Brief History of the Golf Tee

Collection of colorful golf tees
Peter Dazeley/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

So, just who invented the humble golf tee, that little peg on which the golf ball sits at the start of the hole?

First, let's start by saying who did not invent the golf tee: George Franklin Grant did not invent the golf tee.

Second, let's say who is generally credited with inventing the modern golf tee: George Franklin Grant.

Say What?

Now, let's explain. Golf tees were originally fashioned from nature, using either sod or sand.

(Related: Golf tees in history and the rules.) In 1899, Grant - a dentist of import and the first African-American faculty member at Harvard University - received a patent for "an improved golf tee" from the United States Patent Office. Grant's tee was a wooden peg that the golfer pushed into the ground, and atop which he balanced the golf ball.

In 1991, the United States Golf Association recognized Grant as the inventor of the modern, wooden, peg golf tee - not the inventor of the golf tee itself, but of the specific type of tee that became the standard over ensuing decades.

Grant is an important figure in history for reasons having nothing to do with golf. And his tee patent did describe what might be called the first modern golf tee. But he can't correctly be called the inventor of golf tees.

Various Golf Tees Preceded Grant's Model

There were earlier inventors and tinkerers who experimented with various types of tees.

The first patent issued for a golf tee was issued 10 years earlier than Grant's, and by the British Patent Office, to two Scotsmen. William Bloxsom and Arthur Douglas' tee did not pierce the ground and were a completely different shape and design.

Grant's tee, in fact, did not provide the template for the modern tee.

It had a different shape, too, and almost nobody from Grant's era saw it. But because it had the "big three" elements that almost all tees of the early 20th century included - wood, pierced the ground, peg atop which the ball sat - Grant earned his recognition from the USGA.

If Grant Didn't Invent the Golf Tee, Who Did?

But if Grant is not the inventor of the tee, who is? Bloxsom and Douglas had the first patent, but there were artificial tees before theirs, too.

The fact is, nobody knows what the first artificial (as opposed to sod or sand) tee was, or who made it. So the inventor of the very first manmade golf tee is, and likely always will be, unknown.

To view the patent illustrations of the Bloxsom/Douglas and Grant tees, and read more about the history of this humble piece of equipment, see our article on Golf Tees in history and the rules.