Before I took up golf, I just viewed courses as huge fields of grass with a few flags scattered about. But now of course, I know that it’s much more complicated than that.

When you start learning to play you’ll hear people talking about things like fairways, tees, bunkers and greens. This can be very confusing, particularly because to the casual observer the entire course is green, so knowing which bit is THE green isn’t exactly obvious (in my opinion anyway).

So, from my experience of stumbling about looking lost on a course, here’s my basic guide to the different bits that make up a golf course.


Tee box or teeing ground

The tee box or teeing ground marks the place where a hole begins. Most will have different tee boxes on each hole, marking the point where you should start or tee off, according to your ability.

These are normally coloured white, yellow and red, with the red forward tee having the shortest distance to the hole.

With golf being the rather old-fashioned sport it is, the red tees are sometimes called the ladies’ tees. But as male beginners would surely also welcome starting from a tee that was a bit closer to the hole, and as some women will be so good they’ll want to use the other tees, this doesn’t make much sense to me.

But moving on…


The fairway is the neatly mowed grass that runs from the tee box to the green (the bit around the hole). When you hit your shot off the tee you should aim to land your ball neatly on the fairway, not send it sailing into the surrounding trees, the neighbouring field of grazing sheep, or even behind you.


The green is the shortest grass on the course and it that surrounds the hole and the flag. This is where you pick up your putter and try to finally get the damn ball in the damn hole.

The green is a sacred patch of grass that golfers are very precious about; the rules surrounding it are also lengthy and a bit terrifying.

Firstly you must NEVER walk in someone’s ‘line of play’ or the line between the ball and the hole. This is presumably in case you churn up the ground with your razor-sharp golf shoes. This might seem a bit stupid but if you want to fit in and make friends it’s probably a good idea to try and remember this.

You should also not talk, move or even breathe* when someone else is putting, and whatever you do don’t drive a golf cart anywhere near the green. You may also be given great responsibilities like ‘tending the flagstick’, which means you need to take the flag out before someone putts. But even then there are rules about how exactly you should hold it or where you should put it. You can even get told off if your shadow is getting in the way.

Remember Mr Men’s Mr Fussy straightening out the blades of grass in his garden? This is exactly how golfers feel about the green. But try not to panic when you’re putting, just don’t damage the precious turf and everything will be fine.

*This last one is slightly exaggerated.


Around the fairways you’ll find grass that is longer, thicker and noticeably less immaculate than Mr Fussy’s perfect turf on the fairways and greens.

It’s harder to hit the ball off the rough. Generally it gets longer, and therefore harder to escape from, the further you go from the fairway.



These are the giant sandpits dotted sneakily around the course. Avoid getting in these as much as you can. Once you’re in your language will deteriorate as quickly as your score rises.

Water hazards

To make things more interesting they’ll sometimes be a pond, stream, river or even a part of the ocean (I know, ridiculous) between you and the hole. Why you’d choose these places for a hole I just don’t know. Like you question the morals of the people who write horror films, you should be equally suspicious of golf architects.

Of course golf rules change all the time, and golf’s governing bodies have recently proposed changing the official Rules of Golf to try and make them more modern.

So even once you think you’ve learnt everything, always be prepared to learn it all over again.

Subscribe to NCG