Golf Terms Explained: [The Definitive Beginners Guide]
One thing is for sure, golf is a complex sport. Not just swinging the club but talking about it as well – there are so many golf terms!
Golfers have their own lingo and seem to speak in codes if you aren’t familiar with everything. While there are a lot of technical golf terms, there is a lot of slang involved in the sport as well. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, confused, and unsure if you’re just starting out.
In this post, we’ll help you understand common golf terminology and also more advanced golf terms/jargon. This way you’ll be prepared for any conversation, even if you’re a beginner or getting back into the game after a break.
Beginner Golf Terms
As I mentioned, there is a ton of information when it comes to learning about golf.
To make things easier, we’ll break this up into two sections, starting with beginner terms that you need to know. This will help build a foundation on the basics of golf and other golf sayings as well.
Let’s start with scoring as it’s not like other sports.
This is the number of strokes it should take you for each hole.
For example, if a hole is a par 5, it is supposed to take you five shots to go from the tee box to making it into the cup. Holes are almost always a par 3, par 4, and par 5.
In general, the longer the hole, the higher the par.
Most full-length golf courses have a total par between 70-72. The most common is a 72, which has four par 3’s, four par 5’s and the rest par 4’s.
However, if you score one stroke less than par, it’s known as a birdie. Golfers love birdies as it signals that you exceeded expectations of the hole.
For example, if the hole is a par 3 and you make a two, it’s a birdie. But what about if you make two less than par?
If you have an absolutely perfect hole and score two under par, it’s called an eagle.
This is challenging even for the best players in the world and usually happens on par 5’s. But, if a par 4 is short and the green is driveable, you can make a two for eagle as well. Or, if you make a hole in one on a par 3.
A double eagle is even more rare and known also as an albatross. This is most likely to occur if you hole out your second shot on a par 5. Get excited if this happens because it’s nearly as rare as our next golf term.
As the name implies, this is when you make it in one single shot! Also known as an ace, hole out, and other slang, this is the pinnacle of golf.
But don’t get your hopes up as the odds are stacked against you.
According to American Hole’n One, the odds of making an ace are 12,500 to 1. Needless to say, don’t count on this happening much (if ever) in your lifetime.
If you are lucky enough to make a hole in one, make sure to save the golf ball as it’s a rare feat in the golfing community.
While a birdie is one under par, then a bogey is known as one over par. For example, if you make a 6 on a par 5, you make a bogey.
If someone makes a lot of bogeys, you might hear them refer to themselves as “bogey golfers.” This is someone who usually shoots about 18 over par (roughly a 90 on most courses).
While bogeys aren’t the end of the world, a double bogey (aka “double”) can wreak havoc on a good round. A double bogey is two over par on the hole.
For example, if you make a five on a par 3, then you make a double. If you make more than a double then it just is referred to as a triple bogey, quadruple bogey, etc.
Now that you understand basic scoring terms in golf, let’s talk about different areas of the golf course itself. The first is the tee box – this is where you tee the ball up to start each hole.
There are multiple tee boxes on every hole to make the hole unique for different types of players. For example, a par 4 can range greatly in terms of distance depending on the tee box you play.
A hole might look like:
- Red tee box (forward tees): 298 yards
- White tee box (senior tees): 318 yards
- Blue tee box (men’s tees): 350 yards
- Black tee box (advanced tees): 385 yards
After you hit your tee shot, it will usually land in one of two places; the fairway or the rough.
The fairway (also known as the “short grass”) is the intended area. Some fairways are narrow while others are large and much easier to hit.
But if you miss the fairway, then you end up in…
The rough… also known as the thick stuff. The rough is intended to penalize a golfer for missing the fairway and typically provides an awkward angle for your next shot and/or a bad lie.
Depending on the golf course, there might be several cuts of rough. If you just miss the fairway, this is known as the first cut and in general is the least penalizing.
While the tee box is the start of the hole, the green is the end of the hole. This is where a small hole (or, as Robin Williams once referred to it as, a “gopher hole”) in which you’re trying to get the ball into.
The fewer strokes it takes you to find the bottom of the hole, the better. Other names for the green include “dance floor”, “putting surface”, and more.
If you miss the green by a small margin, you are usually on the fringe. This is a short cut of grass directly around the green, in which you can typically putt the ball as if you were on the dance floor.
Green in Regulation
Each par has a different green in regulation number. This is the number of strokes it should take you to end up on the green.
- Par 3’s should take you one shot.
- Par 4’s should take you two shots.
- Par 5’s should take you three shots.
If you hit a green in fewer strokes, it’s still considered a green in regulation. For example, if you drive a par 4 in one shot from the tee, it still counts as a green in regulation (also known as a GIR).
After you hit the green, then it’s time to putt. You want to make it in the hole in as few of putts as possible.
If you hit the green in regulation, you’re supposed to 2-putt. You want to avoid 3-putts (or more) at all costs as they add pointless strokes to your total score.
Another area you will likely find on the golf course is the sand, aka the bunker or the beach. If you find the sand near the green, it’s known as a greenside bunker. Or, if you find it off the tee shot, it’s known as a fairway bunker.
If you’re in a greenside bunker and hit out on the green, then make the putt; this is known as a “sandy” or a “sandy par.”
Up and Down
If you miss the green in regulation, you need to chip or pitch the ball onto the green. If you hit the chip or pitch on and then make the putt, this is known as an up and down.
Another way to describe this is known as scrambling.
If you miss a lot of greens but still make par and score well, a friend might say, “You’re scrambling is great today.” This is a compliment to your short game skills and something every golfer likes to hear.
A fade is a ball that goes left to right in the air (for a right-handed player). This is also known as a “cut” as well. A fade is not a bad shot by any means, but if it goes a lot from left to right, it’s known as a slice.
The slice is a shot that plagues a lot of golfers, especially beginners, and hurts your total distance. Plus, it usually finds the right rough and other trouble on the golf course, which can make for a frustrating day on the links.
The opposite of a fade is a draw, which goes right to left in the air. A draw that goes hard from right to left is known as a hook (or if it’s extreme, a snap hook).
Other Golf Jargon & Funny Golf Terms
Now that you have the basics of scoring and types of shot, let’s get into some other golf lingo.
A hack is a negative term used to describe a golfer who isn’t very good. It implies they hack it around the golf course instead of playing strategically. Tread carefully if you say this to a golf buddy as players can take serious offense to it.
A skull, also known as a thin shot, is when you hit the bottom grooves of the club. The result is a shot that travels further than normal and a much lower trajectory.
If it’s really low and nearly on the ground, you might hear it described as a “worm burner” since it’s basically speeding through the grass. The opposite of a skull is a chunk or fat shot.
A shank, also known as “The S word” is when you miss the center of the club and hit the hosel. The ball shoots directly right and is one of the most embarrassing shots in golf.
While the “S” word is awful when it happens, a top (or “topping” it) isn’t much better. This refers to hitting the ball so poorly that it goes just in front of you and might even stay on the tee box.
If you leave a putt short and it would have gone in if you would’ve hit it harder, expect your friends to say “Alice.” It’s been said the term originated in the 1963 Ryder Cup after Peter Alliss, missed a putt short and a fan yelled “Nice putt Alliss.”
Another term you don’t want to be known for is having the “yips.” It’s a condition where you miss short putts that you would normally make. Most people acknowledge it’s more mental than it is a physical condition.
While I can’t be 100% certain, I think Phil Mickelson coined this term and isn’t afraid to use it on social media. A bomb is when crush a drive and hit it a long way (it might sound like a bomb went off on the tee box).
A scratch golfer is someone who normally shoots around par for the course. They typically score between a few under to a few over par. This is what most golfers are aiming for and usually the sign of an accomplished player.
A snowman might be fun to build when the weather is cold outside but it’s the last thing you want in golf. A snowman represents an 8 (as the number looks like one).
This is a triple bogey on a par 5 and worse on a par 3 or 4.
There are so many terms that you could probably have a massive golf dictionary to describe this great game. But these golf terms will help you sound like a golfer, even if you aren’t much of one yet.
Talk the talk so that you can walk the walk.
What’s some of your favorite golf jargon that you like to use on the course?
Let us know in the comments!