A Glossary of Golf Terms and Definitions – It Can Be A Jungle Out There!
Golf, it’s a great sport (although some claim it’s more like a way of living or a philosophy than a mere sport). But if you’re thinking of taking up the game; whether for pleasure, to see how low you can get your handicap, the exercise, socializing, or maybe for an occasional gamble, wouldn’t it be nice to have some common golf terms explained so you could feel more confident when you first venture into the pro shop?
Here’s one now, so peruse at your leisure, and dream of winning the Masters:
Colloquial term for what every golfer dreams of - a hole-in-one. (See Hole-In-One).
This is the body stance taken by a golfer just prior to hitting the ball. Also known as `addressing the ball'.
A golfer may only seek advice on how a shot is to be played from a caddy or playing partner.
This is a golfer’s score added together from more than one round of play, or two golfer’s scores combined for a single round if they are playing partners.
- Air Shot
This is where a player tries to play a shot, but completely misses the ball with his club.
Known as Double Eagle in the U.S. This is when a score of 1 at a par 4 hole, or 2 at a par 5 hole is scored. (See Par).
- Alternate Ball
A match format where playing partners swap between hitting their own and their partner’s ball on each stroke of a hole.
A golfer who plays for pleasure alone, and does not receive payments for either their playing or coaching abilities.
- Angle of Approach
This is the angle made by the club as it moves, either downwards or upwards, towards the ball.
The approach shot is the one played at the green from anywhere (fairway, rough or bunker) except the tee.
Also known as fringe, this is the area of slightly longer grass bordering a green, and separating the putting surface from the longer grass of a fairway or the rough.
- Attend the Flag
Sometimes on longer putts, a golfer will prefer to ask a caddy or other player to hold the flag, removing it as the ball nears.
- Australasian Tour
This is the professional circuit of tournaments held in Australia and across Asia.
This is the ball furthest from the hole, and next to be played. This rule stands however many strokes have been played by each player.
- Back Door
A slang term for the rear of the hole as viewed from the playing position. When a ball hit’s the side lip of a hole and goes around it before dropping in from behind it is said to, `go in by the back door.’
- Back Nine
Holes 10 - 18 of a course. Also known as the inward half or just `In.’
This is the reverse spin applied to a ball during the shot that makes it roll back upon landing.
This is a nickname for a 4-wood.
- Bail Out
This is a cautious option where a shot is hit wide of a difficult area, but may end up being much further from the green than if the risk was taken.
This is a golf shot that sends the ball a long way up, but not very far forwards.
- Ball in Play
A golf ball is in play after the player has begun his downswing in the tee off area. It will remain in play until holed, hit out of bounds, lost, or lifted.
- Ball Marker
This can be any small item, but usually it is a coin, placed next to the ball by a player to indicate its position on a green when he or she is about to pick it up.
- Banana Ball
This is an extreme slice that sends a ball on a curving trajectory out far to the right.
This is the curve of the ball in the air because of sidespin.
- Best/Better Ball
This is where players always play their own ball but have partners, and the best score for each team counts as the recorded score for the hole.
A score of one shot under par for a hole. (See Par).
This is a type of backspin that aims to make the ball do a dead stop when it lands.
This is the leading edge of the club face. Many ground hugging shots are caused by the blade coming into contact with the ball, and are known as `blade shots‘.
This is an attacking shot played from a bunker, which results in an overly large spray of sand being sent up into the air. (See Bunkers).
- Blind Hole
This is a hole where the green cannot be seen by a player as he makes his or her approach shot.
A score of one shot over par for a hole. (See Par).
When putting across a sloping green, the borrow is the amount you should aim to either side of the hole to compensate for the contours.
The outer limits of a golf course. (There is a world outside too).
This is a lucky shot that was going way wide but hit something, a tree perhaps, or a spectator’s head, and because of this bounced back into play.
A nickname for a 2-wood.
These are the small electrically powered carts that allow for less walking on the course.
Also known as `sand traps,’ these are hollows filled with sand and placed strategically around a course. Bunkers can be as long or wide as wished by the course designer, and vary considerably in the steepness of their sides.
- British Open
This is one of the four `majors’ of golf, and was the first national championship held anywhere in the world.
In knock-out tournament play, because the number of participants may not always be multiples of two, sometimes a `bye’ can be drawn which allows one player advancement to the next round without having to beat an opponent.
- Caddy or Caddie
An assistant to a golfer who carries the clubs and offers pertinent advice.
A term meaning both the fairway and green.
This is the distance that the ball travels in the air before hitting the ground for the first time.
A chip shot is a low approach shot made from near the green.
This is a chip made from further away, where the ball may roll for a considerable distance after landing.
A chip shot that goes straight into the hole.
When a player is in trouble (amongst shrubbery for example) he or she may prefer to make this short shot to get the ball back safely onto the fairway rather than trying to launch the ball out of the undergrowth.
A term meaning to play badly when under pressure.
Another name for a spike on a golf shoe.
The administrative and social living heart of a golf club.
These are the elected officials that generally run things.
The relative hardness or softness of a golf ball is its compression.
This means to grant an opponent a putt, or to give up on a hole or the match itself. (See Gimme).
- Control Shot
This is a shot where the player applies less power than he or she could, to better control the direction.
- Country Club
This is a more expensive golf club that may offer more than just a round of golf, but certainly makes you pay for the privilege.
The cut is an elimination process that reduces the number of players halfway through a tournament based on their score.
A score of two strokes on a hole.
These are the depressions on the surface of a golf ball that aid it in flight.
This is the clump of turf that is seen flying up into the air with some golf shots. It should be replaced by the conscientious golfer (or their caddy).
A bend to either the left or right of a fairway.
This term is used in match play when a player cannot lose a match but has not yet won it either. This situation comes about when he / she are leading by the same number of holes that remain to be played. For example, being 3 holes up on the sixteenth would be known as dormy-three, because only three holes are left in the round. (See Match Play).
- Double Bogey
A score of two shots over par for a hole. (See Par).
He’s been a bad boy and he’s been disqualified.
This is a better controlled version of a hook shot, where the ball curves to the left. (For right-handers).
This is the first shot played on a hole when teeing off.
The 1 wood. The club that hits the ball further than any other.
- Driving Iron
A 1 or 2 iron. These irons have less loft than the others and so the ball will go further, though not as far as with a driver, however more control can often be applied.
- Driving Range
A practice area for trying out new clubs or perfecting your swing.
This what a golfer does when his/her ball is unplayable. It may be either a penalty drop or a free drop according to circumstance. In either case, the ball is dropped from a fully outstretched arm at shoulder height.
A score of two shots under par for a hole. (See Par).
- European Tour
This is a professional golfers’ circuit with tournaments held principally in Europe, but also in North Africa and the Middle East.
- Executive Course
This is a very low yardage golf course for quickly played rounds.
- Extra Holes
These are tie-breaking holes played when the scores are even after 18 holes.
This means the ball is following a curving flight that sends it to the right (for right-handed golfers).
This is where your ball is supposed to land after you’ve made your drive. It’s the pleasant looking strip running from the tee to the green.
- Fat Shot
This is where the club hits the ground considerably behind the ball, making for a short shot with a large divot. (See Divot).
- Five-Minute Rule
Can’t find that ball? The clock is counting! After five minutes the ball is considered as lost.
The pole with the flag attached used to mark the placing of the hole on every green.
This is where the ball travels further than was expected or required.
This is the extension of the swing after the ball has been hit (or missed).
This is the traditional warning cry yelled by a golfer to alert anyone that his / her ball is not heading where desired, but may instead be heading in their direction.
- Four Ball
A match held between two teams of two, each player with their own ball, and the best score of each pair counting for the hole. (See below).
A match held between two teams of two, but with a ball shared by each pair, with both players taking alternate shots. (See above).
- Fried Egg
This is the term for a ball that has gone into a bunker, and remained firmly where it landed. (See Bunker).
- Front Nine
These are holes 1 - 9. Also referred to as `going out.’
These are the spectators.
A courtesy. This is when a player concedes a putt, generally because the ball is so close too the hole that the other player is virtually assured of holing.
- G. I. R. - Greens In Regulation
This is where the ball arrives on the green in the regulation number of shots. (1 shot - par 3; 2 shots - par 4; 3 shots - par 5).
The direction in which the ultra short mown grass on the putting green lies.
The putting area containing the hole.
- Green(s) Fee
If you want to play, you usually have to pay.
- Green Jacket
This famous prize is awarded to the winner of the U.S. Masters Championship.
The grip is the end of the shaft of the golf club, wood, iron, or putter held by the player and covered with cord, rubber or leather. Also, it describes the way in which your fingers wrap around the said shaft.
- Green keepers
The guys and gals who make sure the course is playable.
A halved hole is a tied hole - each player completed it in the same number of shots.
This is a number that shows how good a player is, the lower - the better. The handicap can be taken off his/her score so that players with different levels of ability can compete against one another.
Either sand or water, try not to hit your ball here for those lower scores.
4 inches deep and 4 ¼ inches wide, marked by a flag. It’s what golf balls dream of.
See Pin High.
Just one shot from the tee smack bang into the hole - perfection!
The player who tees off first has the honor. It’s whoever had the lowest score at the previous hole.
This shot goes way wide left (for the right-hander).
Holes 10 -18.
This is a tournament where only those invited are allowed to participate.
Generally used from the fairway and rough, this group of clubs varies in shaft length and loft of clubface. Which you use depends on factors such as distance, wind and strength of swing.
If you face a difficult shot and you don’t have many options, then this is where you are said to be.
A nickname for the 4-iron.
This means heavy (deep) rough.
A term meaning the bounce of a ball. Can either be kind, or otherwise.
- Kitty Litter
A slang term meaning a bunker. (See Bunkers).
This is a putt that a player wants to go near to the hole, but not into it. Used either for safety or as a tactical ploy.
- Lay Up
A cautious approach shot designed to fall short of the green, but in an excellent place to make the next shot from.
- Leader Board
Only the best scores in a round will be seen here.
Wherever the golf ball is at rest.
This is the flight path that a golfer desires the ball to take after it has been hit.
- Local Rules
The tweaking of the rules of golf by a particular course.
This is the angle of the clubface relative to the vertical.
- Long Game
These are the distance shots made by using the longer irons and the woods. (See Irons and Woods).
The LPGA refers to the Ladies Professional Golf Association.
The four tournaments everybody really wants to win - British Open, The Masters, U.S. Open, and the PGA Championship.
These volunteers help to keep the gallery (spectators) in order.
- Match Play
This is a form of scoring in golf where the holes are won, lost or halved. The tally of strokes does not matter with reference to par, only to use fewer shots than the opponents. (See below).
- Medal Play (a.k.a. Stroke Play)
This way of scoring counts every shot played throughout the round. At the end, they are added up and whoever used the lowest number is the winner. (See above).
In friendly games only, this means a free second chance after making a bad shot.
- Municipal Course
This is a golf course owned by local government and allows public access.
- Net Score
This is a golfer’s score after their handicap has been subtracted. (See Handicap).
A nickname for a 9-iron.
- Nineteenth Hole
The clubhouse bar.
A tournament that anyone (within reason) can have a go at qualifying for.
When on the green, holing the ball with just a single putt.
- Over Par
The par of each hole is the number of shots given to complete it, for length plus two for putting, each hole is either a par 3, 4, or 5. These are then added up to give the Penalty Strokes
These are added to a players score for a rules violation, or hitting the ball out-of-bounds or into water.
The PGA stands for the Professional Golf Association.
- PGA Tour
The top pro circuit in North America.
This is another word for the flagstick.
- Pin High
Here, a player has hit a shot onto the green of superbly judged length, as the ball is off to either side of the flag but level with it from the player’s perspective.
This is a short approach shot that is higher than a chip shot.
- Pitching Wedge
A specialist iron with a high degree of loft in the clubface. (See Irons and Loft).
- Play Through
This is a courtesy where a slow group stand aside to allow any faster players who are immediately behind them to complete the hole first.
- Preferred Lies
This is a rule where a player may lift his ball from temporary water in wet conditions and replace it either slightly beside or behind its’ original lie.
- Pro Shop
Where you can buy new equipment (to replace what you’ve just thrown into the lake).
This is a shot that flies straight but off to the left (for a right-hander, opposite for lefties), as distinct from a draw or hook where the ball curves due to spin.
A short low shot deliberately played with a shortened swing.
A shot where the ball is straight but to the right (with right-handed players, the reverse for lefties). It is different from a fade or slice as there the ball will curve in flight.
A gentle shot that rolls along the grass of the green (hopefully towards the hole).
The most important club, as usually it’s the putter that decides whether the day will be won or lost.
- Qualifying School
This is the path that must be trod for those who want to join a pro tour.
- R&A (Royal and Ancient)
The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews are the overlords of golf in most countries around the world. They draw up the rules of golf, together with the USGA. (See USGA).
Use this to repair the mess in the sand trap after you’ve been in there for a while.
A shot made to rescue a difficult situation, not necessarily made towards the green.
The long grass alongside the fairway and around the green.
Playing all 18 holes on the course.
This is how far the ball continues along the ground after the first landing.
A cut of grass longer than the fairway but shorter than the rough.
The collection of clubs carried in a round (maximum 14).
- Scratch Player
A very good player, with no handicap. (See Handicap).
- Shag Bag
A bag to carry practice balls in.
- Short Game
The pitches and chip shots from around the green, and the putting on it.
When the ball goes into the hole from a putt.
For a right-hander, this is a shot that curves away considerably to the right.
A long putt that follows the contours of a green.
Nickname for a 3-wood.
This is an instrument used to gauge the speed of a green. A ball is rolled down it from a fixed height and how far it travels will indicate the stimp reading: 5 or 6 is slow, 7 or 8 medium, 9 or 10 fast and 11 or 12 is extremely fast.
A stroke is made when the clubface moves forward with intent to strike the ball, whether it does or not.
- Stroke Play
See Medal Play.
- Sweet Spot
The best place on a clubface to hit a ball with, for maximum distance and accuracy.
A small peg which raises the ball above the ground. Also the name of the area where the first shot of each hole is played, from between and behind the markers.
- Tee Time
Start time for a round on a schedule.
- Texas Wedge
Nickname for a putter when it is used off the green.
- Triple Bogey
A score of three over par for a hole. (See Par).
Halfway through the round, between the green of the ninth and the tee of the tenth.
- Under Par
- Up And Down
Where a player saves par despite not reaching the green in regulation. (See G.I.R. and Par).
The United States Golf Association (USGA) is the governing golf association in the U.S. and Mexico.
The small movements of the clubface to and fro behind the ball made by a player prior to unleashing his/her swing.
- Water Hazard
Lakes, rivers, ponds or streams, some even come with fountains. And all lovely to look at, until your ball heads that way.
The longest distance clubs with the big clubfaces that are nowadays mostly made from metal but the name persists.
- Yardage Chart
A card with distance and layout info for every hole on the course.
The strange condition that may strike golfers on any day, causing them to miss embarrassingly easy putts.
So there’s a list, not complete, but full of golf jargon that you can use the next time you’re having a drink and watching Tiger Woods on television, doing what you can only dream of doing with a golf ball.
But if you decide to take up the game, don’t get upset when things go wrong. Even a great golfer like Tiger Woods has his bad days, and you can always claim that you were distracted by a seagull when your ball heads for the trees, and you may even be believed as well.
About The Author
Matt Jacks is a successful freelance writer providing valuable tips and advice for consumers purchasing golf clubs, balls & equipment, where to buy golf bags, supplies & accessories and golf shoes, apparel and hats. His numerous articles offer moneysaving tips and valuable insight on typically confusing topics.
This "Glossary of Golf Terms & Definitions" reprinted with permission.
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