Essential Golf Terms to Know: Course Definitions & Meanings

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Golf is one of America’s most played sports. It is fun for all ages once you get the hang of it. But before you hop into the world of golf courses, sand traps, and double bogeys, you need to brush up your skills on basic golf terms.

Without knowing what the terms mean, you cannot enjoy the game. So, today, I will introduce you to the most common terms you will need to know for playing golf.

In this guide we will cover a range of terminology which can be used for scoring and general gameplay. Let’s get started!

What Is Golf Terminology & Why Is It Used?

Golf terminology is the specific set of words used to state a particular event or rule of golf.

Each individual golf term has its own history and origin. This ranges from the history of the term golf itself to some of the general scoring and gameplay terms (SCGA).

Using words like these is efficient, and most golfers know them at heart to be more familiar with the sport. Golf terms are easy to understand, and once you take the time to learn them golf becomes less complicated.

A golfer should know about 10-20 basic golf terms. Knowing all the golf terms might be difficult for some, but often you will learn them as you play. Golfers often use these phrases out on the golf course whether it is during tournament play or during a friendly round.

Another way you can learn simple golf terms is by watching the sports tournaments live. Tune in to any tournament, PGA championship, for example, and spectate the gameplay. You’ll learn fast this way.

Scoring Terms

golf scoring picture

Golf Handicap

A golf handicap is a rating or a number assigned to each player based on their skill level. This number measures the number of strokes that go over par on average in each round for each player. It is used to measure the potential and level of skill of a player. Players can compete with someone close to their level equitably based on their handicap or use it during rounds to allocate strokes against golfers of a differing skill level.

An example of the golf handicap being used would be for a scratch golfer who would be expected to score around par during a round, depending on the course rating and slope rating.

Find Out More: How Does Golf Handicap Work?

Golf Scorecard

The golf scorecard is something that golfers use to keep track of their scores when playing golf. This is done by keeping a count of the strokes the player has taken to reach each hole. A scorecard also displays the par, distance, hole handicap, and other score-related information. 

Find Out More: How To Read A Golf Scorecard

Hole in One

Commonly known as the ace, a hole in one refers to when a player manages to hit the hole with a golf ball from the tee with only one stroke. This is the highest score you can get, and it is usually possible with 3 or 4 par holes.


An albatross is when you score a minus 3 par for a hole. In other words, you manage to use three fewer shots than the par. This is a very rare achievement. It commonly happens by getting a hole in one for a par 4 hole or completing a par 5 in two strokes. It is also called a double eagle in the United States.

Find Out More: What Is An Albatross?


This is more common than the previous golf terms discussed so far. An eagle is when you finish the hole with 2 fewer shots than the par. So, if the par is four, your golf ball lands in the hole with two strokes or three strokes on a par five.

Find Out More: What Is An Eagle?


If you have been following the trend of scoring thus far, you can already guess what a birdie is. It is scoring one less shot than the par. So, if the par is 5, and you get the hole with 4 shots, it’s a birdie.

Find Out More: What Is A Birdie?


During a particular hole, a player is expected to take a certain number of strokes which is often refered to as ‘par’. Hole par values range from 3, 4, and 5. There are also golf courses nowadays with six-par holes.

Find Out More: What Is A Par?


A bogey is when you complete a certain hole with one more stroke than the par. Getting a golf ball inside a 3-par hole in four strokes, for example, is called a bogey.

Find Out More: What Is A Bogey?

Double Bogey

This means taking two more strokes than the par of a hole. So, getting a score of 7 on a 5-par hole is a double bogey.

Triple Bogey

Following the previous two golf terms, a triple bogey means scoring 3 more than the par of a hole.

Golf Course Terms

Tee Box

This is the designated starting point of a hole where you start taking your golf shot. Make sure to stay within the bounds of the box, or else you will be penalized with a one stroke penalty. The tee shot is taken from this area.


This is the area between the tee box and the green. The grass of this area is closely mown so that the golf ball rolls cleanly. Ideally, the first shot of the golf ball lands here.

As you can guess, a straight fairway is easier for novice players compared to curved ones. You should always try to hit your golf ball inside the fairway because the ball flight is predictable. Choosing the golf club and clubhead also gets easier, since you can predict where the shot lands.


Rough is the area that falls outside of the fairway. Usually, the grass here is not as cleanly mown, so they are longer. If your own ball ends up in the rough, it gets trickier to make the second shot because of the grass. However, for a particular golf course, taking the risk to hit the rough can actually pay off.


This is where the hole, as well as the flag, resides. The grass of this area is extremely short, making way for a smooth landing of your golf ball. The fewer strokes you make to get the ball to the green, the higher your scores will be.

It is also known as putting green. You may need to do a putting stroke once you’re here.


This is a sand trap located around the fairway and the green to make the gameplay more challenging. Typically, a sand trap is concaved, which makes it harder for you to get the ball out of it. You should try to steer clear of the bunker altogether.

If you find your ball trapped inside a bunker, you need to make a flop shot (a shot that takes the ball high in the air) with a sand wedge (golf clubs made especially for use in sand).

Water Hazard

Water hazard refers to any existing bodies of water on a golf course. This can be anything, from sea, lake, pond, river to drainage ditches. 


golf matchplay picture

Stroke Play

The common gameplay method is where all the strokes of a player are counted to find out their final score. In this method, the total sum of the strokes for one or several rounds (this number is pre-determined) determines who won. This method is also called medal play.

Match Play

In this method, the golfers compete with each other based on each hole. Here, the player who wins the greatest number of holes is the winner. In match play, how many strokes a player made does not matter, as long as they win the hole. This hole-by-hole basis may be preferred over other modes by beginners.

Best Ball

This is a type of gameplay used in tournaments that include teams. In this method, the team score for a particular team is the top score of one or more members. This means, among a team, the best score of an individual player will be the one score counted.

We compare best ball vs scramble here.


Yet another type of team gameplay, in this method, the greatest ball position will be chosen after each team member makes a golf shot. The second stroke will be done from the best position chosen by the team. This method is great for beginners playing with more advanced players.


Mulligan means replaying your last shot, typically because you did not like where the ball landed. Essentially, it is a ‘do-over’ or ‘re-do’ shot. This is permissible only in friendly competitions. You cannot get mulligans in golf tournaments. Always inform your playing partners before you decide to take a Mulligan.

Find Out More: What Is A Mulligan In Golf?


This is a warning term used for when a ball is headed towards a player and may hit him/her. If you hear someone yell ‘fore,’ duck down and cover your head.


Hook is a shot that goes from right to left with a strong curve (for right handed player). Usually, this shot is unintentional. A hook shot gets a lot of topspin, so the ball travels further than the full distance.

Find Out More: Hook Vs Slice In Golf


Slice is when a golf shot goes from left to right with a strong curve (again, for right handed golfers). This shot gets sidespin, so the ball does not travel its full distance. Slice is the most common shot for novices.

Find Out More: How To Correct A Golf Slice


This is the less intense version of a hook. If right handed players hit the ball from right to left, with less of a curve, it is a draw shot. This is a more controlled, low trajectory shot.


A fade is a gentler version of a slice. So, for a right handed golfer, a fade goes from left to right. Again, this is more controlled and has less of a curve.

Find Out More: Draw Vs Fade In Golf


So, that is all the common golf terms I had in store for you today. Remember, there are a lot more terms you will encounter once you start playing the game. However, you will get the hang of the game with the terms described here.

Now, it’s time to get your golf equipment such as golf balls, golf tips, and golf clubs out to practice golf swing.