Golf Course Terminology
You're going to learn much more about the terminology and the decisions you need to make as you play the game. You can't possibly know everything at first. (You can't possibly know everything about golf—ever.) However, there are a few basic terms you need to know.
Too Many Tees?
The word “tee” is used as either of two nouns, or one verb. The first noun, “tee,” is that little wooden stake used to “tee up” the ball for the first stroke on a given hole. A player doesn't need to use one, but most do, even on short par threes. The tee helps the player place the ball on a perfect lie even if the ball is practically at ground level.
The second noun, “tee,” indicates the area of the course from which a given hole is begun. The actual term, a term you'll probably never hear (unless your playing partner is a Scotsman) is “teeing ground.” You usually hear it referred to as “the tee” or the “tee box.” Usually, it's a little mound of green space with tee markers and a sign indicating the length of the hole and the par for the hole.
The verb “to tee” means “to set the ball on a tee” or “to get started,” as in “All right, let's tee it up.”
What does “lie” mean?
In golf, when we refer to “lie,” we're talking about the position of the ball at rest. So, when we say the ball is on a perfect lie, we mean the ball came to rest at the perfect spot. “Lie” is less frequently used to refer to the angle formed by the shaft and the club head in relation to the ball.
Tee markers are those objects of a given color, mounted close to the ground, that indicate the line beyond which a golf ball may not be “teed up” on a given hole. On most golf courses there are usually several sets of tee markers. On an eighteen-hole course, there will be a set of tee markers for the front nine, and another set of markers indicating the teeing ground for the back nine holes. This second set of markers changes the length of the hole and/or angle of the flight path the ball will take to the green. Usually, there are two sets of markers marking the women's teeing ground, too. On some golf courses that also host significant tournaments, there will be a set of championship tee markers, usually increasing the lengths of most of the holes by many yards.
Standing on the tee and looking toward the green, the ball must be teed between or behind the markers, though never more than two club lengths behind them. It's a one-stroke penalty to tee your ball further back. Since the markers can't be moved, a player will sometimes tee a ball very close to a tee marker, and stand so that the marker is between the ball and his or her stance. This is perfectly acceptable.
Never be afraid to leave the driver in your bag. Even on long holes, better control and less distance often improves your chances for a good score more than trying to boom the driver and sending the ball on a hike through the woods. Also, the stroke required for a good drive is different from the stroke used for all the other shots.
On a par four or five, your shot off the tee (the teeing ground, the tee box) should ideally land in the fairway. On a par three, you plan for your tee shot to land on the green. The fairway is the well-manicured part of the long space between the teeing ground and the green. The grass is cut very short so that, far more often than not, when a tee shot rolls to a stop, the lie of the ball will be perfect—the ball won't be in a hole or snuggled up next to a clump of grass, but will be sitting on top of the grass—hence the “fair” (pleasant) way.
It's often best in the deep rough to choose the prudent shot over the most heroic. Instead of aiming for the green through that narrow slot between a dozen trees, turn sideways (or even back toward the tee if necessary) and punch the ball out of trouble and onto the fairway.
All the area on either side of the fairway is the rough. Some courses simply allow the grass to grow a bit taller along the sides of the fairway, calling that area the “intermediate rough.” You'll also hear it called the “first cut” of rough. Beyond the intermediate rough is the rough: weeds, logs, thickets, you name it.
Beyond the rough is out-of-bounds. This term means just exactly what you would think. A ball that is out-of-bounds is out of play. On some golf courses, it's easy to tell on practically every hole where the out-of-bounds markers will be and what constitutes out-of-bounds. (Here's a hint: If the course you're playing is in a neighborhood, everyone's backyard is out-of-bounds, along with swimming pools and rear decks.) The rule for playing the next stroke after a ball goes out-of-bounds is to take a penalty stroke and play the next shot from “as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played,” according to the USGA's Rule 27-1.