Golf Glossary: Terms You Should Know
Golf Glossary: Introduction
When you start playing golf you hear lots of phrases bandied about such as birdie, pin, out of bounds, handicap etc.
To save you having to ask I’ve compiled a list of useful terminology that you are likely to come across.
To beginners, it may seem like some incomprehensible new language but you will soon get the hang of it.
“The toughest opponent of all is Old Man Par. He’s a patient soul who never shoots a birdie and never incurs a bogey. And if you would travel the long road with him, you must be patient, too.”Bobby Jones
Par is simply the number of shots that a skilled golfer (a scratch player) is expected to take to complete the hole. As a general rule holes that are 250 yards or less would be considered par 3s. Holes from 251 to 500 yards would be considered par 4s. Holes over 500 yards would be considered par 5s. There are a few golf courses in the world that have holes even longer than this but they are few and far between. Other factors may come into play though such as being uphill or downhill so this is only a guide.
Also known as medal play this is the type of golf you normally see shown on TV. You count every shot you take until the ball is holed out on each hole and your final score is the total for all 18 holes.
I dreamed one night that I had 17 holes-in-one and one two, and when I woke up I was so goddam mad.Ben Hogan
A rare score indeed, holing out your first shot even on a par 3 is quite an achievement. It has occasionally been managed on short par 4s. Also known as a hole-in-one.
By tradition, if you managed to perform a hole-in-one then you should buy a round of drinks when you finish your game. In Japan, the tradition is for everyone else to buy you a present.
Although quite rare there are instances of aces happening in quick succession. For example, on the Hotchkin course at Woodhall Spa there is a plaque on one of the par 3s commemorating two players halving the hole in 1s! The same thing happened at Dartmouth Golf Club on the par-3 fourth!
Albatross or Double Eagle
This is a score of three under par on a given hole. So for example on a par 5 if you managed to hole out in two shots that would be considered an albatross or in the US a double eagle.
Someone taking two shots less than the par has scored an eagle. So a hole-in-one on a par 3, a two on par 4 or a three on a par 5.
A score of one-under-par on a given hole. For example a four on a par 5.
A score of one over par on a hole. Many years ago bogey was actually considered what we would now consider as par i.e. the score someone was expected to take on a hole.
Double and triple bogey
Scores of two or three over par. Hopefully, you’re not getting too many of these a round!
When someone scores an eight on a hole it might be described by some as a snowman! Best described this way between friends and certainly not in a competitive situation.
A number is printed against each hole identifying which holes you should be using your handicap on. For example, a 10 handicapper playing in a Stableford competition would receive a shot on holes with stroke indexes from 1 to 10.
A different form of competition where you play against one other player or sometimes as two pairs against each other. Rather than counting the number of shots in the round, each hole is won by the team taking the fewest shots on that hole. The team winning the most holes wins the match.
If you are playing in a matchplay competition and both sides had the same score on a hole then you would say that you have halved that hole.
A matchplay term signifying that both sides have won the same number of holes.
In matchplay, you are said to be dormie when you are unable to lose. For example, you are leading by one hole with one hole left to play. Believed to come from the French ‘dormir’, ‘to sleep’.
More popular in the UK since it is based on the imperial coinage in use until 1971. If you managed to win a match seven and six then you would have given a ‘dog licence’ to your opponent. That’s how much a dog license would have cost, seven shillings and sixpence. It means you were seven holes up with only six holes to play.
Assuming the match didn’t end in a draw (halved). You would describe the score as the number of holes that one side was up against the number of holes that were left to play at that point. For example, if after completing the 16th hole one side was three holes up then that side would have been declared the winner by a score of three and two.
Golf is a rare game because the handicap system allows players of wildly different abilities to play in a competition together. For example, no amount of head start is going to let me beat Roger Federer at tennis. I could however give the best golfers in the world a good game using the correct handicap.
“Nothing goes down as slowly as the golf handicap.”Bobby Jones
If you join a golf club or some other form of organized golf society you can obtain a handicap. You will have to submit a certain number of scores so that one can be calculated for you. This number is subtracted from your total score (gross score) to give your net score. It allows players of varying abilities to compete with one another. As you provide more scores, your handicap will be adjusted up or down depending upon how well you are playing.
A scratch golfer is someone who has attained a handicap of zero. This is often a target that many golfers aim for although few actually manage to achieve it. Par for a hole or the course is what a scratch golfer is expected to shoot given normal conditions.
A plus handicap would be achieved by regularly shooting scores better than par. Only a tiny percentage of golfers manage to achieve a plus handicap. When playing in a handicap competition a plus golfer has to add their handicap to their gross score. If they shot a 70 on a par 72 course and their handicap was +2 then their nett score is 72.
This was originally used by the US handicap system and is a measure of the difficulty of a particular golf course. Under the recently introduced world handicapping system, slope is now important to all golfers. The relative difficulty of your home club and the club that you may be playing at will mean your handicap may be adjusted up or down.
This replaces the standard scratch measure that was used in the UK. It is a numerical value assigned to each set of tees based on the score a scratch golfer would be expected to take.
When someone fails to turn in their scorecard for a competition or if they are unable to complete one (or more) holes then they are considered to NR.
One of the most important things when learning golf. If you hit a shot that you think may be heading towards another person on the course then you should immediately shout “FORE” as loud as you can. It gives them a chance to take evasive action.
Should you hear someone else shout “fore”, your first instinct should be to cover your head and protect yourself.
Usually used to describe the small piece of equipment that you would place your ball on at the start of each hole. These are generally made from either plastic or wood (I tend to prefer wooden tees myself).
Also used to describe the area where you start each hole. Sometimes called the teeing ground or tee box it will feature some form of official distance marker for the hole. It will also have a specific place where you are supposed to be hitting from marked out by two tee blocks.
An area of closely mown grass that you are going to be aiming for on par fours and par fives. If you are able to hit your ball onto the fairway then this will make subsequent shots that much easier.
Also known as the putting green. This is where you finish the hole by hitting your ball into the hole or cup.
A temporary green is used during inclement weather in order to protect the main green. At some courses, it may be little more than a hole cut in the fairway.
The direction in which the grass is growing, usually on the green. Some types of grass have significantly more grain than others. Kikuyu for example. If you are playing on grainy greens then you may need to take it into account when calculating the break of your putt.
The fringe is a collar surrounding the green. Some greens committees and greenkeepers like to have fringes that are easy to putt from. They are almost as tightly mown as the fairway or green. Others might allow their fringes to grow a little longer and would therefore be more difficult to putt from.
An area immediately in front of the green. Often it will be mown in a slightly different pattern than the fairway.
The part of the course that you hopefully don’t see too much of during a round. Areas of rough are aptly named as they are allowed to grow a lot longer than the fairway. In some cases an awful lot longer.
The style of golf course you are playing will affect the type of rough that you encounter. Links courses will often have very long rough sometimes known as fescue. Depending upon the weather conditions this could be very thick or quite wispy.
If you’re playing at a “championship” course then you may find that the rough has a number of different grades. The further off-line you are the deeper and thicker the rough will get.
A number of courses in the UK have heather as their primary rough. It can be very difficult to find your ball. Despite the fact that the plants are quite small it can be extremely difficult to extricate yourself when you are in there.
“Over the years, the fairway becomes longer and the diameter of the holes smaller.”Bobby Locke
Named because the shape of the hole resembles a dog’s leg. The hole starts out straight before bending either right or left.
An alternative name for the hole.
A type of golf course. Generally by the seaside and always built on sandy subsoil. Links courses were the original form of the game. They tend to be more open than modern parkland courses and have more penalizing bunkers. You are also more at the mercy of the elements when you play links golf.
Sometimes people will use the word links as a more generic term such as “let’s go to the links” meaning they want to go for a game of golf.
A bunker is a type of hazard on a golf course They make a hole more challenging. Some bunkers are placed on the fairway to make golfers think more carefully about the type of tee shot they are going to hit. The bunkers might be placed around the green in an effort to test the golfer’s ability with their approach play. These days bunkers are filled with sand although you do find on occasion grass bunkers. Links style courses tend to have very deep bunkers mainly because of the windy conditions and this helps to keep the sand in the bunker.
“The best wood in the bag of most amateur players is the pencil.”Chi Chi Rodriguez
Back in the days before the invention of ride on or hand carts some golfers would employ a person to carry their clubs. This person is known as a caddie.
Golfers playing professional tours will hire a caddie to carry their clubs and to help give them advice on shot selection or strategy.
Certain higher end clubs will also have a pool of caddies that you can book when you play there. These will have knowledge of the course, in particular the greens and can help you shoot a lower score. Believed to be derived from the French term ‘cadet’.
In some cases you might even have a fore-caddie that goes in front of your group to spot where your shots finish up.
Water hazard (now called a penalty area)
Fairly self-explanatory. Some form of water that is intended to cause players to drop shots. It may be as simple as a pond next to the green, a stream that you have to cross or it could be a lake that stretches the length of the hole from tee to green.
The rules on water hazards changed quite recently but you should try to avoid them whenever possible as you are always going to be losing a shot.
As the name suggests a body of water on the course that is not normally there. You may get them following a prolonged period of wet weather or possibly snow. Players are able to take free relief from casual water.
Through the Green (now called The General Area)
Through the green used to mean any part of the golf course except for the tee and the green of the hole being played plus hazards and bunkers. The general area is now any part of the course except the teeing ground and putting green of the hole being played, penalty areas and bunkers.
Ground under repair
An area of the course that has been marked unfit for play and which you can therefore take relief from.
In an effort to speed up play and assist players with their club selection many clubs will feature some form of distance markers on the fairway. This might mean discs of various colors set at 200, 150 and 100 yards from the green or it might mean marker posts at similar distances. Some clubs might have distances marked on sprinkler heads.
Out of bounds
Any area designated as being outside the playing area of the course. Generally marked by white stakes. If your ball finishes out of bounds then you have to replay your shot from where you just played under penalty of one stroke.
Damage done to the green when a ball lands on it from height. It is good etiquette to repair pitch marks when you find them on the green.
Playing the Game
Taking your stance and placing the clubhead behind the ball is known as addressing the ball.
Type of grip popularized by Harry Vardon, six-time Open champion. The little finger of your lower hand rests on top of the forefinger of your upper hand. See if you are using the right sort of grip.
A grip used by Jack Nicklaus where the little finger of your lower hand links with the forefinger of your upper hand.
Probably the least popular type of golf grip. All your fingers are placed directly onto the grip as if you are holding a baseball bat.
A series of moves that the golfer makes with the club in order to try and relax at address. Jason Dufner was famous for his extravagant waggles.
Not something you want to be doing too often. An air shot is where you make a swing at the ball but completely miss it. Unfortunately, it still counts as a shot I’m afraid.
In friendly games, players may decide to allow each other a Mulligan or two. This is an opportunity to replay a poor shot without it counting and with no penalties accruing.
A stroke made on the putting green. This shot would be along the ground and made using a club designed for this purpose called a putter.
A gimme is a putt that has been conceded by your playing partners. It was deemed sufficiently simple that you wouldn’t have been expected to miss it.
The amount a putt will curve depending upon the slope of the green between your ball and the hole.
An approach shot is any shot where you are intending to finish on the green.
The person furthest from the hole is “away” and is, therefore, next to play. These days many courses suggest that everyone plays “ready golf” as much as possible. It is an attempt to speed up play so being the player that is “away” is slightly less important these days.
The place where your ball has come to rest, it may or may not make it more difficult to play. For example a bare lie or a divot.
If your ball comes to rest on a piece of ground that has no grass. Amateurs generally find it more difficult to hit a good shot from a bare lie. Professionals generally don’t mind since it allows them to generate more backspin.
If your ball is either wholly or partly embedded it will be known as a plugged lie.
This is where your ball has plugged in a bunker.
Either a piece of turf that has been removed during the playing of a shot or the hole left behind when the grass was removed. If your ball finishes in a divot then that makes your next shot that much harder.
When putting describes a long putt that you have managed to leave in close proximity to the hole.
When a putt catches the edge of the hole but doesn’t drop. A more painful version is the horseshoe where the ball ends up coming back towards you!
An interchangeable term for break.
Type of lie in the rough where the grass is likely to become trapped between the clubhead and the ball. The result is likely to be a shot that goes a lot further than you would normally expect.
Up and down
The act of getting down in two shots from off the green. For example, one shot out of the bunker onto the green and then holing the putt.
Not quite as bad as the air shot but almost! When a player makes so little contact with the ball that it barely moves.
Generates the same fear amongst golfers as “MacBeth” does amongst actors. Most golfers would rather you didn’t say the word at all. It describes a shot that is actually not too far from being a good shot. Unfortunately rather than hitting the face of the club you connect with the hosel and the ball shoots off at an odd angle.
Usually associated with putting the yips is the tendency to twitch during the stroke. Some very famous golfers have had problems with the yips during their careers including Ben Hogan and Bernhard Langer.
Often a feature of older golf courses. You may find particular shots on certain holes where it would not be possible for you to see where the ball lands. For example, you might have to play over a hill.
Some people would use this interchangeably with block. Some would use it to describe a shot that was hit slightly to the right of the target for a right-hander.
A shot that goes severely to the right of your intended target for a right-hander.
A shot that curves gently from left to right for a right-handed golfer.
Shot the curves violently from left to right for a right-handed golfer. Explained in more detail in the ball flight laws.
A shot that curves gently from right to left for a right-handed golfer.
A shot that curves violently from right to left for a right-handed golfer.
A player that intends to hit a fade ends up hitting a hook or vice versa. This can prove to be quite a dangerous shot since you are likely to be a long way offline after hitting a double cross.
When someone misses the green on the same side as the pin is located. It generally results in a more difficult shot since you do not have a lot of room to work with.
A very poor shot where the ball barely gets airborne and hooks.
A temporary rule can be applied where the weather or course conditions mean that golf balls are likely to plug or pick up mud.
Something natural that is not fixed or growing in place. For example, a twig that has fallen off a tree or a leaf. You are allowed to remove loose impediments, however, if you move your ball in the process then you will be penalized one shot.
A player has the option to declare their ball unplayable at any point except when they are on the tee. Once a player has declared their ball unplayable they have a number of options. They can replay the shot from the point they last played. They can take a drop within two club-lengths of the point where the ball currently lies. They can take a drop anywhere along an imaginary line back from the point where the ball currently lies. They must keep that point between themselves and the flag. All three eventualities incur a one-stroke penalty.
Bump and run
A low trajectory shot is usually used around the greens. Generally offers a higher percentage chance of success than a lofted shot. Particularly for higher handicappers.
Usually, a short shot is played from somewhere around the green. Generally would fly over any obstacles such as rough or bonkers in an effort to land on the green and roll out the remaining distance to the flag.
A short shot using a high trajectory. Quite a difficult shot to play and not usually advisable to attempt it from anything but the best lie. Phil Mickelson is the master of the flop.
Used to describe a shot played with a lower trajectory. Usually used to avoid obstacles such as tree branches or to try to reduce the effect of the wind on your ball.
A lay-up shot is one played to avoid a hazard or to give you a comfortable distance for your next shot.
A shot where the player hits the ground before they have managed to connect with the ball. Depending upon exactly how fat the shot was hit the ball may come up short of its target or just not go very far at all. Can also be known as a chunk.
A type of shot where the player has not managed to correctly hit the ball below its equator. Depending upon the severity of the mishit the ball may not fly very high or may just run along the ground.
A more severe version of a thin shot. The ball will just bounce and roll.
This could refer to either a stance or a clubface. When referring to someone’s stance it means that their front foot is set closer to the ball to target line than their rear foot. When done deliberately it might be an attempt to curve the ball either a draw or hook.
When describing the clubface it means that the clubface is angled toward the player rather than down the ball to target line. For a right-hander, this means their clubface will be pointing left of the target.
The opposite of closed. When talking about a player’s stance, it would be considered open if their front foot was drawn back further from the target line than their rear foot. This would tend to promote a fade or slice.
An open clubface is one that is pointing away from the player in relation to the ball to target line. So for a right-hander, it will be pointing to the right of the target
A method to determine the winner of a competition in the event of a tie. It is particularly prevalent in the amateur game where there wouldn’t generally be time for play-offs. For an 18-hole competition, you would generally look at the back nine, back six, back three or the final hole. Hopefully, by that point, you would have found a winner!
On a personal note, I always found count back a particularly annoying method of determining the prizes. Usually, because I was on the wrong end of the decisions!
Where someone grips the club with their hands in the opposite position that you would normally expect. Generally associated with putting groups although I have seen the odd player use a cross-handed grip in their long game! In the UK this might also be called cack-handed.
A series of steps that a player will go through in order to get themselves in the right frame of mind to play their shot. This would usually involve some form of visualization and practice swings.
The first part of someone’s swing. They are taking the club back from the ball on an arc above and behind them.
Part of the swing where the golfer has reached their top position and is now coming back in the opposite direction in an effort to hit the ball.
That part of the swing after impact.
The direction the ball is likely to take following a stroke. This is most important on the green where it is considered poor etiquette to walk on someone’s line.
When someone gets a favorable outcome from what appeared to be a less than perfect shot. For example, hitting a tree and finishing on the green.
Rub of the green
This occurs when the ball is affected by a third party or object. For example, your ball looks like it might be heading for a hazard. Instead, it hits the bag of another player in a different group and is deflected back onto the fairway.
If your group has not been able to keep up with the group in front then you should allow players behind you to play through in order to avoid holding them up. Sometimes you may have to let club matches or specific people (e.g. the club captain) play through.
Used to describe shots that take place on or around the green. Putts, chips, pitches and bunker play.
Aimpoint is a system meant to help you read greens. You try to quantify the slope then use your fingers to pick your line. The bigger the slope the more fingers you use.
Actually a very simple device for measuring the speed of greens. It is merely a V shaped length of metal with a notch. A ball is placed into the notch and the stimpmeter is lifted until it reaches an angle such that the ball starts to roll down. How far the ball rolls after leaving the stimpmeter is its stimp reading.
The angle between an imaginary vertical line and the clubface. A putter or driver will be amongst the lowest lofted clubs in your bag with between 4° and 10°. A sand wedge or lob wedge is likely to be the most lofted club in your bag with lofts of 56° to 60° (or possibly more)
It is the angle between the center of the shaft and the ground when the club is placed squarely on the ground. As a general rule, shorter golfers might be better with a smaller lie angle and taller golfers might be better with a greater lie angle.
Generally used when discussing wedges and in particular sand or lob wedges. Bounce is the angle between the front edge of the club’s sole and the point that rests on the ground. Clubs with more bounce are less likely to dig deep into sand or tall grass.
Marks on the face of a golf club designed to help remove water and debris from the area of contact in order to maximize the spin imparted.
The part of the clubhead that the shaft fits into.
An increasingly popular type of club that combines the benefits of long irons and fairway woods to produce a club that is easier to hit.
A club designed specifically to escape from a bunker. Modern sand wedges were inspired by Gene Sarazen. He experimented with different types of clubhead to increase his chances of getting out of bunkers.
The point on the clubface which gives maximum power transfer to the ball. Ideally, you want to be able to hit the ball as close to the sweet spot as often as possible.
Just another name for your putter.
CoR (Coefficient of Restitution)
A measurement of how much energy is transferred between club and ball. A figure greater than 0.83 means the club would be non-conforming.
Greens In Regulation
Hitting a par-3 with your tee shot, a par-4 in no more than 2 shots and a par-5 in no more than 3 shots. Tour players usually manage to average around 66%. A more detailed explanation can be found here.
A count of the number of fairways you manage to hot with your tee shot. On the PGA Tour they usually manage around 60%.
Putts Per Round
A count of the putts you had in total during the round. Players at the top of the list on the major tours wills be taking around 28 putts per round!
It is a type of membership offered at some golf clubs. Usually, the membership fee is significantly reduced. You receive a discount because this membership type requires that you undertake some work on the golf course. Sunningdale Golf Club still has an artisan section for example.
Someone who has deliberately manipulated their handicap so that it is higher than it really ought to be for their standard of play. This is so they can give themselves a greater chance of winning in handicap competitions. Also known as a sandbagger or a shark.
Courtesy of the course may be granted for visiting teams when playing matches. Professional golfers, current club captains and in some cases club secretaries can also play most courses for free.
Some clubs may even grant a free round to prospective new members in an effort to entice them to join.
Dormie House (Dormy House)
On-site sleeping accommodations provided by the club. A small number of clubs offer their members some basic accommodations for overnight stays.
Someone lacking golfing ability. They may also exhibit poor etiquette.
Halfway house/halfway hut
A building offering light refreshments and snacks at some point during the round. Usually between the ninth green and 10th Tee.
On the beach
You hit a shot that finished in the sand.
A discounted green fee – generally available for the last 4 hours or so before it gets dark. Some clubs specify a specific time, some adjust it depending on the number of daylight hours.
A shotgun start is a competition format where every player starts at the same time.
Hopefully, that hasn’t overloaded your memory banks. You should now have a better idea of some of the terms being used in TV broadcasts and by your fellow golfers when you go out to play.
The more you play the more you will learn about playing golf and its terminology.