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A Guide to Golf Lingo

Published on 03/14/2023 · 15 min readGolf expert Ken McKinnon gives you an A-Z guide to golf terms so that you're never stumped on the green.
Ken McKinnon, Golf Expert
By Golf Expert Ken McKinnon

Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh

Driving a golf ball 310 yards is one thing, now what do you say?! You’ll have to start talking the talk in order to truly walk the walk! We know golf is complicated, but don’t let the golf lingo or slang make you feel like you’re learning a foreign language. Use this curated list to keep up with your buddies the next time you’re on the course.

A

Ace: The golfer’s dream! A hole in one—hitting the ball into the hole with one stroke.

Aerating: Maintenance on the course to help the grass stay healthy. It requires small holes to be punched into the ground, preventing roots from growing.

Albatross: Three less strokes than par when scoring—obviously, this is extremely unusual! Some also say “double eagle,” which is the same as “albatross.”

Alternate Shot: A sometimes-difficult golf scoring layout where two golfers play as teammates. As the hole continues, they are only playing one golf ball, so after one player hits, the other player must hit the next shot.

Apron: The shorter grass around the green. Players will sometimes putt for this location.

All Square: If you’re playing match play and you are tied, then you are considered “All Square.”

Away: As you’re playing the hole, whichever golf ball is the farthest away from the green is said to be “away.” This is important because the player with that ball would typically hit first.

B

Back Tees: Also called “The Tips;” these are the deepest set of tees from the hole on each hole.

Back Nine: The name for the holes 10 through 18 on the course.

Back Swing: The initial motion of the golf swing in which the player moves the club away from the golf ball. Some refer to this as a “take away.”

Ball Marker: Small, coin-sized object that marks the spot of a golfer’s ball when on the green. This leaves a clear path for others to the pin.

Ball Mark: Golf ball impacts on a green occasionally leave a small dent on the surface; this is known as a “ball mark” and should be repaired as needed.

Beach: Don't frequent this area! It's not ideal and you’ll need your sand wedge to get out. Yes, this is slang for a bunker and the sand in it!

Best Ball: A playing format that can be typically used in tournaments, in which the team score for each hole is the “best score” of at least one of the players in a foursome. Every golfer keeps their own score and only the best is written down.

Birdie: When you don’t require all the strokes for a hole and come in with a score of one less than par.

Bite: When a ball has great backspin it is said to “bite,” usually on the green, since it stays close to where it landed or even spins back toward the player. Players will yell for the ball to “bite” if it appears to be over a deeper shot than expected.

Bogey: A score equaling one over par.

Bunker: An area containing sand that is considered a hazard.

Break: The curve or bend in a putt on the green. If a player says, “I think it will break right,” that means the ball should go right.

C

Caddie: A person who has extensive course knowledge and aids the golfer with yardages and locations to hit. These individuals carry the golfer’s bag as well.

Chip: A chip shot is used when you’re just off the green because it usually has a low trajectory. This is a very common approach shot when you’re close to the green.

Choke Down: When a golfer places their hands farther down the grip. This helps them hit a shot that’s a little short of their normal yardage.

Cup: The ending spot for every hole. The dimensions of the golf cup are four-inches deep and 4.5-inches in diameter located on the green that sometimes won’t cooperate!

Cut: When a player strikes a ball and it moves left to right while traveling in the air (for a right-handed golfer). “Fade” is another term for a more drastic flight.

D

Dance Floor: Unlike your third cousin's wedding dance floor, this is simply slang for the green. This dance floor is where EVERY golfer wants to be.

Deep: A shot that overshoots its intended target. It can also mean a pin location that is located toward the back of the green.

Divot: The hopefully small chunk of turf that flies up when a club head strikes the ground after a player hits the ball. If it tends to be on the larger side, some refer to it as a pelt.

Double Bogey: A final score of two over par. Can also be called a “double.”

Dogleg: When the hole makes a sharp turn to the left or right. “Dogleg right” means the hole turns sharply to the right, for example.

Drained: Slang for making a nice putt.

Draw: Most players strive for a high draw; this is a shot where the ball gradually moves right to left (for a right-handed golfer) and usually provides better distance.

Drive: The result of swinging a driver off the tee box at the beginning of a hole.

Driver: Also referred to as a boomstick or a 1 wood. The driver has the largest head on golf clubs and is the longest. It’s designed to hit the ball off a tee and go the farthest.

Duff: A bad shot. It's in everyone's bag, but we never want to see it happen!

Duck Hook: The dreaded duck hook is never intended, and it rarely ends well. This is when a player hits a ball but it aggressively moves from right to left and low to the ground.

E

Eagle: Scoring two under par. This score is usually achieved on reachable par 5 holes, but it has been done plenty of times with chip-ins on par 4s or drivable par 4s.

F

Fade: A shot in golf where the ball beautifully moves left to right (for a right-handed golfer). Sometimes this is also called a “cut.”

Fairway: The ideal spot for your ball to land, the fairway is the short grass leading you right to the green.

Fat: Sometimes also called “thick” or “chunked.” This is when the ball makes contact a few grooves higher than usual and flight is unpredictable; this occurs when the club hits the ground prior to striking the ball.

Flyer: This generally occurs when you’re coming from the rough and you pure a shot that goes a lot farther than you anticipated.

Flew the Green: When your golf shot goes over the green—this usually occurs when a yardage is wrong or you smoked your sweet spot.

Foot Wedge: Slang for kicking a golf ball to better your lie. (Yes, it's tempting, and yes, it's illegal.)

Fore: The warning shouted when your shot is heading toward a fellow golfer. Or possibly the parking lot. It’s dreaded but has to be yelled.

Forward Tees: Usually the senior or women’s tee locations (Red or Yellow); these tee boxes are located closest to the green.

Fried Egg: When you end up in a sand bunker, as if that wasn't bad enough, this occurs when a ball is half-buried in sand, resembling a fried egg.

Fringe: The short grass surrounding the green that is kept slightly longer than the grass on the green. Most courses have an apron and fringe as stated earlier.

G

Get Up: After you make contact and you’re watching the ball fly in, if it looks a little short you yell this phrase in hopes that your ball will listen at least once this round.

Gimme: A makeable putt; this is for casual golf with buddies when they want to speed up pace of play.

Green Fee: Fancy way of saying the cost to play the round of golf.

Green in Regulation (GIR): GIR for a par 3 is one shot, par 4 is two shots, and par 5 is three shots. The rule of thumb is two shots less than par, so this means when you putt for birdie you have achieved a GIR.

Grip: This means the way your hands are placed on the club or the covering on the end, and where your hands grab the club.

Grounding: Grounding a club in sand is against the rules. This is where your club touches the surface. It cannot be done in bunkers but can be done in hazards for amateur golfers.

H

Handicap: The greatest way to keep rounds of golf close! This is a number that represents how many strokes you should take away to reach par. If you consistently shoot 80, you’re an 8 handicap. This helps keep rounds of golf close with less experienced golfers.

Honors: When you win a hole, you gain the right to tee off first. You can also be the farthest away from the hole and have “honors” to hit.

Hook: When a right-handed player strikes the ball such that it curves aggressively from right to left. This flight path is more aggressive than a draw.

Hot: Whether it's a putt or a shot, “hot” means it went a lot farther or faster than you wanted, and sometimes it won’t end well.

Hosel: Point where the shaft and club head are attached; this is not a good spot to make contact with the golf ball!

K

Knock Down: A skilled shot designed to have a lower flight and decent backspin. It is usually hit to counteract strong winds.

L

Lag Putt: A longer putt designed to leave the next putt close to the hole. It’s very common when the golfer is 15 feet or more away from the hole.

Lie: The location or position of the golf ball while in play. The fairway, rough, and sand are the most common areas.

Lip: The very edge of the hole. “Lipping out” is when your ball rolls around the lip and does not go in. Yes, it's very frustrating!

Loft: The angle of the face of the club. Some clubs have the loft labeled on them, almost all wedges do.

Photo by Markus Spiske

M

Match Play: A scoring format in golf; this is where you win holes and don't tally strokes after the completes. A match play round can be won in 10 holes if the golfer wins every hole. Tying is considering “halving.”

Modified Scramble: Can also be called “Texas scramble.” Each golfer takes a tee shot and the team decides which drive to use. From that point, all players play their ball in and the best score is taken.

Mulligan: When using a mulligan, the first shot you “mulliganed” does not add to the score. Pull one of these cards out after hitting into the woods or the water! Sometimes this is the only way to achieve good scores, but we hope you don't need to use many of these.

N

Nineteenth Hole: For some, this is their favorite hole! After a long round, you’re able to join up with friends in the clubhouse and drink a few. Everybody wins the 19th hole!

O

OB: The dreaded area, out of bounds—the ball cannot be played from here. Out of bounds is marked by white stakes on the golf course.

P

Par Score: A score received when using all the strokes recommended. Using four strokes on a par 4 equals a par score.

Pin: The flag standing inside the cup. The pins are located on the green of the given hole you’re playing. Some refer to these as the “stick.”

Pitching: A pitch shot is a higher flight golf shot made near the green. The goal of this shot is to get the ball to land close or in the pin and not roll out very far.

Playing Through: When one group of golfers passes through another group of slower-playing golfers. This often happens if a foursome is in front of a pair of players and the pair wants to play through instead of waiting.

Provisional Ball: You hope you never need it, and it's a great feeling when you think you do but really don't! This is when a second ball is played in the event that the first ball is or may be lost or out of bounds. Here’s the best part though—if you find that the first shot is playable, the provisional ball is picked up and not used! The bad news is that if you can't find the first shot or it isn't playable, then penalties apply.

Pure: The greatest feeling in golf—hitting your ball right in the sweet spot and watching it fly!

Putting: Grabbing the flat stick (putter) and using a stroke to get the ball into the hole. They always say “drive for show, putt for dough.”

R

Ranger: Employee of the golf course who helps with pace of play and player assistance on the course.

Ready Golf: This is common in casual rounds. It's simply when the golfer hits as they’re ready, rather than waiting for honors.

Rough: Sides of the fairway. It’s long, which makes it hard to hit clean. Most of the nicer courses have a “first cut” of shorter rough and a “second cut” of heavier, longer rough.

S

Sand Bunker: A bunker filled with sand, also called a sand trap.

Scramble: This is the most common format for charity golf tournament play. Everybody gets action every shot. Everyone hits a tee shot, and the best is chosen. From that point, everyone hits the best shot until the hole is complete.

Shank: Not ideal when you’re trying to win rounds. This is a very poor shot that hits the hosel and gets sent off to the side.

Shotgun Start: Starting on each hole of the course. For example, a team could start on 12, when everyone else starts on 1 through 18. All golfers are sent to different holes on the course so that play begins for everyone at the same time.

Sit: Sometimes, hitting a pure shot doesn't work out like you wanted. That's when you yell “sit” and hope the ball listens.

Skin: Lowest score on a hole wins the “skin,” or prize, for that hole. If someone ties the score, there is no skin on the hole.

Skull: A mishit where the contact is made above the bottom half of the ball, resulting in a screaming low flight. If you hit one of these close to the green, you’ll need to do more than yelling “sit” to help you out.

Slice: The most common miss in golf. This happens when your flight flies high and left to right for right-handed golfers. This can happen if you’ve left your clubface slightly open.

Smoked: Step up, pure your shot, and watch it fly. You just smoked it!!

Snowman: The dreaded 8 on a scorecard, “snowman” is a humorous way of saying you got an 8. Chances are good that your second shot was so hot!

Stimpmeter: This tells you how fast the green is when the ball is rolling. The scale is usually 5 to 11. PGA Tour courses see 10.5 to 12 most often.

Stroke Play: What we see on TV; strokes are tallied, the lowest score wins.

Sweet Spot: The center of the clubface; you’ll notice this when you pure a shot and smoke it. With new club technologies, the sweet spot gets bigger and bigger.

T

Tap-In: A makeable putt by walking up and tapping it into the hole. Most friends will give you these putts; if they don't, are they really your friends?

Tees: Golf equipment used to raise the ball off the ground. Tees are typically made of wood and can be used for par 3s if you prefer to get the ball in the air for a pure shot.

Thin: If you skull a shot, then you’ve hit it “thin.” This is a shot that strikes near the center of the ball, typically causing a lower trajectory.

The Tips: Put on your big-boy pants and get ready to play! You’ll need a long ball to survive back here, as “the tips” are the farthest tees from the green.

The Turn: When you finish the 9th hole, the transition to the 10th hole is called “the turn.” Usually, golfers restock their coolers and grab a bite to eat at the turn.

Twilight: This has nothing to do with everyone's favorite vampire series! It’s just a great deal that courses offer when it’s close to getting dark—you may not complete the round, so it's discounted beforehand.

U

Up and Down: Trying to save par? You may have to do this! It's when you chip up then putt and drain it from the spot your chip landed, all with one attempt.

W

Waggle: Get up, address the ball, and let's see your waggle! This is when you move the clubhead in a back and forth motion while standing over the ball. Some golfers use this mechanism to relax their shoulders.

Woods: Not only is it a forested area you want to avoid, but it's also the type of golf club with a round head, usually made out of metal or composite materials. These are the clubs you need for long distance.

Y

Yips: Eat food and stay stable—if you have the shakes, then you’re going to get called out for having the “yips.” This is the inability to make short putts. You either didn't eat enough, or you’re just flat out nervous; either way, stay calm and make putts!

Z

Zone: It's where we watched Tiger get into so many times—he just seems to be in a completely different mindset. If you’re playing well, you're in the zone!

Now you’re ready to put these slang terms to good use. You’ll be fitting right in with your golf buddies, whether you’re at a country club or municipal course. We know you’re ready to talk the talk, now practice up so you can walk the walk!

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