Golf is a technical sport, but an understanding of the sport’s most common terms can help golfers enjoy the game. One of the most common terms is “green.” A green is where the flag and cup are placed at the end of each hole. The grass on greens is kept extremely short, making golfers’ last strokes more precise and accurate. Greens vary in size, shape, and contour, all of which are intended to make the last strokes into the cup challenging.
“Par” is the number of strokes in which players are expected to take to complete a hole. If a hole’s par is four, for example, a golfer should complete the hole in four strokes. Golfers are below par if they complete the hole in three or fewer strokes, or above par if they finish in five or more strokes.
A hole’s par can range from three to five, with most holes being par four. Par is determined by finding the number of shots a golfer would take to reach the green. After that, two more shots (putts) are added. So, if a golfer is expected to reach a green with two shots, par would be four.
Par also describes the player’s score over a number of holes. For example, if the total par of all the holes on the course is 70, a player with a score of 76 is 6 over par.
Contrary to popular assumptions, a “putt” is not always any shot made with the putter. Although golfers make putts with a putter, players must make the shot on the green for the shot to be called a putt. This distinction is essential because golfers occasionally use their putters to roll the ball onto the green from the fairway when conditions permit.
The word “putt” comes from a Scottish word that means “shove” or “push.”
According to the USGA, the term “birdie” was coined in the late 1800s by Atlantic City golfer Abner Smith, who hit his second shot on a par four within inches of the cup. Smith called his near-miss “a bird of a shot,” and after tapping in for one under par, he and his playing partners agreed that such a score should be called a “birdie.”
A “bogey” is one shot over par. Ironically, the term “bogey” was once considered positive. The word comes from The Bogey Man, a popular British ballad from the 1890s that referred to the best score a competent player could achieve on a hole in ideal conditions. However, when the concept of par was created, “bogey” began being used to describe the score for a hole of one over par.
The rough is the long grass surrounding the fairways and greens on a golf course. After striking a shot into the rough, a golfer’s following stroke is usually difficult because the long grass slows down the clubhead or makes it difficult to strike the ball cleanly. The length of grass in the rough varies between courses, and may even vary within a single hole. Some holes have “intermediate rough,” which is somewhat longer than the fairway and is followed by “primary rough,” which is slightly longer but still maintained. The U.S. Open and the Open Championship (formerly known as the British Open) are two major golf tournaments where the rough is longer than usual, making keeping the ball in the fairway critical.