Golf Terms for Beginners

For beginners who are just starting to play golf, it can be hard to learn the terminology. That’s why we have compiled this list of golf terms for beginners! Read on to learn all about golf clubs, fairways, hitting the links and much more.

Golf course terminology

The golf course is divided up into many parts, each with its own specific words and rules.

Tee Box

The area in front of the teeing ground that a player stands on to hit off from for play. This is where you will place your ball before hitting your shot. Sometimes this is also called the ‘Tee ground’, or Tee off area’.

A shot hit from this area is known as your tee shot.

Fairway

The area between the tee box and the hole. This is where you will be hitting your ball down to try and get it as close as possible to the hole without going into a bunker or out of bounds. It is comprised of short (closely mown) grass which is the easiest place to hit your golf ball from.

Bunker / Sand trap

An artificial hazard on golf courses that are usually designed with sand at its base, bunkers can be found anywhere from around the green to before a tee box. They are often placed strategically in order for golfers to miss them if they hit their ball poorly. They are also called sand traps.

Rough

The rough is an area of the golf course that has been left untouched and is usually comprised of long grass. It’s often used as a penalty to players who have hit.

Semi-rough

Semi-rough is found between the fairway and rough. It is shorter than the rough and longer than the fairway so it’s a more forgiving area to play from, but it can still make playing shots tricky, as the ball is surrounded by longer grass.

Fringe

The fringe is an area of very short grass just surrounding the green. Sometimes it is the same length as the fairway, but often it is slightly shorter in length, it can also be called the ‘apron’.

Green

The golf green is the area of the course that is specifically designed to be as smooth as possible, and where players aim for. Once on the green golfers opt to putt the golf ball with their putter. This isn’t a legal requirement but gives the golfer the best chance of getting the ball in the hole.

Out of bounds (OB)

Out of bounds is the perimeter area of the course that a player cannot play their ball from. Often it is the edge of the course, but sometimes out of bounds can appear inside the course, such as greenkeeper huts where the golf course has decided it is dangerous for golfers to play from such locations.

Hazard

A hazard relates to an area of the golf course where the ball may be lost or is likely in trouble. The most common type of hazard is a water hazard.

That sums up the golf course and most areas you are likely to end up.

Golf scoring terms

In this next section, we’ll cover some golf terms relating to scoring.

Par

In golf, a par refers to the score that a scratch golfer is expected to achieve.

What is a Par 3, 4 & 5 in golf?

Par three, four and five relate to the length of the hole. A par three is a challenging short hole that can be reached in one shot. A par four requires two good shots to reach the green, while a par five is the longest golf hole and requires most golfers three shots to reach the green.

Birdie

A birdie is when you get the ball in the hole on one fewer stroke than par.

Eagle

An eagle is when you get the ball in a hole two strokes lower than the par, for example making a three on a par five.

Albatross

An albatross is when you get the ball in a hole three strokes lower than par, for example making a two on a par five. These are very rare, even in professional golf. They are also called a double eagle.

Ace – Hole in One

A hole in one is when you get the ball to go into the hole on your first shot. This doesn’t happen very often and many golfers play for years without having a hole in one. A hole in one is also known as an ace.

Bogey

A bogey is when you take one stroke over par, for example, if you make a five on a par four.

Double bogey

A double-bogey is when you take two strokes over par. This is a bad score for most golfers and will result in a poor score if too many are made during the round.

Triple bogey

You’ve guessed it, a triple bogey is when you take three strokes over par. This same naming convention can carry on higher.

Snowman

A less common scoring phrase is a snowman, which related to when a golfer makes an eight on a hole. Snowman reflecting the shape of an ‘8’.

Golf shot terminology

In this section, we’ll cover the most common golf terms used to describe golf shots you may hit. For simplicity, these golf terms refer to a right-handed golfer but switch direction for a left-handed player.

Fade

A shot with fade is one where the path of the ball curves left-to-right relative to your target line. In golf coaching terms a fade is classed as a shot that finished on your target line and is considered a controlled shot.

Slice

A slice also curves left-to-right but finishes right of your target line. In golf coaching, we’d describe a slice as a poor golf shot, due to it not finishing at your target.

Push-slice

A push-slice is a shot that starts right of your target, before curving further right. This is a bit advanced for beginners, but when coaching golf it is important to know if a golfer has a slice or a push slice.

Push

A pushed golf shot is one that straights right of your target but travels in a straight line.

Pull

A pulled golf shot is one that starts left of the target and travels in a straight line.

Hook

A hooked golf shot starts to the right of your target, curves right-to-left through the air, finishing left of your intended target.

Draw

A draw starts to the right of your target, curves right-to-left through the air, finishing on your intended target. It is considered a good shot as it finishes where you intended, unlike a hook.

Pull-hook

A pull hook starts to the left of your target, curves further left through the air, finishing left of your intended target. Very similar to a hook, but when analyzing a golfers swing, it is useful to know the difference.

What is a thin shot in golf?

A thin golf shot is when you strike halfway up the ball, resulting in a low shot that travels a shorter distance.

What is a fat golf shot?

A fat golf shot is when you strike the turf behind the golf ball. This results in the ball travelling far shorter than intended. It can also be known as a ‘dunch’ or a ‘chunked’ golf shot.

What is a top in golf?

A topped golf shot is similar to a thin golf shot and relates to a shot where the golf club hits the equator of the golf ball or higher. This results in the ball skimming along the ground or being hit down into the ground and bouncing up in front of the player.

What is a shank in golf?

A shank is a golf shot that flies wildly right, for a right-handed player. It occurs when you strike the hosel of the golf club, rather than the clubface.

Golfers who hit a shank often hit a few in short succession and become fearful of hitting more during that round. They may tell fellow golfers that they have ‘the shanks’.

Golf equipment terminology

Golf equipment terminology is an important topic to learn about if you want to fully understand the game.

Driver

A driver is one of the most powerful clubs in your bag and will be used for tee shots. Drivers are larger and more forgiving than irons and wedges. However, they are designed to be hit off a tee, so cannot be used easily from the fairway.

Fairway wood

A fairway wood is a smaller wood than a driver – it’s typically used on shots from the fairway and can be used off the tee.

Iron

An iron is one of many clubs in your bag that can be used for different situations, such as hitting a long shot or pitching to green or hitting a delicate shot around trees. The most common irons are numbered 2 up to 9-iron.

Hybrid

A hybrid golf club is a cross between a fairway wood and an iron. Hybrids have the face of an iron, with the body and shape of a fairway wood.

This design helps to create a more forgiving design, making hybrid golf clubs easier to hit than traditional long irons, such as a 3 or 4-iron.

Wedges

Wedges are used for shots that need to be high and soft. A sand wedge is designed for playing around the green, while a lob wedge can be used to hit even higher lofted shots.

Putter

A putter is a club that you use for shots on and around the green – it’s designed to be used in close proximity and typically has a straight shaft and is flat-faced (2 – 4º loft) which helps roll the golf ball.

Chipper

A chipper is a cross between a putter and a wedge. It looks like a putter in design but has ~30-40º of loft. Some beginner golfers buy a chipper when they struggle with chipping. However, I would suggest using that money and having a chipping lesson instead.

What is a club head?

The club head is the end of the golf club designed to hit the ball. Club head will look very different on a driver, fairway wood, iron and putter.

What is a golf shaft?

The golf shaft is the long cylinder that connects the club head to the golf grip. They are usually made from hollow steel tubes or from graphite.

Golf shaft lengths vary depending on the golf club, drivers have the longest length and putters the shortest.

Golf grip / Golf handle

The golf grip or golf handle relates to the rubber covering over the end of the golf shaft. This is where you place your hands when swinging a golf club.

Golf Tees

Golf tees are small sticks with a bowl on top to sit your golf ball in. They can be used for the first shot on every golf hole when you hit your ‘tee shot’.

They can be made from wood or plastic, and some tees have steps in them so that you consistently have the golf ball teed at the same height.

Golf ball marker

A golf ball marker is a small object that you can place on the ground to mark your golf ball. This is normally only allowed once on the golf green. It allows you to pick up and clean your ball, or remove the ball when it may be in the way of another golfer’s putt.

Golf Games

In this section, we’ll cover some of the most common golf games you may play on the golf course.

Stroke play/Medal

Stroke play/medal golf is the most common form of golf played around the world. It is the format used in nearly all professional and serious amateur events.

In this format, you simply tally the number of strokes you took on each hole and add all 18 holes together to get your final score. A very good golfer may complete a round of golf in 72-79 shots, most amateurs are likely to shoot 90 or 100.

This format is challenging for a beginner as it requires you to complete every hole.

Match play

In match play, two players compete against one another with the goal to win the individual hole. If you win a hole you would go one hole up, or “one up” in the match.

The game is won when a player has won more holes than are left to play. For example, if you are three holes up with only the 17th and 18th hole left you win the match – 3 & 2, meaning you were 3 holes up with 2 holes left to play.

What is Stableford?

Stableford is a scoring system that awards points for the number of strokes taken to complete a hole. Stableford is a great game for newer golfers because if you don’t complete a hole you just score zero points and move on – it doesn’t matter if you take 8 or 28 to complete a hole.

– If you score one over par, then your score 1 point

– If you par a hole you score 2 point

– If you score one under par for a hole you get 3 points

And so on…

The player with the most Stableford points wins after all 18 holes have been played out.

Better ball

Better ball is a team game played with four players – two teams of two. The rules are the same as match play golf, described above. However, in this format, you take the best score on each hole from each team.

If you score a 5 and your playing partner scores a 4, your team scores a 4 on that hole. This format is great when learning golf, as there is less pressure to perform well on every hole.

Foursomes

Foursomes golf is another four-player team format – two teams of two. In foursomes golf, you play one golf ball per team and take it in turns to hit each shot.

Similar to the better ball format above, the two teams are competing to see who can win the most holes with the lowest score (match play format).

Golf practice terminology

Here we’ll cover some terminology relating to golf practice.

Driving range

The driving range is a large area with targets and distance signs. You can buy a basket of golf balls to hit, without needing to collect them. A driving range allows you to get many repetitions of your golf swing in a short period of time. For that reason, it is a handy venue if you are trying to improve your game.

Practice ground

Practice ground can be used as another term for driving range. However, practice grounds often differing in that you hit your shots off the grass, rather than mats, and you tend to bring your own practice golf balls, rather than buying range balls.

Chipping green

A chipping green is a smaller area for practicing shots where you only have to hit the ball in a short distance from just off the green.

Putting green

You can practice your putting on an artificial surface, such as an indoor putting green, as well as natural surfaces such as grass. Putting greens are often larger than chipping greens because of this purpose. They also more closely resemble what you will find on the golf course.

More golf terms

Below we have a few wider golf terms that don’t fit within the read above.

What is a practice swing?

Before players make their golf swing, they will have a swing next to the golf ball to practice the golf swing they want to make when hitting the ball.

Having a practice swing is a simple and useful way to improve your golf as a beginner.

What is a round of golf?

A round of golf is another term for playing ‘a game of golf’. A full round of golf is usually 18 holes, but some smaller golf courses only have 9 holes. When golfers talk about rounds on the course, it refers to a golf course with 18 holes.

What does hit the links mean?

To ‘hit the links’ or ‘hitting the links’ means to go play golf. Links refer to links golf courses, which are a prominent style of golf course found in Scotland.

What is a stroke or putting stroke?

A stroke in golf is another term used for ‘shot’. A golfer may say it took me four strokes to get onto the green, meaning it took him/her four shots to advance the ball from the tee onto the putting green.

A putting stroke is just a shot hit with your putter. But a golfer may also use it to describe their putting technique. Such as, I’m struggling with my putting stroke today.

What is a plugged lie?

A plugged lie occurs when the golf ball is covered by sand, grass or leaves and it’s more difficult to get a good swing because there isn’t anything for the clubhead to strike cleanly.

What is a tap in?

A tap in refers to a very short putt. Normally a tap in is less than 1 foot and all golfers expect to get this into the golf hole with one attempt.

What is a punch shot?

A punch shot is a shot that sends the ball lower than normal. It is used to hit the ball out of trouble, or to keep the golf ball low in the wind.

What is a scratch golfer?

A scratch golfer is a player who tends to shoot around level par. They will take ~72 shots to complete an 18 hole golf course.

What is a pitch mark in golf?

A pitch mark is a dent left in the green from a players’ approach shot landing from a height. As a golfer, you should try to find and repair your pitch mark when you hit a green.

It is also good courtesy to repair other players’ pitch marks when you see them on the green. This keeps the golf course in good condition for all who play.

What is a dog leg in golf?

A dog leg refers to a par 4 or 5 golf hole that has a bend (left or right) in it shaped like a dog leg when viewed from above.

Dogleg holes require golfers to consider their strategy. They could aim to hit the ball to the corner of the dogleg, or hit over the corner which may prove riskier, but will leave a shorter distance into the hole.

What is ‘your line’ in golf?

When putting your line refers to an imaginary path that your ball will roll along to reach the golf hole. Because golf greens are rarely flat, your line is likely to curve to the left or the right.

In golf, it is common courtesy not to stand on the line of your putt or another golfers’ putt, as this can leave spike marks and cause a putt to bobble off-line.

Fore

Golfers yell the word “fore” when a ball is flying toward another player or group of players. It is a common courtesy for a golfer to yell ‘fore’ when a shot is heading towards a player as a warning.

What does pin high mean in golf?

The pin high is the reference distance that you are trying to get your golf ball to during a shot into the green or putt. It refers back to how close someone is to getting their shot to finish the correct distance.

The golf shot may still finish left or right of the hole but could be described as being pin high if the distance was correct.

What is a mulligan?

A mulligan in golf is the option for a player to re-hit a shot from where they last hit it, without a penalty shot. A mulligan is not an official rule but is one used by casual golfers. For example, each player may be given one per round of play, agreed on before the game begins.

What is a training aid?

A golf training aid is a device used to give you feedback in practice. They can range from simple sticks or soft balls to more complex pieces of equipment.

What is a swing analyzer?

A swing analyzer is similar to a training aid in that it gives you feedback on your golf swing. However, swing analyzers tend to be electronic pieces of equipment (cameras, accelerometers or launch monitors).

What are the 7 golf scoring terms?

The seven main scoring terms that are used in golf are albatross, eagle, birdie, par, bogey, double-bogey & triple bogey.

Golf terms summary

That rounds up this article on golf lingo you should know. If you are a beginner golfer, hopefully, this helped clear up any confusion with golfing terminology!

If there are any golf terms that aren’t covered here just leave a comment below and we will update this list for you. For more beginner tips check out how to play golf.

Happy golfing.

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A PGA golf professional, with a PhD in Biomedical Science and MSc in Sports Biomechanics & Psychology. I currently spend my time lecturing part-time at Leeds Beckett University and working with elite athletes. In my spare time I build Golf Insider UK.

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