speed through the ball, but the purpose of his invention.....nah, don't think so.


Now let's take a look at it from  thegolfballfactory.com's point of view. First let's peel back just a single layer of the glorified history. Dr. Grant was an Dentist and Harvard professor living in Boston at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. He was also an avid golfer. During that time period golf in the Boston area was dominated by The Country Club in Brookline  and the Myopia Hunt Club in Hamilton both founded in 1882. Neither of these club's are bashful about their historic pasts and neither has ever mentioned that Dr. Grant was a member of their club. So that might lead one to ask where did he play golf. I suspect Boston's oldest public links, Franklin Park, which the American Golfer once described as a "poor excuse for a golf course". 

Now most golfers know when they hear this kind of description and they think of the tee boxes, they think of worn and tired patches of bare ground.  Now with this little bit of back ground lets take a look at Dr. Grant's patent, written by him, and see it we can get an idea of what was going through his mind when he invented "the golf tee". These quotes about the inventing of the peg golf tee are Dr. Grant's own words taken from his original patent application.

  • "To all whom it may concern, I  George F. Grant of Boston, county of Suffolk, state of Massachusetts, have invented an improvement in golf tees......."

  • "The invention has for its object the production of a simple, cheap and effective tee for use in the game of golf, obviating the use of the usual conical mounds of sand or similar material formed by the player......." ( This sentence enforces further our theory that Dr. Grant played at Franklin Park, because if he played at The Country Club or Myopia the tee would have been formed "professionally" by a caddie, not the player.) 

  • "......and the annoyance and sometimes discomfort attendant upon the formation of a sand tee are obviated." 

Although its potential "game improvements" are glossed over they are summed up as "....will not in anyway reflect or stop the proper swing of the club."  



Provided above is a link to the full text of Dr. Grant's patent application should you be interested, (zzzzzzz...). But be assured it is as simple and straight forward as the tee itself, and its intent in short was to make "teeing up" the golf ball an easy, clean hands process, that would cause little or no discomfort to the golfer.  Think about it, the guy was a Harvard professor and practicing dentist and he did not like to get his hands dirty and chaffed making mud and sand tees, and truth be told neither would you or I. So there you have it, one of golf's greatest game improving devices, invented to keep the players hands clean and comfy. This perfect invention is so unappreciated, that to fully grasp how it has improved today's golf, try making a mud tee, or better yet try making 18 mud tees some cold rainy April morning.

Oh yeah, back to the African-American part, as a Dentist and Harvard professor Dr. Grant surely had the income and status to join The Country Club or Myopia, however he did not. ( 1899 Boston, hmmm). Only guessing here, but if he had been a member The Country Club or Myopia, and not had to make his own mud tees would he have been inspired to make the first "peg" ?

To learn more about Dr. George F. Grant and the golf tee, continue your search here....

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