For residents of the Home of Golf, it is easy for us to assume that our visitors are familiar with this old Scottish game. However, the modern game is a far cry from the 15th century hitting of a pebble over rough ground with a primitive stick! Born on Scotland’s east coast – indeed, in the Kingdom of Fife – golf has a series of complex rules and terminology with which not every visitor to St Andrews is au fait!
The aim is to cover 18 holes around a specially-designed course using a series of strokes with a club to play a ball from teeing to sinking (ie: start to finish), using the fewest strokes possible.
A game in which less is most definitely more; here’s a layman’s guide to unravelling some of the more commonly-used golf phrases.
Let’s start with a self-explanatory one: the first half of a round of golf is called the “front nine” and the second half is the “back nine”. This is a reference to the number of holes on a standard 18-hole golf course. Once golfers have completed all 18 holes they head to the “19thhole”; don’t worry – you haven’t missed one – it’s the welcome clubhouse, where refreshments and shelter await following your “round”.
Golfers start the game by ‘teeing off’. This has nothing to do with hot drinks, but with a tiny object (called a ‘tee’) which raises your ball off the ground so that you can hit it with your golf club. The point of the tee is to reduce the likelihood of a divot – the name for the (small) piece of turf uprooted by the club when hitting the ball – golf etiquette requires that these divots be replaced immediately.
The aim in golf is to meet or beat the guideline number of strokes for any hole. For example, if a hole is par 3, a golfer will be aiming to get the golf ball into the hole within three strokes). There are many names for scores that go over or under par; a “birdie” is achieved by sinking your ball shot under par (eg 2 strokes in a par 3). Possibly more likely for novices, a “bogey” is the name for a hole in which you sink the ball one over par (eg 4 strokes in a par 3). If you’re very lucky (or skilled), you might achieve an “ace” – sinking the ball in one stroke on a par 3 hole for a particular sort of ‘hole-in-one’. If a hole were a par 4 or 5, a good golfer might land a “double eagle” if he or she completed a hole 3 shots below par.
So: it is possible to score an “eagle”, an “ace” and a “hole in one” on the same shot, when sinking the ball in two shots under the par on a par 3 hole. Confused yet?
A bunker presents a hazard area for golfers – a hole filled with sand and typically sited near the green or fairway – these are to be avoided at all times! A shot may be described as a “duff” if it ends up in the bunker or any present water hazard on (or near!) the course. Novices may also wish to arm themselves with a loud voice and the word “fore” – the golfing equivalent of “watch out!” – to warn potential casualties if/when your ball is heading in the direction of another player.
Handicaps are a thoughtful score adjustment system allowing golfers of differing skill levels to compete fairly with one another throughout the game. To cut a complicated explanation short, handicaps basically mean that each golfer competes against their own average score, so that the round’s winner is the golfer who performs the best against their own average.
So, we’ve taught you the lingo, and you’ll have a good handicap; there really is no excuse not to give golf a go! Grab your irons and drivers, stay on the fairways, aim for the holes and appreciate one of the most skilfully enjoyable sports. Just make sure that you take in our unrivalled Scottish scenery and fantastically fresh sea air while you’re at it – after all, it isonly a game!