Golf Terms Explained – A Complete A to Z of Common Golfing Terms and Sayings

Each sport or pastime has its own lingo, jargon, and expressions. Golf is no different. Someone new to the game might find many of them rather confusing at first.

Given the age and popularity of the sport, golf probably has quite a few more than many other sports. Evened seasoned players often come across a term of reference that is new to them.

In order to demystify the sport and give players a better understanding, we will take you through some of the most important and commonly used golf terms. This will give you more confidence on the course and allow you to focus on your game without trying to decipher what the other person just said.

For convenience, we have put the list into alphabetical order. With some of the older, more famous terms, we give a bit of interesting insight into their origin. The list, although not exhaustive, is designed to be a complete A to Z of all Golf Terms/Lingo used in golf.

A

Ace – Otherwise known as a hole in one an ace is when the ball finds the hole from the tee in a single stoke. It is the dream of many golfers.

Address – The way you stand and position your club before a shot is known as address. Remember not to accidentally cause the ball to move when addressing the ball as this will result in a penalty of one stroke.

Albatross – Occasionally called a double eagle, an albatross is a score of three under par. So an awesome 2 on a par 5 or a hole in 1 on a par 3 would give you a brilliant result and the bragging rights that come with it. The exact origins are not clear but the term has been around since at least 1929.

Alignment – This refers to the position of the player’s body relative to the intended target.  Good alignment is critical for accurate shots.

Approach – Shots played that are intended to land on the green are known as approach shots.

B

Back Nine – This refers to the last 9 holes of a typical 18 hole course, also known as heading in.

Backswing – As the term suggests, this is simply the action taking when swinging back before striking the golf ball. It is important for distance and accuracy.

Backspin – Spin is very important in most aspects golf and you will often come across the term when comparing clubs or in golfing instructions.  Simply put, more backspin will give you a high ball with a fair amount of control.

Birdie – A hole where you score one stroke under par is a birdie. It is generally accepted that the term officially originates at the Atlantic City Country Club in 1903. – read more about the birdie.

Blade – This is a style of iron that, while the only option in years gone by, is now mostly only used by better players. It has a compact “blade” shaped head with relatively even weight distribution on the rear of the club.

Bogey – This is simply a score of one over par on a hole. The term is said to have originated from a song, “The Bogey Man” which was popular in the British Isles early in the 1890s.

Break – The term is used to describe the curvature of a ball on the putting green. It is based on the slope and grain of the green as well as other factors such as wind.

Bunker – The much-dreaded bunker, also known as a sand trap, is a hazard that is a depression in the ground containing sand.  They can either be near the green or on the fairway.

C

Carry – This term refers to the distance the balls travels through the air. It is important when you need to get over obstacles or hazards.

Cavity back – These irons are designed to be more forgiving than blades. The cavity back allows for perimeter weighting allowing off-center hits to still travel a fair distance without too much loss of direction. They offer a bit less control and shaping ability than blades but are preferred by the average golfer and certainly the beginner.

Center of Gravity – While this term can also be used to talk about a player it is generally related to the design and balancing of the golf club. To keep the concept simple, the farther back and lower the center of gravity (CG), the higher the trajectory will be according to the loft angle. This will give golfers an easier launch that generally has good backspin. Low handicap players do not need this advantage as much and tend to prefer a progressive CG with a higher CG on the longer irons.

Chip – This is a short shot to get on the green and close to pin if not in the hole. It is generally a low-trajectory shot. A chip and run is even lower and as the name suggests, the ball runs along the ground for most of the distance.

Choke Down – Chocking down refers to gripping the club lower down on the shaft.  It is often used on shorter approach shots for greater control.

Closed Face – Angling the club face towards the body relative to the target will result in a closed face.

Closed Stance – Placing the front foot nearer the target line is a closed stance. It can be used to prevent a slice or play a draw.

Coefficient of Restitution – Another important consideration when comparing clubs is the Coefficient of Restitution or COR. It is a term used to measure the energy transfer from the clubface to the ball. A higher COR will result in greater speeds and therefore more distance. Modern clubs generally have a higher COR than those in the past and thus it has become a bit easier to get a good distance.

Compression – An important factor to consider when selecting a golf ball is the compression ratio. Softer balls, those with lower compression, are more suitable for people with a slower swing speed. While they will not offer as much control they will deliver better distance for these players.  It is important to match your ball section to your swing speed.

D

Dimples – Golf balls have dimples to improve aerodynamics and regulate spin. The right number and design of dimples for your swing could improve performance.

Divot – When striking the ball a chunk of turf from beneath the ball is often displaced. The remaining mark or hole is known as a divot. Good etiquette is to repair your divots as you play.

Dogleg – A straight fairway with a sharp bend left or right is referred to as a dogleg.

Double Bogey – A score of two above par on a hole is a double bogey.

Draw – For right-handed golfers, this is a shot that moves from right to left through the air.

E

Eagle – A score of two under par on a hole is known as an eagle

Etiquette – Golf is a gentleman’s game and etiquette is the rules that govern a player’s conduct and behavior.

F

Fade – The opposite of a draw, a fade moves from left to right during flight, for a right-handed golfer.

Fairway – The shorter mowed middle of the fairway between the tee box and the green is the fairway. The origins of the word are not clear but many believe it to have derived from a nautical term for a clear and safe channel.

Fairway markers – These markers will give you the distance to the center of the green. They are normally color coded and generally give distance in yards or meters for 250, 200, 150 and 100. The specifics and colors can vary from course to course.

Fat – A fat shot is when the club strikes the ground before the ball. The result is generally poor and the ball will not travel very far.

Flier – A ball hit from the rough or wet grass that often does not get enough spin and travels further than expected. This is known as a flier.

Flop Shot – A flop shot is generally an approach shot hit with an open stance and club-face. The idea is for the ball to travel high and fall softly on the green for an easy putt.

Follow-through – This is just as important as the backswing and is that part of the swing that occurs after impact with the ball.

Fore – To warn players ahead of an errant ball or potential danger, a player should shout “Fore” as a warning. The term is Scots in origin and dates back as early as 1881.

Four-ball – This is a common form of play particularly match play.   There are two sides of two players and each golfer plays their own ball for the duration of the hole. The lower score between the two partners is used to determine the score. Informally the term simply refers to four players playing together on the course.

Fringe – The fringe is the area immediately surrounding the green. It is closely mowed but not nearly as short or smooth as the green itself. It is relatively thin and separates the green from the fairway.

Front Nine – Simply the first 9 holes on the course.

G

Gimme -This is a relatively informal term used when a player is close enough to the cup to be awarded the shot without actually taking it. They are not always allowed in many situations or competitions.

Green – The green is the end part of each hole with the target cup and flag are situated. They vary in size and shape and the grass, although short, can be different depending on conditions.

Grain – Grain refers to the direction in which the grass grows, specifically in the green. It will impact the direction and speed of your putt.

Grip – There are a number of different grips golfers use to hold the club. It is mostly a matter of how you learned to play and personal preference.

Gross score – This is simply the total number of strokes or shots played during a round before the handicap is factored in.

Grounding the club – When you position the club on the ground behind the ball at address this is known as grounding the club. This is not allowed when playing from a bunker or other marked hazards.

Groove – The horizontal lines seen on the clubface are called grooves and cause the ball to spin.

H

Half Shot – When playing a close approach shot one often has to play a reduced shot otherwise known as a half shot.

Handicap – This is a numerical system based on past results that measures the potential and level of a golfer’s skills. It allows players of different skills and abilities to compete on a relatively even footing.

Hazard – Any body of water and part of the area around it as well as bunkers are known as hazards. There are specific rules that dictate how to play when your ball lands in a hazard.

Heel – This is the area of the hub that is next to the hosel.

Home course – This is the club/course to which the player is a member and houses their handicap.

Honors – The person with the best score on the previous hole has the honors of teeing off first on the next hole.

Hook – The dreaded hook is a shot that curves rather dramatically from right to left for left-handed players.

Hosel – The hosel connects the club head to the shaft. Some are fixed while others are adjustable.

I

Impact – The part of the swing when the club face makes contact with the ball.

Interlocking grip – There are a number of grip styles.  This is one of the more popular grips in which, for right-handed players, the right hand pinkie hooks or links over the index finger on the left hand.

L

Lay-up – This is when you purposely play a shorter shot than you could in order to avoid a hazed, particularly a water hazard. This will make the next shot easier and minimize the risk of a penalty should your ball find the hazard.

Level-Par – This simply refers to a score that is on par.

Lie – The lie is how your ball sits on the surface when it stops. You can use a tee off the tee box but thereafter you will face a range of lies. Some will be easy while others might pose more of a challenge. It can also refer to the angle between the sole of the head and the middle of the shaft.

Line – This is the path you need to or intend to play the ball.

Links – A course built on sand dunes on the coast, often reclaimed sand, is a links course.  The famous Old Course at St. Andrews is a great example and the dream of many a golfer.

Lob Shot – A lob shot is generally used on approach or to get out of trouble or hazards such as bunkers. It is a high shot that travels a short distance with a soft landing.

Loft – It is important to understand loft. It is measured in degrees and is the angle of the clubface. A higher loft will produce higher shots with less distance than lower lofted clubs, all other things being equal.

Lag putt – A putt of a fair distance that leaves the ball very near the cup.

Lie – This refers to the position and situation in which the ball comes to rest during play.

Lip – The cup or hole is lined by a thin lip. Lipping out is when the ball hits the lip and fails to go into the cup.

M

Match play – This format consists of teams competing per hole. The winner is determined not by the total strokes but by the number of holes won.

Marker – A marker is a small disk of plastic or metal to mark the ball position of a ball on the green.

Mulligan – While not recognized or allowed in the rules of golf, Mulligans are a free second shot. They are generally limited to a tee shot and usually the first tee. When given a Mulligan, the player does not incur a penalty.

N

Net score – This is different from the gross score in that it takes the handicap into account.

O

Offset – The offset is a measure of the leading edge of the clubface from the hosel.

Open face – This is when you position the club face away from the body relative to your target.

Open stance – Often used to prevent or reduce a hook or play a fade, an open stance is when the front foot is positioned back from the target line.

Out-of-bounds – All parts of the course have areas that are out of bounds. When the ball lands in this area the golfer has to hit again from the original position and will incur a one-stroke penalty. White posts are generally used to demarcate out of bound areas.

P

Pace – Golf is a leisurely sport but there are often players behind you. One needs to ensure a decent pace in order to no hinder other golfers.

Par – Par is the standard or average score an accomplished golfer should make per hole. It is largely determined by this distance of the hole. Par will range from 3 on shorter holes to 5 for longer holes.  The course itself will also have a par which is the combined total of the par for all 18 holes.

Pick Up – In order to speed up the game, depending on the format, some players pick up their ball after a number of strokes and do not complete the hole.

Pin – An informal term for the flagstick.

Pitch – A wedge or highly lofted club is often used for shorter approach shots, generally 50 yards or less. It is a short, normally high shot that is played with a reduced swing.

Pitch mark – This is the indentation, similar to a divot, that occurs on the green where the ball lands.  One must repair the pitch mark so that it does not affect other players.

Play through – When the players in front of you are playing too slow, good etiquette often allows them to give you permission to play through so as not to hold up your game.

Pre-shot routine – Most golfers have a specific routine that they go through before their shot. This is a pre-shot routine and differs from person to person.

Punch Shot – Often used from the rough or a difficult lie, a punch shot is a low shot often played with a short backswing. It is normally used to get you out of trouble when a standard shot would not work effectively. It is particularly effective when there are low branches obstructing your line.

R

Range finder – This is a modern digital device that will scan the course in order to determine the distance to the green or the flag.

Release – When your wrists unlock as you make impact this is known as release. Too early or too late will generally result in an ineffective shot.

Rough – The area with longer grass around the fairway is the rough. Some parts are thicker and more challenging than others.  It generally makes for a challenging shot to get back on the fairway and closer to the green.

Run – Once a shot lands it travels a fair distance unless you have applied a lot of backspin. This distance is known as a run.

S

Scratch – A scratch golfer has a zero handicap. It is the ultimate goal of many better players. – read more about scratch golfers.

Setup – Setup is similar to address and refers to your stance, alignment, and positioning before hitting the ball.

Shank – When impact happens near the hosel it normally results in a shank.  This, for right-handed players, will send the ball far to the right of your intended path.

Shape/shaping – Better players are able to shape their shots meaning that they can control the curve to a large extent. This comes in extremely handy on many holes.

Short Game – This refers to shots on or around the green. It includes pitch shots, chips and putting.

Slice – While a fade is generally a planned and subtle movement of the ball from left to right a slice is more dramatic and generally not a great shot.

Slope rating – This is used to measure the difficulty of a course, generally relevant to bogey golfers.  It is a numerical value ranging from 55 to 155 with 113 being the rating of an average course.

Sole – The sole of the club refers to the bottom area that makes contact with the turf or ground.

Square – The term square has a number of meanings. It can relate to the clubface or the impact as well as the stance at address.

Stableford – This format allocates points according to the number of strokes per hole relative to par. The player or team with the highest points wins.

Stance – Speaking of stance earlier, it is simply the way the feet are positioned at address. It can be square, open or closed.

Stroke Play – This format, sometimes called medal play, is based on the total number of strokes over a round or a fixed number of rounds.

Strong Grip – Nothing to do with the actual strength of the grip, a strong grip is one in which the hands are positioned counter-clockwise when gripping the club.

Sweet Spot – The area on the clubface in which the face will not twist or torque is the aptly named sweet spot.  It allows for greater accuracy and distance. Clubs with a larger sweet spot are more forgiving and easier to hit.

Swing – The motion of moving the golf club in order to hit the ball is the swing. Swing speed is the rate at which you are able to do this.

Shotgun start – Certain situations will call for a shotgun start where each team starts of different holes at the same time.

T

Takeaway – As you move the club back from the ball, this is called the takeaway.

Target Line – The line one visualizes from the ball to the intended target, be it where the ball is to land or where you wish to aim when playing a curved shot.

Tee Box – This is the area from which you start or tee off on each hole. Markers dictate where you may position the ball on the tee box. There is often more than one tee box per hole to accommodate various players. The lady’s tee is an example of this.

Tempo – The speed, or change in speed, thought the stages of a golfers swing.

Texas Wedge – Some players choose to use a putter despite not being on the green. This is commonly referred to as a Texas Wedge.

Toed Shot – As the name suggests, this is a shot hit off the toe of the club (the part furthest from the hosel).

Topped Shot – A topped shot is when the impact is near the top of the ball.  It generally results in a low bouncing shot that does not go very far.

Trajectory – The trajectory is the angle and height of the ball path after impact.

Triple bogey – Three over par on a hole is a triple bogey.

Turkey – Much more exciting, three birdies in a row is a Turkey.

U

Uncock – This is the moment in the downswing when the wrists release and straighten.  The timing is important for a quality shot.

Unplayable – Apart from on the tee, a player can declare his ball to be unplayable during play. The golfer can then drop the ball further from the hole or within two club-lengths of where it landed. A one-stroke penalty will be incurred when this is done. If this occurs in a hazed the drop has to be made in the same hazard.

V

Vardon grip – This is a popular grip style in which, with right-handed players, the right pinky sits on top of the left index finger. The Vardon grip, sometimes referred to as the overlapping grip, is named after legendary golfer Harry Vardon.

W

Waggle – A common pre-shot routine is a waggle consisting of one or a few motions designed to help focus and relax and ready the player for the shot.

Weak Grip – With this grip, a right-handed player will turn his or her hands to the left when gripping the club.

Whiff – Sometimes called an air ball, a whiff is an intentional shot that misses the ball completely. It counts as a stroke.

Y

Yips – The dreaded yips is a twitch or nervous condition where the golfer has reduced control of the club. It is generally related to putting although can happen with any shot and is relatively common even amongst some top golfers.

Z

Zinger – A zinger is when the ball is struck near the leading edge with power. It often has a lot of vibration and will fly low with questionable accuracy.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, that will give you a better idea of some of the more commonly used golf terms and increase your confidence when interacting with fellow golfers. Some regions have specific terms that we perhaps missed but this A to Z should cover the vast majority of terms you will come across on the course.