Golf can be a confusing game – not just the playing of it but its language and terminology. We hope this glossary helps.
Ace: See Hole-in-one.
Address: Not where you live but the act of taking a stance and placing the clubhead behind the ball. If you then cause the ball to move, even accidentally, it’s a one-stroke penalty.
Air shot: An attempted stroke in which the player misses the ball.
Alignment: One of the most neglected areas of the game; the position of a player’s body relative to the target line of the ball. If you’re not aligned properly, you have little chance of sending the ball where you intend.
Albatross: Three-under par for a hole, which is much rarer than an ace because it requires two perfect shots, rather than one. The Americans, confusingly, call this a double eagle but if an eagle is two-under, wouldn’t a double eagle be four-under?
All-square: When opposing players (or teams) have an equal number of points or holes in their favour, so the match is tied until one or other wins a hole.
Approach shot: Any shot you intend (or hope) to reach the green.
Apron: Close-mown grass around the green.
Artisan: A class of membership of a golf club with restricted rights at a low cost which historically offered reduced membership to the working classes.
Attend: (the flagstick): When a golfer or caddy holds and removes the flagstick for another player. Much more rarely seen since the rule change that allows the flagstick to be left in the hole.
Away: The golfer whose ball is furthest from the green, and who therefore plays first.
Back nine: The second half of an 18-hole course – never to be referred to as the ‘back side’.
Backspin: The mythical result of a well-struck approach shot, causing the ball to suck back on the putting surface (sometimes even off the green). Only experienced by good golfers.
Backswing: The part of the swing from address to the top of the swing.
Balata: A soft, easily damaged material covering golf balls that was a popular choice for golfers (ie, the good ones) who are able to generate spin.
Ball: An essential piece of golf equipment as the aim of the game is to get it into the hole in as few strokes as possible.
Ball marker: A coin or similar object to mark the position of a ball on the green.
Ball retriever: Telescopic device to retrieve a ball from water hazards (penalty areas), the limbs of trees, the field adjoining the course and other awkward places.
Ball washer: As it sounds. If you are at a club posh enough to have them, they can be found on or near the teeing ground.
Banana ball: A severe hook or (more usually) slice, in which the ball describes a sickeningly vicious trajectory, taking it well wide of the fairway.
Bandit: Derogatory term for golfers who maintain an artificially high handicap, so that they clean up the prizes in competition.
Baseball Grip: A way of holding the club so that all 10 fingers are on the grip, with no over-lapping or interlocking. Also known as the 10-finger grip.
Belly putter: A club longer than a conventional putter, in which the butt of the club rests on the golfer’s belly, typically over 40 inches long (the club that is, not the belly). NB: It is no longer within the rules to anchor any part of the club to the body.
Best ball: A team competition in which the best score by any team member on a hole
, counts as the team score for that hole. Some competitions specify that each golfer in a team has to provide the team score for a given number of holes.
Bifurcation: Having different rules for competitive and recreational play, so far strongly resisted by the game’s rule makers (the R&A and USGA).
BIGGA: British and International Golf Greenkeepers Association.
Birdie: A score of one-under par for a hole.
Bisque: An informal match not played under the rules of golf. If an 18-handicap golfer is playing a nine-handicapper, he or she receives a stroke on the nine most difficult holes, according to the stroke index on the scorecard. With bisque, they can take those strokes wherever they prefer. Because each match is negotiated before it starts, an agreement is reached on the number of strokes that can be taken on any given hole, and whether they have to be nominated before the round, before, during or after a hole and so on. It can be a lot of fun and there aren’t yet any recorded homicides as a result.
Blade: Iron clubs without a cavity back or peripherally-weighted head. Don’t try using them unless your handicap is in single figures. Can also refer to putters.
Block: Or ‘push.’ A shot that, for right-handed golfers, sends the ball right in a reasonably straight line, unlike a slice where it tends to start straight before veering right.
Bogey: A score of one-over par for a hole. This then goes up sequentially, for double-bogey, triple-bogey and so on.
Bounce: The angle of the bottom surface of the club in relation to the ground. A high bounce in a wedge is useful for soft surfaces like sand, while low bounce angles are good for tighter lies.
Bounce back: To recover from a bad hole by making birdie or better at the next.
Bounce game: A friendly match rather than official competition in which the competitors decide the rules for themselves. For example, they may agree that if a ball is lost, they won’t impose a stroke-and-distance penalty but allow the golfer to drop as near as possible to where their ball might be, under a penalty of one or two strokes. In essence, you play to whatever system is agreeable to you all; a casual game between friends.
Break: Or ‘Borrow.’ The amount of slope,or incline on the green between your ball and the hole.
Broomhandle putter: See ‘Belly putter’.
Bump and run: A low trajectory shot from off the green, designed to get the ball onto the putting surface and rolling as quickly as possible.
Bunker: A depression or hollow in the ground with a covering of sand. And if you want to be pedantic, do not refer to depressions without sand as a ‘grass bunker’ no such thing exists. Americans call bunkers ‘sand traps’, but what do they know?
Caddy: Either a low-paid artisan who carries your clubs and gives advice on where to hit the ball or the slope of greens, or an extremely well-paid employee of a Tour golfer (if he or she is on the right bag).
Carry: The distance a ball travels in the air.
Casual water: Any temporary standing water or puddles visible after a player takes their stance. Snow and ice can be casual water, but ice cubes from a discarded drink cannot (as they have undergone a manufacturing process and therefore not considered ‘natural’).
Cavity back: Irons or putters in which metal is removed from the back of the clubhead to distribute its weight towards the outer edges. It increases forgiveness with off-centre hits. See also: ‘Peripheral weighting’.
Chip shot: As a bump and run.
Claret jug: Trophy awarded to the winner of The Open Championship.
Compression: The measurement of a ball’s hardness. Low compression balls (30 upwards) are soft, while extremely hard balls will have a scale up to 200.
Countback: If a match ends in a tie, it might be decided on countback, for example, the person with the best back nine score wins. Or it could be the best score from the last three, or last six holes. If this method is to be used, the details should be clear before the competition starts.
Cup: See ‘hole’.
Divot: The piece of grass that is removed from the turf when the ball is struck. If you’re good enough to take divots, be equally good enough to replace them.
DP World Tour: Formerly the European Tour, the premier series of tournaments (no matter what LIV Golf may say) outwith the United States for male professionals.
Dogleg: A hole that curves either to the left or right, resembling the shape of a canine limb.
Dormie: Or ‘Dormy’. A situation in which one player or team in a match is so far ahead that they can’t be beaten, only tied (unless it is agreed to play extra holes). Being four holes ahead, with only four to play, would be dormie.
Downswing: The part of the swing from the top, or furthest away from the ball, until impact.
Draw: For a right-handed golfer, a shot that moves, under control, from right-to-left. In excess it becomes a hook.
Driver: The longest club in the bag, barring broomhandle putters, and therefore the one with which you expect to hit the ball furthest.
Duck hook: A severe low hook where the ball achieves little height.
DQ: Disqualified from a competition, either by withdrawing without adequate explanation or breaking one of the tournament rules (such as incorrectly completing a scorecard).
Eagle: A score of two-under par on a hole.
Etiquette: A code of behaviour and manners to which all golfers are expected to adhere. It includes replacing divots, raking bunkers and repairing pitch marks on the green but also applies to general standards of courtesy and acceptable behaviour.
European Tour: See ‘DP World Tour’.
Fairway: An area of close-mown grass between tee and green.
Fat shot: Or ‘chunk’.Where the clubhead hits the turf behind the ball, dissipating energy and resulting in a loss of distance and not a few oaths.
Flagstick: A pennant atop a metal pole to denote the location of the hole. Sometimes called the Pin.
Flier: A shot in which grass or moisture is trapped between clubface and ball, so the clubface grooves, which impart spin, are rendered ineffective. Usually results in the ball going further than expected.
Flop shot: A shot in which the ball flies very high, but not far, executed with a lofted club, held ‘open’ at address. Phil Mickelson is an expert exponent.
Follow-through: The final part of the golf swing, after the ball has been struck.
Foozle: Archaic term to describe a fluffed or incompetent shot.
Fore: A warning shout to alert others that your ball may be travelling in their direction. It is considered a serious breach of etiquette not to issue such a warning.
Fourball: Two pairs of golfers compete against each other and each play their own golf ball. Also sometimes refers to the number of players in a group.
Foursomes: Two pairs of golfers compete against each other but each pair, or team, play with one ball, hitting shots alternately. However, if player A from team A hits the tee shot on the opening hole, his or her partner will tee off at the second (even if they hit the last shot on the previous hole) and they will alternate tee shots throughout the match.
Gimme: A putt so short that it is expected to be conceded in match play, on the basis that it is unlikely to be missed. Once offered, a gimme cannot be retracted.
Golden ferret: Holing out from a greenside bunker.
Grand slam: Holding all four of golf’s major tournaments for men at the same time, as Tiger Woods did in 2000-2001. To win them in the same year is a calendar slam.
Green: Where the hole is located and the grass is mown to its shortest.
Green fee: The cost of a round of golf if you play as a visitor.
Green in regulation: Getting the ball to the putting surface in two strokes under par – in one shot on a par three hole, two shots on a par four and three on a par five. Some golfers even manage to do it consistently.
Green Jacket: Piece of clothing awarded each year to the winner of The Masters. It is not supposed to be worn outside the grounds of Augusta National.
Greensomes: A variation of foursomes, in which each side has two players. Both players hit tee shots and then decide which ball they would like to play for the remainder of the hole. They then hit alternate shots until the ball is holed out.
Gross score: The total number of strokes taken in a round.
Groove: A scored line or indentation on the clubface to help impart spin.
Grounding the club: Setting the clubhead on the ground behind the ball in preparation for making a stroke. Not allowed in bunkers or a marked penalty area.
Ground under repair: A part of the course from which play is not allowed, usually because of poor underfoot conditions and most commonly designated by white lines on the grass.
Hacker: Untalented golfer, or one showing poor etiquette.
Handicap: A numerical rating denoting a golfer’s ability. An 18-handicap golfer, for example, would be expected to play a par-72 course in 90 strokes (72+18) It allows golfers of different abilities to play on equal terms.
Hazard: Formerly applied to bunkers or water hazards, we must now learn to call the latter ‘Penalty areas’.
Heel: The part of the golf clubhead nearest the shaft.
Hole: A circular cavity in the green, marked by a flagstick, into which you aim to put your ball in as few strokes as possible.
The holy grail of the game as it involves holing out from the tee. Usually achieved on par three holes although some golfers (the ones you probably won’t like too much) can also do it on par fours.
Holing out: Completing a hole by seeing your ball find the bottom of the cup.
Hook: A shot that, for a right-handed golfer, curves sharply to the left.
Hosel: The part of the clubhead attached to the shaft.
Hybrid: Increasingly popular type of golf club which, in essence, have the clubhead qualities of a wood, on the shaft of an iron. Also known as ‘Utility’ clubs.
Interlocking grip: A way of holding the club in which the little finger of the top hand, interlocks between the index and third fingers of the bottom hand. Often preferred by golfers, such as Jack Nicklaus, with short fingers.
Iron: A club with a flat metal face. Irons are numbered according to the degree of loft on the clubface – the lower the number, the less loft
Jab: Short, stabby stroke, usually with a putter.
Knock-down: Low-flying, punched shot, usually to keep the ball under the wind and achieved with a shortened follow-through.
Lag: Putt from distance, intended to get near to the cup without necessarily holing in (and when it does fall in, that’s a bonus).
Lay up: A shot designed not to reach the green; so as to remain short of a penalty area or bunker, for example, short of the putting surface.
LET: Ladies European Tour, which stages women professional’s golf events on the continent and beyond.
). The position of the ball on the ground, which may determine the next stroke.
). The angle at which the clubhead sits in relation to the ground. The angle between the centre of the shaft and the sole of the clubhead.
Links: A golf course by the coast, situated on a piece of land linking land to sea. Characterised by grass mounds, hollows and dunes. Often well-bunkered.
LIV Golf: A series of tournament funded by Saudi Arabia and spearheaded by Greg Norman, that pays vast amounts of money to lure professional golfers away from existing Tours.
Lob: High, arcing shot.
Loft: The angle of the clubface in relation to the shaft. More loft equals greater height but less distance.
Loose impediment: Defined as: ‘Any unattached natural object’ and examples would include stones, loose branches or twigs and dead animals. A loose impediment cannot be attached or growing and you may remove them as long as you do not move your ball in the process.
LPGA: Ladies Professional Golf Association, responsible for the LPGA Tour, which hosts the premier golfing events for women professionals.
Majors: The four pre-eminent men’s golf tournaments – the Masters, US Open, US PGA Championship, and The Open (never the ‘British’ Open).
Masters: Traditionally the first major of the year, usually played in the second week of April and uniquely of majors, always played at the same golf course – Augusta National in Georgia.
Match play: A format in which an individual or team compete against another on a hole-by-hole basis. Whoever records the lowest score, wins the hole, and the match continues until one side can no longer win. For example, if a team or individual is three holes ahead, with only two holes left to play, they have won 3&2.
Medalist: The leader in Medal-play qualifying rounds before a match play stage of a competition. To whittle down a large field, one or more medal rounds may be played before the match play stages.
Medal play: Alternative name for stroke play.
Member’s bounce: A fortunate bounce or ricochet, that leaves the ball in a more favourable position than would otherwise be the case. Rare in your own game; common for those with whom you play.
Metal wood: See ‘Wood’.
Mulligan: An illegal, cheating and nefarious replay of a shot without applying a penalty for the original effort. Common in the USA, regarded with disdain in civilised countries. An American once asked a British caddy what they called a mulligan in the UK and was told: ‘Three off the tee.’
Names of clubs: Formerly golf clubs were named, not numbered and, although there were some variations, an approximate list and their modern equivalents would be:
Spoon 3 or 4-wood
Baffing spoon Fairway wood
Cleek (driving iron) 1 or 2-iron
Mashie iron 4-iron
Spade mashie 6-iron
Pitching niblick 8-iron
Nassau: A form of gambling involving three separate bets, one for the front nine, one for the back and a third for the overall match.
Nearest the pin: Competition within a competition where a prize is awarded to the golfer who gets their ball closest to the cup on a designated hole or holes.
Nett score: The strokes taken in a round, minus the golfer’s handicap. If an 18-handicap player scores 90, his nett score will be 72 (90 minus 18).
No return: A player does not hand in a scorecard at the end of a competition, or records no score on one or more holes and is therefore excluded from the competition.
Out-of-bounds: All areas outside the boundary edges of the course. If your ball ends up there, you face a stroke and distance penalty.
Outside agency: Any agent not part of the match or, in stroke play, not part of the competitor’s side. Referees, markers, observers, and fore-caddies are outside agents. Wind and water are not outside agents.
Overlapping grip: Also known as the Vardon grip. A way of holding the club in which the little finger of the top hand, overlaps the index finger of the bottom hand.
Par: The score an expert (scratch) golfer would be expected to make for a given hole or course. Holes can have a par rating of three, four or five (in exceptional cases, six). A classically typical course would be rated par 72 and consist of four par three holes, four par fives and 10 par fours.
Peripheral weighting: see ‘Cavity back’.
PGA: Professional Golfers’ Association, the representative body of golf club professionals.
PGA Tour: The world’s premier Tour for male golfers.
Pin: The flagstick.
Pin high: An approach shot that travels the correct distance to the flagstick, but is wide of it.
Pitch mark: An indentation left in the green when struck by a falling ball. If you haven’t made one, or cannot see it, repair at least two others.
Pitch shot: A lofted approach shot to a green. If you have difficulty distinguishing between a chip and a pitch, remember that you pitch up to the course and the chips go down.
Plugged: Refers to a ball that is wholly or partially embedded in the ground or sand.
Practice swing: Rehearsing the stroke about to be made. If you’re working on a specific aspect of your swing, one practice swing is allowable – two, three or more are, or should be, verboten.
Preferred lie: Local rule that allows for unusual, often waterlogged, underfoot conditions. The ball on the fairway may be lifted, cleaned and placed withing six inches (the depth of the average scorecard), without penalty.
Pre-shot routine: The combination of waggles, knee bends, looks up the fairway, sniffs, coughs and belches by which many golfers settle themselves before hitting a shot.
Press: If a match finishes early – for example, one side wins 5&4, the competitors may agree to play a separate match over the remaining holes. It’s a good way to recoup your losses from the main match, or lose twice the amount.
Professional: Exalted deity whose ability is such that golf becomes their profession, either through playing tournament golf or servicing the teaching and equipment needs of club golfers.
Putter: Or ‘flat stick’ for use on the green.
R&A: Governing body of golf throughout the world, with the exception of the USA and Mexico. It stages numerous tournaments for amateur and professional golfers, including The Open Championship, golf’s oldest major.
Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews: Private members club in Scotland that used to be the governing body until it formally separated from the R&A in 2004.
Range finder: Battery powered device to give the golfer exact yardages on the course, usually to the green. Millions of pounds’ worth of satellites are orbiting the globe to tell you that you have 160-yards to go, and are deluded enough to think you can get there with a 7-iron. Makes you think.
Ready golf: Playing when ready, rather than strictly adhering to the convention that whoever is furthest from the green plays first. It speeds up the game and is to be recommended as long as playing out of turn does not pose a risk to anyone.
Rough: An area familiar to most golfers because it lies outside the fairway. It features longer grass, bushes, and weeds, along with empty tin cans, bottles and food wrappers.
Rub of the green: The happenstance of golf, which means taking the rough with the smooth. A ball may be headed out of bounds, hit a tree and finish in the fairway, or be aiming straight for the green, bounce on a sprinkler head and finish in a bunker. In the latter case you are expected to smile and say: ‘Oh dear, never mind.’
Ryder Cup: Biennial golf match, now played in odd-numbered years, between teams representing the USA and Europe.
Sand wedge: Specialised club with a lot of bounce to help swing through the sand and watch the ball float gently onto the green before stopping within inches of the hole. In theory. Can also be used elsewhere on the course.
Sandy: Making par after visiting a bunker.
Scratch golfer: Someone who can play to par, that is, they have a zero handicap. Rarely seen.
Senior: Golfers over the age of 50; revered for their talent, erudition and savoir faire.
Shank: A hideous affliction in which the ball is struck by the hosel and not the clubface, causing it to dive at an acute sideways angle.
Skins game: A form of play in which each hole has a set value (of money or points). For example, players may determine that the front nine holes are worth £1 each, and the back nine £2. The money or points are not collected until someone wins a hole outright. So, if the first three holes are halved, whoever wins the fourth, gets £4.
Slice: A shot that, for a right-handed golfer, curves sharply to the right.
Snowman: A score of eight on a hole, so-called because of the shape of a figure 8.
Stableford points: A system where you convert the number of strokes you have taken to points. It allows golfers of all handicaps to compete on level terms (although lower handicap golfers usually moan that the system benefits those with a higher handicap – they’re wrong).
If you play to your handicap, you should average two points a hole. For example, you have a handicap of 18 and you’re playing a nine-handicap golfer. The first hole is a par four and the stroke index is 10, so you get a stroke allowance here and your opponent does not. You take five strokes, which is a nett four for two points. Your opponent makes a four, so also gets two points. Under the Stableford system, a nett bogey is one point, nett birdie is three points and so on.
Stimpmeter: Device for calculating the speed of greens. Essentially, it consists of a metal slide, at a set angle. A ball is rolled down and the distance it then rolls on the green is measured in feet, to give a stimpmeter reading of, for example, 12.
Stroke and distance: Penalty applied if your ball is lost or out of bounds. You must replay your last stroke, adding a penalty stroke to your score. If the ball is lost or OB from the teeing ground, it’s often referred to as ‘three off the tee.’
Stroke index: A system by which each hole on a course is given a rating as to its difficulty. Stroke index 1 would be the most difficult hole, and stroke index 18 the easiest. If golfers of different handicaps are in competition, it allows them to know when strokes should be allocated to the higher handicapper.
Stroke play: Competitors record the number of strokes they take on each hole, and then the total for the round or rounds. Whoever has the lowest total, wins. This is the most common form of the game seen on professional golf tours around the world.
Sweet spot: Elusive part of the centre of the clubface where optimal ball-striking is rumoured to occur.
Swing: The means of moving the golf club in an arc and returning it to the ball.
Tee: shaped peg of wood or plastic on which you may place the ball to hit your opening shot on a hole.
Teeing ground: An area of close-mown grass, with tee markers to denote where the hole starts.
Texas Scramble: Team-play in which each golfer in the team (invariably a maximum of four people) hits their tee shotand the team decides which one it likes best. They mark that ball, the person who played it from the tee hits their second shot and the rest of the team also play from that point, decide which result they like the best and so on.
Some clubs also introduce requirements such as: each golfer in the team must have a certain number of their tee shots included, which brings in an element of tactics – you don’t want to get to the last few holes to realise that the most wayward driver in your group still has to have three counting tee shots..
Through the green: All of a golf course except tees, greens and hazards.
Unplayable: When your ball is in such a horrible position that you cannot hit it or you decide it would be advantageous to take a drop. A player may declare a ball unplayable at any time and drop under a one-stroke penalty. This drop should be within two club-lengths, or further from the hole in line with the hole and the ball’s current position, or replay the previous shot.
Up and Down: Refers to the number of strokes taken from close proximity to the green, until the ball is holed out.
USGA: United States Golf Association. The governing body of golf in America and Mexico, also responsible for staging numerous tournaments for professional and amateur golfers, including the US Open.
US PGA: United States PGA Championship, one of golf’s four major, staged by the Professional Golfers’ Association of America.
Utility club: See ‘Hybrid.’
Vardon grip: See ‘Overlapping grip.’
Waggle: Pre-shot routine to take tension out of the arms and hands.
Wanamaker Trophy: Cup awarded to the winner of the US PGA Championship.
Wedge: A lofted club designed to fly the ball high but with limited distance, also referred to as the ‘scoring clubs’ because they are used in closer proximity to the green and meant to offer greater accuracy.
Winter green: Temporary close-mown part of the fairway to protect the full greens in winter conditions.
Winter rules: See ‘Preferred lies’.
Women’s majors: We have grouped them together because there are five of them and they tend to change. As of 2022, they are: The US Women’s Open; KPMG Women’s PGA Championship; AIG Women’s Open; The Chevron Championship and The Amundi Evian Championship.
Wood: A large-headed golf club with a longer shaft for greater distance from the tee or fairway. Originally the clubheads were made from wood – typically persimmon – but are now comprised of various composite metals. Despite this, they retain the name ‘wood’ to distinguish them from irons. Alternatively, a part of the golf course you do not want to visit.
Woody: Making par after your ball has struck timber at some point on the hole.
Yips: A short, involuntary and twitchy stroke on the green that often propels the ball way past the hole. As Henry Longhurst wrote: ‘Once you’ve had ‘em, you’ve got ‘em.’