GET INTO GOLF: Learn the lingo |

GET INTO GOLF: Learn the lingo

“That is sick”… A while ago that would only have meant something was bad or distasteful. But today, these may be words of appreciation. In fact, the more sick, the better, as in “That is so sick.” 

It makes you wonder; how do these changes in our national or regional vernacular take place? Does a change begin as a mistake and then become adopted as normal? Or, is there a planned initiation? I presume the former.

Language in the world of golf has a similar evolution. Most of the descriptive words we use have been around for hundreds of years, while many words have very recent origins. Some words fall out of use and other words just do not make sense if you think about it very long. 

In our everyday, non-golf specific language I wonder about the word “understand.” What must we “stand under”? Considering our additional, golf specific words, we could wonder about the word “golf.” Amazing as it might seem, the word does not have an accepted origin.

The first documented mention of the word “golf” is in Edinburgh on March 6th, 1457, when King James II banned “ye golf” in an attempt to encourage archery practice, which was presumably being neglected. Goff, gowf, golf, goif, gof, gowfe, gouff and golve have all been found in documents in Scotland.

This vague beginning lends itself to humorous conjecture. One possible explanation for “golf” was an acronym; Gentlemen Only Ladies Forbidden (sorry ladies, not my idea). Of course, this is not true. A more recent attempt is Geometrically Oriented Lateral Fundamentals (somebody had too much time on their hands). 

Another explanation is almost too simple, but perhaps correct, that golf got its name because all of the other four-letter words were taken. 

Get Into Golf will help you become more familiar with the language. You’ve probably heard the individual words before, but this time they have an entirely different meaning and many phrases are understood only in the context of experience.

There are many sources for finding the definitions to often used golf words. The most readily available would be your home computer and the internet. However, as you know, my purpose is to go beyond that or maybe around it. 

Anyone can use the words already in the dictionary (although the dictionary hasn’t caught up to words like “sick”). I want you to know the phrases and verbiage that you probably won’t find anywhere else.   

This week we’ll briefly go over a few things that will allow you to sound like a veteran, even if you haven’t been playing long. First, here is a subtle grammar lesson for golfers. We do not use the word “golf” as an action word. You can “play golf,” but we do not “go golfing.”

If you were fortunate enough to play golf yesterday, the answer to the question would be “I played golf,” not “I golfed.” It’s a small difference, but a big difference.

Why do you use Drano? To get things going down, the way they’re supposed to. So, when one of your long putts goes down, the way it’s supposed to, it’s Drano. An especially remarkable putt might be called “liquid Drano,” which has evolved into the shorter “liquid.”

Ever visited your golf ball in jail? That is what we call it when a sprayed shot heads for the woods. Nearly enclosed by a row of trees, your golf ball is just looking for a way out.

After that last paragraph, let’s finish up with one more word. When you put your finger on the aerosol can and push, what happens to the contents? Let’s just say it’s not very precise. So, when you “spray” one on the course, it’s usually not easy to find.

OK, one more. When a right-handed golfer hits a shot that causes the ball to spin severely to the left, it is known as a “hook.” In extreme cases, this is known as a “snap hook.” You might get a smile or you might get punched, but, the next time your buddy hits a bad hook to the left, you say, “Hey, you want a little lemon with that snapper?”

John Renslow is a PGA Class A Professional and Instructor at Alta Sierra Country Club. To contact John with your questions or comments at This article originally ran in 2016.

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