Different Types of Lies in Golf and Other Meanings of the Term

Corey Pavin's bad lie under the lip of a bunker in the 1992 US Open
That is a terrible lie.

Gary Newkirk/Getty Images

All golfers lie. No, no, we don't mean lying about one's score (although many golfers do that, too). We're talking about the several different uses of the simple word "lie." This common, little word is used by golfers when talking about the position of their golf ball, their score or their golf clubs. So let's go over each golf-usage of "lie."

'Lie' on the Golf Course

The first is simply where the golf ball sits. A golfer's lie is the location of the golf ball at rest. In this usage, the term typically refers to the quality of the ball's position; i.e., "do you have a good lie or bad lie?" or "how is your lie?" Meaning, is the ball sitting on top of healthy fairway grass? (good lie); or, the opposite, has the ball sunk down into some think rough (a terrible lie)?

Golfers often combine "lie" with an adjective to form different descriptive phrases for specific types of lies (good, bad or otherwise). Some of the most common combos:

  • Hanging Lie: "Hanging lie" typically refers to a golf ball that is sitting on some kind of side slope or small decline so that the ball is below the level of the golfer's feet. (Although some golfers also use "hanging lie" to mean a ball sitting above one's feet.)
  • Flyer Lie: A "flyer" is an approach shot that travels (or flies) farther than intended, often causing the golfer to overshoot the target by a good amount. A "flyer lie" is any type of lie that produces a flyer shot - most commonly a lie in the rough where the ball is sitting up in the rough, on top of grass, making it hard to judge how the ball will come out after impact. (Some golfers, though, use "flyer lie" to describe balls sitting down in rough, but that is becoming a less common usage.)
  • Hardpan Lie: Hardpan is any spot in fairways, rough or other playing areas other than hazards where the ground is very hard due to compacting of the soil. The term is particularly applied to hard, bare patches of dirt, but it equally applies to grassed areas where the grass is closely mown on top of very compact soil. With a hardpan lie, the golfer will have a difficult time getting the club under the ball to take a divot. The golf club, upon striking the hard ground, will often bounce up, resulting in many shots hit thin.
  • Uneven Lies: A catch-all category that includes sidehill lies (ball on the side of an incline), uphill lies (ball on the upward face of an incline with the golfer's feet below the level of the ball) and downhill lies (ball on a downward slope with the golfer's feet higher than the level of the ball).
  • Tight Lie: A "tight lie" is what a golfer faces with his or her golf ball sits on ground with very little grass underneath. The ball is very tight to the ground with little room to get the golf club's leading edge through what grass there is.
  • Cuppy Lie: When the ball is stitting down slightly, as if in (or actually in) a slight depression.
  • Fluffy Lie: When the ball is sitting up on top of longish grass, which can lead to a golfer swinging the clubhead underneath the ball, catching little (or even none) of the golf ball.

There is also the term "preferred lies," which refers to a local rule that allows, under certain conditions, golfers to move their golf ball out of specific poor lies. Another term for preferred lies is "winter rules."

'Lie' as Scoring Shorthand

A second meaning of "lie" refers to the number of strokes it took the golf ball to get to where it now sits. For example, "what do you lie?" is a questions that means, "how many strokes have you used to reach this point?" "I'm lying 3" means "I've used three strokes in advancing the ball to this point."

'Lie' in Golf Clubs

And "lie" is also shorthand for "lie angle," which refers to the angle of the shaft relative to the sole of the golf club as it is properly grounded. For best results, the lie angle of a golfer's clubs should match the type of swing he has; depending on the type of swing, a golfer might benefit from a higher lie angle or a lower lie angle. In this context, "lie" is typically used when talking about making the lie angle more or less: "I changed the lie of my irons"; "customization options include loft and lie." See our lie angle explainer for more on this.