The Golf-class succeeded the successful Zulu-class boats in Soviet Navy service but were, themselves, succeeded by the Hotel-class (eight built). Golf boats managed an operational service from 1958 until 1990 and twenty-four of their kind were completed in all. The class found some foreign use in the hands of the People's Liberation Army Navy (China) and the Korean People's Army Naval Force (North Korea) though this was to a limited extent.
At least ten Golf boats were reportedly sold off to the North Koreans in or around 1993 (as the Soviets gave up use of the series in 1990). While they were to see scrapping, it is thought that the Navy service was attempting (or had attempted) to resurrect the line for operational service. Back in 1959, the Chinese were granted rights to the boat's design by the Soviets but, due to the Sino-Soviet Split, only a single example was constructed in 1966 (as Type 6631 and then becoming Type 031).
The earlier Zulu-class had several hulls set aside for reworking to launch missiles. This, in effect, made them the world's first ballistic missile submarines and the Soviets did not stop there for the Golf-class were developed purposely as ballistic missile submarines outfitted with three missile tubes for the R-11FM SCUD missile (these were upgraded as the boat class grew). The launchers were vertical installations added into the aft portion of the sail (which sat just slightly ahead of midships).
As built, the Golf-class was given a surfaced displacement of 2,800 tons and a submerged displacement of 3,555 tons. Overall length was 323 feet with beams measuring 27 feet and draughts down to 25.8 feet. Power was from 3 x Diesel engines rated at 2,000 horsepower each and 3 x Electric motors rated at 5,200 horsepower each. These drove a three-shaft arrangement astern. Speeds reached 17 knots on the surface of the water and up to 12 knots under it. Range was limited to seventy days at sea due to fuel and food stores as well as crew fatigue (the crew numbered 80). The hull was tested to depths of 300 meters (maximum).
In addition to their missile-launching capability, the class retained the traditional torpedo-launching quality: 6 x 533mm torpedo tubes were fitted in bow-facing positions towards the front of the boat.
Work on the Golf-class had been underway as soon as the middle of 1950s, even as the Zulu and Whiskey classes were continuing to come online. The Foxtrot-class, a diesel-electric patrol-minded attack submarine, then followed and these set the stage for the Golf-class who borrowed much from their hull design with the missile-launching capability of the Zulus. As with the Zulu-class, the Golf-class could only fire the missiles when surfaced (though it could still keep a slow forward speed during the action).
The Severodvinsk and Komsomolsk shipyards were both involved in the construction of the Golf-class and the boats served into the mid-1960s before they were revitalized in 1966 to the "629A" standard (NATO: "Golf II class"). The missile component was upgraded to support the R-21 family which was introduced back in 1963 and the boats could now fire these missiles while submerged and moving steadily. Other changes in the 629A model affected surfaced displacement (now registering between 2,300 and 2,800 tons) and overall length (to 324 feet) and draught (27.8 feet). The crew complement was also increased by three to 83.
With the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989-1991, the boats were removed from the active Soviet naval inventory and decommissioned from service. Several other related forms emerged in the Project 629 line, mainly one-off boats of the series converted to test other armament / components or to help fulfill other vital naval roles.