Golf Lingo for Beginners (30 Golf Phrases You Need to Know)
When I was invited to play golf with my dad and his playing partners for the first time, I realized there was a whole other language that I needed to learn. Even though I had been casually golfing for years, I didn’t understand the golf lingo that was being used.
This write-up is designed to help you learn and interpret some golf terms in case you find yourself playing in a foursome with some serious golfers. If you are going to compete for bragging rights or money, you need to know the golf terms being used.
But before we begin, let me share a little story.
My dad has been a member of a private golf club for something like 45 years. When I was younger, he would invite me to play his golf course once a year, usually with my brother and grandfather.
The golf round would usually start off with the admonition:
“Take a good look around because if you don’t behave yourself, it will be the last time you are here.”
However, in recent years there has been an increase in invitations to play with him. Better yet, I have been invited to play in a foursome with him during a competitive match with his regular golf buddies.
This is a big deal!
I am no longer a golfing embarrassment (well maybe I am still an embarrassment, but his love is greater than his disappointment in me).
Playing in a Match: Common Golf Lingo
If you get connected to a golf group, you may be invited to play in some sort of match (not to be confused with the Match).
It’s not a PGA championship, but it sure feels like the big leagues.
Here’s a sample description of The Match I was invited to play in:
“We’re going to play best ball, match play with a Nassau against two other foursomes. $2 per hole and $1 greenies. You’ll play to a 14 handicap, getting a stroke for each hole except the par threes, where you’ll play those straight up.”
In the words of my all-time favorite cartoon character, Gumball, “WHAT THE WHAT!?”
Let’s break down this beast of a statement into understandable chunks and then we’ll review some other commonly used golf lingo just for fun.
What is best ball in golf?
In golf, a best ball format involves teams of 2, 3, or 4 golfers and can be played as match or stroke play. Each team member plays their own ball throughout the round. After each hole, the lowest score from the playing partner is the score for that team on the hole.
The chart below is an example of scoring on a par 4 for Teams A and B. You can see that Team A will record a (4) while Team B will record a (3).
Team B wins the hole because they have the lowest recorded score for the hole, even though Team A has a lower cumulative score.
|TEAM A||TEAM B|
|Golfer 1 – (5)||Golfer 1 – (7)|
|Golfer 2 – (4)||Golfer 2 – (6)|
|Golfer 3 – (5)||Golfer 3 – (3)|
|Golfer 4 – (6)||Golfer 4 – (5)|
Sometimes, the two lowest scores are taken and added together to determine the winner of the hole.
What is match play in golf?
Match play is a hole-by-hole competition where the golfer/team who makes the best score on the individual golf hole wins that hole. The player/team who wins the most holes throughout the match is the winner.
In match play you are going up against your opponent(s) in head-to-head competition.
Golf College has a good write-up on different tournament formats.
What is a Nassau golf bet?
A Nassau is generally three separate golf bets of equal value. It has wagers for the front nine, the back nine, and the total for the round.
This concept originated at the Nassau Country Club (Long Island, NY) in the early 1900s and has been popular for many years.
You can either play Nassau as a team bet or play each other individually. You set a dollar amount for the Nassau such as $2 or more. If you lose all three matches you only lose $6. Another bet that comes into play during the Nassau is the “press”.
What is a press in golf?
A press is a new bet opened during the match by a player or team of golfers who is down in any bet in the match. That new bet is typically in the same amount as the bet they’re currently losing, and the new bet lasts as long as the bet which is being pressed. You cannot press an already-decided bet.
Here’s an example: If you’re playing in a $2 Nassau, and, on the front nine bet, you get 2 down after 5 holes, you can choose to press that front nine bet for another $2, playing a four-hole match to decide the press bet. Now you have $4 on the line in two separate-but-concurrent matches for the remainder of the front nine.
What is a greenie in golf?
A greenie in golf is a side bet that is specific to par 3 holes. The player in the group who lands their shot on the green and closest to the pin has a chance to win, but they must complete the hole in 3 strokes (par). If so, they win the greenie.
In addition to the Nassau bet (front, back and overall) and the presses, Greenies enter the match to raise the stakes.
What is a handicap in golf?
A golf handicap is a numerical measure of a golfer’s potential created by the United States Golf Association that is used to enable players of varying abilities to compete against one another.
Better players are those with the lowest handicaps.
If a golfer doesn’t have an official handicap, a simple rule of thumb is to assign a handicap equal to the number of strokes over par.
I am a bogey golfer (18 over par for 18 holes of a golf round). In the details of THE MATCH, I was given one stroke per hole for all but the four par 3s.
Recommended Reading: What is my golf handicap?
Getting one stroke per hole means that if I score a 5 on a golf hole (other than a par 3), my score will be recorded as a 4.
Additional Golf Lingo and Jargon
I tried to cover some of the matchup and golf betting lingo that you might hear.
This section highlights some on-course conversation that’s worth knowing.
“Get me when we are ready to hit our tee shot, I’ll be on the Range” – The place on a golf course where good players hit a small bucket of balls to warm up and hackers like me hit extra-large buckets of balls until blisters develop.
“Check in with the Starter” – The old guy who looks like the hall monitor on a golf cart. He typically monitors the first and tenth tee box, ensuring groups and individuals are teeing off at their scheduled tee times and in an orderly and efficient manner.
“Who has Honors?” – The individual player or team who will hit their tee shot first. Honors is given to the person or team who won the previous hole.
In the event of a tied hole, honors is awarded to the individual or team who won the previous hole. On the first tee, individuals or teams determine who hits first with sophisticated methods such as a coin flip or rock, paper, scissors.
“Anyone want anything from the Shack?” – The place on the course where golfers can get food and drink during their round. The shack is usually busiest when the college girl is working.
“Fore” – an audible warning to others to be immediately aware of an errant golf shot. I have mastered this phrase!
“That’s a bad Slice” – a golf shot that arcs to the right (for a right handed golfer), usually due to excessive spin placed on the golf ball from contact with an open golf club face.
Side note: If you have a bad slice, you should check out The 10 Best Golf Balls for a Slice.
“Wow, you’ve got a bad hook” – a golf shot that arcs to the left (for a right handed golfer), usually due to excessive spin placed on the golf ball from contact with a closed golf club face.
“Pushed it” – Not the Salt-N-Pepa song, but a golf shot that moves from center to right (for a right handed golfer), usually due to an incomplete golf swing.
“Pulled it” – A golf shot that moves from center to left (for a right handed golfer), usually due to an overemphasized golf swing.
A Fat Shot
“That was Fat” – Yes, someone could be talking about Big Vinny eating his hot dog on the 10th tee after visiting the shack. But it’s actually a golf shot that strikes more grass than desirable, usually leaving a larger divot and decreased ball flight.
A Thin Shot
“That was thin” – A golf shot that strikes less grass than desirable, usually leaving no divot and a low-trajectory ball flight.
“You Hit That Off the Toe”
A golf shot that strikes the golf ball with the foremost portion of the golf club face.
“You Hit That Off the Heel”
A golf shot that strikes the golf ball with the rearmost portion of the club head.
“You Topped That”
A golf shot that strikes the upper portion of the ball, essentially driving it downward into the ground. This often happens because the golfer lifted his or her head at impact, even though they will vehemently argue that they kept their head down.
“On the Beach”
A ball that lands in a sand trap. Sometimes just as frustrating and irritating as getting sand in your shorts at a real beach.
“That’s OB” – It could stand for Odell Beckham, but context would probably tell us it has to stand for something else. In golf, OB stands for Out of Bounds.
A golf ball hit out of bounds incurs a penalty stroke. Out of bounds is identified by white stakes.
“You better hit a Provisional”
An additional ball played in case the original ball is unplayable. Especially applicable after a tee shot.
“Take a Drop”
The placement of the ball in an area due to an unplayable lie, a lost ball, or a ball that has entered a hazard. Usually muttered in frustration by a serious golfer when the novice is taking too long to look for a lost ball.
Golf Scoring Lingo
The final category of lingo that I’ll cover here is scoring lingo. These important terms will come up in most golf rounds.
An albatross is completion of a hole in 3 shots under the designated strokes for that hole. If par for a hole was a 6, an albatross would mean you shot a 3.
An eagle is the completion of a hole in 2 shots under the designated strokes for that hole. If par for a hole was a 6, an eagle would mean you shot a 4.
Recommended Reading: What is an eagle in golf?
A birdie is the completion of a hole in 1 shot under the designated strokes for that hole. If par for a hole was a 6, an birdie would mean you shot a 5.
The completion of a hole matching the designated strokes for that hole. If par for a hole was a 6, a par would mean you shot a 6.
Recommended Reading: What is par on a golf course?
The completion of a hole 1 shot over the designated strokes for that hole. If par for a hole was a 6, a bogey would mean you shot a 7.
The completion of a hole 2 shots over the designated strokes for that hole. If par for a hole was a 6, a double bogey would mean you shot a 8.
The completion of a hole 3 shots over the designated strokes for that hole. Too many of these and no one will want you as a playing partner.
If par for a hole was a 6, a triple bogey would mean you shot a 9.
This article won’t help you become a scratch golfer or improve your game, but it may give you the confidence you need to interpret all the golf lingo that you’ll encounter along the way.
If you have other golf phrases you think should be added to the list, feel free to post them in the comments below.