The Golf Course Layout: Parts Of A Golf Course Explained

“I tried to cut the dogleg but ended up in a penalty area.” “I hit a decent drive, but it rolled into the first cut.”

Do you ever listen to golfers talk about the golf course layout and feel like they are speaking a different language?

The terms used to describe the golf course layout can be complex, so we’re here to provide you with the knowledge you need to enter the conversation.

Before you know it, you will be speaking fluent golf.

Below we define all parts of a golf course layout. We also cover the different types of golf courses you will play.

The better you understand the golf course the better you can play it.

Let’s get started!

A distance shot showing many male and female golfers practicing their putting.

Golf Course Layout – The Basics

If you have played the game you probably know these parts of a golf course.

Practice Green

This may be the first thing you encounter when you visit the golf course. This is a putting green that will be located near the Pro Shop.

It will have multiple holes and it is designed for your to practice your putting before you play. It is important to learn the speed of the greens before you tee off.

Always arrive at least 30 minutes before your tee time to warm up and spend time on the practice green.

Image taken from ground up, showing two men taking powerful swings on an open driving range.

Driving Range

The driving range should be the second place you visit when you arrive at the golf course. It allows you to get loose and practice before you play.

You will purchase golf balls from the Pro Shop that you hit to get ready to play your round.

It is always a good idea to hit some range balls before playing.

Tee Box

You have warmed up on the practice green and the driving range. The tee box is the first part of the golf course layout you will see.

Each hole will have multiple tee boxes that are designed for different levels of ability. They are different colors – red, gold, white, and blue are standard, but courses do get creative.

You select your tee box before you play and on every hole, you play from that color. The tee box is where the hole starts.

Image taken from a height showing a lush, green and hilly golf course and tee box.

Fairway

The fairway is also known as “the short grass”. Your goal should be to hit your drive into the fairway.

The fairway is mowed short and will give you a nice lie for your next shot. Your shots will be easier to hit from the fairway.

Rough

The rough is the long grass on a golf course layout. It will surround the fairway and the greens.

Hitting shots from the rough is much harder than playing from the fairway. If you want to lower your golf handicap, learn how to avoid the rough.

Sand Traps (Bunkers)

Image showing male golfer in orange top take a bunker shot.

Sand traps are placed throughout the golf course to catch offline shots. You will find them near the green or just off the fairway.

Also, known as bunkers, sand traps provide unique challenges to golfers. It often takes players years to learn to master playing from sand traps.

This is part of a golf course layout that separates scratch golfers from high handicappers.

Green

The green is where the hole is located and where you use your putter. This is the shortest grass on the golf course.

The green will be smooth and a well-struck putt will roll into the hole without leaving the ground.

Once you finish putting on the green, you head to the tee box of the next hole.

Golf Course layout – Advanced Terms

You’ve got the basics – time for advanced golf course layout lessons!

Fringe

The fringe is a ring of grass around the green that is slightly longer grass than the green itself. The height of the fringe is similar to the fairway.

You can chip from the fringe, but most players find it easier to putt.

Image showing grass cut at two different lengths to show the different parts of a golf course.

First Cut

First cut is a term used to describe a strip of grass between the fairway and the rough. The grass in the first cut is longer than the fairway but shorter than the rough.

Some golf course layouts don’t have the first cut. You will find it on nicer golf courses. The PGA Tour requires a first cut for their tournaments.

Your ball ending up in the first cut instead of the rough is a good break and makes your next shot much easier.

Waste Bunkers

A waste bunker is a unique type of sand trap. The rules are different for a waste bunker and they require a different type of shot.

Waste bunkers are natural sandy areas, usually very large and often found on links courses. They are typically quite firm.

Unlike regular sand traps/bunkers, you are allowed to ground your club before making your swing.

Diagram showing a 'dogleg' golf course layout. Taken from wikipedia.

Dogleg

A dogleg (image above) is an important component of any golf course layout. It describes the design of a par 4 or par 5.

A “dogleg” is a crooked golf hole, where the fairway is straight for some distance and then bends to the left or right – resembling the hind leg of a dog.

You tee off to a fairway that goes straight until reaching the bend, and then the fairway veers left or right and continues in that direction to the green.

All golf course layouts include several dogleg holes.

Hazards (Penalty Areas)

Hazards are a part of the golf course where you may lose your ball and be forced to take a penalty stroke.

Common golf course layout hazards are lakes, creeks, swamps, and wetlands. They are marked by red or yellow stakes.

Most golfers call them hazards, but the Rules of Golf refer to them as penalty areas.

If you hit your ball into a hazard you will be forced to take a drop and add a 1 stroke penalty. You are allowed to play your shot from a hazard, but typically this is impossible.

Image of an 'out of bounds' sign on a golf course.

Out Of Bounds

If your ball is out of bounds it means you are no longer on the golf course layout.

Out of bounds is marked by white stakes or a white line (painted). Even if you find your ball, you are not allowed to hit a shot from out of bounds.

An out-of-bounds shot will lead to a “stroke and distance” penalty. This means you have to go back, hit your last shot over, and add 1 penalty stroke.

Hitting a shot out of bounds will lead to a big score on that hole (at least double bogey).

Types of Golf Course Layouts

Different types of golf courses have different components. If you know the type of golf course you are playing you can understand what to expect.

A scratch golfer might even change what clubs they bring based on the type of course they are playing that day.

Let’s talk about the 3 primary types of golf courses you will play.

Image of a hilly Scottish links course at sunrise.

Links Course

You will find “links style” courses all around the world, but the true links golf courses are located in Scotland, England, and Ireland.

Typically located on the coast, links golf forces the player to handle wind and potentially rain.

A links golf course layout will include sandy soil, dunes/mounding, and plenty of bunkers. You will not find many hazards or trees on a links course.

A links golf course has a natural feel. The golf course layout is consistent with the natural landscape versus being manipulated by the architect that built the course.

To be successful on a links golf course you will need to be able to control the trajectory of your shots. Keep the ball under the wind.

Parkland Course

Parkland courses are built inland, away from the ocean. They typically have lush grass and a lot of trees framing the holes.

The majority of golf courses used by the PGA and LPGA tour for professional events would be referred to as Parkland. They are popular in the United States.

Most people would say the most famous Parkland golf course is Augusta National, the host of The Masters each April.

Image of a heathland golf course layout, lots of unkempt trees and shrubs!

Heathland Course

A Heathland can be best described as a golf course layout with components of both Links and Parkland.

Another way to describe Heathland is to say they are links-style, but not on the coast and typically do have some trees.

What can you expect to encounter on a Heathland course? You will find sandy soil, heather and gorse bushes, and trees.

You won’t experience as much wind as a Links course, but Heathland courses are typically a more “natural” golf course layout than a Parkland.

Parkland courses are often designed by moving dirt around and creating holes. Heathland and Links courses use the property without manipulating it.

Image showing a man observe his shot after taking a swing.

Next Up: Learn About The Golf Equipment You Need.

Photo of author
Ray has played golf for over 30 years and competed at the collegiate level. He enjoys growing the game of golf through coaching PGA Jr. and High School golf teams. Ray continues to play in local amateur golf events and currently has a +1 handicap.

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