Complete Dictionary of Golf Terms

By Ryan Watson

Bogey definition in dictionary zoomed in

If you're new to the game of golf, sometimes there are sayings or technical aspects that you don't know or understand. Having the right golf "lingo" is just part of the game, so here are some common things you'll hear on the golf course to help you along.

A

Albatross

Scoring three under par on a hole. Also called a double eagle.

Alignment

The placement of the golfer's body in relation to both the ball and the target.

Approach

A shot intended to land on the green. Generally the second or third shot a golfer takes.

B

Backswing

The part of the golf swing in which the golfer takes the club backward in preparation for hitting the golf ball. The height of the backswing depends on the club used and the power needed to make your shot.

Beach

Slang term for a sand trap.

Birdie

A score of one under par on a hole.

Bogey

A score of one over par on a hole.

Break

The amount that a ball will curve during a putt. Break is caused primarily by the slope of a green.

Breakfast Ball

A mulligan that is used on the opening tee shot of the round. Typically after the first (poor) tee shot of the day, a player will declare a "breakfast ball" and hit another shot.

Bump and Run

A short-game golf shot in which the ball flies about one-third of the distance to the hole or less the rolls the remaining distance. Learn how to execute the bump and run.

Bunker

An obstacle on a golf course that is generally filled with sand, however, grass bunkers also exist.

C

Cabbage

Slang term for thick rough and grasses on the golf course.

Caddie

The person employed to carry golf clubs. As someone familiar with the course, caddies can often provide tips for how best to play a specific hole.

Chili-Dip

Slang for when a golfer mishits a chip by hitting behind it and digging up a chunk of turf.

Chunk

Similar to "chili dip," however a chunk can refer to any type of golf shot in which the ground is struck before the ball.

Compression

The amount of give a golf ball has when hit. Golf balls are rated on compression from 80-100, with 100 having the least compression.

D

Dancing

A term referring to a player whose golf ball finishes on the putting surface.

Example: Sue: "Where'd you end up, Joe?"
Joe: "I'm dancing!"

Dispersion

A measure of a player's consistency with a club, defined by the shape of the result of a series of golf shots, the boundaries of which is defined by the result of the outer-most shot in each direction.

dispersion pattern

Divot

The imprint left by a golf ball landing on the turf. Also used to describe the patch of turf removed from the ground by a golf club during a stroke. Divots should be repaired to ensure the integrity of the course.

Double Bogey

Scoring two over par on a hole. A score of five on a par-3 is a double bogey.

Double Eagle

A very rare score of three under par on a hole. Also known as an albatross. Making a hole-in-one on a par-4 or a two on a par-5 is a double eagle.

Downswing

The part of the golf swing when the club swings down to the golf ball. The downswing follows the backswing.

Draw

A shot shape that, for right-handed players, gradually travels from right to left in the air. For left-handed players, a draw moves left to right.

Driver

Club used to get the most distance while golfing, generally used when teeing off. These clubs fall into the woods category.

Driving Range

The area for golfers to practice full swing shots. A driving range can be part of a golf course or an independent business.

Duff

Synonymous with "chunk." When the club hits the ground before the golf ball, causing a massive reduction in distance, along with a large divot.

E

Eagle

Scoring two under par on a hole.

Eat Your Wheaties

A phrase used among playing partners when a putt is left short. Refers to not having enough strength.

F

Fade

For right-handed players, this is a shot shape that travels gradually from left to right. Left-handed players who have a fade move the ball from right to left in the air.

Flushed

Term to describe hitting a golf ball perfectly.

Follow-Through

The last part of the golf swing, which occurs after the ball is struck.

Fore

Yelled to other players on the golf course when they are at risk of being hit by a golf ball.

G

Governor

Part of a golf cart that limits the top speed of the cart. Removing the governor can make the cart faster.

Grand Slam

Term to describe winning the U.S. Open, The Masters, the British Open, and PGA Championships, known collectively as the Majors, in a calendar year. A Grand Slam has never been completed. A Career Grand Slam describes winning each Major Championship over the course of a professional's career and has been accomplished by five players.

Green

golf terms green definition with photo

The area of short well-manicured grass surrounding the hole. The green is distinguished from the surrounding areas by the type and length of its grass, and is acknowledged by the Rules of Golf as one of the five areas of the golf course.

Green in Regulation

A statistic earned when a player's ball finishes on the green in two strokes less than par. Hitting the green on the tee shot on a par-3, the second shot on a par-4, and the third shot on a par-5 results in a green in regulation. Sometimes abbreviated as GIR.

Grip

The act of a golfer holding the golf club. There are various types of grips including overlapping, baseball, and interlocking grips. Grip also refers to the area of the golf club that is held during the golf swing.

H

Hack

Term for someone who isn't good at golf.

Handicap

The measurement of a golfer's potential ability. The handicap system is designed to provide a level playing field between golfers of different skill levels. In addition, official handicaps are often used as a requirement to enter certain amateur tournaments.

Hook

A shot shape that, for a right-handed player, dramatically curves right-to-left. A hook moves in the same direction as a draw, but a draw is controlled and desirable, whereas a hook refers to a shot that curves too much and is undesirable.

Hybrid

A golf club that has the shape of a smaller fairway wood, but the loft of an iron is known as a hybrid because it is a combination of the two.

I

Iron

A golf club with a head made of iron or steel, characterized by a large, flat, angled face with grooves. Irons are numbered 1-9, although 1- and 2-irons are nearly extinct due to their difficulty to hit and the rise in popularity of easier to hit hybrid clubs. As the number of an iron increases, the loft of the club also increases while the length of the shaft decreses. For these reasons, lower-numbered irons travel farther, fly lower, and are generally more difficult to hit than higher-numbered irons.

K

Knockdown

A shot that is intentionally played low to minimize the effects of the wind.

L

Lag

A putt that is hit with the intention of stopping just short of the hole.

Lie

Describes the condition of where a ball sits after a shot. Golfers have a good lie if the ball is sitting up cleaning in the fairway. A bad lie is one that presents challenges to making clean contact with the next stroke, such as sitting down in the rough, in a divot or depression in the ground, or partially buried in a bunker.

Links

Term that generally means golf course in American English. More specifically, a links course refers to a golf course built on coastal land, or linksland in British English. Links courses represent the earliest kind of golf courses, such as the historic St. Andrews in Scotland.

M

Mashed Potatoes

A term yelled by some gallery members at professional golf events after a player hits a shot.

Mulligan

The act of hitting a second ball without penalty, essentially a do-over. Mulligans are against the official Rules of Golf.

Mud Ball

A golf shot that has its flight or distance affected due to mud being on it.

Muni

Slang term for a municipal golf course.

N

Nineteenth Hole

Bar or area at a golf course where players gather.

P

Par

The prescribed score set for a hole or course. Scores in golf are often compared in relation to par.

Patron

Term used to describe fans who attend the Masters.

Peg

Slang for golf tee.

Punched

Refers to putting greens that have been aerated

Putter

The golf club used to putt. Putters come in many various styles.

Q

Q-School

Short for qualifying school, which is a series of tournaments in which players compete in order to make it to the next level of professional golf.

R

Ripped

Describes a tee shot that is hit very well.

S

Sandbag

The process of having a handicap that is higher than playing ability to gain an advantage in matches.

Scramble

A format of golf where all players tee off, pick the best hit ball and all play from that position. This is repeated until the ball is in the hole. Most often played as a team game with rival teams vying to best each other.

Shaft

Made from graphite or steel, this is the elongated portion of the golf club that is installed into the head of the club.

Shank

Term that describes hitting the golf ball with the hosel of the club. Also known as "hosel rocket." The shank is one of the most dreaded misses in the game of golf.

Short Game

The part of golf played on or near the green. A golfer's short game emphasizes accuracy over power.

Shotgun Start

Golf outing format where all players start at the same time, but on different holes. The term comes from the idea of a shotgun being fired into the air to let players know it is time to begin.

Skins

A golf gambling format, also refers to the amount of money an individual hole is worth while gambling.

Skull

Hitting a shot too low on the club face, which typically travels much lower and further than desired.

Slice

For a right-handed player, a shot that curves too far from left-to-right. A slice travels the same direction as a fade, but unlike a fade, is exaggerated, lacks control, and is undesirable.

Smash Factor

A number measured by a launch monitor to describe the ratio between ball speed and club head speed. A 100 MPH swing that produces 136 MPH ball speed would have a smash factor of 1.36.

Snowman

Slang term for Carding an "8" on a hole.

Stick

Term for golf club.

Stinger

A well-struck, low, penetrating golf shot.

Stroke Play

Competition format based upon the total number shots, called strokes, over a set amount of holes or rounds.

T

Tee Box

Golf terms tee box definition

Term to describe the place where players tee off at the beginning of a hole.

Triple Bogey

Three strokes over par on a hole.

Top

A golf shot in which the club only comes into contact with the top half of the golf ball. The result of a top is a ball that flies low or dives directly into the ground, producing minimal distance.

U

Undulation

The rolling terrain of a putting green.

W

Waggle

The motion of a golfer before their swing. The waggle is generally a subconscious motion that helps keep a golfer relaxed and ready for the next shot.

Wood

Term for the kind of golf club used for maximum distance.

Wormburner

A golf shot that is poorly struck and stays low to the ground.

Y

Yips

A physical tick or other momentary loss of muscle control that inversely affects your game, common with putting. Yips are caused by a mental block rather than any physiological issue.

About the Author

Ryan Watson is a freelance sportswriter and history professor. He has been an avid fan of golf since his father signed him up for golf camp as a young child. Ryan enjoys following the professional game and learning about new equipment and gadgets.