Golf Terminology 101: Golf Terms Every Player Should Know
If you’re new to golf, it’s important to learn and understand the various terms used in the game. In this guide, we’ll go deep and provide definitions for a range of golf terminology.
Golf Terms Defined
Ace: A hole-in-one. Hitting the ball into the hole in one stroke.
Address: Taking a stance and placing the clubhead behind the golf ball in preparation for playing a shot.
Aerating/aerification: A preventative maintenance process by which very small holes are punched into the grass on the golf course to provide growing room for grassroots and to help keep turfgrass healthy.
Albatross: A score of three less than par — as you can imagine, a very rare occurrence! You’ll also hear “double eagle.” It’s the same thing as an albatross.
Alternate shot: A golf competition format in which two golfers play as partners playing one golf ball, taking turns playing the strokes.
Animals: A betting game played over nine holes or reset at the turn for the second nine using names of animals to track situations that happen on the golf course within your group.
Apron: The shorter grass directly in front of the green.
All square: When the score is tied in match play.
Away: The ball that’s farthest away from the hole, as in “you’re away.” The player farthest away typically hits first.
Back nine: The second nine holes of golf on an 18-hole golf course, typically holes 10-18.
Backswing: The initial part of the golf swing in which the player moves the club away from its initial position behind the golf ball.
Back tees: The farthest set of tees from the hole on each hole, also referred to as “the tips.”
Ball marker: A coin-sized object, typically round, used to mark the position of a player’s ball on the green.
Ball mark: A small indentation on the surface of a green resulting from the impact of a golf ball.
Beach: Slang term for a sand bunker.
Bentgrass: A type of grass used on golf courses, especially known for allowing balls to run smoothly and quickly on the greens.
Bermudagrass: A popular variety of grass used on golf courses.
Best ball: A format of play typically used in tournaments, in which the team score for each hole is the “best score” of at least one of the players in a foursome. “Best ball” is often mistaken for Scramble.
Bingo, Bango, Bongo: A fun betting game in which 3 points are available on each hole – one for the first person to land a ball on the green (Bingo), one for the ball that is closest to the hole once all players’ balls are on the green (Bango) and one for the longest putt made (Bongo).
Birdie: A score of one less than par.
Bite: A ball with lots of backspin is said to “bite,” since it stays pretty close to where it landed or even spins back toward the player. Sometimes a player will shout (pray) for a ball to bite if it looks like it’s going past the hole. (A humorous way of doing this is to shout, “Grow teeth!”)
Bogey: A score of one over par.
Bracket: To take additional clubs — one higher and one lower — than the club you believe you need to hit a certain shot. This means you’ll be prepared for a situation different from what you originally expected, so it’s generally a good idea.
Break: The curve or bend in a putt due to the slope of the terrain.
Bump and run: A low-trajectory golf shot intended to send the ball rolling along the ground and onto the green.
Bunker: A concave area containing sand or the like.
Caddie: A person who carries a golfer’s bag and clubs and provides insightful advice and moral support to the golfer.
Cart path: A path lining and connecting the holes on a golf course on which golf carts drive.
Cart path only: A condition on the golf course by which players driving motorized golf carts must drive only on the cart paths and not on the grass.
Casual water: An accumulation of water on the golf course that is not part of a penalty area. Generally, you encounter casual water after heavy rains. The player is allowed to move the ball without penalty.
Chipping: A low-trajectory, short golf shot typically made from just off the green.
Choke down: When a player places his/her grip lower down the shaft of the golf club than normal.
Club fitting: The process of measuring a golfer’s physical dimensions and swing speed, then building clubs to match. Club fitting assures a golfer’s equipment will have the proper length, lie and shaft flex, eliminating many hitting errors attributed to clubs not custom fit to the player.
Course handicap: A number that indicates how many strokes a player receives on a specific golf course and from a specific set of tees.
Cup: The four-inch deep, 4.5-inch diameter hole on the green.
Cut shot: A golf shot in which the ball gradually moves left to right (for a right-handed golfer). Also known as a “fade.”
Dance floor: Slang term for the green.
Deep: A flagstick or hole that is located toward the back of the green.
Distance measuring device: A tool that allows a player to measure distances on the golf course — commonly a GPS watch, a handheld rangefinder, a Smartphone App, etc.
Divot: The small chunk of turf that is dislodged when a club head strikes the ground as a player hits the ball.
Divot repair tool: A small metal or plastic tool with a prong(s), used to repair ball marks on the green.
Divot seed mixture: A mixture of typically sand, seed, and soil that a player can place into a divot on the teeing area or fairway.
Dogleg: A golf hole that is crooked and not straight. Dogleg right refers to a hole that bends to the right.
Double bogey: A score of two-over-par. Generally shortened to “a double.”
Downswing: The downward movement of the golf club – the portion of the swing prior to making contact with the golf ball.
Drained: Slang term for having sunk a putt.
Draw: A golf shot in which the ball gradually moves right to left (for a right-handed golfer).
Drive: The first shot taken at the teeing area at each hole — even if you don’t hit it with a Driver.
Driver: The longest club (and the one with the biggest head), used for tee shots as it’s designed to hit the ball the farthest.
Drop area: A specially designated area in which a player may choose to drop his/her ball as an option after hitting his/her ball into a penalty area.
Duff: A bad shot.
Duck hook: When a right-handed player strikes the ball such that it curves sharply from right to left and stays low to the ground.
Eagle: A score of two under par.
Etiquette: The rules governing a golfer’s behavior.
Executive course: A golf course that is shorter and has a lower par than regular golf courses. Consisting of mostly par-3 holes, it is designed to be played quickly by skilled golfers and to be welcoming for beginner golfers and juniors.
Fade: A golf shot in which the ball gradually moves left to right (for a right-handed golfer). Sometimes called “a cut shot.”
Fairway: The center, short-mown portion of a golf hole in between the teeing area and the green.
Fat: A shot in which the club hits the ground (more so than intended) prior to striking the ball. Sometimes also called “thick” or “chunked.”
First tee: Where a round of golf play begins.
Flag/Flag stick: The flag is a piece of fabric attached to the top of the flagstick so that golfers can see where the hole is located. The flagstick is a pole placed in the center of the hole on the green.
Flyer: A ball, usually hit from the rough, that goes much farther than intended.
Fly the green: A shot that goes over the green.
Follow-through: The part of the golf swing (or putting stroke) after the ball is struck.
Foot wedge: Kicking the ball (which, of course, is against the Rules) in order to improve the position of the golf ball.
Fore: A warning shouted when the ball is heading toward a person.
Foursome: A group of four players.Forward tee: The teeing area located closest to the green.
Fried egg: Typically in a sand bunker, when the ball is half-buried such that it resembles a fried egg.
Fringe: The short grass surrounding the green that is kept slightly longer than the grass on the green.
Front nine: The first nine holes of an 18-hole golf course.
Get up: A phrase shouted at a ball that looks like it’s going to land short of the target. If it looks like it’s going to land in a difficult spot (perhaps water or a bunker), you’d say “get over.”
Gimme: A putt that is so close to the hole that it’s assumed that the player will make it. You can only have a “gimme” in casual, non- tournament play or in match play and it does count as a stroke. An old-fashioned term for this is “in the leather,” a reference to the ball being closer to the hole than the length of a putter from the putter’s face to the bottom of its grip.
Grain: The direction that grass on the green is growing. The golf ball rolls faster with the grain and slower against the grain.
Green fee: The cost to play a round of golf. (This usually includes the cost of the golf cart rental and practice balls.) Some golfers use the term “greens fee” (plural), but the proper term is “green fee.”
Green in regulation (GIR): When the golf ball lands on the green in two fewer shots than the par assigned to that hole. For instance, landing on the green in one shot on a par 3 hole or two shots on a par 4 hole.
Greenies: A betting game in which money goes to the player whose ball is on the green and closest to the hole on a Par 3, so long as the player scores par or better.
Grip: There are two meanings to the word grip as it relates to golf. One refers to how someone places his or her hands onto the golf club; a technique of holding onto the club. The other refers to the covering around the end of the golf club that helps the golfer hold onto the club without it slipping through the hands when swinging.
Gross Score: The total number of strokes you take during your round of golf, plus any penalty strokes. Deducting your handicap from your gross score gives your net score. Golf competitions and friendly betting games are often based on your net score.
Ground under repair: Any part of the golf course marked by stakes or a painted line, which might be damaged or undergoing maintenance such that it is unfit for play.
Grounding: Setting the heel of the golf club on the ground, however briefly.
Halfway house: A structure located typically between the 9th and 10th holes, which provides snacks and refreshments for golfers.
Handicap: A numerical representation of a golfer’s playing ability.
Hardpan: Hard, usually bare, ground conditions, with very little or no grass.
Hole-in-one: Hitting the ball from the tee into the hole, using only one stroke.
Home course: The golf course at which a player houses his/her handicap.
Honors: The right to tee off first, based on having the best score on the last hole or being farthest from the hole.
Hook: When a right-handed player strikes the ball such that it curves sharply from right to left.
Hosel: The hollow part of the club-head where the shaft is attached.
Hot: A shot that goes faster or farther than intended.
Knockdown: A type of shot designed to have a very low trajectory, usually hit to combat strong winds.
Lag putt: A long putt struck such that the player leaves the ball close to the hole.
Lie: The position or location of the golf ball while in play.
Lip: The edge of the hole. If your ball hits the lip but doesn’t go in the hole, then you have “lipped out.”
Loft: The degree or angle of the face of the club.
Loose impediments: Natural objects that are not growing or solidly embedded in the ground. Examples include leaves, rocks, twigs, and even animal droppings.
Matchplay: A format of golf in which the goal is to win individual holes rather than tallying the total of all the strokes.
Modified scramble: Also known as a shamble or Texas scramble, a golf format in which the players select the best shot off the tee, move all balls to that spot, and play individual stroke play for the rest of the hole.
Movable obstruction: Anything artificial on the golf course that can be moved without unreasonable effort. Examples include a rake, a pencil, a candy wrapper, a water bottle, or a golf tee. A tee marker on the teeing area is NOT a movable obstruction.
Mulligan: In casual play only, a “do-over” shot made to replace a poorly hit shot, taken without counting the stroke toward the score.
Nassau: A very common betting game in golf that encompasses three bets: the best match play score on the front nine (holes 1-9), the back nine (holes 10-18), and the entire 18 holes.
Net score: A golfer’s gross score subtracted by his/her handicap.
Nineteenth (19th) hole: A golf course’s restaurant or lounge.
Ninety-degree cart rule: A method by which a golfer drives his/her cart along the cart path until the cart has reached a point where a 90-degree turn would cause the cart to drive laterally across the fairway directly to the ball. The player drives directly back to the cart path after playing his/her shot.
OB: Out of bounds.
Out of bounds: The area outside the course where play is not allowed, most often marked by white stakes.
The pace of play: The length of time it takes to complete a golf stroke, a hole, or a round of golf.
Par: The number of strokes that a skilled golfer is expected to make on a hole.
Pin: The flagstick standing inside the cup on the green. Also known as “the stick.”
Pick up (PU): The golf ball is picked up prior to the player completing the hole.
Pitching: A high-trajectory golf shot made near the green, intended to land softly with a minimum amount of roll.
Playing through: What takes place when one group of golfers passes through another group of slower playing golfers, ending up ahead of the slower group.
Poley: A putt made that is longer than the length of the flagstick. A player that hits the ball into the hole from off the green has made a “double poley,” worth two points vs. the standard one point when betting.
Provisional ball: A second ball that is played in the event that the first ball is or may be lost or out of bounds. If the first ball is found and is playable, the provisional ball is picked up. If the first ball isn’t playable (if it’s lost or out of bounds), the provisional ball is played and penalty strokes apply. Hitting the provisional ball when in doubt about whether a shot went out of bounds often speeds up the pace of play.
Pull/pushcart: A device on wheels that carries a golf bag, used by golfers who prefer to walk but don’t wish to carry their golf bags. It is also referred to as a “trolley,” especially outside of North America.
Punching the greens: Aerating the greens by pulling small plugs (1/4” – 3/4” diameter) or using pokers with small tines that leave the appearance of a pattern of “punched” holes in the turf.
Pure: A well-struck shot, often used as a verb. “She pured her shot!”
Putting: The golf stroke used to roll the ball on the green.
Ranger: The golf course staff member who provides player assistance on the golf course and who is responsible for keeping the overall pace of play.
Rating: The measure of a golf course’s difficulty for expert golfers. The higher the rating, the more difficult the course for a skilled golfer. A course rating number is typically close to the par for the golf course.
Ready golf: Players hit when ready in order to speed up or maintain the pace of play.
Rickshaw: A pull cart with two large tires.
Rough: The long grass bordering the fairway. On some courses, there is a “first cut” of shorter rough and a “second cut” of heavier, longer rough.
Sand bunker: A bunker filled with sand.
Sand trap: Slang for “sand bunker.” “Trap” is not defined in the “Rules of Golf.”Sandy: Hitting the ball out of a sand bunker and hitting (usually putting) the ball into the cup on the very next shot.
Scramble: Probably the most popular format for charity golf tournament play. Each player in the foursome hits, then the group selects the best shot. Each player hits from that spot and the process continues until the ball is holed out.
Shamble: Also known as a modified scramble or Texas scramble, a golf format in which the players select the best shot off the tee, move all balls to that spot, and play individual stroke play for the rest of the hole.
Shank: Be aware, this is a word you should *not* use on the golf course — it’s considered bad luck and is therefore a breach of etiquette. However, you should still know what it is: a very poor shot that hits the hosel of the clubhead and “squirts” errantly off to the side. It’s sometimes called a “lateral.”
Shotgun start: When golfers are sent to different holes so that play begins for everyone at the same time.
Sit: A term shouted at the ball to encourage it to stick very close to where it lands. This is similar to “bite.”
Skins: A popular betting game in which the player who posts the lowest score on a hole among all the players wins a skin.
Skull: A mishit golf stroke in which contact is made above the equator of the ball, resulting in a line-drive trajectory.
Slice: When a right-handed player strikes the ball such that it curves sharply from left to right.
Slope: The measure of a golf course’s difficulty for bogey golfers. The higher the slope, the more difficult the course for a bogey golfer. Slope ratings range from 55 to 155 with 113 considered average.
Smoked: A term describing a well-hit long shot, particularly a drive.
Snake: A slang term for a three-putt.
Snowman: A darkly humorous reference to scoring an 8 on a hole.
Solheim Cup: A biennial women’s golf tournament in which teams from Europe and the United States compete against each other. It is named after Karsten Solheim (PING).
Stableford: A point system by which you accumulate points based on your score for each hole.
Starter: A golf associate who provides golfers at the first tee with any special information they will need during play and maintains the appropriate amount of time between groups of players starting off the first tee.
Sticks: When referred to in the plural, “sticks” means golf clubs (as opposed to the flagstick). For example, “I’m buying a new set of sticks this season.” A putter is sometimes colloquially called a “flat- stick,” due to its lack of loft.
Stimpmeter: A device used to measure the speed of the greens. A reading of 5 to 11 is the normal range with 5 being slow and 11 being quick.
Stroke play: A golf format in which the objective is to finish the game using the fewest total shots.
Sucker pin: A slang term for a golf hole situated such that it offers up a risk-reward opportunity when hitting an approach shot to the green.
Sweet spot: The center of the clubface, which will produce the longest shot from a given club.
Swing speed: The speed at which the head of the golf club is moving when it makes contact with the ball.
Tap-in: A very short putt.
Tee box: The area on a golf hole where the ball is first struck, also known as the “teeing ground” and “teeing area.” Although you hear “tee box” a lot, “teeing ground,” “teeing area” or “tee” are the preferred terms.
Tees: Pieces of golf equipment used to raise the ball on the teeing ground for a player’s first stroke on the hole. Usually made of wood, plastic or earth-friendly composite material.
Temporary green: A green used when the permanent green is under repair (common in climates where overseeding occurs) or when the golf club wants to preserve the permanent green.
Tending the flagstick: Standing in close proximity to the hole or holding the flagstick allowing a player to see the hole and then removing it as the ball approaches.
Thin: A shot that strikes near the center of the ball, typically causing a low trajectory. Sometimes also called “skinny.”
The tips: The farthest teeing area from the green, usually demarcated by blue, black, or gold tee markers. Also called the “championship tees” or the “back tees.”
The turn: The halfway point in a round of golf.
Trolley: A device on wheels that carries a golf bag, used by golfers who prefer to walk but don’t wish to carry their golf bags. It is also known as a “pull cart” or a “pushcart.” especially in North America.
Twilight rate: A discounted green fee based on the probability that you will only be able to complete a limited number of holes due to darkness.
Two-putt: Taking two putts on the putting green to hole your ball.
Up and down: Chipping or pitching the ball onto the green and putting it into the hole on the very next shot.
Waggle: Movement of the clubhead, usually back and forth, by a player standing over the ball prior to taking a swing.
Whiff: A golf swing in which the player intends to hit the ball yet completely misses.
Wolf: A four-player betting game that creates a different team on each hole. One player is designated the “wolf” before each hole and decides whether to “hunt” alone for the best score or to pair up with one of his/her playing partners in a (net) best ball format.
Woods: A type of golf club with a round head, usually made of metal or composite materials. The most common woods include the Driver, 3-wood, 5-wood, and 7-wood.
Worm burner: A golf shot (not a putt) in which the ball never rises off the ground.
Yips: The inability to make short putts due to nervousness and lack of a smooth putting stroke.
Zone: When you’re playing well, you’re said to be “in the zone.” Sometimes described as “playing lights out.”