How did golfers tee up their golf balls before the invention and manufacture of modern golf tees?
The earliest "tees" were just clumps of dirt. Golfers in the ancient mists of Scotland would use a club or their shoe to stab the ground, digging up a little mound of turf on which to set the golf ball.
As golf matured and became more organized, sand tees became the norm. What's a sand tee? Take a little wet sand, shape it into a conical mound, place the golf ball atop the mound, and you have a sand tee.
Sand tees were still the norm into the early 1900s. Golfers typically found a box of sand on each teeing ground (which is the origin of the term "tee box"). Sometimes there was also water provided, and the golfer would wet his hand, then get a handful of sand to shape into a tee. Or the sand in the "tee box" was already wet and easily shaped.
Either way, sand tees were messy, and by the late 1800s implements for teeing the golf ball started showing up in patent offices.