If you were an alien who had landed on earth and come upon a golf course, you might think you had discovered a completely different world.
After all, they do a lot of things differently in golf. You have to dress a certain way. Your behavior needs to follow the etiquette becoming of a sport long known as the “gentleman’s game.” You even need to use antiquated terminology that can feel like a different language.
That last part is why we wrote this article. There are a lot of words and terms used on a golf course that can be confusing to people who have played the sport, not to mention those who are just learning about golf for the first time.
Why Is Knowing Golf Terminology Important?
It’s valuable to know the terms of golf if you’re playing or even if you’re just watching it on TV. If you know what everyone else is talking about and what the rules are, you’re going to understand the game a lot better.
And since this is a site that offers gambling information and advice, I’m guessing you are also interested in betting on golf. If that’s the case, you absolutely need to know the various terminologies used in golf. That’s because a lot of the rules on golf wagers use these terms, and you don’t want to be betting on anything that you don’t understand.
For example, what if you place a live bet on a player to “hit the fairway” or to “score a birdie” on the next hole? Or what if you’ve got a wager on how many “putts” a player will attempt in a round (the definition of “putt” is not as obvious as you think). Even if you think you’ve got a pretty good handle on golf terminology, I recommend using this article as a refresher course, just to make sure.
The Golf Terms You Need to Know
Okay, now that we’ve established why it’s important to know the different golf terminology used commonly on the course by broadcasters and by betting sites, let’s start digging in. We’ll start with some of the more well-known and obvious terms, then get down to a few of the words that aren’t as understood.
Par is a standard number of shots in which golfers are expected to finish a hole. For example, if par on a hole is 4, it suggests a golfer should typically complete the hole in 4 shots. If the golfer were to complete the hole in 3 shots, he or she would be finishing the hole below par, while needing 5 shots or more would be finishing above par.
Par on a hole can be as low as 3 and as high as 5, although the majority of holes on a golf course have a par of 4. As a general rule, par is set by the number of shots it would realistically take a golfer to reach the green (the area where the hole is located), then adding 2 shots to putt the ball into the hole. So, if a green is reachable in 1 shot (i.e., 250 yards or less from the tee), par would be 3 (1 shot to get to the green, plus 2 shots to putt the ball into the hole). If a green required 3 shots to reach (i.e., 500-plus yards), par would be 5 (3 shots to the green, plus 2 shots to putt the ball into the hole.)
Par can also be used as a collective term for how a player is scoring over multiple holes. For example, if the combined par of all the holes on a course is 72, a player who shoots an 18-hole score of 84 would have shot 12-over-par (84 minus 72).
Although many people consider par to be another word for average, the usage of the word in golf is derived from an old stock exchange term that a stock may be above or below its normal (par) figure.
2. Tee Box
A tee box is located at the start of every golf hole, marking the only time on a hole that golfers are permitted to use a tee (a wood or plastic peg that holds the ball off the ground) when hitting a shot.
Different colors of tees denote the different starting points for each golfer, based on their gender and caliber. A women’s tee box (commonly known as the red tees) will typically be located closer to the green, while the tee box for professional players (black or gold tees) will be the furthest away.
Golfers must hit their first shot from within a pair of tee markers that mark the front and sides of the tee box. They are allowed to tee their ball up as far as two club-lengths behind the tee markers. Hitting the first shot from outside of the tee box results in a penalty.
Each hole on a golf course ends with a green, where the flag and cup are located. The grass on greens is cut exceptionally short in order to make a golfer’s final shots more difficult while also enabling them to be more precise and accurate. Greens vary in size, shape, and especially contour, all designed to make the final shot more challenging.
Since landing the ball on the green is a golfer’s main objective after hitting his tee shot, the stat “Greens in Regulation” is a way to measure how accurate golfers are with their approach shots. In order to hit a green in regulation, the golfer must land their ball on the green in a number of shots that is two lower than par.
Technically speaking, the fairway isn’t actually defined in the rules of golf. However, it’s a commonly-used term that describes the shorter-mown area of a course between the tee box and the green, typically marking the pathway that a golfer wants to take to the hole.
Hitting the ball into the fairway is ideal because hitting a shot out of the shorter grass is easier and more predictable than hitting a shot out of the longer grass that surrounds the fairway (also known as the rough, which we’ll get into next), and it’s also usually the most direct route to the hole. A player’s accuracy off the tee is often judged by how many fairways they hit with their first shot.
Although it’s unclear why the word “fairway” is used in golf, some believe its usage is based on an old nautical term for a navigable channel or best course to take.
As mentioned earlier, the rough on a golf course is the longer grass that surrounds the fairway. Hitting a shot into the rough usually results in a tougher next shot for a golfer since the long grass can slow down the speed of the clubhead or make it difficult to connect directly with the ball.
The length of grass in the rough can vary greatly by courses or even on just one hole. Some holes feature “intermediate rough” in which the grass is slightly longer than the fairway, followed by “primary rough” that is a bit longer but still maintained. Different lengths of rough are a way for the course to progressively penalize players according to the distance by which they miss the fairway.
The U.S. Open and the Open Championship (also known as the British Open) are two major golf tournaments known for having rough that is longer than normal, putting a premium on accuracy.
Contrary to popular belief, a putt isn’t necessarily any shot that is taken with the putter (the flat-bladed club used to hit the ball into the hole). Although putts are taken with the putter, a player must technically be on the green in order for the shot to be considered a putt.
This distinction is important because golfers will sometimes use their putter from off the green (such as the fringe or even the fairway) when they want to roll the ball to have more control of distance and direction. Any shot taken with the putter from off the green is not officially counted as a putt on a golfer’s statistics, such as average putts per hole or number of putts attempted during a round.
The word “putt” is based on a Scottish word that means “shove” or “push,” describing the different style of shot golfers use while on the green.
7. Birdie, Eagle, and Albatross
Birdie, eagle, and albatross are all terms used when a golfer completes a hole in fewer shots than par. A birdie is when a golfer scores 1 under par on a hole (4 shots on a par 5, for example), an eagle is when the golfer scores 2 under par (3 shots on a par 5), and an albatross is the extremely rare occasion when a golfer scores 3 under par (2 shots on a par 5).
According to the USGA website, the origin of the term “birdie” dates back to the late 1800s when Atlantic City golfer Abner Smith hit his second shot on a par 4 within inches of the cup. Smith referred to his near-miss as “a bird of a shot,” and after tapping in for 1 under par, he and his playing partners agreed to refer to such a score as a “birdie.”
Smith also said that 2 under par would be known as an “eagle,” one of the most elegant creatures in the bird kingdom. And although the exact origin of the use of “albatross” for 3 under par on one hole is unknown, naming such a difficult feat after one of the rarest birds in the world seems quite fitting.
The term “bogey” is used when a golfer finishes a hole above par. Finishing 1 shot over par is simply a bogey, 2 over par is a double-bogey, 3 over par is a triple-bogey, and so on.
Ironically, the word “bogey” used to be a good thing. It’s based on a popular British song from the 1890s (The Bogey Man) and initially referred to the ideal score that a good player could make on a hole under perfect conditions. However, when the concept of par was introduced, bogey was relegated to describe when a player didn’t meet par.
You may refer to them as sand traps, but the technical term for the pits of sand found throughout a golf course is actually bunkers. The term dates back to the 16th-century Scottish word “bonkar,” which means “a chest.”
Although bunkers at courses today are planned and built by course designers in an attempt to make the holes more challenging and penalize errant shots (especially around the green), their inclusion in golf came naturally. Most early golf courses were located near bodies of water, and sand either blew towards the sea or was carried towards it by small rivers, often settling in spots around the course.
Bunkers vary by size and depth (pothole bunkers that can be found on links courses are sometimes so deep that the golfer actually has to hit the ball backwards to get out of it) and are usually located beside the green or along the fairway. Unless they are waste bunkers (naturally sandy areas), sand traps are considered hazards by the rules of golf, meaning that golfers will incur a penalty if they touch the sand with their club before hitting their shot.
10. Up and Down, Scrambling, and Sand Save
The terms “up and down,” “scrambling,” and “sand save” are all used to indicate a golfer’s ability to avoid a poor score with some excellent play around the green.
Up and down is when a golfer pitches or chips a shot onto the green, then successfully putts the ball into the hole on his next shot. A golfer successfully scrambles when he chips or putts from less than 50 yards off the green, then sinks his next putt to score par or better. A sand save is similar to a scramble, except the shot from off the green must come out of a bunker located 50 yards or closer to the green.
Stats in all of these categories are tracked by official golf sites, including PGATour.com.
A “gimme” is when a player’s ball is so close to the hole that his playing partners/opponents concede the shot, rather than making him actually putt into the cup. Giving a player a gimme is both a form of courtesy and a way to keep play moving at a faster pace.
However, gimmes are not permitted by the official rules of golf, especially in tournament play. That’s why you won’t see any gimmes handed out on the PGA Tour or in any other professional competition. It simply wouldn’t be fair to the rest of the players in the field, just in case the player were to miss what looks like an automatic putt.
Like gimmes, mulligans are a courtesy that amateur players extend each other on the course in order to keep the game moving. If a player hits a horrible shot (out of bounds, for example), a mulligan allows them to hit a second shot without counting the first one on their scorecard.
According to the PGA, the term is named after an actual person, although which person it was is still debated. Some believe it’s named after Canadian amateur David Bernard Mulligan, who once blamed an errant first shot of his round on having numb hands after driving to the course on a bumpy road. Others suggest the term is named after New Jersey locker room attendant John Mulligan, who begged his playing partners for a second chance to hit his first shot because they had been practicing all morning and he had not.
Mulligans are not legal under the rules of golf, so just like gimmes, you won’t see them awarded in professional play. Otherwise, Jean van de Velde might just have won the 1999 British Open after all.
Golf is a technical game, and the terminology used in the sport can be very technical as well. For example, did you know that any shot taken with the putter while off the green isn’t actually considered a putt?
A complete understanding of all the various terms used in golf will help you enjoy the sport more, and it’ll also ensure that there are no unpleasant surprises in any golf bet you make. It wouldn’t be fun to think you’d won a bet on how many birdies a player would score during a round, only to realize after the fact that you’d actually wagered on how many bogeys he would get instead.