Meaning of 'Away' In Golf (You're Away, Who's Away)

On a golf course you'll often hear golfers ask, "Who's away?" or hear one say to another, "You're away." What does that mean, anyway? If you're a beginner you might not yet be familiar with the golf usage of "away."

And here's what it means in that golf usage: "away" refers to the golfer whose golf ball is farthest from the hole on the green. "Away" and "out" ("Who's out?" "You're out.") are interchangeable in that usage.

Simple enough. Why does it matter who is "away"? The traditional order of play in golf is that the golfer whose ball is farthest from the hole is the one who plays the next stroke.

So asking "who's away" is a way of asking, "who's next to play?" Saying, "you're away" is a way of telling another golfer it is their turn to play.

On the teeing ground, order of play is determined based on scores on the previous hole: the lower scorer tees off first, then the second-best scorer from the previous hole, and so on. Once all tee balls are played, however, the traditional order of play is that the golfer who is "away" plays the next stroke.

That doesn't necessarily mean that the order of play rotates, either. A golfer who is away and plays the next stroke might — if they play a particularly bad shot or bad putt — still be away. In which case, they would go again.

We've used the term "traditional order of play" a couple times, and there's a reason we stress "traditional." In the Rules of Golf in effect today, the governing bodies grant permission for golfers to, without penalty, play out of turn in order to speed up pace of play. This is known as "ready golf," as in the golfer who is ready to play her stroke can just go ahead and play.

(Related: Is there a penalty for playing out of order?)

It is still considered good etiquette in stroke play to base order of play on the idea of "away." However, if all members of your group agree to play ready golf, you needn't abide by "away." And in match play? Again, the governing bodies today give two opponents in a match the right to agree to play ready golf. But without such an agreement, a golfer who is not away but plays anyway is playing out of order, and his opponent can make him re-play the shot.

So, to recap: "Away" means farthest from the hole, and the golfer who is away (unless everyone has agreed to play ready golf) is the one who plays the next stroke.

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