If you’ve ever played golf or watched golf on TV, then you’ve no doubt heard someone yell “Fore!” after hitting a shot. The reason why might be obvious to some people, but for a lot of folks new to golf, why golfers yell “Fore!” is a bit of a mystery.
Further still, why golfers started yelling “Fore!” in the first place is very much a mystery to even experienced players.
Why golfers yell “Fore!”
Golfers yell “Fore!” when they hit a shot so bad or so far offline that their flying golf ball could land very close to or strike golfers located elsewhere on the golf course. For professional golfers, they also yell “Fore!” to indicate if they’ve hit a ball that’s going to potentially hit someone in the gallery watching them play.
Often times, golfers yell “Fore!” along with the direction in which their ball is heading to make it clearer where the ball is going and to target which people need to be paying most attention.
Many times, pro golfers will also point in the direction in which their ball is heading so those who may not hear them shout from hundreds of yards away could at least see them pantomime and know that they should be on the lookout for an incoming ball.
There are also lots of pro golfers who tragically do not yell, instead only pointing and relying on volunteers and others in the crowd to yell on their behalf. That is poor etiquette.
Why did golfer start yelling “Fore!”
We’re not entirely sure how the term “Fore!” came to be the signal that an incoming stray golf ball was on its way. However, we do know that there are a number of theories.
Since golf started in Scotland, perhaps as soon as the 15th century, there’s a Scottish story attributed to John Knox, a protestant reformer and avid writer. In his defense of his town, he told people to “ware before” to get out of the way of friendly gunfire behind them, which may have ultimately been shortened to “fore” as a way of telling people to beware and on guard. Knox defended the town of Leith, and there was a golf course there, so that could make some sense.
The first known caddie came from Leith, too, back in a 1681 match of Scottish and English golfers, with local boy Andrew Dickson serving as the Duke of York’s caddie.
The term caddie is a shortening of the term forecaddie, which meant the person that went ahead of the golfer to hunt for their ball once struck. Another theory contends yelling “Fore!” was designed to warn the forecaddie that the ball was going in a particularly bad direction. That’s a more likely explanation, even though now there’s a difference between a forecaddie and a caddie.