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Golf Courses      E-mail to a Friend    Print this Page

Golf Course

A golf course can be your greatest adversary or your closest friend. When you are a beginner to the game of golf, every golf course may seem like it's working against you. To make good friends with any golf course you play, you must understand golf course anatomy. With this basic information, you can begin to learn what gives a golf course its character, personality and style. Knowing that information will help you play better and have more fun on any golf course. (article continued below)

Photo Credit: Dion Widrich

Anatomy of a Golf Course

   No two golf courses are exactly alike. Each one has its own surprises and challenges. However, all courses have a few things in common. If you understand those commonalities, you will be better prepared for the unexpected. Here are the basics of golf course anatomy that you need to know before teeing off:

  • Tee box: The tee box or tee area is where you hit your first shot of a hole. The grass is usually trimmed short about twice a week and composed of a very fine cultivar, often Bermuda or bent grass (Hurdzan). That makes the tee area great for hitting because there is no obstruction from the grass. Most golf courses have several tee boxes for each hole to provide varying degrees of difficulty. Beginner golfers should hit from tee areas closer to the hole, while advanced golfers should hit from tees farther back. The difference in total course distance can be substantial from the different tees. Sometimes it is as much as 2,000 or more yards (Schempp).
  • Fairway: The fairway is the low-cut expanse of grass that connects the tee area to the hole. It is intended to be the most effective route to the green. Fairway grass is longer than that of the tee area, but still cut short enough so that the grass supports the ball without letting it settle in. The standard length of fairway grass is about one-half inch to three-fourths inch tall, which ensures that you can hit the ball without interference from the grass (Hurdzan). Staying on the fairway will make your route to the green much easier.
  • Rough: If you hit an errant shot, you will most likely end up in the rough. The rough borders the fairway and has longer cut grass, which makes it harder to hit your ball (St. Pierre). Because the grass in the rough is usually two to three inches tall, your ball will settle in, making it difficult to cleanly hit your ball out of the grass (Hurdzan). If you stray even farther from the fairway you will end up in the deep rough, which has grass around six inches tall (Hurdzan). In the deep rough, also called secondary rough, your ball will be almost hidden in the tall grass. About all you can do from the deep rough is try to get your ball back to the fairway, which is a wasted stroke. If you avoid the rough and stick to the fairway, you will be in good shape.
  • Hazards: The various obstacles placed around a golf course are called hazards. The two main types of hazards are water and sand hazards, also called bunkers or sand traps (World Book). Water hazards can be ponds, creeks, rivers and oceans. Bunkers and sand traps are depressions in the ground filled with sand. It is best to avoid all hazards when playing. You can hit your ball out of any type of hazard if it is playable, but if you can't play your ball you can lift it out with your hand or get a new ball, at the cost of one penalty stroke (World Book).
  • Green: The closely mowed grass at the end of the fairway that contains the hole is called the green. Greens usually have special grass that is kept in pristine condition so that your ball can roll over it smoothly. Bermuda grass and bent grass are two common types of grasses used on greens because they have very fine leaves (Hurdzan). When hitting your ball on the green, it is important to pay attention to the direction the grass is growing, also known as the grain. For example, if you are playing on Bermuda grass and you hit against the grain your ball will travel much slower than if you are hitting with the grain (North). The type of grass and the direction of the grain can play a big part in determining how you should hit your ball.
  • Hole: The hole is what you are supposed to hit the ball into. Also known as a cup, it's located on the green and is 4.25 inches, 10.8 centimeters, wide and at least four inches, 10 centimeters, deep (World Book). The holes can be moved to different locations throughout the green. That provides variety for golfers who regularly play the same golf course. The easiest way to find where the hole is located on a green is to look for the flagstick, also called a pin. It is a movable marker that is placed in the hole (World Book).
  • Lengths: The lengths of each golf course and each hole vary significantly. Golf courses usually range from 5,000 yards to over 7,000 yards - 4,572 meters to 6,400 meters - and holes can range from 80 yards to over 600 yards - 73 meters to over 550 meters (Schempp). If you hit from the correct teeing area, the distance you will have to play will be appropriate for your skill level.
  • Types of Grass: The best-designed courses in the world use different grass cultivars throughout the course to not only add visual interest, but also to reward and punish golfers for hitting in certain locations (Hurdzan). Using grass to make it easier or harder for golfers to hit the ball is possible because each type of grass has different thicknesses, blade widths and heights. For example, areas with Bahias, fescues and buffalo grasses are much more difficult to play from than areas with Bermuda grass, bent grass or bluegrass (Hurdzan). If you are serious about performing better, you need to be able to recognize the different varieties of grass and adjust your shots accordingly.

   The sum of all those parts is what gives a golf course its unique character. Knowing each part will help you understand an entire golf course, and that will make you a better golfer. In addition to understanding golf course anatomy, knowing about the different types of golf courses and how they affect play is important. For information about the different types of golf courses check out the article Golf Courses.


Hurdzan, Michael J. Golf Course Architecture: Design, Construction &Restoration. (Michigan: John Wiley and Sons, 1996), 50.

North, Andy. The Long and the Short of It. (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2002), 18.

Schempp, Paul. Golf: Steps to Success. (Illinois: Human Kinetics Publishing, Inc., 2005), xi-xii.

St. Pierre, Denise. Golf Fundamentals. (Illinois: Human Kinetics Publishing, Inc., 2004), 8.

The World Book Encyclopedia, 1990, s.v. "golf."