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Simplifying the Rules of Golf (The origin of "Fore" and why we use it)

Elaine Carson
Teaching Professional
The Perfect Swing Golf School
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Butler, Pa. 16001
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The etymology for the word “Fore!” is not absolutely certain. The Oxford English Dictionary records its first use in 1878 as a warning cry to people in front of a golf stroke and, like most people, believes it is an abbreviation of the word ‘before’. There is an earlier reference in 1857 in a glossary of golfing terms. Its origin is almost certainly earlier and bound up with that of the word Caddie.-

From Forecaddie! to Fore!
Because golf balls were expensive, golfers employed “Forecaddies” to stand where the ball might land and reduce the number of lost balls, as is done in tournaments today.

In 1824 the Rules of the Thistle Golf Club recount a conversation which a youthful Mr Tytler of Woodhouselee, an ‘Antiquary’ in Edinburgh, had with the aged Andrew Dickson when he said that he had performing this role for the Duke of York in 1681 at Leith Links.

Dickson was then performing the duty of what is now commonly called a fore-cady.

Robert Clark repeated the story in his history in 1875 as ‘what is now commonly called a fore-caddie’

It is probable that golfers shouted to their ‘Forecaddie!’, who would always be some distance ahead to draw attention to the fact the ball was coming and, in time, this was shortened to ‘Fore! The almost contemporaneous appearance of the terms caddie, fore-caddie and Fore! supports this theory over the others.

Shoot over their heads!
A second explanation, still given by the USGA, derives from the military battle craft of musket days, when rank after rank would fire fusillades, some over the heads of those in front. It was speculated that the term Fore! might have been used to warn those in front to keep their heads down. Modern historians pour cold water on this theory, partly because it is difficult to relate it to a Scottish golf connection and partly because the relevant military terms used do not bear any relation. However, this theory may in fact be a misunderstanding.


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