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Beginner’s Guide to Surviving A Professional Golf Outing: The Jargon

Have a golf outing for work coming up and not sure where to start? Check out this three part guide for surviving a professional golf outing as a beginner golfer. You can do it! So check it all out now.

New to golf and think you can’t hack it on the golf course for a professional golf outing? Think again. With this three part series, you’ll learn the jargon, the social and style expectations, and the basic rules of the game so you can skirt your way through 18 holes with your boss or your clients without a worry.

About three years ago, a partner at my firm called me into his office and said “Do you want to play golf with me, client A, and client B next Tuesday?” My eyes opened wide and I took a deep breath as the following flashed through my head:

“Hmm.. Do I want to hang out under a gorgeous summer sun while taking a nature walk through a pristine park of sorts – and get paid for it??! Oh wait, and while I do that I can spend some time building relationships with my clients and have an opportunity to better get to know this partner? I’d be an idiot to turn this down, right? Heck yeah I want to do this… but I suck at golf!” 

Summer is upon us and your avid golfer colleagues have already been crushing the courses. If you’re new to the game of golf and work in a corporate setting, especially if you serve external clients, there’s a darn good chance you’ll encounter a great opportunity to join fellow colleagues or business compatriots on the golf course. I am no golf expert, but I have played a few rounds in work settings. I have put together a brief series about the basics of surviving a corporate golf outing so that when you end up in my aforementioned situation, you can confidently and resoundingly say “I’d love to!”

Because I’m not a seasoned golf pro, I can’t teach you how to hit the perfect stroke or find the best gear. But I do know how to piece together an outfit from what may already be in your closet that will suffice. And I know just about all the “silly” questions that plagued my nerves as I prepared for stepping out onto the course. I hope I answer a lot of your questions, but certainly reach out in the comments or via email if you have questions I haven’t touched on!

Where to Begin? The Jargon.

Don’t Miss Parts 2 and 3
Part 2: What to Bring and What to Wear
Part 3: Q&A: What if…?

Enjoy this summary of terms that will be helpful to understand when you head out on the course.

Getting Started

Round of Golf (9 or 18 holes): The term used to describe the full game you will be playing. It’s similar to a “match” in tennis or a “game” of football. You can either play 9 holes or 18 holes, depending on the amount of time allotted for the event and how it is organized. I equate a “hole” in golf to a “frame” in bowling. You add up the score of each hole to total the score of the entire round.
Front Nine: Holes 1 through 9
Back Nine: Holes 10 through 18
Foursome: The group of colleagues with whom you’ll be playing. Generally, four people play a round together, each taking turns going first at each hole. You can, however, play with fewer than four people in your group.
Caddy: The assistant who carries clubs for each player. In more advanced situations, they may also provide playing advice. For a corporate event, it’s highly unlikely you’ll have a caddy. If you do, inquire in advance about how they are being paid. And you’ll likely need to tip them.
Pro Shop: The retail store at just about every golf course that sells not only clothes and equipment, including balls and tees, but also where you will likely go to get your scorecard and sign in to let them know you’ve arrived for your tee time (a.k.a. your start time). [Note: If you’re playing a large corporate event, you may not need to go to the pro shop. It’s likely being coordinated by the event host and you will check in with the event coordinator.]

Keeping Score

Generally, each person keeps their own score based on their own shots. More beginner-friendly events, however, may suggest using a “scramble” or “best ball” format. These terms are interchangeable.
Scramble / Best Ball: A format for play whereby each player takes their first shot. The landing spot of the best hit ball within the group for that hole becomes the place from which each player hits their next shot. This helps ensure that the group essentially does as well as the best player. (For me, this relieves a great amount of stress. No matter how poor my shot, if another person in my group is great, I can pick up my ball after each shot and move it to where the best player’s ball landed.)
Par: The number of shots expected to be taken on a particular hole by one player resulting in a score of zero. Each hole will have a “par” between 3 and 5. Thus, if the “par” for the hole is 3, the course designer expects you to finish the hole (i.e. get your ball into the cup) in 3 shots. [Disclaimer: Only good golfers do this regularly. If your score exceeds par significantly, you’re not alone.]

In golf, a low score is good. Your score for each hole is based on the number of shots you take relative to par. In other words, if the par for a hole is 3 and you finish the hole in 5 shots, you would receive 2 points. If the par is 3 and you finish the hole in 2 shots, you receive -1 points. Golfers have coined fancy names for each finish relative to par.

Eagle: Two shots under par.
Birdie: One shot under par.
Bogie: One shot over par.
Double bogie: Two shots over par.
Hole In One: Self explanatory, but that means you finish the hole in just one shot. It happens, but rarely.

Types of Shots

Drive / Tee Shot: The first shot you hit on each hole from the tee box.
Chip: The next shot or several shots you hit from (hopefully) the fairway. And if it’s me, I’m likely hitting these shots from the rough.
Put: Shorter shots you hit once your ball is on the green. This will be the last shot or set of shots you hit to get your ball into the cup.

Types of Clubs

Driver / Wood: The first club that you use when you take your first shot from the tee box. Although there aren’t rules about which clubs you can use from different parts of the course or each hole, you will likely only use this club for your first shot (and maybe your second shot on a long hole).
Irons: Numbered clubs that are used generally for shots from the fairway and rough after teeing off but before your ball lands on the green. People have varying numbers of irons. I think I only have three or four. Some people may have more or less. As the number on each iron gets higher, the club is angled more to hit the ball higher and with less distance. Thus, a 5 iron is intended to hit the ball farther than a 9 iron with the same amount of force. The 9 iron should result in the ball being hit higher than the 5 iron. [Note: This works for good golfers. With luck, it works for me. But it takes some practice to use these clubs properly.]
Putter: A flat-faced club used only on the green generally to hit the last shot or two, generally in a slow rolling fashion, into the cup.
Sand Wedge / Pitching Wedge: A club designed to hit a ball if you’ve landed in a sand trap. Not all sets of clubs have one of these. If you don’t have one, but need to hit a ball out of the sand trap, try using a higher numbered iron.

The Course

Tee Box: A small area at the beginning of the hole from which you take your first shot. On most courses, there are several tee boxes at varying numbers of yards from the pin. Generally, one is for women, one might be for men, one for more experienced golfers, and there could be others. As a female, I can opt to tee off from any of them, though I always choose the one closest to the green, unless it’s set up for juniors (which happened to me once).
Tee: A small wooden stick-like piece of equipment only used from the tee box (don’t use this on the fairway or the greens) for your first shot on which you set the golf ball. It takes a bit of practice to balance the golf ball on the tee to hit it. I find it helps to cup the golf ball in my palm while holding the tee underneath it as I stick the tee into the grass and set it up.
Fairway: The shorter, well-groomed grassy area between the tee and the green. The intent is to keep the ball on the fairway (and out of the rough) as you make your way to the green with your shots.
Rough: The less well-groomed area surrounding the fairway. It can include water, trees, long grass, and other natural components that make playing from this area more difficult.
Sand Trap: A sunken area of the course, often along the sides of the fairway, filled with sand. Try to keep your ball out of these areas as they are difficult to get out of.
Green: The shortest area of grass that surrounds the pin. Typically, the ball is slowly rolled along this area when shots are taken from here as you probably aren’t more than 30 – 40 feet from the pin.
Pin: The flag standing in the cup at each hole that helps you aim your shots as you approach the green.
Cup: The small area cut out in the green where you aim to hit the ball. Once you get your ball in the cup, you count the number of shots it took to achieve this goal and then calculate your score as described above.

So, that’s a primer on just the basics of the lingo you might hear during your time on the course that will hopefully be helpful in making it through the day. Let me know if there are any words I missed.

And for those curious, I did end up playing that round of golf with the partner and two clients. He’d seen me play once before, so he knew I wasn’t that great. And I reminded him of my basic skills, to ensure this wouldn’t be a problem. I ended up having a great time and enjoying some beautiful weather.

Have a golf outing for work coming up and not sure where to start? Check out this three part guide for surviving a professional golf outing as a beginner golfer. You can do it! So check it all out now.

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