Dormie - meaning and origin
For a player or foursome partners to be 'dormie' in matchplay is to be as many holes up as there as holes remaining, ie a half at any hole is good enough to win the match. The word 'dormie' on its own is sufficient, but it is often expressed as 'dormie four' or 'dormie three', etc.., depending on the circumstances.
(Note that 'dormie' can only apply in matches where there is no 'going down the 19th', playing extra holes to decide the outcome. In the Ryder or Walker Cups, matches can be halved. In the WGC Matchplay Championship, every match must be played until a winner emerges.)
We know of two possible origins for the word, although most dictionaries simply list the etymology of 'dormie' as unknown.
The august USGA Museum explains the term as being a corruption of the French word 'dormir', meaning to sleep, the theory being that since a player who is 'dormie' can no longer lose the match, he can now relax, or metaphorically 'go to sleep'. Purists who insist that all things golf must have come out of Scotland attribute this use of the word to the first known woman golfer, Mary, Queen of Scots, who spent much of her childhood in France and spoke the language fluently. (She is also credited by some with bringing the word 'caddie' from France to Scotland.) Keen match players will of course tell you that the quickest way to lose a good lead is to relax...
Staying in Scotland, but with no evidence before the late 18th and early 19th century, another theory holds that it is local Scottish slang for 'dormice', which were at home on the heaths and near the coasts where golf was played. As the 'dormie' were extremely shy and would usually hide at the approach of golfers, it was considered a good omen to see one, bringing luck to the spotter in his match. An 1828 essay by Sir Walter Scott about a visit to Carnoustie refers to the habit of local 'gowfers' of spattering their conversation with the names of small rodents during matches.
The word 'Dormy' or 'Dormie' is also found in use at golf clubs which have a 'Dormy House', but in this context it simply means somewhere for visiting golfers to sleep overnight.