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Why do players yell “fore!” in golf and what does it mean?

You hear it on golf courses all over the world, although they don’t say “cuatro” in Spain or “quatre” in French, mainly because the word has nothing to do with a number.

Joseph McMahon
Joseph McMahon
You hear it on golf courses all over the world, although they don’t say “cuatro” in Spain or “quatre” in French, mainly because the word has nothing to do with a number.

If you hear someone shout “fore!” in the U.K. or the U.S., you know you should probably take cover (and the same goes for “bola!” in Spain or “balle!” in France). When you have played enough golf, you know just what to do when you hear someone shout “fore!”: turn away from where the shout came from and cover your head. It’s a common drill on most public courses, where amateurs are likely to get the most for their money by seeing all of the course they’ve paid for: left rough, right rough and sometimes even the fairway.

But it happens to the pros too. It must be difficult to make those 300-yard drives go straight all the time, like with Bryson DeChambeau’s shot at the JP McManus Pro-Am in Ireland, where there Irish onlookers warned fans up ahead of the wayward shot.

Where does this tradition come from?

So, who started shouting “fore”? It’s not 100% clear why golfers started shouting “fore!” when hitting an errant shot. Some golf historians claim that it is because golfers used to use “Forecaddies” 200 - 300 years ago to go ahead of the shots to watch where their ball was heading. Golf balls aren’t cheap now and they weren’t cheap then either. Course conditions also made finding balls very difficult, so, “fore!” was a way of telling the forecaddies that a ball was coming their way.

Others claim the term came from the anglicized way of saying “Faugh a Ballagh!, " which comes from Gaelic and was an Irish battle cry for “clear the way!” That idea might not be too far from the truth because other historians think there is a military connection and believe the word came from gunners shouting “fore!” to let the men in front know that shots were coming and to stay down.

When to shout “fore!”

It isn’t necessary to shout “fore!” everytime you hit a bad shot. If that were the case, you wouldn’t hear anything else on a golf course and the term would lose all of its meaning. The idea is to warn the golfers ahead of you if your ball is going in their direction. Shouting “fore!” isn’t a get-out-of-jail-free card either, meaning just because you yell it, doesn’t mean that the other golfers will be happy with a ball landing near them.

You should always make sure the players in front of you are out of range with whatever club you may be using at the time. If the members of your foursome are behind you when you hit and the group in front of you is out of range, the only players who might get hit with a wild shot are those playing holes parallel to where you are.

Some things to remember when you are on a golf course:

If you see your ball, or your playing partner’s ball, heading to an area where other players are located, make sure to loudly shout “fore!” to warn them.

When you hear someone shout “fore!” in your direction, turn your back to where you think the ball is coming from and cover your head. Getting hit by a ball is not a nice experience, but remember, if you do get hit by an errant shot, try to keep calm and keep in mind that it was just an accident.

It’s important to communicate on the course and let others know if they are in danger and it’s something you’ll appreciate if a stray ball is heading your way. Bad shots can happen to the best of us.