Golf has a long history and many of the terms used might be confusing to players. We run through the golf terms you might hear when playing a round of golf.
The terminology that developed was intended to make it easier to describe an event without having to go into a long and elaborate description of what happened.
The use of basic golf terms and standardization of words relating to golf makes it much easier for golfers around the globe to have a mutual understanding and avoid ambiguous terms.
A global golf vocabulary making use of common golf terms can be split into a few sections such as golf scoring terms including the description of golf part terms, over and under par terminology, and a few lesser-known scoring terms.
Other sections may include gameplay that describes golf shot names that are easy to understand, golf course terms for advanced, and golf course terms for beginners.
Table of Contents
The use of the term “par” dates back to the early 1900s. The length of the hole determined the par of each hole. With the improved technology hitting the ball vast distances, these are now used as guidelines and not strictly adhered to.
The original USGA guidelines for the par designation of a hole would allow for 2 putts and the remainder of par is dependent on the number of shots required to get to the green.
Guidelines to calculate Par
- Holes up to 225 yards would be a par 3
- Holes between 225 and 425 yards would be a par 4
- Holes of 426 to 600 yards would be a par 5
- Holes longer than 600 yards would be a par 6
The sum of the individual pars for all the holes is added together to determine the par for the course. An even spread of par 3, Par 4, and Par 5 holes generally add up to a par 72 course.
A score of one under the allocated par score of the hole, e.g., a score of 2 on a par 3 hole, will be recognized as a birdie.
When completing the hole in 2 shots less than the allocated par score, you have scored an eagle. The most common eagle is a score of 3 on a par 5 or 2 on a par 4.
An albatross is one of the more difficult feats to achieve. It is done when you complete the hole in 3 shots less than the allocated par score for the hole.
This is most commonly achieved by holing out a second shot on a par 5 or achieving a hole-in-one on a par 4 hole.
The term Albatross is also known as a double eagle, especially in the USA.
Hole In One (Ace)
An ace is when your tee shot ends up in the hole. This is especially true for a par 3 where it is equivalent to an eagle but better known as an albatross when holing your tee shot on a par 4.
on a par A hole-in-one. Usually on a par 3 hole where the ball enters the hole on the player’s first shot for that hole.
This is one of the most sought-after results for a tee shot in golf.
A Condor is one of the rarest scores in golf that has only been achieved on a few occasions. This requires you to hole your tee shot on a par 5 hole.
The term “Triple Eagle” is frequently used in the USA to describe a Condor.
Bogie / Bogey
The term bogey originates from the 1890s indicating that you have used more strokes than the par score to hole out.
A single shot over par is a bogey, 2 shots over par are called a double bogey, 3 shots over par is a triple bogey, and so it continues.
Although the origin is not exactly known the term became popular in the 1920s and 1930s.
It allows you to replay your shot if you are not overly pleased with the outcome of your original shot
Although not recognized in the rules of golf, it is frequently used in social golf.
To make golf more interesting and to counter a Mulligan, the Gilligan allows you to ask your opponent to replay their shot. This is ideal when your opponent played an excellent shot that he may not be able to repeat.
Stroke play counts every shot played during your round of golf and tallied at the end of the round to determine your gross score.
Some restrictions in the maximum amounts of shots that can be played on a hole are in play to ensure that amateur golfers do not spend too much time trying to get the ball into the hole.
This is the standard method of scoring used in tournaments.
Matchplay is an alternative way to score when you have two players or teams of players competing on every hole.
The player that takes the fewest strokes to get the ball into the hole wins the hole.
If both players get the ball into the hole in the same number of strokes, the hole is shared.
The golfer that wins the most holes is announced the winner at the end of the round.
When there are fewer holes left to play than the number of holes that a golfer leads by, the match can be called off and the unplayed holes awarded to the losing player. A golfer that is leading by 3 holes with 2 holes left to play will be announced as a 3 and 2 winner.
The handicap system can be used to even the playing field allowing for a higher handicap golfer to win a hole even when both golfers score the same score on a hole.
Par 3, Par4, Par 5
Par 3 holes allow for a single shot to reach the green and two putts, a par 4 allows for 2 shots to reach the green and two putts, and a par 5 hole allows for three shots to reach the green and two putts to score a par score.
1 Under Par
1 under par score is the equivalent of a birdie score thus one shot less than the allocated par score.
1 Over Par
1 over par is the equivalent to a bogey score which is 1 more shot than the allocated par score.
Level par is the number of shots that an experienced golfer should take to complete a hole and includes two putts.
In Matchplay the match starts at All Square and when the opponents have won an equal number of holes the score is read as All Square.
Golden Ferret is the description used when a golfer holes a bunker shot.
The Golden Bounce better known as a Goldie Bounce is when a golfer is extremely fortunate to watch his ball slide towards the tree-lined edges of the fairway dreading the worst. At the last moment, you hear the ball hit something and bounces out to the fairway for a clear shot to the green.
The handicap system in golf enables golfers of varied abilities to compete for an overall winner.
The lower your handicap, the better player you are recognized as.
A golfer that generally plays a course to par is called a scratch golfer while golfers that generally return scores below par have a negative handicap but are called plus golfers.
This unfortunate term “Dog-balls” is used to describe a score of eight on a single hole. It is also sometimes called a Snowman.
Gross and Net Score
Gross Score is the total number of shots recorded during your round before deducting your handicap while the net score is the score that remains once you have deducted your handicap index and course slope rating from your gross score.
The slice is one of the most dreaded shots in golf that starts of on a straight line and due to excessive sidespin swerves away towards the right side (for a right-hander) resulting in a severe loss of distance.
A hook is the opposite of a slice and spins from the straight line towards the left-hand side (for a right-handed player).
Hitting a Duck Hook is when your ball fails to get airborne and doesn’t travel far.
A fade is similar to a slice but imparts controlled spin moving the ball a few yards from left to right (or right-handed golfers). The higher ball flight causes the ball to land softly with less runout enabling you to control the distance better.
The Draw shot imparts controlled spin on the golf ball turning it from right to left (for right-handed golfers). The spin is more in the vein of topspin causing the ball to roll out more and can be difficult to control the distance at times.
This is one of the few words that is mentioned with trepidation and fear in golfing circles due to the embarrassment it causes.
The shank happens when the ball strikes the hosel of the club shooting out towards the rough at a near right angle.
Lucy is another way of referring to a shank based on the rhyming slang – Lucy Locket refers to the socket/hosel impact that causes a shank.
A pull shot starts off on a trajectory towards your weaker side from the outset. A right-handed golfer will pull the shot directly towards the left side.
Grain is the direction that the blades of the grass grow towards and influences the speed and direction that your golf ball rolls on the green.
The direction of the grain generally appears darker when looking into the grain and shinier when the grain is away from your direction.
The edge of the hole indicates the grain clearly with the smooth side of the edge being on the side that the grain is growing from and the rough side of the cup indicated the side the blades are growing towards.
Golf is generally played as the ball flies. However, some conditions such as Ground Under Repair entitles you to drop the ball in another position based on some factors. This drop is at no penalty to your score and referred to as a Free Drop.
The Block is a hit that starts in the direction of your stronger side, right for right-handed players) directly after impact. It is the same as a push shot.
Short Sided refers to approach shots that have missed the green on the side closest to the pin. It leaves you hardly and green between your ball and the pin to hole out your chip or bunker shot. Golfers generally struggle to get up and down from short-sided approach shots.
Chunking your golf ball is also known as hitting it fat. That indicates that the clubhead struck the turf behind the ball before impact with the ball.
This slows the clubhead down significantly and is a distance killer.
Lip out refers to your golf ball rolling along the edge of the cup and then back out rather than dropping into the cup.
Hole out refers to any approach, chip, or bunker shot from off the green that ends up in the bottom of the cup. This does not generally apply to putts on the green.
This is predominantly played from bunkers where you are required to strike the ground underneath the golf ball at a precise depth allowing the sand to lift the golf ball out of the bunker. No clubhead impact is made directly with the golf ball.
When a golfer is in between clubs and needs to restrict the distance that the ball travels he can choke down on the grip thus shortening the shaft and generating less speed.
When faced with an awkward stance when your ball is higher than your feet, you can choke down on the grip to have a shorter swing.
Thin / Skinny
A thin or skinny shot is the opposite of a fat shot. This is when the clubhead makes contact with the equator, or slightly lower or higher than the exact equator, of the golf ball causing a low running ball that doesn’t stop quickly unless it hits the rough.
Topping the ball is when you strike the top of the ball. This is generally a result of the clubhead striking the ball while in an upwards motion. Golfers tend to do this more often on fairway woods and long irons trying to lift the ball.
Topping a ball results in the ball only rolling a few yards before stopping.
A nobble is the same as a topped shot when you catch the top half of the golf ball resulting in a low, weak, running shot.
A flyer generally happens when something gets trapped between the golf ball and the clubface resulting in the ball flying farther than expected when clean contact is made.
This could easily happen from the first cut of the rough or when there is moisture on the course. Golfers generally consider this when playing from deeper rough where you are almost certain to trap grass between the golf ball and the clubface.
Honor refers to the golfer that has access to the tee first due to playing the least shots on the previous hole. When golfers score the same on a hole, the sequence from the previous tee is carried over to the next hole.
To determine the order on the first tee, the lowest handicap should tee off first followed by the next lowest handicap.
Above / Below The Hole
These terms are generally used on the putting green to indicate the slope of the green. When the golf ball must travel uphill from its current position, it is deemed to be below the hole while a golf ball that must travel downhill to the cup is deemed above the hole.
When putting across the slope and the ball ends up on the lower side of the hole the miss can be said to be below the hole while a ball that stays on the higher side of the slope is said to be above the hole.
Gravity is more likely to pull putts left above the cup’s edge into the hole than putts that are below the hole.
Golfers may decide to lay up or play a shorter shot than is required when there are hazards between them and the green. This is to reduce the risk of dropping shots.
Up and Down
To up and down is to get the ball into the cup from any position, other than the green, within two strokes. A bunker shot and 1 putt will be considered an up-and-down.
When hitting a ball out of bounds off the tee or there is a high probability that you will not find your ball, it is recommended to play a provisional ball. This speeds up play as you do not have to return to the position you last played your ball should you not find your first shot.
It is important to announce that you are hitting a provisional shot to your playing partners for it to be deemed a provisional shot.
A punch shot is aimed at keeping it low to prevent it from striking impediments and dropping down.
It is not only used from the rough but can be useful to keep it below the wind.
FORE!!! This is a shout that you often hear when a golfer misdirects a shot, and it could endanger other golfers. This warning enables a golfer to take cover and avoid any injuries caused by a misdirected ball.
Lag is the angle created between your forearms and your hands to hold the clubface the farthest away from your golf ball to be released at the opportune time to maximize swing speed.
A Banana ball is a golf slang term for the dreaded slice since the ball trajectory of a slice simulates the shape of a banana.
Gimme putts are associated with the Matchplay format of golf when an opponent does not request their opponent to put up but assumes that the competitor would hole the putt.
Stroke play requires a golfer to putt it out until the ball is in the hole. Many social golfers offer to gimme puts when the ball is within the length of a putter shaft.
Gimme putts are not allowed in Strokeplay competitions.
A dicot is a tuff or grass taken out of the turf when the club head strikes the ground. A good solid will take the dicot after impact with the golf ball while fat shots take the divot before impact.
Good etiquette dictates that you should retrieve the displaced turf and cover the hole as best as you can to ensure that the course remains in the best possible condition.
An open stance is when your leading foot is closer to the back of your stance than the trailing foot.
This generally allows you to fade the golf ball.
An “open face” or “open clubface” is when the toe of your clubface is further away from the target than the heel section of the clubface occurs when the clubface is aligned to the right of the target; that is, rather than the face
A mud Ball is when soil or other debris stick to the golf ball and can affect the trajectory and performance of the golf ball.
Normal rules of golf allow for a mud ball to be cleaned when it is on the fairways. To clean the ball, you have to mark its position, lift, clean, and then replace the ball in its original place.
A pitch mark can be defined as the impression left in the green where the golf ball lands. This is generally caused by the spin imparted on the golf ball and depends on the softness of the green.
Good etiquette dictates that you fix your pitch mark to ensure that all golfers have an equal opportunity on the green.
You are allowed to fix pitch marks that were not repaired by other golfers even if it is on your putting line.
In The Leather
This term is closely associated with the Gimme putt. It is often agreed that and putt that ends within the distance from the putter face and the grip of the putter is “in the leather” and becomes a gimme.
A flop shot is a high-risk yet desirable shot that few players can successfully execute on demand.
This is ideal for a situation where you are short-sided and have to fly the ball high and stop it quickly.
Coming Over The Top
Coming over the top is a swing fault that many new golfers suffer from creating an out-to-in swing path and often results in a hook or slice depending on the position of the clubface at impact.
This is generally caused by too much rotation of the upper body on the downswing.
The Fried Egg is a plugged lie in the bunker where the golf ball is surrounded by a wall of sand on all sides with only the top side of the ball visible
This is one of the more difficult bunker shots to master and requires good technique to blast it out of the bunker.
Playing The Tips
Playing the tips is when you decide to play every hole from the backward tees and thus the maximum distance allowed for by the course.
A duffed shot is the same as a fat shot and more frequently used when referring to a chip shot that is hit fat.
The Yips was previously thought to be a psychological condition related to anxiety when using a putter. However, the research concluded that the yips are due to a neurological condition affecting specific muscles (focal dystonia) causing involuntary wrist spasms that occur when golfers are trying to putt.
Over clubbing is when a golfer uses a longer club than required and generally lands farther than required.
Handsy is when a golfer uses their hands too much during the swing and frequently occurs during the swing of the shorter clubs.
Relief is when a golfer gets to drop his ball in another position without penalty. This is often allowed when there is an unmovable or unnatural obstruction between the golfer and the pin.
Bank shots refer to shots that are played on a slope whether it be a downward or upward slope.
This refers to a shot towards the green whether it be from a tee on a par 3 or any other position where you are approaching the green.
Tee shots on par 4 and par 5 holes are not generally referred to as approach shots.
Tee shots on a par 4 or higher par hole are generally referred to as a drive since it involves a driver and longer distances more often than not.
The putt is a stroke that is executed on a putting green aimed at rolling the ball into the cup. For statistical purposes, any shot that is not on the green is not recorded as a putt whether a putter is used or not.
A plugged lie refers to any ball that has broken the surface and is embedded into the surface. Unless the ball is plugged in a bunker, the post-2019 rules allow for relief from a plugged lie.
Best ball involves a 2-person team where every player plays every hole but only the best score of the team is counted towards the team score.
This can apply to stroke play or match play competitions.
A free drop is the same as getting relief from an obstruction in open play. The nearest point of complete relief should be identified and the dropped ball must remain in the relief area.
A dormie is when a player is in a position during match play where they cannot lose the match. It means that they are up by the same number of holes as remains to be complete.
Knee Knocker refers to a challenging short putt that makes the golfer extremely nervous.
Grounding The Club
Placing the ball on the ground behind your ball at the time of address is referred to as grounding the club.
Casting The Club
Casting the club is when a golfer releases their wrists too early during the downswing causing the clubhead to reach maximum speed before getting into the impact zone and thus lose speed at the time of impact.
This leads to a loss of power and distance.
A Bandit refers to a golfer that plays better golf than their handicap suggests. This is often due to golfers not capturing their best scores to keep their handicap higher than it should be for competitions.
A Whiff refers to the stroke when a golfer swings with the intent to strike the golf ball but completely misses the ball and only hits fresh air. Sometimes known as a “freshie”.
Worm Burner barely gets off the ground and just rolls.
“Rough” refers to punitive areas outside of the boundaries of the fairway that generally feature higher, thicker grass or naturally unkempt vegetation.
The fairway is closely mown area grassy surface between the tee box and the green. This grassy surface is cut short enough to make shots off it easier to hit, but it is not cut as short as the grass on the green.
The green is the closely mown area with the shortest grass where the cup and flagstick are located.
Green In Regulation
Green in Regulation is related to the par score of the hole. Since the par score allows for two putts, you must reach the green in two or more shots less than the par score for it to be counted as a GIR.
A bunker is a sand fille depression near the green or fairway. Striking the ball from a bunker is more difficult due to the lack of a stable base to position your feet.
This is not to be confused with a large sandy area that could be known as a waste bunker since different rules apply to these areas.
Pot Bunkers are more commonly found on links type courses. This is a small, circular but deep bunker with steep faces.
A bunker is often referred to as a beach for obvious reasons.
Halfway house is the area in the clubhouse that offers facilities include change rooms for men and ladies with showers, light meals, and a place to relax.
The stroke index is a numbering system used in golf match play and stroke play competitions. The stroke index is used to calculate the number of shots that a golfer can use to complete the hole in a relative par score.
The 19th hole refers to the area in the clubhouse where golfers tend to relax and enjoy some liquid refreshments after a long and arduous round of golf.
Upon the completion of the outward loop of holes, you reach the Turn referring to the area where the outward loop end and the inward loop begins.
An area with hard ground conditions is referred to as Hardpan.
Casual water refers to temporary water conditions that are visible above the normal surface of the turf. This is normally caused by excessive rain or melted snow.
Bump and Run
Bump and run shots travel low above the ground for a short distance and rolls like a putt towards the hole.
A hazard is an obstacle that the golfer must negotiate over or around to reach a playable surface. This includes water hazards, trees, or other natural vegetation.
Yardage refers to the distance provided on the scorecard or distance markers found on the course.
The official yardage that the hole is meant to play is recorded on the scorecard.
Yardages can be measured to the pin, front, center, or back of the green.
The first cut generally refers to an area between the fairway and the rough. It is cut slightly longer than the fairway but has a well-maintained appearance.
This refers to any rules that may apply at a golf club but is only applied during winter months where the playing conditions differ vastly from the normal playing conditions.
In wet areas, this often allows for lift and clean rules to keep the ball playable when on the fairway.
The cup or hole is the target on the green to determine your score for the hole. It is 4.25 inches in diameter and a minimum of 4 inches deep that is created using a hole cutter.
Links golf courses are the oldest style of golf course originating from Scotland. They are found along with the coastal areas with dunes where the wind plays a significant role in the difficulty of the course.
An apron is the transition area between the green and surrounding areas. This area is normally cut to a lower height than the surrounding areas but not as short as the green itself.
A Local Rule is a modification or additional Rule to be used in competition play as voted by the club committee to adapt to the local conditions of play.
These rules are to be added to the scorecard or made visible to all players before a round commences.
Local rules may not contradict the rules of golf as set by the respective governing bodies.
The marker in golf is the person that signs your scorecard at the end of a round as a true reflection of your scores.
The pin is an alternative term for the flagstick that refers to the pole and flag used to mark the location on every hole that the ball must ultimately end up.
A dogleg is a deviation in the direction of a golf hole to either the left or the right side. The more severe the dogleg, the higher the possibility that you can cut off some distance to get the ball closer to the green.
Kikuyu is a type of grass often used on fairways and deep rough.
This is a very golfer-friendly grass that allows the average player to get the club under the ball.
The Golf Club
Shaft flex refers to the ability of a golf shaft to bend when external forces are applied to it during the golf swing. A stronger and faster swing requires a stronger flex than a slower swing.
Most commonly used flex are Extra Stiff, Stiff, Regular, Senior, and Ladies
Face Angle is the relative direction of the clubface at impact compared to the target line and dictates the starting direction of the golf ball.
Face Balanced putters has a center of gravity that is directly below the axis of the shaft and faces upwards when you balance the shaft on your finger.
Face Insert is a separate piece of material inserted into the face of a club head to produce a specific feel or ball flight.
Deep face drivers minimize the distance between the center of gravity projection on the face and the hosel for enhanced forgiveness.
Centre of Gravity (COG)
The center of gravity on a golf club is the position where all the points of balance on a golf club crisscross.
The COG aids in creating ideal launch conditions for a golf shot.
Double Bend Shaft
Double bend shafts set the putter head behind your hands enabling designers to balance the putter face making it ideal for golfers with a straight putter stroke.
The kick point of the shaft is where the maximum amount of bend is experienced and plays a significant role in the launch angle.
This is the bottom section of the clubface that first touches grass when you swing the club. Ideally, there should be no contact between the leading edge and the golf ball.
Toe and Heel
The heel is in the area between the sweet spot and the hosel while the toe of the club is on the opposite side between the sweet spot and the farthest side of the clubface.
Cavity Back irons are commonly known as Game improvement irons. The thicker soler on a larger clubface, perimeter weighting, and more offset offers a larger sweet spot for more forgiveness and distance on mishits.
Clubhead speed is the amount of speed generated during the swing and differs between the various clubs. You can expect to generate the highest clubhead speed with your driver with its long shaft.
The clubhead speed plays a significant role in the distance that you hit each club.
Muscle Back Blade
Blades, or sometimes called muscle-backed irons, have small, compact club heads with a minimal amount of offset at the hosel and were the only type of irons before the introduction of cavity-backed irons in the 1980s.
Knife is another term for blading or thinning a shot when the golf ball is struck on the equator or upper half of the ball.
The term Butter knife is the nickname for the 1-iron.
Jigger is an old term used for a 4-iron.
The Texas wedge is a term sometimes used when the putter is used for any shot from off the green.
Hickory shafts are wooden shafts that date back to before the legalization of steel shafts in 1929.
Niblick refers to the most lofted of the 19th-century irons with a very small-rounded head and a loft equivalent to a modern nine iron or pitching wedge.
A mashie refers to a wooden shafted golf club with 33-degrees of loft used for approach shots. The modern club that closest represents a Mashie in loft is a 5-iron or 6-iron.
The above mentioned terms are quite comprehensive but we may have missed some of your favorite terms.
Please add your favorite terms that we may have missed in our comments section below.
The Editorial Staff at Golfible is a team of golfing geeks and enthusiasts led by founder Alec Rose. All have the same obsession with golf tech, equipment updates and avoiding rain on the course.