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Golf 101: Key Terms & Their Origins

Golf 101 Terms

Golf is more than just a sport—it’s a rich tapestry of history, culture, and language. Whether you’re a seasoned player or just picked up a club, understanding golf’s unique vocabulary is essential to appreciate its nuances fully. This post continues our Golf 101 series and delves into 30 pivotal golf terms, unraveling their meanings and the stories behind their origins.

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Key Terms & Origins

Ace

Hitting the ball from the tee into the hole in one stroke.
Origin: First recorded in 1898, from the card game term meaning a single card of high value. Golfers began using “ace” to describe a hole-in-one around 1900.

Albatross

Completing a hole three strokes under par. Also called a double eagle.
Origin: From the large seabird, inspired by the rarity of scoring three under par on a hole. First used in golf in the late 19th century.

Approach

A shot intended to land the ball on the green.
Origin: From the verb “to approach”, first used in golf in the early 1880s to describe shots near the green.

Birdie

Completing a hole one stroke under par.
Origin: Coined in 1899 from the term “bird”, slang at the time meaning something excellent.

Bogey

Completing a hole one stroke over par.
Origin: Named after “Colonel Bogey,” a fictional character representing an average golfer. Popularized in 1914.

Break

The curve a putted ball takes due to the slope of the green.
Origin: From the verb “to break,” used since the late 1800s to describe a putt curving off a straight line.

Bunker

Definition: A hazard filled with sand.
Origin: From the Scottish term for a sand trap, in use since the early 1800s.

Caddie

A person who carries golf clubs and provides other assistance.
Origin: From the French “cadet,” meaning a younger sibling, first used in golf in the late 1800s.

Chip

A short shot played close to the green.
Origin: From the verb “to chip”, used in golf since the 1880s for short shots that “chip” the ball onto the green.

Divot

The chunk of grass and soil taken when hitting a shot.
Origin: From the Scottish term for a turf slice, in use since the early 1800s.

Dogleg

A hole that does not follow a straight line from tee to green.
Origin: From the shape, first used in golf in the early 20th century.

Dormie

Being up in holes in match play with the same number left to play.
Origin: From the French “dormir” meaning “to sleep”, in use since the 17th century.

Draw

A controlled shot that curves slightly left to right (for a right-handed player).
Origin: From the curved shape of the shot’s path, a usage dating back to the 1880s.

Eagle

Completing a hole two strokes under par.
Origin: Likened to the impressive swoop of the bird, first used in golf in the late 19th century.

Fade

A controlled shot that curves slightly right to left (for a right-handed player).
Origin: From the faded shape of the shot’s path, in use since the late 1800s.

Fairway

The area of shorter grass between the tee box and putting green.
Origin: From the adjective “fair”, describing the ideal path to the hole. Used since the 1700s.

Fore

A warning shout when a ball may hit nearby players.
Origin: Possibly derived from the military “beware before,” used in golf since the late 1800s.

Green

The putting surface around the hole.
Origin: So named for the grass color, in use since golf’s origin in Scotland.

Grip

How the hands hold the club. Also, the rubber handle of the club.
Origin: From the verb “to grip”, used in golf since the 1880s.

Hazard

Any obstacle on the course, like bunkers or water.
Origin: Named for the danger posed, a golfing term since the late 1800s.

Hook

An exaggerated curved shot to the left (for a right-hander).
Origin: From the curved shape, in use since the 1880s.

Iron

A club with an angled metal head that is used for approach shots, pitch shots, and chipping.
Origin: Named for the clubhead material, in use since the early 1800s.

Loft

The angle of the clubface to the vertical plane.
Origin: From the trajectory imparted, a golf term since the 1870s.

Mulligan

A free redo of a poor shot not counted on the scorecard.
Origin: Popular myth credits a 1930s Canadian golfer named David Mulligan.

Par

The expected number of strokes to complete a hole.
Origin: From the Latin for “equal”, first applied to golf in 1911.

Putt

 A stroke on the putting green.
Origin: From the verb “to putt”, used in golf since the early 1800s.

Rough

The taller grass around the fairway.
Origin: Named for the difficulty of playing from this area, in use since the 1880s.

Slice

An exaggerated curved shot to the right (for a right-hander).
Origin: From the shape of the shot’s path, first used in golf in the late 1800s.

Wedge

A wedge is an iron golf club with significant loft, typically used for short shots and shots from difficult lies. The first wedge was the niblick, similar to today’s pitching wedge. The modern sand wedge was invented by Gene Sarazen in 1931 to help lift the ball out of bunkers. Sarazen debuted his new club at the 1932 British Open.

Wood

Woods are a golf club with a large, rounded head traditionally made of persimmon or beech wood. The lowest-numbered woods are used for long shots from the tee or fairway. The oldest woods were longnose used for driving. Bulgers emerged in the 1800s with bulbous heads similar to modern woods. Metal woods with steel and titanium heads became popular in the 1970s and 1980s and remain so today.

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