Golfers speak a language of their own. It is very easy to see how non-golfers and beginners can become confused at some of the terms that are commonly used out on the golf course by seasoned players.
To the majority of us, eagles & albatrosses are birds, but out on the golf course, those terms take up a whole new meaning. If you are new to the game and you have no idea about what the correct terminology is, don’t worry, below we are going to explain all of the must-know terms in detail. At first, you might not play like a pro just yet, but if you sound like one then that is already half of the battle won.
15 Must-Know Golf Terms
Par is one of the most well-known golf terms. Par refers to the standard amount of shots that one should play a hole in. If the par on a hole is 3 it indicates that you should ideally finish the hole in 3 shots. As a beginner, you will probably struggle at first to make pars, but luckily this is where your handicap will step in, but that is a term for later.
If the par on a hole is 3 and you finish the whole in 2 then that would be 1 below par, vice versa if you finish the hole in 4, that equates to 1 over par. Both of these scenarios have terms that define them that we will discuss later on.
The par of a hole is directly correlated with the distance of the hole. Par 3’s are short holes and you should be able to reach the green with your tee shot, par 4’s are longer and it will take at least two shots for you to reach the green, and par 5’s are the longest and it will take at least three shots to reach the green on them. Remember that you should reach a par 4 in two shots, but that doesn’t mean that it will happen that way, beginners will probably only reach the green with their 3rd or 4th shots on a par 4, which is ok because you will start with a fairly high handicap.
A golf course has 18 holes, the majority of holes on a golf course have a par of 4 but there are also a few par 3’s and 5’s that you will have to negotiate when playing. Most golf courses have 4 x par 3’s, 4 x par 5’s, and 10 x par 4’s which equates to a course par of 72. Ideally, the goal is to finish your round as close as possible to par, if you were to make a par on every hole you will finish your round with a score of 72, this is also known as a round of level par.
This might seem complicated at first, but not to worry, as soon as you start playing more frequently these terms and the concept of par will become second nature to you.
2. Tee Box
The tee box marks the start of every hole out on the golf course. Tee boxes, in general, are slightly elevated in comparison to the surrounding terrain and they are also tightly mown in a square shape. Every hole will have at least one tee box but most holes have more than one tee box.
Tee boxes are marked with tee markers, these tee markers indicate the exact starting point of the hole. You are allowed to tee (that small wooden peg) your golf ball up on the tee box if you wish to do so but it isn’t a requirement.
Tee boxes feature different sets of tee markers that are color-coded. In general, the red tee markers are the closest to the hole and the gold markers are the furthest away. Blue and white are the common colors that normally round out the rest of the tee options.
Different tee options are utilized to cater to male, female, senior, and professional players. Ladies don’t hit the golf ball as far as their male counterparts so they will play off of the red tees, senior players lose distance with age and they will normally play off the tees behind the ladies and professional players will normally opt for the gold markers to make the golf course as difficult (long) as possible.
Always make sure to tee your golf ball up in between and behind the tee markers that you are playing from, failure to do so will result in a one-shot penalty.
Golf courses are green, but green in golf doesn’t just refer to the color of the grass, it also refers to the closely mown area that indicates the end of the hole where the cup and flag are located. Greens come in many different shapes and sizes and they also feature undulations and slopes which makes for tricky putting conditions.
The objective of golf is to get your golf ball onto the green in as few shots as possible and to then putt the ball into the hole in as few shots as possible.
Fairway is a commonly used term that describes a closely mown area between the tee box and the green. In layman’s terms, the fairway is the link between the tee box and the green which serves as a map as to how you should play the hole.
On a par 4, you will start on the tee box and hit towards the fairway, once on the fairway you will be able to hit towards the green. It is important to play from the fairway for a variety of different reasons. The fairway is the most direct, unobstructed path between the tee box and green, and it is also the easiest, most predictable surface to play from for a variety of technical reasons that you should not be worried about as a beginner.
The rough is the long grass that surrounds tee boxes, fairways, and greens. The rough is exactly that, rough. Finding your golf ball in the rough can be tricky if the rough is long, and finding it doesn’t signal the end of your struggles either.
Long grass doesn’t just slow down your clubhead it also can alter the angle of your clubface which in return can lead to erratic shots out of the rough.
The length of the grass in the rough differs for a variety of different reasons. Grass-type, seasonal growth patterns, and the greenkeepers’ discretion all influence the length of the rough. Public golf courses and private courses that have a lot of member play tend to keep their rough fairly short for pace of play purposes.
Major championship golf courses however are set up to test the best players in the world and thick rough is a signature feature at US Open and Open Championship tournaments.
The term putt refers to any shot that is hit on the green. This can be a bit confusing, putting refers to the action of hitting a putt and a putter refers to the club that is most commonly used to putt with. A golfer however can putt with any club in their bag, it doesn’t have to be with a putter.
Golfers commonly use their putter to hit shots from the side of the green, although the action of the shot is a putting stroke it doesn’t technically count as a put since the shot wasn’t hit from the green.
To learn more about different putters and putter types read our Best Golf Putters article.
7. Birdie, Eagle, and Albatross
The terms albatross, eagle, and birdie have very different meanings to golfers and non-golfers. In golf terms, however, these terms refer to your score on a hole in relation to par.
Birdie is when you finish the hole in 1 shot under par, eagle refers to a score that is 2 under par on a hole and an albatross equates to finishing a hole in 3 shots under par. Birdies are very common, eagles are common amongst professional players but albatrosses (one of the rarest birds in the world) are very rare feats that only happen to some lucky golfers throughout their golfing careers.
The term bogey refers to a score that is one shot over par, thus if you finish a par 3 in 4 shots you scored a bogey on that hole. If you finish the hole in two shots over par it is also referred to as a double bogey and so on for scores that are 3 and more shots over par.
Bunkers are also known as sand traps, but regardless of what you call them, they are the sandpits that can be found in various spots around the golf course. Bunkers are commonly found next to greens and on the side of fairways. Fairways bunkers are strategically placed to add difficulty to tee shots on par 4’s and par 5’s.
Bunkers vary in terms of size and shape, pot bunkers are small bunkers with high lips, these types of bunkers are commonly found on links golf courses in the UK. Waste bunkers are commonly found in desert areas such as Arizona, these bunkers resemble sandy desert areas.
10. Up and Down and Sand Save
The term/phrase up and down is used to describe the action of chipping the ball onto the green and then putting the ball into the hole. The term sand save refers to making an up and down from a greenside bunker. The ability to get the ball up and down successfully is a topic that is discussed regularly by golf commentators during a broadcast. To see how this term gets used in action watch this video featuring legendary golfer Tiger Woods.
If you’ve ever watched the Ryder Cup then you would have seen how players concede putts that are close to the hole. The action of conceding a putt is also referred to as a ‘gimme’. Gimmes are common amongst friends and casual golfers, they aren’t common however on the PGA or any other main tour. Gimmes are common courtesy amongst competitors during matchplay contests, during a stroke play tournament however gimmes aren’t allowed.
Gimmes can cause some controversy if there is a miscommunication between players, just ask Sergio Garcia and Matt Kuchar.
Mulligans exist amongst social golfers but unfortunately, professional golfers or players that compete in amateur tournaments aren’t able to extend this courtesy to each other.
The term mulligan refers to replaying a shot without any consequence, for example, if you were to cough accidentally on your playing partners backswing and he hits a bad shot as a result thereof you can tell him that you give him a mulligan and that he can re-hit the shot without any consequences.
The origin of the term “mulligan’ might be unknown, but social golfers know this term very well and they aren’t scared to use it either especially if it can be for their own benefit.
The term shank is a golf term that every golfer is very familiar with but it is one of those that not many want to use or talk about. A shank refers to a shot that doesn’t come out of the middle of the clubface, instead, contact between the golf ball and the club originates from the hosel of the clubhead. To learn more about what the hosel is and where it is situated read our Most Popular Types of Golf Irons article.
The dreaded shank can pop up at any stage regardless if you are a beginner or the best in the world. The smallest of miscues can cause a shank and when you do hit one it takes a while for it to leave your memories which is why many golfers don’t even want to hear its dreaded name.
Chunk is a word with many different meanings but in golf terms, it refers to miss-hitting a full shot or a chip shot. More often than not we as golfers tend to hit the turf behind the golf ball before making contact with the golf ball.
A miss-hit shot of this nature normally sends a chunk of ground/turf flying through the air, in the case of a badly chunked chip shot the turf will travel further than the golf ball.
Golf is a very difficult game to master, but the great thing about the game is that it can be enjoyed by individuals of different skill levels and they can compete against each other in a competitive environment thanks to the golf handicap system.
Your handicap in golf can be defined as a rating that describes your skill level. The lower your handicap the better you are at the game. Beginners will start with a standardized handicap, the handicap number for beginners will differ depending on where you are in the world since different countries use different handicap systems.
For example, if you were to start with a handicap of 36 and you finish 18 holes in 40 over par your nett score will be a 76. If your playing partner/opponent plays off of a 5 handicap and they shoot a score of 81 they will also have a nett score of 76 which means that technically you both finished on the same score.
Every time you finish 18 holes you will need to feed your score into the online handicap system that is used in your country if you are a member of a club. Your handicap will be calculated based on an average of your last 10 scores. The system also takes the difficulty of the course that you played into consideration.
Why Should I Know These Terms?
Familiarizing yourself with these golf terms are important for a variety of different reasons. Not only will it make it easier for you when you are playing, but it will also make it much more enjoyable for you if you were to watch golf live or on TV.
Making a birdie for the first time is a very cool experience, you don’t want to miss out on this milestone by not knowing your golf terminology. Brush up on those golf terms, the 1st step in becoming a good golfer is to sound like a golfer.
Golf terminology is quite bizarre when you take a closer look at some of the terms such as albatross, shank, and chunk. These terms however will become part of your natural vocabulary as you become familiar with them out on the golf course.
These bizarre terms are weird, but knowing them will help you to understand and enjoy the game much more especially if you are a beginner. Next time you step out onto the golf course don’t be afraid to try out any of the new terms that you have learned, you might just impress your playing partners, or better yet, teach them something new.