Why Do We Yell “Fore”? The Origins of Four Common Golf Terms By Scott McCormick
Scott McCormick comes from a long line of mediocre – yet devoted – golfers. He lives in Arizona with his wife Alexis and their two dogs. When not trying to improve his short game on an office putting machine or following his favorite PGA tour pros on Twitter, he works as an online publisher for San Diego Golf
Golfers are a unique bunch, which is no surprise considering the game that they love is celebrated for its quirks and idiosyncrasies.
The language of golf is equally well known for its eccentricities, and for those us that were born with golf woven directly into our DNA, these peculiar terms and expressions roll smoothly off our tongues, while those uninitiated to golfing vernacular might scratch their heads at terms like “scratch golfer”.
And while most golfers possess an inherent understanding and appreciation for the history of the game, the origins of many golf expressions are as bewildering as a sidehill lie and as steeped in mythology as the albatross (see below).
This article will explore some of the roots of well-known golf terms:
The name of the sport itself has an interesting history and there are several oft-repeated myths about its origins. Despite what your chain-email-sending buddy might tell you, the term golf is not, nor has it ever been, an acronym meaning GENTLEMAN ONLY LADIES FORBIDDEN. This popular falsehood is unfortunate, as it adds to the (hopefully diminishing) perception that golf is by its nature a misogynist sport.
In reality, the term golf has been around since the 1400s, and there are a couple competing theories as to its original origin. Perhaps the most prominent theory is that it evolved from the Dutch word kolf meaning stick or club. Others have suggested that the word originated in Scotland, where the game itself was conceived.
Written references to the game start to become abundant by the 16th century, though as was typical for words in the days before dictionaries and standardized spelling, there were a number of variations including goff, goif, gowf, golf, gouff, gof, gowfe, and golve.
In its literal, non-golf definition, fore is a word meaning “ahead”, obviously related to the word “before”. In golf, the term began appearing in the 1870s, and while the exact origins have never been satisfactorily determined, it may have stemmed from a military practice of yelling “beware before!” when artillery units fired shots over the top of marching infantry troops
This now-common golf term meaning “do-over” didn’t become widespread until the 1940s, and once again it has proven difficult to pinpoint its exact origin. Some have contended that it comes from a man named Mulligan, who had a penchant for reteeing off when he was displeased with his initial drive – several different Mr. Mulligans have been posited as the original. Another idea is that it is rooted in ethnic defamation, as Irish-Americans were denigrated in the early 20th century; the theory suggests that this familiar Irish surname became unfairly associated with poor golf.
The term Caddie comes from the French word “cadet” meaning young boy. The military term “cadet” also naturally derived from this French word, and it has been suggested that it became customary for young military men in France to carry the clubs for their aristocratic elders. Later the term “caddie” became widespread in Scotland for any young man charged with running errands or making deliveries.