The history of golf ball markers dates back to 1952 when the ‘Stymie’ rule of allowing your ball to block an opponent’s ball became obsolete. Instead of using natural pebbles or twigs, they now have to be ‘artificial’. They have become alignment aids, souvenirs and even collector’s items, with the Jack Nicklaus/Tony Jacklin marker sold in 2021 for over $9,662.

Key Takeaways

  • The first Golf ball markers included coins, pebbles & twigs.
  • They were used after the Stymie rule in 1952 became obolete, and became compulsory in 1960 if golfers wanted to lift their ball on the green for cleaning or if it got in the way of another ball.
  • Golf Ball markers are now available in custom designs and have become alignment aids.
  • The most famous golf ball markers have a personal connection to a famous player such as Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson or Jack Nicklaus & Tony Jacklin.

Origins and Evolution of Golf Ball Markers

Golf ball markers have been a part of the game for centuries. They started as simple objects such as coins or pebbles. Over time, dedicated markers were used and it actually became a rule – (number 14) that natural objects were not allowed as markers!

Early History of Marking the Ball

In the early days of golf (Scotland back in the 1400s), marking a ball’s position was easy. Players typically used what was handy, like coins or small pebbles.

By the 1920s and 1930s, golf ball markers became more personal and even fancy & luxurious. You could find markers made of precious metals like silver or gold. Some even doubled as hat clips or lapel pins.

Evolution of Golf Ball Markers

During the mid-20th century, plastic was a new material – hard to believe isn’t it?! Ball markers then became lightweight, cheap to produce, and easily customizable with the logos of golf clubs or tournaments.

Now, there is everything from poker chips to magnetic hat clips, and now alignment aid markers.

I still find it reassuringly traditional that the Pros almost always still use coins.

Materials Used:

  • Early Days: Coins, pebbles
  • Early 20th Century: Metal discs
  • 1920s-1930s: Gold, silver, decorative designs
  • 1950s-1960s: Plastic
  • Present Day: Mix of metal, plastic, magnetic and even LED.

Golf Ball Markers in the 19th Century

The first ever golf course was St. Andrews in 1764. In the 19th century, golf was growing rapidly in popularity. Early golfers didn’t have specific markers; they used whatever was handy. Coins, pebbles, or even small twigs.

Around the mid-1800s, metal began replacing wood in golf clubs and players also started using small metal discs to mark their ball positions. These weren’t fancy and often just small pieces of tin.

As golf spread around the world, ball markers became symbolic. Some were handmade, featuring basic stamps or engravings. Others came from local blacksmiths, reflecting the industrialization of that period of time.

By the late 19th century, golf ball markers had become more personalized. Clubs and players wanted thier own unique designs such as their club’s emblem or their initials.

Metal was popular, but so too were wood, bone and ivory.

Golf Ball Markers in the 20th Century

The infamous ‘Stymie’ rule allowed golfers to block each other with their balls! In 1952, the rule became obsolete, and a ball that was in the way had to be marked with a small coin or something similar. It was only in 1960 that the USGA allowed golfers to lift and clean their balls after marking.

Now, you would see golfers using markers that could clip onto hats or be worn as lapel pins. This added a bit of personal flair and practicality.

The evolution of markers also saw them being sold as memorabilia or souvenirs. Special events and tournaments began to produce their own branded markers. Marketers saw an opportunity and began to make special and limited editions. Golf ball markers became collectable!

Modern History of Golf Ball Markers

Although still mostly decorative, markers began to have a special purpose. Some are now magnetic and attached to hat clips.

Customization is a big trend. You can get markers with your name, favorite sports team, or perhaps fitting for the modern day – a funny golf ball marker gift for Father’s Day!

Markers have also became tools. Alignment golf ball markers can now help you with your putting by having directional lines.

Collecting Vintage Ball Markers

Collecting vintage golf ball markers can be a fascinating hobby. Markers can now be pieces of history. Some date back to the early 20th century, showing off intricate designs made from materials like silver or gold.

Perhaps, though, the best markers are those connected with famous golfers. It’s a little bit like collecting handwritten lyrics from famous artists. Imagine owning pieces of history in the form of markers from Tiger Woods or Tony Jacklin.

Famous Golfers and Their Markers

Tiger Woods still uses a 1932 US Quarter to mark his ball. In fact, ever since 1996, he has always marked his ball ‘heads’ up. Read the fascinating story of the 1996 US Amateur final against Steve Scott.

Phil Mickelson is known for using a marker with a very special memory .
His maternal grandfather, Al Santos, was one of the original Pebble Beach caddies when the iconic course opened in 1919. He left school when he was nine as his family desperately needed money.

Santos kept in his pocket a silver dollar from 1900 that he never spent. Instead, he rubbed the coin whenever he felt poor, a small comfort to know that he had money. He died in 2004, just months before Mickelson won the first of his four majors.

“I have that silver dollar today, and I’ve used it during the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am as a marker, and will continue to do so,” Mickelson said. “And he used to work, I believe, for 35 cents a bag around that course. And it’s just a cool feeling to have the money that he cherished and also to see what we are now playing for in prize money, and how far the game of golf has come. It’s a great reminder for me.”

Tony Jacklin and ‘The Concession’.
On the final green of the final match of the final day of the 1969 Ryder Cup, Jack Nicklaus conceded the final putt to the European Tony Jacklin to halve the match and create the first tie in Ryder Cup history (although the U.S. retained the Cup). “I don’t think you would have missed it,” Nicklaus told Jacklin, “but I wasn’t going to give you the chance, either.”
Now recognised as one of the great shows of sportsmanship, the ball marker that Jack Nicklaus picked up sold for $9,662.40 in 2021.

Geoff - everything golf cart

I’m Geoff – Short Game ‘Expert’ and Golf Coach.
(only because I play 9-hole 4 times a week, and I love passing on my favorite Pete Cowen tips to friends & family)
My most memorable golf experience – racing through the streets of Hong Kong in a golf cart to catch the next ferry!