A-Z

Golfing Terms & Jargon

Golf has a language all its own, including many old Scottish words and some real oddities, but also everyday words used in a special way.
So keep up on the course or in the 19th with our golfing glossary - browse the full list or click on a letter below.

A - B - C - D - E - F - G - H - I - J - K - L - M
N - O - P - Q - R - S - T - U - V - W - X - Y - Z

Golf Today's A to Z of Golf: The Eagle, © Getty Images
A
Above the holeRefers to a ball on any sloping green positioned so that the next putt is downhill. Downhill putts are harder to judge for speed and slope, and also riskier, so the good golfer aims to keep his ball 'below the hole' at all times.
AceA hole in one.
AlbatrossThree under par score at a hole. Known as a 'double-eagle' in the US.
Approach Short or medium shot to either the pin or putting green.
Attend the flag To remove and hold flag whilst another player putts.
AwayThe person furthest way from the hole and the first to play.
 
B
BackThe last nine holes of a golf course. Also a tee position that makes hole the longest.
BananaA slice, or shot that curves strongly left to right. For some reason, 'banana' always refers to a slice, although a 'hook' is simply a banana facing the other way. Also what professional golfers munch several times a round to maintain their energy levels.
Below the holeYour ball is 'below the hole' on a green if your next putt is uphill. Uphill putts can be struck firmly, meaning that any break is less important and there is less risk of running way beyond the hole. This is particularly true of fast greens, such as one finds in high-level tournaments. The opposite of 'above the hole'.
Best Ball / Better BallBest score on a hole by partners in a best-ball match.
BirdieOne under par score on a hole.
BogeyOne over par score on a hole.
Break In putting, the curve the ball will follow due to slope and/or grain in the green.
 
C
CarryDistance a ball travels from impact to hitting the ground.
ChipShort shot played with minimum loft from off the green.
CompressionDegree of resilience of a golf ball.
CondorProbably the rarest of all scores in golf: four under par on a hole, ie a hole in one on a par five. Only four examples have ever been recorded, three of them by 'cutting the corner' on par fives with a dogleg, which considerably shortens the hole. Also called a 'triple-eagle' or double-albatross' in the US.
 
D
DivotTurf removed when hitting a shot.
DoglegLeft or right bend in fairway.
Dog LicenceIf the winning margin in match play is 7&6, the victory (or defeat) is called a dog licence. In Great Britain, until 1987, dog owners bought a licence for their pet which cost 7/6d (pre-decimal currency = 37p).
Dormie - meaning and originIn match play, having a lead equal to the number of holes remaining to be played, ie. two up and two to play.
DrawControlled right to left shot with a moderate curve (or left to right for left-handers).
DropWhen the ball is lost, or there is an unplayable lie, a ball is dropped from arm's length at shoulder height onto the course.
 
E
EagleTwo under par score on a hole.
 
F
FairwayThe short-grass area between the tee and the green.
Follow-throughThe latter part of the swing from striking the ball to completion of the motion.
Fore!Warning shout when a shot may endanger another player.
Four-BallGroup of two pairs of golfers recording the better ball score of each pair based on gross or net scores.
FoursomeGroup of two pairs of golfers playing shots alternately with the same ball. The partners drive at alternate holes, so one will drive the even numbers and one the odd numbers.
Free dropWhen a player is entitled to make a drop without a penalty stroke.
 
G
GilliganThe opposite of a Mulligan. When gilligans are agreed in a match, your opponent has the right to ask you to play a shot again - typically a good drive or a long putt holed.
GimmieVery short putt close to a hole, awarded by other players. Only used in match play, or in friendly golf - in stroke play everything must be holed out.
GrainDirection in which blades of grass grow and influence the speed and roll of the ball on the putting green. When looking 'into the grain' a green will appear darker, and 'with the grain' it will appear lighter or shinier. When putting 'across the grain' the ball will move left or right.
GreenArea of course around the hole with very short grass, for putting.
Gross score The total number of actual strokes played within a round, before handicap is taken into account.
Ground under Repair (GUR)If an area of the couse is under maintenance and your ball lands there, you can remove your ball without penalty. Normally identified by stakes or a line.
 
H
Half ShotReduced swing when taking a shot. Used for shorter shots, or when extra control is required.
Hole outTo finish a hole by getting the ball in the cup or hole. Usually done with a putt, but sometimes with a chip from off the green, and occasionally with a full shot.
HonourGiven to the player scoring lowest on last hole, and granting the right to tee off first on the next.
HookShot that curves strongly from right to left (or the opposite, if you play left handed!).
HoselHollow part of clubhead where the shaft is attached. Sometimes called the 'neck'.
 
I
In play A shot that comes to rest within the boundaries of the course (the opposite of 'out-of-bounds').
Interlocking grip A right-handed player using this grip will interlock the little finger of his right hand with the index finger of his left hand (vice versa for lefties). A good grip for players with small hands. Used by Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus, among others.
In the leather A ball that lies very close to the hole; so called because it was measured by the leather of the putter grip. In friendly play, a putt 'within the leather' is often conceded .
 
J
JiggerName of an old club with similar loft to a modern 4-iron. Confusingly, it was also sometimes used to describe a short pitching club for work around the green, otherwise called a pitching niblick, or lofting iron, roughly equivalent to a modern pitching wedge.
 
K
KikuyuFast-growing, thick African grass that like full sunshine and hot weather. Not suited to woodland or temperate climates. A feature of courses in southern Africa, requiring great skill to play from around the greens.
Knee knockerA short putt, which you really shouldn't miss, but often do.
KnickersAmerican name for golf trousers that stop just below the knee, worn with knee socks. Called 'plus fours' or 'plus twos' in Britain.
KnifeGolfing slang for the 1-iron. In the days when all all iron heads were forged, they were often known as 'blades', and the 1-iron was the sharpest (and most dangerous to use) blade of all.
 
L
LieResting place of the ball on the course, hence a 'good lie', or 'poor lie'. Also the angle at which the clubhead is set on the shaft. Tall people usually have clubs with an 'upright' lie (making the shoft more vertical) and shorter people use a 'regular' or 'flatter' lie (placing the cubhead further away from the body).
LinksGolf course on coastal terrain, usually with sand dunes and very few trees, and exposed to the wind. Literally a piece of ground that 'links' the mainland to the sea.
LipEdge of the hole.
Lip-outA putt that catches the lip of the hole and turns around the rim without falling in.
LucyRhyming slang: Lucy Locket = socket, or shank. Arguably the worst shot in golf.
 
M
MarkerThin, flat item used to mark the position of a golf ball on the green to prevent your ball obstructing other player's shots. Small coins may be used, or specifically designed discs of metal or plastic. Also a person who keeps the score in a match, either as a spectator accompanying the players, or one's opponent.
Match PlayCompetition scored by the number of holes won or lost. The opposite of 'stroke' or 'medal' play. In this format, matches often do not go the full 18 holes.
Medal PlayAnother name for 'Stroke Play', keeping the score on every hole. The lowest number of strokes, gross or net, wins.
MixedMan and woman playing together, eg: 'Mixed Foursomes'. Each partner plays off their own tees.
MulliganChance to replay one's last shot, granted in a friendly game by an opponent. Not permitted in competition. (See also Gilligan)
 
N
Net score Score after the handicap strokes have been deducted from the gross score.
NiblickOld-fashioned Scottish term for nine iron.
NobbleTo nobble is to top a ball, or catch it on the upper half, causing a low, weak, running shot, called a 'nobbler'
 
O
OBShort for 'out of bounds'. Area outside the course play area, usually marked by a white line or white stakes, or boundaries such as walls, fences or railings.
 
P
ParStandard number of strokes for each hole, always including two putts. Almost all golf holes are par 3, 4 or 5, although some new courses are building ultra-long par 6 holes.
PenaltyExtra stroke(s) added to a player's score for violation of the rules, loss of ball, out of bounds, etc...
PILSNo... not yet. You can enjoy a Pils or three in the 19th when you're done with your putting practice. This PILS stands for 'Pure In Line Square' - the putting method advocated by scientist turned short game guru Dave Pelz, and many others. Essentially it involves a pendulum motion from the shoulders, eliminating all independant hand and arm movement, keeping the putter-face square throughout the stroke.
PinFlagstick.
Pin-highA ball which is level with the pin, but to one side.
PitchShot used to approach the green, shorter swing than normal, but longer and more lofted than a chip.
Play ThroughWhen a group of slower golfers or those searching for a ball allow others to pass them. It is good etiquette to allow faster players to 'play through'.
'Plus' GolferA golfer whose handicap is better than scratch, so he has to add or 'plus' strokes to his gross score after a round, rather than subtracting them.
Plus Fours / PlusTwosGolfing trousers once very popular because they end just below the knee, avoiding getting mud on the trousers when playing. Plus fours are more traditional and fuller cut, folding over 4 inches below the knee, while plus twos are slimmer and more modern, folding only two inches.
 
Q
Quarter ShotGreatly reduced swing in taking a shot. Used for short shots, or when great control is required. (Also 'three-quarter' shot, somewhere between a 'half-shot'and a full swing.)
 
R
RangePractice area (also called the Driving Range).
RecoveryShot played back into a good position from an unfavourable one.
Redan
ReliefPermission to lift and drop the ball without incurring a penalty.
RoughLonger and thicker grassed area of the course.
 
S
SandieTerm used when playing for money, betting against an opponent. Either a) making par on a hole after being in a bunker at some point, or b) getting out of a bunker and into the hole in two (an 'up and down').
Sand SaveProfessional equivalent of a 'sandie' (version b). Getting out of a bunker and into the hole in two shots. Whether the player makes par or not is immaterial, it is the 'up and down' which counts. Expressed as a percentage of the number of times achieved out of the number of attempts, and one of the many statistical categories computed on the various pro tours.
ShankShot struck by the hosel of the club which causes the ball to go sharply right. Also called a 'socket'.
ShiperioSimiliar to a Mulligan, ie a second shot graciously allowed by your opponent, but in this case you can choose which of the two balls you will play.
SkinnySaid of a shot hit thin, which flies lower than usual and with no control.
SliceA shot that curves violently to the right, banana-shaped. Usually caused by striking the ball with an open clubface and an in-to-out swing. The commonest shot shape among beginners and high-handicappers.
 
T
ThinA shot somewhere between a top (see below) and a well-struck ball. The ball is hit below the equator, but not enough to get properly airborne, causing a low and uncontrolled shot. Especially destructive when chipping or pitching around the green.
TopTo hit the ball above the centre, causing the ball to dive down and roll rather than rise.
TurnAfter the 9th hole, ie the halfway point on a golf course, where you 'turn' for home.
 
U
Unplayable lie When it is impossible to play a shot because of ground conditions or an obstruction. The player may drop the drop the ball in a better position, in accordance with the rules, under penalty.
Up and Down When a player fails to be on the green in regulation, but gets on it with an approach shot and one-putts into the hole.
 
V
Vardon Grip Another name for an overlapping grip made popular by Harry Vardon. The little finger of the right hand (for right-handers ) overlaps the forefinger of the left hand.
 
W
WhiffTo swing and miss the ball completely. Counts as a stroke. Also called an 'air-shot', or 'fresh air'.
Worm-burnerA topped, or thinned shot that runs along the ground, thus endangering the useful invertebrates that might be getting a breath of fresh air.
 
X
X-outsBalls that do not meet a manufacturer's stringent quality controls, either because of a small cosmetic blemish or because they are very marginally outside the size or weight tolerances (1.680" and 1.620oz). They are sold at a reduced price and the manufacturer's name is 'x'-d out. Otherwise perfectly normal and very good value, but beware of using them in competition as incorrect tolerances will make them illegal.
 
Y
YardageThe distance between the player's ball and the target he is aiming for. The 'yardage' of a hole is officially the figure given on the scorecard from a specific tee, but will vary according to the position of the tee-markers and the pin position on the green. Top players use 'yardage charts' to calculate their distance from specific points on the course and to help with club selection.
YipsChronic missing (or fear) of short putts, usually because of a nervous twitch. Very difficult to overcome, but can be alleviated by unorthodox grips or long (eg 'broom-handle' or 'belly') shafted putters.
 
Z
ZoysiaA very thin bladed, slow-growing grass with deep roots that is resitant to drought and extreme temperatures.