Explaining the Meaning of 'Bite' in Golf

"Bite! Bite!" Golfers sometimes yell that at a golf ball in flight. Or a television announcer might say, "She's going to have to get this one to bite fast if she's playing to that part of the green."

What does "bite" mean in golf? Every golfer learns the term pretty quickly. But if you're a newbie, or just a casual fan who heard the term used on TV, you might not know it yet. So let's take a bite out of the golf definition of bite.

Most simply put, "bite" refers to a golf ball having spin such that when it hits the green, rather than rolling out some distance, it quickly comes to a stop. A golf shot that possesses that bite will hit the green and quickly stop, perhaps with just one or two short hops.

Most golf balls played by recreational golfers don't have bite, and most of our shots don't "bite," because we don't put enough spin on the ball. But better golfers, with crisper swings, higher swing speeds, and proper technique, produce a lot of spin when they strike the golf ball. And they can even vary the type of spin they put on the ball — sidespin, backspin — despending on how they want the ball to react when it hits the green. (Conditions on the putting surface matter a great deal, too, as does the type of lie a golfer has before playing a shot. Even hitting the ball perfectly, in other words, it's not entirely up to the great golfer how the ball will react when it hits the surface.)

In his book Power Golf (affiliate link), Ben Hogan stated about pro golfers, "... we can put plenty of bite on the ball with our short irons and it stays on the green almost where we want it."

A golfer who plays a shot and wants the ball to stop quickly as soon as it hits the green might yell out to the ball, "bite!" as a hopeful command.

In that usage, "bite" is a verb: hit the green and stop. An announcer saying, "she needs some bite on this shot," is using "bite" as a noun: the quality of having the spin that produces such action on the green.

Golfers have some fun slang terms for bite, too. "I need to vampire this one," for example, and the related, "grow some fangs!" or "grow some teeth!" shouted to a ball in flight. "That ball has some biscuspids," one golfer might say to another who just got his ball to bite on the green. And "overbite" is a shot with a lot of bite.

The opposite of bite is "release" — a ball that "releases" after hitting the green is one that is rolling.

"Bite" can also be applied to the putting greens themselves. If a golfer says, "this green has a lot of bite," he means the green is playing soft and slow, so a ball that hits it will not roll very far after impact.

"Bite" is not a new entry into the golf lexicon. It has been around at least since the latter stages of the 1800s.

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