Which Golf Terms Should you Know and Why

Have you ever wondered why golf courses have eighteen holes? There are a lot of terms in golf that we just take for granted simply because they’ve been around forever, but every term has to come from somewhere so here is list of some golf terms and the history behind them.

This knowledge could provide the opportunity to at the very least, impress your friends or at best, win a wager.


There is no definitive origin for the term “golf,” but there are some likely suspects. The one thing that we do know for a fact is that it’s not an acronym for “Gentlemen Only Ladies Forbidden,” although there may be a few traditionalists that secretly feel that way.

Prior to the creation of dictionaries there was no standard spelling for anything. Everything was spelled phonetically by the person writing. There are at least a half dozen different spellings for golf mentioned in Scottish writing.

Most people believe the old word “gowfe” was the most common term, pronounced “gouf.”


The term “Albatross” is the name for three under par on a hole. It is actually a British term first used around 1929. In America we generally refer to it as a double eagle, which makes much more sense because we have bogey, double bogey, etc.


The term “birdie” was originated here in America. It comes from the early 20th century American slang term “bird,” meaning anything excellent and dates back to 1903. US Greenkeepers’ magazine reported a conversation where A.B. Smith hit a shot within a few inches of the hole and referred to it as a “bird of a shot.” From that day forward, one under par on a hole has been referred to as a birdie. The Atlantic City Club dates the event to 1903.


“Bogey” is believed to reference the Scottish term “bogle,” which was a Scottish goblin as far back as the 16th Century and “Bogey-man” was a widely used term for a goblin or devil.

The term bogey meaning one over par became common in America around the middle of the 20th Century.


Golf initially developed on linksland, where sand, burns, or creeks were common. Over time they were shaped into what we are familiar with today. As golf moved inland, bunkers and water hazards moved with them.


Cady, Caddy, Cadie or “Caddie” was used to refer to a general-purpose porter or errand boy in Scottish towns in the 18th Century. These caddies got together and formed a society in Edinburgh in 1711, with self-imposed rules and published fees much like taxi cabs.

It did not come, as many think, from Mary, Queen of Scots, using French cadets to caddie for her in France.  Golf wasn’t played there until centuries after her death.


“Eagle” is an American term for one better than a birdie. Since the Bald Eagle is our national symbol, it was considered better than an ordinary bird. Nobody knows exactly when the term became popular, but it was introduced to Britain in 1919.

18 Hole Round

Despite popular opinion, it has nothing to do with how many holes you could play with one bottle of Scotch. All of the original courses had different numbers for holes ranging from 5 to 12. St. Andrews had 12 and 10 holes were played twice – once going out and once coming in for a total of 22.

It was renovated by the R & A and opened as an 18 hole course for the first time for the R & A’s Spring Meeting of May 1857.

In the Leather

All golf grips were originally leather including the putter. When the term first came into being, it referred to the length of the leather putter grip simply because those were fairly standard in length, unlike putters themselves.

Over time, golfers gradually changed the meaning to the more generous measurement we have today. The measurement by today’s term is from the putter head to the bottom of the putter grip, which is much more generous.

The term “in the leather” gave birth to the term “gimmie.” It’s in the leather so it’s a gimmie.


This is the only golf term that is actually named after someone. Mulligan became rooted in the game’s lexicon sometime between the late 1920s and mid-1930s. It goes back to a Canadian-born amateur David Bernard Mulligan who was a prominent member of clubs that included Winged Foot in Mamaroneck, N.Y.

One day he hit a shot that irked him so much that he hit a second ball. His playing partners were shocked and one of them asked what he had just done. The quick thinking Mr. Mulligan said, “I took a mulligan.”

The mulligan went on to become a part of golf history, primarily by the re-telling of the story of David Mulligan.


“Par” is a stock exchange term used in reference to how a stock is trading and it may be above or below its normal or ‘par’ figure.

In 1870, a writer asked the golf professionals David Strath and James Anderson what score would win “The Belt,” then the winning trophy for “The Open,” at Prestwick Strath, and Anderson said that perfect play should produce a score of 49 for Prestwick’s twelve holes. The author A.H. Doleman called this ‘par’ for Prestwick and subsequently Young Tom Morris won with a score of two strokes ‘over par’ for the three rounds of 36 holes.

Knowing the history of golf terminology can give you a deeper appreciation for this wonderful old game. I hope you found this information interesting and possibly even useful. The next time you buddies want to play “gimmies,” tell them sure, but we are going to play by the original definition.

Written by BP Staff


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