Golf Jargon Buster
If you’re below par on your golf knowledge (or feel like you’re still playing off a handicap), then consider this guide a caddy around the course so that you don’t get cut from your mates during Ryder Cup season. This guide will also help you make sense of that last sentence.
You probably at least have an understanding that the basic objectives of the sport is to land a ball into a hole using a club in the fewest amount of attempts, also known as strokes.
In golf terms, a match is referred to as a round, which is the act of playing your way around a course. A course can vary in the number of holes it offers, but the most typical is 18.
A player makes their way round each hole, attempting to get their ball in each (or sink) within or under par – the number of strokes in which a player is expected to sink the ball for that particular hole. The winner of the round is the player who has completed the course in the fewest overall strokes.
Being under par is generally considered a negative quality everywhere else, but in golf, it’s what players strive to be. The greater the number a player is under par, the fewer strokes they have taken. If a player is par-for-the-course, this means they have completed it within the exact amount of strokes set, while finishing over par is fairly self-explanatory in being the exact opposite of under par.
In a competition, in which you might play several rounds of a course, the field (the players in the competition) might find themselves eliminated for being in the lower percentile for scores. This is known as being cut. Confusingly, if you survive this, you have made the cut.
Par is set at the level in which a top player would be expected to finish each hole, but obviously playing to this would make it difficult for us mere mortals to ever finish under par. To combat this, players often begin with a handicap, which is a calculated number based on their ability, and is added to par, allowing them some leeway. As they improve, their handicap decreases until they achieve scratch, effectively zero.
Golfers use all sorts of terms that might make you reach for a birdwatchers’ guide, but fear not, these are just shorthand for a player’s score on each hole. A birdie is sinking the ball one under par, an eagle is two, an albatross three, and a condor is four under par, the lowest individual hole score possible. One stroke over par is known as a bogey.
If you achieve a much fabled hole-in-one, you have managed to sink the ball straight from the tee. The tee is the designated point in which you start each hole. It also refers to a peg placed in the ground which the ball is first struck from.
From the teeing area, players want to aim to keep the ball on the fairway, the shorter grass between the tee and the green. Also known as the putting green, this is the area surrounding the hole, which is very closely trimmed, allowing players to make precise shots towards the hole.
This would be too easy in itself, so there are obstacles along the way. The rough is an area of grass surrounding the fairway off which it is harder to strike the ball from. Then there are hazards, which can be naturally occurring, such as trees, lakes, ponds and rivers, or man-made. These are bunkers, generally filled with sand (known assand traps) which are far more difficult to hit the ball out of accurately.
Finally, on to equipment. Players carry round different clubs for different occasions, which are broadly divided into two categories; woods and irons. Woods can hit the ball further than irons, but are generally less accurate and achieve a lower trajectory. The player must select the most appropriate club for use on any given shot. If a player is lucky enough to have one, it is up to their caddy to ferry these clubs around and advise on selection.
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