What Is a 'Duffer' in Golf?

And Should You Be Insulted If You're Called One?

A duffer hit her shot into the rough
Ah, the poor duffer, always missing the fairway ... Jetta Productions/Photodisc/Getty Images

"Duffer" is a colloquial or slang term within golf for a mediocre or poor golfer. Some non-golfers use "duffer" as a synonym for "golfer," but that's not correct. Duffer doesn't apply to all golfers, just to those who aren't among the better golfers. (In his Golf for Dummies instructional book, Gary McCord defines duffer as simply "bad player.")

Key Takeaways

  • "Duffer" is a term golfers apply to poor golfers — those among us who score the highest.
  • The term is descriptive if applied to higher-handicappers and recreational golfers, but will be insulting if misapplied to a good golfer.
  • "Duffer" and "hacker" are synonymous, although hacker is the slightly more negative term.

Is 'Duffer' Derogatory?

The term can be derogatory, but it doesn't have to be and often isn't depending on the context.

If you say, for example, that "most of the golfers who play this golf course are duffers," there's nothing really insulting about that. After all, for most public golf courses, the majority of golfers on it will be mediocre to poor players (higher handicappers, in other words — recreational golfers, most of whom never break 100). And there's nothing wrong with that!

However, if you call a good golfer — a low-handicapper — a duffer, then the term becomes derogatory. And woe unto him who makes the mistake of referring to a golf pro as a "duffer," or using "duffer" as a synonym for "golfer."

We once knew a sports reporter (who didn't play golf) who called his city's golf course pros "duffers" in a newspaper article, thinking he was just using another term for "golfers." Big mistake! Those pros were, rightfully, not happy about it.

Are a 'Duffer' and a 'Hacker' the Same Thing?

Duffer is somewhat synonymous with "hacker" in that they both apply to weaker players. But hacker is the stronger, more derogatory term. See our examination of the golf use of 'hacker' for more discussion about this.

What Is the Golf Origin of 'Duffer'?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary's second definition for "duffer" is "an incompetent, ineffectual, or clumsy person; especially: a mediocre golfer." Non-golf meanings of the term (again, citing Merriam-Webster) include "a peddler, especially of cheap flashy articles;" and "something counterfeit or worthless."

So the term does not originate with golf. But how did it come to be a golf word? In golf, the term's origin is likely aligned with that of "duff," which is sometimes used to indicate a mishit ("Bob duffed his chip shot"). A "duff" in golf is synonymous with a flub, a screw-up — a chili dip, even.

The Historical Dictionary of Golfing Terms cites a usage of duffer from 1875, so the term goes back at least to the 19th century in golf.