Golf Definition of 'Track': How Golfers Use the Term

And Is It 'Track' or 'Tract'?

Aerial view of a golf course in Hawaii
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In golf, "track" is most commonly used as another word for a golf course. More specifically, "track" can refer to the layout or routing of the holes that make up the golf course: how the holes are arranged and flow through the land on which the course sits.

Key Takeaways

  • In golf, the word "track" applies to the route the golf course takes and, more generally, can be applied to the full golf course itself.
  • A goat track, dog track, or similar term is a derogatory term for a poorly maintained golf course.

Is It 'Track' or 'Tract'?

You'll sometimes see "tract" used in this same way. The word "tract" refers to a large area of land, or even a geographic region. A golf course certainly qualifies as a "tract of land."

But "track" is the correct term when we are talking about this usage by golfers. Why track? Think of the way the golf course is routed through the land the same way you'd think about a Formula One race track. It's the path the golfers follow to get from the No. 1 tee box to the No. 18 green.

As for how golfers use track in this way, here are a few usage examples:

  • "That's a tough track."
  • "Pebble Beach is a great track."
  • "Whoever put this track together knew what they were doing."
  • "This track was built on a really nice tract of land."

Goat Track and Dog Track

These are slang terms golfers use for a poorly maintained golf course. "I played Golf Course X last week and it was a real goat track."

This usage does not refer to the quality of the golf course design, but rather to the way holes are maintained. If a good golf course has been allowed to deteriorate in condition — poorly cared for greens, bare patches in the fairways, hardpan lies, and so on — then "dog track" or "goat track" might be applied. "That course used to be in great shape but they let it turn into a dog track."

This usage stems from the paths worn in grass or pastureland by animals such as goats, or the path a dog might wear into a back yard as it runs around a fenced perimeter.

Other Golf Meanings of 'Track'

There are a couple other ways golfers use the term (or forms of the term) "track." The most-common of these alternate meanings is a directional usage. When you hear a golfer (or golf announcer) say that a ball is "tracking," they mean that the golf ball is headed where the golfer wants it to go.

For example, a ball that is putted on the green:

  • "That ball is tracking" or "she has it on the right track" or "his putt is tracking the hole" all mean that the golf ball is traveling on the line the golfer intended.
  • Likewise for a ball that is airborne, as in the example, "Her approach shot is tracking the flagstick."

There's also an archaic golf club called a "track iron." Track iron is another name for a niblick; the name derived from the use of such clubs to dig golf balls out of tracks, or ruts, on golf courses of old.