Golf Terminology for Beginners – 45 Common Golf Terms you Need to Know
Like any sport, golf has it’s own language and golfers often use slang to describe the course, their shots, and other golfers. Here’s a selection of common golfing terms:
Par – completing the hole in the allocated number of shots. Most golf courses are par 72 for 18 holes meaning that a scratch golfer (a golfer with zero handicap) will complete the course in 72 shots. which are either par 3 (short distance holes) par 4 (medium distance holes) or par 5 (longer holes) So a par is a score of 3 on a par 3, 4 on a par 4 or 5 on a par 5.
Birdie – completing a hole in one under par – scoring 2 on a par 3, 3 on a par 4 or 4 on a par 5
Eagle – completing a hole in 2 under par – a hole in one on a par 3, a two on a par 4 or a 3 on a par 5.
Albatross – completing a hole in 3 under par. Impossible on a par 3 (unless a handicap is taken into account, in which case it would be a net albatross). A hole in one on a par four, or a 2 on a par 5.
Ace – a hole in one. Usually on a par three, rarely on a par four and extremely rarely on a par 5.
You’d think that a hole in one on a par 5 would be impossible, but there are certain conditions where it is possible and has been done. The perfect scenario is a short par 5 of sub 500 yards, where the hole is a dog leg and allows the possibility of cutting the corner. The standard way to play a par 5 dogleg is to play to the fairway where the hole turns to the right or left, then play to the hole. Cutting the corner means aiming the tee shot directly at the green, usually over trees. This rare bird has been named a double albatross, or Condor.
It has been achieved only 5 recorded times:
In 1962, Larry Bruce made a Condor on the par 5 fifth hole at Hope Country Club, Arkansas USA
In 1973 Dick Hogan made one on the par 5 eighth hole at Piedmont Crescent Golf Course, Burlington N.C.
In 1995, Shaun Lynch hit a Condor at the par 5 seventeenth, Teign Vally Golf Club, Christow, England.
In 2002 Mike Crean managed the feat at the par 5 ninth, Green Vally Ranch Golf Club, Denver.
And finally in 2007, Jack Bartlett hit one at the par 5 seventeenth, Royal Wentworth Falls Country Club, New South Wales, Australia.
There are no known Condors recorded as a two on a par 6, but then again there are not many of them.
Theoretically, it should be easier to shoot 3 on a par 7 hole, but there are only two of those in the world, and it’s never been done.
Bogey – completing a hole in one over par. A score of 4 on a par three, five on a par 4 or six on a par 5
Double Bogey – completing a hole in 2 over par. Scoring 5 on a par three, 6 on a par 4 or 7 on a par 5.
Triple Bogey – completing a hole in three over par. Taking 6 shots on a par three, 7 shots on a par 4 or 8 shots on a par five.
Snowman – taking 8 shots on any hole.
Gimme – common in casual matches and not allowed in stroke play. A Gimme is a putt that is conceded by your playing partners because it is close to the hole and it’s accepted that you won’t miss it. Hence the phrase “that a gimme”.
Mulligan – in social games, the Mulligan may be in play.
A Mulligan, if granted by your playing partners, or pre-agreed, allows the golfer to disregard a duffed shot and play the shot again, a bit like a second serve in tennis. For the origin ot this term see here
Flush – a good strike on the golf ball, usually with an iron – “he flushed that”
Fat – hitting the ground immediately behind the golf ball resulting in a shot that goes half as far as it should.
Thin – making contact with the centre of the golf ball with the leading edge of the club face. The ball will come out like a rocket at a low height and will fly past the intended target.
Draw – For a right handed golfer, a gentle right to left movement of the ball in flight. The golf ball will start of a path that’s right of target, and gradually draw back in towards target. Some golfers simply prefer this shot shape. Others will use it to counteract a left to right breeze.
Fade or Cut – The opposite of a draw. For a right handed golfer, a gentle right to left movement of the ball in flight. The ball will start left of target and gradually fade towards the target. A high percentage of golfers fade the ball and it is a useful shot shape to counteract a right to left breeze. Also useful if there is trouble up the right, but not left.
Pull – an intended draw shot that sets off left of target and keeps going left.
Push – an intended fade shot that sets off right of target and keeps going in that direction
Hook – For the right handed golfer, a severe right to left ball flight path that often results in a lost ball or a visit to the adjoining fairway.
Slice – for the right handed golfer, a severe left to right ball flight path with similar results to a hook.
Top – Striking down on top of the ball rather than making contact with the centre of the ball facing the club. The result is a shot that skips across the fairway at best and is short of the intended distance. A top from the rough can often be on of those embarrassing shots that goes 6 feet.
Shank – a word which must not be uttered on the golf course as other golfers believe the word holds special powers to similarly affect them. A shank is where the ball contacts the golf club at the hosel (the bit where shaft meets head) and flies off at a 45 degree angle. Usually happens on iron shots, but chips can be affected too.
It’s a horrible affliction that can strike from nowhere and is notoriously difficult to get rid of.
Stiff – a shot to a green that finishes very close to the hole.
Pin high – a shot to a green where the ball has gone the correct distance and is level with the hole. It could however be 30 yards away.
The yips – a term used to describe a problem with putting. A player afflicted with the yips struggles to commit to hitting the putt. I have a friend who has this condition and it’s hard to watch him putt.
Tee or Tee Box – the designated area where players hit their first shot from on each hole. There are often four or more tee boxes on very hole. Each are designated by colored markers on the ground set some distance, say 10 yards apart. Women and juniors play off forward tees which reduce the yardage of the hole and make it easier.
Fairway – the mown stretch of grass that runs from the tee box to the green. Width varies from around 15 yards to 100 yards. On some courses, the fairway doesn’t start immediately in front of the tee box and the golfer is required to hit over trouble to land on the fairway, some distance away.
Green – the closely mown area where to hole is located and only putters are used. Greens can vary in size from say 15 feet across to 40 yards across. They are rarely flat. Often referred to as “the dance floor”.
The rough – areas outside the fairway and green that are not manicured. That could consist of long grass or gorse bushes.
Bunkers also called sand traps or the beach – Man made “holes” in the fairway on a golf course that are filled with sand. Shallow facing the golfer allowing the ball to run into them easily and often, but not always steep sided making playing out of them difficult. Size varies from a few yards across at the smallest to almost 100 yards across at the largest.
They are used to make a hole more difficult and are often placed around the distance from a tee that the average golfer would make with a driver.
19th Hole – the club house where food, drink and post round conversation can be enjoyed.
On the course
The Honour – the term given to the player who goes first on any hole.
Army Golf – left, right. Describes a player who instead of proceeding straight down the fairway, zig zags down the course in a somewhat uncontrolled manner. Beginners often find themselves playing Army Golf.
Fried Egg – a description of how the ball and immediately surrounding sand look when the ball has dropped into a bunker from height.
Cabbage – a slang term for rough, or particularly rough, rough.
Wet – a term to describe the state of the golf ball when it’s entered water – used sarcastically.
That works – a way to describe an opponent’s shot when he mis-hits it but it ends up in a good place.
Pin or flag or flag stick – the thing that’s stuck in the hole to enable you to see where the hole is from some distance away. Usually about 6ft tall.
Plugged – a ball that has landed on the fairway or green and sits down in the depression it made when it landed.
Lie – the way the golf ball sits on the grass.
Big Stick – the Driver, which is used almost exclusively for tee shots on long holes. It’s called the big stick, because it’s the longest club in the bag.
Texas Wedge or Flat stick – a putter. Called a Texas wedge because course conditions in Texas back in the day meant that there was often little grass surrounding the greens. Golfers would find it easier to putt from off the green rather than use a wedge to chip. And called a flat stick, because the face is flat.
A bandit – a golfer who is better than their official handicap and deliberately keeps their handicap high in order to win competitions. Another word for it would be cheat.
A Barrymore – when reading the line of the putt, it will usually either be straight, or break one way, either from left to right, or right to left. A Barrymore, is a putt that goes both ways. Also called a Hudson.
A Jason – A bad shot, a duff. Extracted from the surname of professional golfer Jason Dufner.
A Sally Gunnel – and ugly shot that runs well.