'Inside the Ropes,' 'Outside the Ropes' and 'Roping and Staking'

If you watch professional golf tournaments on television, you've probably heard the terms "inside the ropes" and "outside the ropes." Do you know what they mean? We'll explain the terms here, plus a third term — the one from which both derive — "roping and staking."

The basic definitions:

  • "Inside the ropes" refers to the cordoned-off areas of the golf course where the pro players, their caddies, match officials and television broadcast personnel walk during tournament play.
  • "Outside the ropes" refers to areas on the golf course during pro tournament play where the fans are allowed.
Basically, if you are not one of the few people allowed to be "inside the ropes" at pro golf tournament, then you'll be watching, walking or waiting around "outside the ropes."

And just what are these ropes that are being referenced? Both terms, as noted earlier, derive from a practice called "roping and staking." In earlier times of professional golf — into the 1950s for big events in the United States, into the 1970s for big tournaments in the U.K. — fans in attendance at tournaments were essentially allowed to roam anywhere they wanted. There were few crowd-control measures in place. The golfers competing would have to make their way through throngs of fans to get from the green of one hole to the tee of the next; sometimes, even just to make their way up a fairway.

That sometimes resulted in pro golfers being jostled around by fans; or in fans accidentally kicking or stepping on a golf ball in play, or otherwise trampling through playing areas. The crowd-control measure known as roping-and-staking was introduced to control the flow of fans around the golf course, and to allow the tour pros to walk unaccosted through their round.

Roping-and-staking involves stakes — today, typically metal with a loop at the top — pounded into the ground, with ropes strung from stake to stake. Roping-and-staking sets up a barrier between the fans and golfers, adding security for golfers and protecting the playing corridors against the foot traffic of thousands of spectators. Roping-and-staking is one of the key activities that tournament volunteers perform in the week leading up to a professional tournament.

Do we know where and when roping-and-staking first came into use? Well, the 1954 U.S. Open at Baltusrol was the first U.S. Open that was roped-and-staked. Arnold Palmer's soaring popularity beginning in the late 1950s certainly sped up the use of the practice.

It was an easy and very short extension of that original term that led to golfers and broadcasters talking about areas "inside the ropes" and "outside the ropes."

More definitions:

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