Have you ever wondered who invented the simple golf tee? Until the tee came along in the late 1800’s, golfers piled dirt and sand into a small mound and set the ball on top. They would usually find a box of sand on each tee area, which is the origin of the term "tee box". The elevation of the dirt or sand made the ball easier to hit. Although this worked, it was a tedious and messy process that frustrated golfers.
In the late 1880’s two Scotsman, Arthur Douglas and William Bloxsom, are credited with developing the first portable tee made from rubber. These tees rested flat on the ground and had a raised portion to prop up the ball. In 1892, Percy Ellis of England patented a rubber-topped peg sold commercially as the "Perfectum."
A few years later, in 1899, an African-American dentist, Dr. George Franklin Grant, obtained a patent for
a tee that's very similar to the modern tee but with a flat head rather than concave, meaning that the ball had to be carefully balanced on the flat top of the wooden peg.
Grant never manufactured or marketed his design to leading golf manufacturers, he just gave it away to a small group of his friends. Grant's patent for a wooden peg that pierced the ground is what caused him to be recognized by the United States Golf Association in 1991 as the inventor of the wooden golf tee.
In 1925, Dr. William Lowell Sr., patented the design for the Reddy Tee. The Reddy Tee was wood and the first tees were green. He later switched to red, which led to the name "Reddy Tee." The Reddy Tee pierced the ground and had a concave platform at the flared top that cradled the ball, holding it in place. Before the patent was finalized, Grant had struck a deal with the Spalding Company to manufacture the Reddy Tees.
Initially, this tee and other variations failed to catch on, as most golfers continued using heaps of sand. However, unlike previous tee inventors, Dr. Lowell heavily marketed his tee to bring it into widespread use. The key to his marketing success was signing Walter Hagen in 1922 to use Reddy Tees during an exhibition tour. The Reddy Tee took off after that and Spalding started mass-producing them. Soon after, other companies started copying them.
Ever since the introduction of the Reddy Tee, the basic golf tee has looked the same: A wooden or plastic peg, flared at one end, with the flared end concave to cradle the ball. There are fancier versions of tees that use bristles, tines or prongs to support the ball, but the majority of tees in play continue to be the same form and function as the Reddy Tee.
Today, billions of golf tees are sold globally every year resulting in revenues of millions of dollars annually.
Credit: USGA/Kylie Garabed