Golf Vocabulary

This page covers the vocabulary and language of golf by looking at its background, equipment and people. Check your understanding with the vocabulary quiz and comprehension quiz.

golfThe dream of many people is to make lots of money, retire from work, and then spend the rest of their days walking around beautifully kept parks with finely-cut lawns, grassy fields and groves of leafy trees. They dream of visiting these parks, or courses, day after day, and of using long metal sticks, called clubs, to hit a little white ball towards, and finally into, a small hole or cup in a manicured lawn they call a green. What they are dreaming of, of course, is playing the game we call golf. It is one of the few sports that nearly everyone can play, regardless of age, body shape, or level of fitness. It is a good form of light exercise, it can help people to relax, and it gives them plenty of time between shots to chat, joke around, or even discuss serious topics like business with their playing partners. As a result, golf has become a very popular game, enjoyed by millions of people in nearly every country of the world.


The first recorded game of golf was played at Bruntsfield Links, in Edinburgh, Scotland, in A.D. 1456, and until recently most historians believed the game originated in Scotland in the 11th century. But new evidence suggests a game very similar to golf was played in China during the Song Dynasty (A.D. 960-1279). It was played with 10 clubs similar to modern golf clubs, and Chinese records and drawings show the clubs were used to hit small balls into holes in the ground, just like in modern golf. This game could have been introduced to Scotland in the 11th century by Mongolian traders and travellers.

One of the oldest and most important organizations in the history of golf is the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews (R&A) in Scotland, founded in 1754. The club's course had nine holes, and players would go around twice to complete a full round. As a result, eighteen holes became the standard number of holes in a round of golf. The rules of golf also originated at the R&A, although now they are jointly controlled by the R&A and the United States Golf Association (USGA).

How The Game Works

golf swingGolf is played on specially-designed course consisting of a series of numbered holes. Some holes are short, just two or three hundred metres, while others are longer, up to five or six hundred metres. Each hole has a tee-off area, or tee box, from which the first shot is played. Then a long fairway with short grass leads to a small area of very short grass called a green. There's is a small hole in the green called a cup in which a pin stands with a flag flying on it. The object of the game is to hit the ball and get it into the cup with as few shots as possible. But course designers don't want to make this too easy, so they build hazards into the course. On both sides of the fairway, and around the green, areas of long grass called the rough are usually found. Areas thick with trees and bushes are also common, along with hazards such as bunkers, lakes, creeks and gullies.

golf clubsMost golf courses have eighteen holes, though some only have nine. Players use one of several clubs to hit the ball towards the green, and then into the cup. Players carry up to fourteen clubs in a golf bag, or they have a caddie carry them. These clubs (see picture at right) include woods for long shots (on the left), irons for medium-length shots (top), and a putter for shots hit along the ground on the green (bottom). Players also carry their own score card, and record every stroke they play on each hole. Each shot, whether it's a three-hundred metre drive or a two-centimetre putt, counts as one stroke.

For each hole, a number known as par indicates the number of shots a very good player would normally take to complete the hole. Short holes are usually "par 3", medium-length holes are "par 4", while longer holes are "par 5". If a player completes a hole in one shot less than par, they have made a birdie. Two shots under par is an eagle and three shots under par is an albatross. One shot over par is a bogey, two shots over par is a double bogey and three shots over par is a triple bogey. If we add up the pars of all the holes on an eighteen-hole course, we find the par for the whole course. Most courses are par 72, with four par-3 holes, ten par-4 holes, and 4 par-5 holes. If a player shoots a round of 70 on a par 72 course, we can say they shot a "two-under-par" round. In most formats of the game, the winner is the player who completes a round, or a series of rounds, with the lowest number of strokes.

Tours and Tournaments

As recreational golf became a popular hobby, professional golf became big business. Television broadcasts of major tournaments attract millions of viewers worldwide, and professional golfers play for millions of dollars in prize-money in hundreds of tournaments held all over the world. The biggest prize-money is offered in tournaments which are part of major tours such as the European Tour, the U.S. PGA Tour, and the U.S. LPGA Tour. Players must qualify to play on these tours, but qualifying is very difficult. Those who can't qualify can join other smaller tours such as the high-paying Japanese Tour.

The four most important tournaments in men's golf are called 'the majors', held every year. They are The Masters, the U.S. Open, The Open Championship (also called The British Open) and the PGA Championship. A player who wins all four majors in a single year has achieved a "Grand Slam", while a player who wins each major at least once during his career has achieved a "career Grand Slam". The total number of major tournaments a player wins determines his status in golfing history, and the current leader is Jack Nicklaus with 18 majors, although Tiger Woods is fast approaching this number.

Women's golf doesn't have a set of widely-recognised major tournaments, but the most important of the current events are the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the LPGA Championship, the U.S. Women's Open and the Women's British Open.

Famous Players

Annika Sorenstam

Annika SorenstamAnnika Sorenstam, born near Stockholm in Sweden in 1970, is one of the greatest female golfers of all time. She won a record 8 Player of the Year awards between 1995 and 2005. Annika (at right, after playing a wood shot) has also won over 70 LPGA tournaments and nearly 20 other international tournaments. In 2008, she topped the LPGA's all-time money list with career earnings of over $21 million, $7 million more than any other female golfer. During her career she was the only female golfer to have shot a 59 in competition, and in 2004 she achieved the all-time lowest season scoring average of 68.6969 shots per round.

Tiger Woods

Eldrick "Tiger" Woods (right, teaching a boy how to hold a golf club) is one of the most successful golfers of all time. Born in 1975 to an African-American father and a Thai mother, Tiger played golf from the age of two. tiger woodsAs a boy he was the best young golfer in the world, winning the Junior World Championship six times. In 1994, Woods became the youngest ever winner of the U.S. Amateur Championship. After winning this event two more times over the next two years, Tiger turned professional in 1996. Since then he has won over 60 PGA events, including more major titles than any other golfer in history except for Jack Nicklaus. He is also the youngest player to achieve the career Grand Slam, and he won his first 50 PGA tournaments at a younger age, and in less time, than any other player in golf's history. He has been awarded PGA Player of the Year a record nine times, and the Byron Nelson Award for lowest adjusted scoring average a record eight times.

Golf Vocabulary List

word example sentence meaning
albatross Many people play golf all their lives and never hit an albatross. score of three strokes under par
birdie (n) After his birdie on the 17th hole, Jack went on to win the match. score of one stroke under par
birdie (v) Jack birdied the 17th hole, and then went on to win the match. to shoot one stroke under par
bogey (n) If Annika gets a bogey on the 18th hole, she'll lose the match. score of one stroke over par
bogey (v) Annika will lose the match if she bogeys the 18th hole. to shoot one stroke over par
break Professionals read the greens and then allow for the breaks when putting. the amount a putt curves because of the slope and grain of the green
buggy (also cart or golf cart) If we use the buggy we won't get much exercise from walking. small vehicle for transporting players and their golf bags
bunker He hit a beautiful shot out of the bunker and it rolled into the hole. hollow obstruction or hazard, often containing sand
caddie A good caddie always studies a golf course before working on it. person who carries a player's golf bag and gives advice
chip (n) John spends an hour every day practising chip shots onto the green. short, low shot to the green
chip (v) His ball was only twenty feet from the green, so he chipped it on with his five iron. to hit a chip shot
course (also golf course) Some people think golf courses are a waste of important resources like land and water. large area of land designed for playing golf
divot Players should replace their divots to help keep the course in good condition. piece of earth and grass that a golf shot cuts from the ground
dog leg On many dog legs you can't see the green when you tee off. fairway that turns left or right
double bogey I got a double bogey when I took 5 shots on a par-3 hole. a score of two over par on a hole
drive Tiger hit a beautiful drive nearly 300 yards down the middle of the fairway. shot played using the number one wood, often the first shot on a long hole
driver One of the hardest clubs to use well is the driver. number one wood and the longest hitting club
eagle I'm one shot behind, so I'll need an eagle on the last hole to win the match outright. two strokes under par
fade He hit a long fade and it followed the curve of the fairway to the right. a right-handed player's shot that moves slightly from left to right
fairway Peter's drives aren't long, but he nearly always gets them on the fairway. longest part of a hole, from the tee to the green
flag stick A caddie took the flag stick out of the hole before the players putted. stick with a flag on it that stands in the cup on a green
green On each day of the tournament, the cups are put in different positions on the greens. area of very short grass at the end of each hole, on which balls are putted into a cup
grip The most common grip is with the right hand positioned just below the left hand. the positioning of the hands on the shaft of a club
hazard A well-designed course has enough hazards to make it challenging, but not so many that it becomes unfair. places on a golf course such as lakes, creeks, and bunkers that are difficult or impossible to play from
hole The first nine holes are called the 'front nine' and the second nine are called the 'back nine'. one of many playing areas on a golf course, including a tee, a fairway and a green
hook (n) I tried to hit a long drive, but I hit a hook and the ball went into a water hazard on the left of the fairway. a right-handed player's shot that moves from right to left in the air
hook (v) I hooked my drive into the lake to the left of the fairway. to hit a hook
irons A one iron is for long, low shots, and a nine iron is for shorter, higher shots. metal golf clubs with blade-shaped clubheads
lie Her shot missed the fairway and went into the rough, but luckily she got a good lie. the position of the ball when it has come to rest
links Many links courses are built on land which has been reclaimed from the sea. golf course beside the sea
par Most par-72 courses have four par-three holes, ten par-fours and four par-fives. number of strokes a good player should take on a hole or a round
pitch-and-run Marian played a pitch-and-run shot over the bunker, and it landed on the green and rolled into the hole. a shot from near the green in which the ball carries in the air before landing and rolling towards the hole
putt (n) After hitting an excellent approach shot, she was left with an easy three-foot putt. a shot played along the ground on the green
putt (v) After reading the green and allowing for a slight break, she putted straight into the cup. to hit a putt
putter Putters come in many shapes and sizes, with shafts of various lengths and heads of various shapes. club used to putt the ball on the green
rough On some courses the rough is very thick and nearly impossible to play from. area on a golf course where the grass is longer and thicker than on the fairway
round In major tournaments, four eighteen-hole rounds are played over four days. the completion of nine or eighteen holes on a golf course
shoot The winner shot a 4-under par 68 on the last round. to make a score
shot She hit a perfect shot out of the bunker and it went straight into the cup. a stroke
slice (n) She tried to hit an iron shot onto the green, but she hit a slice and it went right of the green. a right-handed player's shot that moves sharply from left to right in the air
slice (v) She sliced her shot and it went to the right of the green. to hit a slice
stroke or shot She had seventy strokes on her first round, which was two shots under par. strike on a golf ball with a golf club
swing Golfers can improve a lot by having a golf instructor help them to work on their swing. rhythmic movement which enables a golfer to hit the ball
tee (1) Players can only put the ball on a tee when they're hitting their first shot on a hole. small peg (wooden or plastic) on which the ball is placed for the first shot of each hole
tee (2) or tee box Many courses have tees for women which are closer to the green than the men's tees. small area from which golfers play their first shot on each hole
tee off The last group of players will tee off at 2.30 in the afternoon. play the first shot to start a round of golf
tee shot Tiger took out his driver and hit a perfect tee shot, right down the middle of the fairway. shot hit from a tee box
woods Woods used to be made of wood, but most are made of metal these days. clubs with bulbous clubheads that are used to hit the longest shots
Contributor: Matt Errey. Matt is the author of several books including 1000 Phrasal Verbs in Context and Common English Idioms for learners, and Matt's ESL Games and Quizzes for teachers.