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To the inexperienced, learning how to play golf – or even understanding the technical terms used to describe the game – can seem quite complicated. Understanding how to properly swing a golf club is arguably one of the more complex sports activities; however, learning about the game and the terms used is not. For individuals taking up the game for the first time, it’s vital to understand a little about its history, scoring terms and basic rules.

The aim of golf is to strike a ball using a golf club from an area of the golf course known as the teeing ground. The ball travels across fairways and onto a putting green, a prepared area of the course that has a hole where the ball should be put into. To ‘play a hole’ in golf is to start from the teeing area and ensure the ball goes into the marked hole. Each strike of the ball is a stroke. To play a ’round of golf’ entails playing 18 holes.

In playing one hole, a player must minimise the number of strokes it takes to complete it. This is crucial, as it forms the backbone of one of the two main kinds of play: match play and stroke play. The holes won and lost determine match play, while stroke play is determined by the number of strokes it takes to finish a round of golf. Golfers should play the course as they find it and play the ball as it lies.

The Game’s History

Scotland is considered the home of modern golf, with the name itself (‘gowf’ in old Scottish) seen as a change to the term ‘colf’ in the Dutch language. The game is first mentioned in a 1457 Act of Scottish Parliament that prohibited the playing of ‘gowf’ and ‘futball’ as they were deemed distractions. Further Acts of 1471 and 1491 banned the game, and under the reign of King James IV of Scotland, parliament again called for a ban.

The earliest records for instructions on how to play golf were found in a medical student’s diary who played at Leith Links and Bruntsfield Links (close to Edinburgh University). The student, Thomas Kincaid, wrote about the handicap system and in an early January 1687 entry, described the physical movement of his golf stroke.

Still, it is the rules of golf written for The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers in 1744 that are preserved in the National Library of Scotland. The group played at Leith Links, and the protected document supports their claim as the oldest golf club. These instructions formed the basis of other codes, some that are still prevalent in the modern game.

In the United States, the earliest evidence of the game was a 1739 shipment of golf equipment to Charleston, South Carolina, and a 1779 advertisement in the Royal Gazette of New York City for golf balls and clubs. However, it wasn’t until the late 19th century that the game gained prominence.


The following terms explain scoring in the game:

  • Par: This stands for ‘professional average result’ and is the number of shots a player should take for a particular hole or round.
  • Albatross: The score for completing a hole three strokes under par (three shots below the expected number).
  • Eagle: A score for completing two strokes under par.
  • A score for completing one stroke under par.
  • Bogey: A score for going over the expected average by one shot (one over par). Two shots above par is a double bogey, while a triple bogey is three shots above. Scores as high as bogey five (five shots above) are not uncommon.