Golf Terminology for Beginners: 102 Essential Golfing Terms

Ever seen a sandbagger smash a worm burner on their way to a triple bogey?

Golf can be intimidating to start if you are brand new to the game. It might be the most difficult sport when you first try to hit the ball and that does not even factor in the lingo.

If you hang out with avid golfers, you might feel like they speak a different language with all their weird golf terms. But don’t worry, with our golf terminology for beginners guide, we can help you speak fluent golf in no time!

We have broken our golf terminology down into each to consume sections and if there are any linguistic golf tips you feel are missing, be sure to drop it in the comments and we’ll get it added.

Scoring

Let's talk about scoring. Golf Terminology for Beginners

The scoring in golf is simple – how many times did you hit it before the ball went in the hole? The way we talk about it is quite complex.

  • Par – is the goal for the hole – the number of strokes you are trying to use to complete it. Most courses have a combination of par 3s, par 4s, and par 5s
  • Birdie – when you score 1 stroke below par (i.e. 3 on a par 4)
  • Eagle – when you score 2 strokes below par
  • Ace – a hole in one – this would also be an Eagle, since a 1 is 2 strokes below par (assuming it was a par 3)
  • Albatross – extremely rare – when you score 3 strokes below par – make a 2 on a par 5
  • Bogey – when you score one stroke over par (i.e. a 5 on a par 4)
  • Double Bogey two strokes over par
  • Triple Bogey – three strokes over par – this continues – you can make a quadruple bogey (4 over), quintuple bogey (5 over), etc.
  • Even – when a player says they are “even” that means they are even par for the round
  • Plus – this is how many strokes over par a player is – if they say “plus 5” they are 5 over par
  • Minus – this is how many strokes under par
  • Turkey – probably stolen from bowling, it means you made 3 birdies in a row
  • Go Low – slang term for playing really well – shooting under par – you “go low” or “went low”
  • Handicap – your golf handicap is a calculation of your potential as a player. Typically, this looks at your last 20 rounds of golf and averages the best 8 rounds. If that averages 14 over par, you are a 14 handicap
  • Index – Index is another word for Handicap – if someone says they have a 13.7 index, that is their handicap – you would expect them to shoot around 14 over par
  • Gross – your Gross score is what you actually shoot. If you play a par 72 course and shoot 18 over par – your gross score is 90
  • Net – your Net score is your Gross score minus your handicap. If you are a 14 handicap and you shoot 90, your net score is 76
  • Sandbagger – slang term for a player that has a fake handicap that is too high – in other words, they claim to be a 20 handicap, but they always shoot only 10 over
  • GIRs – Greens in Regulation – how many times during a round did you have a putt for birdie? That is how many GIRs you had during the round – this is a stat many golfers track

Equipment

What is golf equipment called?

A poor craftsman blames his tools, but you will surely get frustrated with your golf club from time to time.

  • Tee – a small wooded or plastic peg that you use to raise your ball off the ground for the first shot of a hole
  • Golf clubs – What you use to hit the ball. Not sticks, racquets or poles, simply clubs
  • Driver – also known as a 1-wood – this is the lowest lofted club in your bag – designed to be hit off a tee
  • Big Dog – slang term for the driver – “let the big dog eat”
  • Woods – often called fairway woods, most sets come with a 3-wood and a 5-wood – used to hit the ball long distances from the fairway
  • Irons have smaller heads than woods and are used closer to the green – designed to cut through the turf and hit the ball into the air
  • Hybrids – a club designed with both wood and iron technologies – looks like a small wood – often used instead of long irons like 3, 4, or 5s. Easy to hit high and from the rough
  • Wedges – the highest loft in your bag – designed to hit the ball high and to be used around the green when you chip.
  • Sand wedge – A type of wedge club specially designed to get you out of sand traps with minimal swearing
  • Putter – used on the greens – designed to roll the ball smoothly and accurately
  • Driving Iron – relatively new type of club – long iron loft (maybe 1 or 2 iron) and designed to be hit off the tee on tight holes
  • Grooves – ridges on the face of your club – helps you spin the ball
  • Face – the face of the club is that part that strikes the golf balls
  • Sole – is the bottom of the clubhead
  • Right handed vs left handed – all clubs come in both forms so be sure to know which way you swing before investing in clubs. Some times left-handed people will still play golf right-handed

Playing the Game – The Course

golf course 2 - Golf Terminology for Beginners: 102 Essential Golfing Terms

Your true opponent in golf is the course. Be sure to also check out our more in-depth course terminology guide.

  • Golf courses – The collective term for the whole course which is usually broken down into 18 holes
  • Tee Box – The place you start each hole – there will be markers and you hit your first shot from between them
  • Bunker – also known as a sand trap – sand fill hazards that can be tricky to play from
  • Hazard – typically a creek or lake – marked with red or yellow stakes – if your ball goes into a hazard there is a 1-stroke penalty when you drop a new ball
  • Penalty Area – another word for “Hazard” – many golf rules use the term “Penalty Area” instead of hazard
  • Out of Bounds – typically marked by white stakes, this means you have hit your ball off the golf course – the penalty is stroke and distance. You take a 1 shot penalty and you replay the shot you just hit
  • Tight – describes a hole that is very narrow – might have thick woods and/or Out of Bounds both left and right
  • Dogleg – the term used to describe a hole that curves – if the hole design moves from right to left, you would call it a dogleg left
  • Green – closely mown area where the hole is located
  • Pin – placed in the hole so you can see it from long distances – you can choose to remove when you putt
  • Flag – another word for the Pin – you may also hear it called the flagstick
  • Yardage Marker – they tell you how far you are from the green – they may be different colored stakes or plaques in the ground
  • Rangefinder – a device that many golfers use to determine how far they have to the flag – you can point at the flag and it will tell you how many yards or meters
  • Shoot It – slang term used to ask for the yardage – if your playing partner has a rangefinder you would ask him to “Shoot it” for you
  • Fairway – closely mown grass that is where you are trying to hit your ball off the tee on par 4s and par 5s
  • Short Grass – slang term for the Fairway
  • Divot – the piece of dirt and grass that you take from the ground when you hit a shot
  • Rough – longer grass outside of the fairway – designed to be harder to play from
  • Roll It – when discussing rules with your playing partners, they might say “Roll It in the Fairway” – this means that if your ball is in the fairway, you can clean your ball and set it up on the grass
  • Play It Down – this means that once you tee off on a hole, you cannot touch your ball until you reach the green. Most casual players will “roll it”, but many tournaments use “play it down” rules
  • Mark It – when you reach the green, your playing partners may ask you to “mark it” – this means place a coin or other small object down and pick up your ball
  • Break – which direction the ball is going to roll on the green is the break
  • Read the Green – the process a golfer uses to determine the break of their putt
  • Slope – uphill or downhill – typically used when reading greens and trying to determine the speed of the putt
  • Grain – predominantly seen on Bermuda grass greens – the grass grows a certain way, which causes the ball to break – this is referred to as the grain
  •  A Cup Out/Right Edge – when golfers are talking about the break (or curve) of a putt this is how they measure. If they say “A Cup Out” they think the putt will break one Cup, so they are aiming one cup out. If they say, “Right Edge”, they are aiming at the right edge of the cup
  • The Turn – term used when you finish the 9th hole of an 18-hole round – you are “making the turn” or you plan to grab a snack “at the turn”
  • Backside – term used for the 2nd 9 of an 18-hole round – also known as the back 9
  • 19th hole – slang term for the bar at the course – often referred to as the 19th hole – golfers grab a drink once they finish their round

Playing the Game – Shots

Golf Swing 1 - Golf Terminology for Beginners: 102 Essential Golfing Terms

There are many ways to hit the golf ball and hundreds of words to describe your shots. Below are the most common.

  • Golf swing – The fundamental movement in golf, how you swing your club. But this can be broken down into three parts, all of which need to be worked on to craft a perfect golf swing
  • Backswing – the movement of drawing the club back from the ball to it’s highest point over your head
  • Downswing – Moving the club at pace through your rotation to impacting the ball
  • Follow through – the path your club takes after it has made contact with your ball
  • Tee shot – The first shot of a whole playing out of the tee box
  • Drive – where it all begins. If you are using your driver on your first shot of the hole, this is a drive
  • Stinger – made famous by Tiger, this is a shot that you purposely hit very low and hard – the idea is to get it running down the fairway on a tight par 4 or par 5
  • Knockdown – when you purposely play an iron shot lower, to avoid wind
  • Punch – when you escape from trouble – hit a low shot under limbs to escape from the woods
  • Cut – when you hit a small amount of curve that goes away from your body (for a right-handed player, this shot moves from left to right)
  • Fade another term for a “Cut”
  • Slice – the same as a Cut or Fade, but it curves more – 
  • Draw – A shot that curves a small amount towards your body (for a right-handed player, this shot moves from right to left)
  • Hook – the same as a Draw, but it curves more
  • Slinger – when you purposely hit a large hook around the corner or a dogleg 
  • Approach shot – when people mean approach, they are talking about getting closer to the pin, so an approach a stroke which sends the ball from the fairway on to or nearer the green
  • Chip Shot – when you are close to the green and you take a small swing (similar to a putt) with a wedge
  • Blast – when you are hitting out of a sand trap near the green, you play a “Blast” shot
  • Flop – when you need to hit a very high chip – you open the club face – Phil Mickelson is famous for his flop shots
  • Bump-n-Run – A low chip shot that is designed to roll on the ground most of the way
  • Pure – slang term when you hit a shot perfect – “that was pure”
  • ¾ Swing – if you want to take some off a shot – not hit it quite as far as possible – you would take ¾ swing
  • Zip – slang term for spinning your ball back on the green – Zip it back
  • Full Send – slang term for a shot played swinging as hard as you can 

Playing the Game – Bad Shots

Golf course - Golf Terminology for Beginners: 102 Essential Golfing Terms

Golfers can be quite creative when discussing their poor shots. Quite often, half of the fun is laughing about the bad ones in the 19th hole.

  • Pull – a shot that starts way left of target
  • Push – a shot that starts way right of target
  • Top – you just catch the top of the ball and it barely rolls forward
  • Pop-Up – you hit under the ball and it goes high in the air, but not very far
  • 3-Jack – when you 3-putt on a green
  • Duff – when you hit way behind the ball – make a big divot, but the ball does not go very far
  • Blade – when you hit an iron shot with the bottom of your club – it typically goes way too low and way too far
  • Thin – similar to a Blade, it’s when you do not hit enough grass
  • Fat – similar to a Duff, it’s when you hit too much grass during your shot
  • Chilly Dip – when you are trying to chip the ball on to the green, but instead almost miss the ball
  • Chunk – when you hit a shot extremely fat – does not travel far at all
  • Shank – one of scariest shots in golf – instead of hitting the club face, the ball bounces off the hosel of the club and goes straight right
  • Elephant Butt – slang term for a bad shot that is “high and stinky”
  • Worm Burner – slang term when you top a shot that rolls along the ground instead of getting in the air
  • Whiff – when you do not hit the ball – you swing with all of your might, but catch nothing but air

Final thoughts on golf terminology for beginners

OK – I may have gone a little overboard here, but there as well as useful words relating the game, there are certainly some fun terms you can use next time you are hitting 18 with your friends.

If you have any favorites missing from out list. Feel free to drop them in the comments and we’ll get them added.

Until next time, happy swinging.

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