When you first step into the world of golf you very quickly realise that this game has its own language… and yes for non-golfers, when they listen to a group of golfers chatting over a pint in the pub, it may as well be a foreign language. So what I thought I would do is help you understand the key golf terms, the words and phrases you’ll need to know when getting started. For those who want even more, I’ll provide a more in-depth, dictionary-type list below.
10 MUST KNOW Golf Terms
I’ve tried to narrow the top golf terms down to an essential list, here’s what I’m going with…
- FORE! – Shout this if the ball is heading towards people or another hole
- Par – the score assigned to the hole. E.g. par 3 – gives you 3 shots to get the ball in the hole
- Bogey – one shot over par
- Double Bogey – two shots over par
- Birdie – one shot under par
- Slice – Big high and right curving shot (if right-handed) – Common shot shape with new golfers
- Hook – Big high and left curving shot (if right-handed)
- Dog Leg – the hole curves round to the left or right. E.g. “This hole is a dog leg left”
- Break (on the green) – How much the ball will curve due to the slope of the green
- Bunkers – Those annoyingly well place sand pits
I’ve assumed you have already learned the club types, if you haven’t I have included them below. Read the rest of the article for the full golfer’s dictionary.
The Golfers Dictionary
A guide to the, sometimes ridiculous, language of the game of golf. Discover the golf terms all golfers should know.
Ace – A hole in one. You tee’d the ball up, hit your shot and it went straight in the hole.
Ace Cam – “Ace Cam is live” – refers to when someone is filming their mate tee off on a par 3… hoping to catch a hole in one on film. Erik Anders Lang, I believe, came up with this phrase on his vlogs.
Air-Shot – A Swing and a miss – You take your stance, swing and hit…. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. The ball doesn’t move. That was an air shot, and I’m afraid it still counts as a shot. Also known as a “whiff”.
Albatross – 3 under par. For example a 2 on a par 5.
Approach – A shot where you are attempting to hit the green, but not from the tee. Most of mine are from the rough somewhere.
Back 9 – Holes 10-18
Bogey – A score of 1 over par
Birdie – A Score of 1 under par. I rarely get them but they always feel great!
Break (on the green) – “How much will this break?” – How much the ball will curve due to the slope of the green. Basically, you’re trying to work out where to aim your starting line.
Bunkers – those really annoying sand pits, that are so often placed exactly where you don’t want them to be. They are known as bunkers.
Carry – How far the ball travels in the air (most people’s carry distance is less than what they say it is… which is why they come up short… Always know your carry distances and play to them)
Chip – A short shot from around the green
Condor – a score of 4 under par on a hole. A hole in one on a par 5, or a score of 2 on a par 6 (there are only a few par 6 holes in the world). This is one of those golf terms that will be used… rarely, if ever.
Divot – That big chunk of turf that came out of the ground when you hit your shot. That’s a divot, make sure you replace it.
Dog Leg – When describing a golf hole, someone might say it is a dogleg left, which means the hole bends round to the left.
Double Bogey – A Score of 2 over par
Dormie – If you are playing matchplay, and your lead equals the number of holes remaining, you are dormie. For example, you are 3 up with 3 to play. You can’t lose the match and you are dormie 3.
Draw – A beautiful shot shape, one that I’m always trying to hit, where the ball starts slightly right off the target (for right-handed golfers) and comes back to the middle.
Driver – The biggest club in the bag. The one that lots of people use to tee off with.
Driving Range – the area you can practice. Not all courses have a driving range, and some driving ranges don’t have courses. Lot’s of driving ranges around the UK are adding the likes of Trackman and TopTracer to their bays, which allows you to track club distances, play games and even virtual golf on courses from all over the world.
Drop – When you lose a ball, or can’t play the ball because it’s deep in the bush. You can take a drop, which means a penalty stroke is applied and you drop the ball from knee height.
Eagle – a score of 2 under par – for example, a 2 on a par 4. I’ve only ever had one, it’s a great feeling!
Fairway – the lovely strip of grass you’re supposed to be on in between the tee and the green… I often unintentionally avoid it, choosing to play out the longer rough instead.
FORE! – When you hit your ball offline, towards other people, or another hole, you shout FORE! To warn them of your incoming missile! Always good to shout the direction too, e.g. FORE LEFT! Generally, when you shout it, anyone around you will duck and cover. Shout it and shout it loud!
Free Drop – When you can take a drop without a penalty. For example, if your ball is on a path, you are allowed to drop it backwards off the path without penalty.
Front 9 – Holes 1 – 9
Gilligan – Only used in fun rounds, and when pre-agreed. I rarely see it played to be honest. Where your playing partners request you to replay your shot. For example, you hit the best drive of the day… they would probably ask you to replay then… It screws you over basically.
Gimmie – when you get close enough to the hole that your partner deems you’ll make the next putt and you get to pick it up without making the putt.
Green – the area of the course, with very short grass, around the hole. The flag/hole are always on the green and its what you are aiming for.
Gross Score – the actual number of shots you took before applying your handicap. If you shot 96 shots, that’s your gross score.
Ground Under Repair (GUR) – An area of the course that they are doing maintenance work on. It’s normally marked out with a line around it, or roped off. You can take a free drop from here.
Handicap – Your handicap is the number of shots you get extra on the course. For example, if your handicap is 18, it means you get 18 extra shots.
Hole In One – Where you get the ball from the tee into the hole, with just one shot. I’ve never had one, I’ve witnessed a couple, it’s cause for big celebration. Just be warned, if you get a hole in one, you buy the drinks… for the whole clubhouse… It’s a bonker tradition if you ask me.
Hole Out – Finish the hole by putting the ball in the hole.
Honour – The player who scored the lowest score on the previous hole gets the right to tee off first on the next hole. “It’s your honour” means you are teeing off first.
Hook – Struggled with this shot shape for year – a massive curve from right to left (if right handed), normally ending up no where near where it’s supposed to. Often on the next hole, or out of bounds.
Hosel – The part of the clubhead where the shaft attaches. You don’t want the ball coming off this part of the club, thats called a Shank or a Hosel Rocket
Hosel Rocket – Also known as a shank. A shot that comes off the hosel of the club, normally goes 45 degrees right (if right handed). Is officially the worst shot in golf… well I think it is.
In Play – “Yes that’s in play” – means you’ve hit a shot and you’ll find it, and be able to play your next shot.
Iron – the clubs that a much thinner, made of steel, numbered normally from 3-9. (some crazy or very good golfers carry a 2 iron, a 1 iron is not possible to hit… well not by me anyway)
Lie – The area of ground your ball is on. Can be a good lie or a bad lie. Good lie, generally means, you’ve got grass below the ball and a clear swing. Bad lie… basically just means a difficult shot, ground is poor as an example.
Line – Essentially this means the line from the ball to the hole. Most often used on the green, and people will get angry if you walk on their line. But you might also hear people asking “What’s my line” when trying to figure out where to aim their next shot.
Links Course – a golf course on the coast. Often has sand dunes and lots and lots of wind.
Lip – the edge of the hole
Lip out – When you putt, it’s heading for the hole, it rolls round the edge of the hole but doesn’t drop… you just lipped out.
Mulligan – The opportunity to replay your last shot. You hit the ball out of bounds, or into the lake, a mulligan is opportunity to go again. Can’t be used in competitions, and even in friendly games, if amongst your friends you want to use them, I would make sure you agree beforehand how many will be allowed. Often at charity golf days, you can buy mulligans with a donation.
Net Score – Your score after you have taken off your handicap. For example, if you hit 96 strokes, and have a handicap of 20, your net score is 76.
OB (or OOB) – Out Of Bounds – It means you’ve hit your shot outside the playing area. Could be over walls, fences, trees, into someone’s garden, or if there are white stakes and lines down the edge that’s also your boundary for that hole.
Par – The number of strokes given for each hole. For example a par 3, you get 3 shots to score par.
Penalty – Penalty strokes are added when you break the rules, lose a ball or fro various other reasons (the rules can be complicated, I’ll cover those in another post)
Pin – The flag, the thing you are aiming for on the hole
Pin high – means you’ve hit a shot and the ball has landed level with the pin but to one side.
Pitch – A short shot used to approach the green. Shorter than your full swing, but longer than a chip around the green
Play Through – if you have a group of golfers right up your backside on the course (doesn’t matter if you are slow or they are fast), you should let them pass you. This is known as letting them play through.
Putter – the club you use on the green for the shortest shots. Flat face on the club, used for rolling the ball towards the hole.. Hopefully in the hole.
Relief – You get the opportunity to move the ball without penalty – lift the ball, and drop. “You can get relief from there”
Sand Save – Out of the bunker and into the hole in two shots – bunker shot plus a putt.
Shank – The worst shot in golf. Where the ball hits the hosel of the club and shoots off at a 45 degree angle to the right (for right handed golfers).
(The) Shanks – The reason I think the shank is the worst shot in golf, is because it’s basically impossible to just hit one.. Well for me anyway. A case of the shanks means you hit several shanks in a row.
Slice – A common shot shape and a score killer… A shot that curves dramatically from left to right.
Stroke – a shot
Stroke Index – the difficulty rating assigned to the hole. Ranked 1-18, 1 being the hardest hole on the course, 18 being the easiest.
Tee Box – The area that indicates the start of the hole. Where you take your first shot of that hole from.
Tend The Flag – If someone asks you to tend the flag, they are asking you to go hold the flag stick while they putt and as the ball approaches the hole (well before ideally) to remove the flag from the hole.
Thin – a poorly struck shot, often still goes straight, but at roughly knee height (ok that’s a slight exaggeration). The worst time to hit this shot is when you are chipping around the green, talking from experience the ball has been known to shoot straight over the green into the bushes on the other side.
Top – a topped shot is where you hit the ball above the centre of the ball, it bounces right in front of you and goes about 10 yards forwards… It’s a killer.
Triple Bogey – A Score of 3 over par
(The) Turn – The point between the 9th and 10th. You finish the front 9 and start the back 9.
Unplayable – When you find yourself in a situation where it’s impossible to play a shot. You can take a drop but with a penalty stroke.
Up and Down – a shot onto the green and one putt to hole out. You just got up and down nicely!
Wedge – These are basically irons, they look like irons, but have higher degrees of lift. Various degrees of loft and the different names are….Pitching wedge, gap wedge, sand wedge (normally used for escaping those bunkers), lob wedge.If someone says “you’ll need a wedge”, they are basically saying you’ll need something to get the ball up into the air quickly and high, or you’re in the thick rough and the only club you have a chance of hitting is the shorter, high lofted club.
Whiff – A SWING AND A MISS! You set up to take a shot, swing and miss the ball. I’m afraid that counts as shot.
Yardage – the distance from where you are to where you are aiming. The hole yardage is given on the scorecard, but this actually could be different depending on where the pin and tees are. Lots of GPS apps, now give a great overview of the hole and the distance from you to the hole.
(The) Yips – Something I hope you never have. A fear so great of missing putts, that you find it impossible to actually make the swing. Often becomes a nervous twitch, which is impossible to control and difficult to overcome.
Well there you have it, that’s a whole lot of new vocabulary to learn. A whole selection of golf terms and there’s probably a load more out there. You don’t need to know all of them to get out on the course. And to be honest, if you play with a few golfers who have been playing a while you’ll pick it up pretty quickly.
And remember, if someone says something that you don’t understand, just ask them.
As I hear new words or realize I’ve missed some, I’ll come back here and update the page.
If you enjoyed this post then make sure you check out the other posts in the Beginners Guide To Golf:
- Stableford Scoring – The Complete Guide To Golfs Popular Format
- Dress Code For Golf – A Beginners Guide
- The Rules Of Golf – A Beginners Guide
- Golf Etiquette For Beginners
- Best Golf Balls For Beginners