Tiger Woods, the number one male golfer
Unlike many sports, golf is a (usually) single-player, precision-based sport where players take turns shooting a small, hard ball across large courses using an instrument called a club, with the goal of getting the ball into a special hole at the end of the course in as few shots (called strokes) as possible. This is one of the few games where a lower score is better than a higher one, and also one of the few that does not require a standardized playing field like other sports do! Golf courses can take any shape or size imaginable, and can be found all around the world.

A typical golf course consists of eighteen holes, though courses with only nine are becoming increasingly common for casual play. Professional courses tend to have eighteen, and games are roughly divided into two halves (the first nine holes that a player plays on are called the front nine, and the last are called the back nine). The goal of the game can be one of two things, depending on what type of game is being played. In stroke play, the goal is to complete the course with the fewest number of strokes. In match play, the winner is the player who receives the lowest score on the most holes.

The term “hole” can refer either to the physical hole into which players are trying to aim the ball, or to the entire playing field on which that hole is located. The hole will largely consist of a fairway, an area of smoothed and well-trimmed grass that is easy for the ball to roll on and easy to hit from; however, it will be littered with hazards that make the ball difficult to shoot or maneuver, such as rough, sand traps, water hazards, and more (see terminology section). In order to complete a hole in as few strokes as possible, it is generally necessary to avoid these hazards, but particularly skilled players can salvage these mistakes and still come out ahead.

There is really only one key rule in golf: the rule of fairness. This rule is summed up by the governing bodies as follows:

Play the ball as it lies, play the course as you find it, and if you cannot do either, do what is fair.

Let’s break it down:
Play the ball as it lies – This means that a player generally cannot move the ball from where it has landed before shooting it again. In instances where shooting the ball from that location is impossible or dangerous, allowances may be made, but otherwise the ball has to be shot from where it is.
Play the course as you find it – Just like the above rule, this means that no changes can be made to the course itself in order to make your shot easier.
Do what is fair – Sometimes the ball will land in a position that makes it impossible to shoot without some sort of alteration. The rules will take care of these situations and allow the game to continue.

So, what are some of the more specific rules of golf?

1. If the ball is in a bunker, the player can play the ball as it lies. They may also deem the ball unplayable and drop it somewhere else inside the bunker, but this will increase their stroke count by one (a penalty stroke).

2. If the ball is in a water hazard, the player can play the ball as it lies without incurring a penalty. If this is impossible, generally the player will be permitted to place the ball (or a new ball, if the old one is unrecoverable) within two club lengths of the water from the point where it fell in; this will incur a penalty stroke.

3. A ball can only be replaced by another ball if it is destroyed, lost, or unplayable. However, a player may substitute balls between holes if he or she chooses.

4. A player must not accept assistance of any kind in making a stroke. (You may notice that professional golfers will sometimes confer with their assistants, or caddies, during play; this is permitted as long as they do not receive any assistance with the stroke itself.)

5. If a player swings at another player’s ball, he or she gets a two-stroke penalty.

6. If a player’s ball hits another player’s ball during a putt, he or she gets a two-stroke penalty (this generally does not happen during professional play, as other balls on the course will be temporarily replaced with markers to mark their position when other players are playing).

Although the play of golf can be pretty deep and intricate, the rules themselves are fairly simple to follow!

Here are some of the terms you’re likely to come across when watching golf or talking about it with friends.

Albatross: A term for a score that is three strokes under the par for a hole.

Approach: A long to mid-distance shot.

Birdie: A term for a score that is one stroke under the par for a hole.

Bogey: A term for a score that is one stroke over the par for a hole. A double bogey would refer to two strokes over par, triple bogey for three, etc.

Bunker: Also called a sand-trap. These are pits on the course filled with sand that are typically difficult to shoot a ball out of.

Caddy: A person who carries the player’s equipment and is allowed to give advice on how to play the course. They may not assist in taking shots and may not offer advice to any competing player.

Chip: A relatively short-distance shot, usually to get the ball out of some kind of hazard or when the ball is too close to the green for a drive or approach shot.

Condor: A term for a score that is four strokes under par for a hole. This has only been recorded four times in history.

Cup: Another term for the hole into which players try to get the ball.

Drive: A long-distance shot.

Eagle: A term for a score that is two strokes under par for a hole.

Fairway: The majority of the course, consisting of green grass that is well trimmed and easy to manoeuvre.

Green: The section of the hole around the cup itself. This area is very smooth, allowing the ball to roll easily, and it will not contain any hazards, but it may be very hilly, making the ball roll unpredictably.

Hole-in-one: The act of getting the ball from the tee into the hole in a single shot. Also called an ace. This is most common on par-three holes, but is also possible on short par-fours. A hole-in-one can still be referred to as a birdie, eagle, etc depending on what the par of the hole is. Extremely rare.

Iron: These clubs are generally shorter than woods, but are numerous and versatile, used in a variety of shots.

Mulligan: Redoing a shot, typically only allowed on the first shot from the tee. Generally allowed only if the shot was faulty in some way.

Ostrich: A term for a score that is five strokes under par for a hole. This is the lowest score that can possibly be achieved (a hole-in-one on a par six hole), but it is purely theoretical and widely considered impossible due to the fact that par sixes are extremely long holes.

Par: The average number of shots that should be required to complete a hole.

Putt: A short-distance shot to roll the ball across the green and into the cup.

Putter: A club used to roll the ball across the green into the cup.

Rough: Rough, poorly-trimmed grass surrounding the fairway and the green. Like other hazards, it is difficult to shoot a ball out of the rough.

Tee: A wooden or plastic object that is driven into the ground so that the ball can rest on top of it. This makes the ball easier to shoot, but is only allowed on the first shot.

Wood: A fairly short but large-headed club intended to shoot the ball a long distance. These are now usually made of metal, but the term “wood” is still used.