If you’ve ever spent long enough on the golf course, you no doubt would have heard the word ‘fore’ echo across the fairways at one point or another.
It’s always funny hearing the different ways players accentuate the word: some shriek it; some bellow it out in a low, grumbling baritone; while I’ve even heard people’s voices break and crack as the phrase leaves their lips.
But while this can generate a good laugh among you and your playing partners, the reason for yelling ‘fore’ on the golf course is deadly serious – and can lead to horrible consequences if all players don’t abide by this unwritten rule.
In this article, I’ll explain exactly why golfers yell ‘fore’ on the course, where the word originated from, and what can happen if you decide not to yell it after hitting a wayward shot.
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Where did ‘fore’ originate from in golf?
The exact origin of ‘fore’ in golf is not certain, however a common belief is it’s a shortened version of the word ‘forecaddie’. This was the name used in the 1800s for someone who would wait downfield of the golfer, and stand where their ball landed to prevent it from being lost in the rough.
It is believed that players would yell to their forecaddie to alert them to the incoming ball, and over time began abbreviating the word as they shouted – hence shortening ‘forecaddie!’ to ‘fore!’.
Another suggestion relates to the word ‘fore’ as a prefix, indicating that something is ‘ahead’ or ‘in front of’ (e.g. foremost, foretold).
In this application, yelling ‘fore’ could simply be a shorter way of saying ‘watch out ahead’, however the true origin of the word, as it relates to golf, will always be open to interpretation and speculation.
Why do golfers yell ‘fore’ on the course?
Golfers yell ‘fore’ on the course to warn other players that a ball is headed their way, as the result of a wayward shot. While players usually yell ‘fore’ off the tee, it can also be shouted anywhere on the course where an errant shot may potentially endanger another golfer.
In a nutshell, screaming ‘fore’ is the universal warning on the golf course to alert other players – or spectators, as is seen at professional tournaments – that a ball may be sailing in their direction.
Regardless of whether you speak English or not, the cry of ‘fore’ is something that every golfer around the world understands perfectly, and gives them time to duck for cover and protect themselves when they hear it.
When should you yell ‘fore’ on the golf course?
In golf, you should yell ‘fore’ as soon as your ball is headed towards an adjacent fairway or other players – regardless of whether you can see them, or not. You should always assume the golf course is busy and shout ‘fore’ if your ball is sailing offline and onto a neighbouring hole.
One of the biggest pet peeves I have on the golf course is when players don’t yell ‘fore’ after hitting an errant tee shot – either because they simply don’t want to; because they are too shy; or because they falsely think that there is no-one playing the adjacent fairway.
There’s even been occasions when I’ve had to shout it for them, which is something you should never have to do for your playing partners.
Not only is it extremely poor etiquette on their behalf, it can be very dangerous.
A hard and fast rule is: if you hit a shot and your ball does not look like it is going to land on the fairway or green that you are playing, it is your obligation to yell ‘fore’, regardless of whether another player is in sight or not.
Visibility isn’t always great on the golf course; there are usually lots of trees, hills and blind landing zones – meaning it may not be easy to spot other players (especially if they’re trudging through the deep rough trying to find where their own ball has landed).
It is for this reason that when you hit a wayward shot, you should assume your ball is headed towards someone and always yell ‘fore’ as a warning.
How loud should I yell ‘fore’ on the golf course?
In golf, you should yell ‘fore’ loud enough so that it is clearly audible to players on neighbouring fairways. ‘Fore’ is shouted to warn other golfers that a wayward ball is headed in their direction, so it needs to be loud and clear – and yelled as early as possible.
One thing beginner golfers often neglect when they first take up the game is to yell ‘fore’ loud enough so that others can hear them (although, I’ve seen plenty of experienced players neglect this too – much to my annoyance).
Joining a club and playing with different people each week can be intimidating for those new to the game, and this can sometimes be a reason why they are a little shy when it comes to shouting ‘fore’ on the course.
But, if you want to play golf, you need to get over your insecurities and yell ‘fore’ loud and clear – scream it, if you have to – as soon as you see your ball headed towards another hole.
No-one is going to judge you; in fact, other players will appreciate you looking out for them and often thank you for warning them.
What happens if I don’t yell ‘fore’ in golf?
If you don’t yell ‘fore’ on the golf course, you put other players at greater risk of being hit by an errant shot. Shouting ‘fore’ is a universal way to warn other golfers that a ball is potentially heading towards them, and failing to do so can lead to them being struck and injured.
Golfers understand that during a round, there’s a good chance you’ll spray a ball towards another fairway at least once (we’re all human).
While most players will accept being struck if they heard a loud, early call of ‘fore’ but were simply unlucky not to avoid it, I can guarantee players will be supremely pissed off if your ball strikes them without you shouting ‘fore’ to warn them.
I know this because I once took a golf ball to the chest from a player who sprayed his tee shot onto my fairway but didn’t call ‘fore’ – meaning I had no idea it was heading my way, and was given zero chance to try and evade it.
If you’ve been in this situation, the follow-up conversation usually goes like this:
Player at fault: ‘Oh sorry about that, I didn’t know you were playing this fairway’.
Player who has been struck: ‘That’s the whole point of yelling fore. Why didn’t you shout it?’
Player at fault: **Offers up some sheepish excuse, knowing they are in the wrong**
It’s fair to say I wasn’t laughing when the guy came up to me to apologise – I was lucky the ball hit me in the chest and not the face, where the damage would’ve been far worse.
So, if you want to avoid awkward conversations like this on the golf course – or even worse, a potential lawsuit if you manage to break the nose of a cashed-up retiree with a good lawyer – then yell ‘fore’ every time you hit a wayward shot.
Do the pros yell ‘fore’ on the PGA and European Tours?
Yes, professional golfers are supposed to yell ‘fore’ if they hit wayward shots towards other players or spectators, however not all of them do. The PGA and European Tours have designated markers who signal the direction of the ball off the tee, which may be why some players don’t shout ‘fore’.
Big bomber Bryson DeChambeau came under criticism in 2021 for not shouting ‘fore’ enough while sailing drives into the crowds at PGA events, but defended his actions by arguing yelling ‘fore’ may actually be more dangerous for patrons.
Regardless of whether they think their ball is going to hit someone or not – DeChambeau contended that his drives would clear spectators lined along the fairways, so there was no need to warn them – Tour players should still yell ‘fore’ if people are in the firing line.
Similarly, if you’re attending a professional golf event, make sure you keep your eyes on players teeing off – and also watch the markers as they will indicate the direction of the ball as soon as it gets airborne.
Being responsible for your own personal safety, rather than relying on the pros, at a golf tournament is the best way to minimise your risk of being struck by a stray shot.
Shouting ‘fore’ is something every golfer must do when they hit a wayward shot in order to protect other players from potential injury.
While some golfers – especially newbies to the game – may be a little timid when it comes to bellowing ‘fore’ across the fairways, it is something they have to overcome and is a non-negotiable when teeing it up.
After all, no-one should have to cop a golf ball to the face when you’re the one who hit the poor shot in the first place.