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Golf is probably one of the simplest professional sports.  There is no standardized playing area, no clock, and very few rules.  In essence, players carry a bag full of clubs in order to hit the ball into a hole with as few strokes as possible.  Most golf courses are 18 holes and the majority tournaments consist of players playing the 18 hole course four times.  Whichever player has the lowest score is the winner.

How the Game is Played

The game starts when a player strikes the ball (hopefully sending it down the course) with a club suited for that hole’s particular distance.  On longer holes (typically over 200 yards from the beginning to the end), players will “tee” the ball up on a small wooden stick which holds the ball above the ground, conveniently enough called a “tee.”  On these longer holes, a player will typically start with a club called a “driver.”  A golf bag typically holds 13 clubs—a driver, 3-wood, 5-wood, 3-iron, 4-iron, 5-iron, 6-iron, 7-iron, 8-iron, 9-iron, pitching wedge, sand wedge, and putter.  The lower the numbered clubs are designed for the greatest distance. So the closer the player is to the hole the “higher” the numbered club he or she will use. 

The golfer first hits the ball from the “tee box” which essentially is a small patch of grass that is designated as the area to begin the hole.  There are sometimes three or four tee boxes for each hole—a ladies tee, amateur tee, and professional tee, each progressively further away from the hole to add more difficulty for the golfer.  The golfer’s objective is to hit the ball into the “fairway” which is well cut grass that designates where the golfer should hit the ball.  He or she is typically only allowed to “tee” the ball up on the first shot—each successive shot must be hit from where the ball lies.  The “rough” begins on the edges of the fairway and is made up of longer grass which make it harder to hit the ball.  Each hole also has “hazards” which may be sand traps (areas filled with sand which are difficult to hit the ball out of) and water hazards (ponds, streams, etc).  The golfer’s objective is to get the ball onto the green which is grass that is cut very short so the golfer can use their putter.   After the tee shot, successive mid-distance shots are called approach shots.  If a golfer gets the ball close to the green, he or she can “chip” the ball by using a high club like a 9-iron or pitching wedge to hit the ball high in the air but a short lateral distance.  Putting is accomplished by using a club to push the ball along the short grass of the green into the hole.

Like most sports, there are penalties assessed in golf.  If a player hits the ball in the woods or a hazard and cannot find it, he or she will be penalized a stroke.  Most common is a player hits the ball outside of the boundaries of the course which incurs a one stroke penalty.  More rare is if a golfer hits someone else’s ball which would incur a two-stroke penalty.
In amateur golf, players can walk or drive motorized carts to get from hole to hole.  In professional golf, players walk and have caddies who carry the player’s clubs and provide advice on how to play the course (which club to use, where the golfer should aim, etc). 

Regular Season

The USGA (United States Golf Association) is the governing body for professional golf in the United States.  There are many different leagues in golf which have various levels of expertise with the top and most popular being the PGA (Professional Golfers Association) tour.  The PGA tour has a men’s, women’s and a senior tour.  Scoring is determined in comparison to how many shots a skilled golfer should take to complete each hole, and in turn the entire course.  Par is typically determined by distance from the tee to the hole and how many hazards are on the hole.  Holes that are less than 250 yards are typically a par 3.  Par 4 is typically a hole that is between 250 and 475 yards, while Par 5 holes are longer than 475 yards.  There are different terms for scores that fall above or below par for each hole:

Shots above/below Par



Triple Bogey


Double Bogey











Most tournaments are stroke play which essentially means that the player with the lowest score at the end of the tournament wins.  If some combination of players have the same score at the end of the tournament, then play continues in a sudden death format until one player scores less than the other. 

Some tournaments are called “skins games” in which prize money is tied to each hole.  The player that has the lowest score on that hole wins the “skin,” or prize money.  If some combination of players tie on a hole, the “skin” money rolls over to the next hole.  More rare is a match play tournament in which the score is compared at the end of each hole.  The player who has won the most individual holes wins the tournament.

If you play with a group of amateurs, sometimes players like to play a format called a scramble.  A scramble differs from other forms of play in that each player tees off.  The players then compare shots, decide which one is best, and then hit the ball that they deemed the best shot.  This style is typically employed when playing in an amateur tournament where golfers divide themselves into teams of typically four players.

While there are many tournaments throughout the year, there are four that get the most attention, referred to as golf’s “Majors,” or major tournaments.  The Majors include The Masters, The US Open, The Open Championship (also called the British Open), and the PGA Championship.  With the exception of the Masters which is always played at Augusta, Georgia, the Majors rotate to different courses every year. 

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Tiger Woods:  One of the most recognizable athletes in the world.  Tiger was a child prodigy, picking up his first clubs when he was 2 and appearing in Golf Digest magazine when he was 5.  At the age of 34, he has won 14 major tournaments, trailing only Jack Nicklaus for the all time lead.  Tiger’s career took a set-back due to his personal life in late November 2009.  Reports claimed that he had multiple affairs, and in a clumsy news conference he admitted his infidelity.  He took a break from golf and returned in early April.  His wife, former Swedish model Elin Nordegren, has filed for divorce.

Jack Nicklaus:  Nicknamed “The Golden Bear,” Nicklaus has the most Majors wins of any golfer with 18 over his career.  He was at the top of his game in the 1970s but continued to compete in the Majors through 2005.

Phil Mickelson:  A consensus number two behind Tiger as the best current player in golf.  Nicknamed “lefty” obviously for his left-handed swing, he has won four Majors and choked on numerous others!

John Daly:  Not a particulary good golfer in most tournaments, Daly still draws a crowd because of his long drives off the tee.  His personal life is pretty much a train wreck—alcoholism, gambling, multiple divorces, and a pretty nasty incident outside a Hooters one night have been the highlights of his recent career.  Daly stays in the news though because every once in a while, he will play really well in a tournament.

Notable Rivalries

It is hard to say that there are really any rivalries in golf because most of the time, it seems like the whole field against Tiger Woods.  Probably the only real rivalry in golf is Phil Mickelson vs. Tiger Woods.  When Phil is on his game, he can compete with Tiger, but Tiger is the consensus best player in the world.


Ace:  Another word for a hole in one (the golfer is able to put the ball in the cup in one shot).

Approach:  A shot that occurs for a golfer after a tee shot and before a chip or put.  Essentially, it is a long to middle distance shot to get the ball within striking distance of the green where the cup is.

Chip:  A shot used to hit the ball a short distance so the golfer can transition from swinging clubs to using a putter to roll the ball into the hole.

Dogleg:  A hole that significantly curves between the tee box and the hole.  The name comes from the shape of the hole which resembles a dog leg.

Drive:  A shot used to hit the ball a long distance from the tee box.

Handicap:  The average score an amateur golfer gets over 18 holes.  For instance, a 6 handicap would usually shoot a 78 on a course that was a par 72.
Links:  Another word for a golf course.  Origins were early courses that were by the seaside, thus holes linked land and sandy soil.

Par:  The number of shots that it should take a skilled golfer to complete each hole, and in turn the entire course.
PGA:  Professional Golfers Association—the league that contains the world’s best golfers.

Pitch:  See Chip above.

USGA:  United States Golf Association, the body that sets the rules for professional and amateur golf.