Golf Basics: The Course

Information about the about the characteristics of golf courses.

Very basics / Ways of play / Golf terms / The course / Tournaments

The Golf Course

Golf courses have no regulation length or shape, but most consist of 18 holes numbered 1 to 18. Playing all 18 holes makes up a round of golf. There are also some "nine hole" courses for recreational use in constricted suburban areas, where each hole is played twice for a round.

An 18-hole course averages about 140 acres (57 hectares). Each hole includes a tee, a fairway, a green, and often one or more hazards. Courses for men generally range from about 6,500 to more than 7,000 yards (5,900 to 6,400 meters) in length. This distance is the total length from the tees to all 18 holes. Courses are shortened for women by positioning the ladies' tee closer to the hole. A golf course contains a mixture of par 3, par 4, and par 5 holes. A typical par 3 hole measures up to 250 yards (229 meters), a par 4 from 251 to 470 yards (230 to 430 meters), and a par 5 measures at least 471 yards (431 meters).

Most courses are laid out in a loop that brings the golfer back to a point near the first tee at the end of each nine holes. The holes are arranged so that players are relatively safe from balls hit by players on another hole. Golfers shout the traditional warning "Fore!" to alert other golfers that a shot is about to be hit or that a ball has been hit in their direction.

The Tee

Each golf hole begins at the tee, a small flat area from which the golfer takes the first stroke, or shot. This stroke is sometimes called a drive. Before hitting the ball, the golfer places it on a wooden or plastic peg that is also called a tee. The peg may only be used on the tee. After the tee shot, the golfer must hit the ball as it lies on the course.

The Fairway

The fairway is a stretch of closely mowed grass that extends from the tee to the green. The fairway may be a straight path to the green or it may be laid out at an angle, called a dogleg. The fairway is designed to give the golfer the clearest route to the green. Golfers who hit their ball outside the fairway land in the rough. This area borders each side of the fairway. It has higher grass and may include bushes and trees.

The Green

The green is an area at the end of the fairway. The green is covered with special grass that is mowed very closely. It contains a hole 4 1/4 inches (10.8 centimeters) in diameter and at least 4 inches (10 centimeters) in depth. A movable marker called the flagstick or pin is placed in the hole to show its location.

Play on the hole is completed when the golfer hits the ball into the hole. The number of strokes the player takes to hit the ball into the hole becomes the player's score for that hole. The player normally takes progressively shorter shots from the tee to the green. Once on the green, the golfer putts (rolls) the ball into the hole with a club called the putter. The surface of the green is usually gently sloped, and the golfer should allow for the slope when putting.


Hazards are obstacles placed throughout the course to make play more difficult. Golfers try to avoid them. Hazards include bunkers and water hazards. Bunkers are depressions in the ground. If they contain sand they are called sand traps. Water hazards include ponds and streams. If the ball lands in a water hazard, the golfer may hit it out if the ball is playable. Otherwise, the golfer lifts it out by hand or plays another ball, adding an extra stroke to the score as a penalty.

Very basics / Ways of play / Golf terms / The course / Tournaments