What Is a 'Hanging Lie' in Golf?

"Hanging lie" is one of those golf terms that sometimes means different things to different people. In all cases, though, it refers to playing a shot when the golf ball is sitting on a slope.

In the broad sense, "hanging lie" can be thought of as a synonym for uneven lie, sloping lie or sidehill lie. In the situation where your golf ball is sitting on a slope, the level of your feet is probably going to be different than the level that the golf ball sits at, because of that slope. Your feet will likely be above or below the golf ball.

In his book Golf For Dummies (affiliate link), former PGA Tour player and broadcaster Gary McCord defined hanging lie as, "Your ball is on a slope, lying either above or below your feet."

However, not all golfers agree that hanging lie can refer to both cases: the ball lying either above or below your feet. There are more golfers who limit the meaning of hanging lie to golf balls that lie below one's feet than there are who believe it only applies to balls lying above one's feet.

In our experience, the most commonly used definitions of hanging lie today, in order, are:

  1. A ball sitting on a slope, either below or above your feet when your take your stance.
  2. A ball sitting on a slope, with the ball below your feet.
  3. A ball sitting on a slope, with the ball above your feet.
Definition No. 2 used to be the most common, but we feel the first definition is now used by more golfers.

The Original Meaning of 'Hanging Lie'

golfer setting up for a hanging lie

When "hanging lie" first entered the golf lexicon — and it was being used by golfers at least by the 1850s — it had a much more specific meaning that doesn't really fit perfectly into any of the three definitions above.

The Historical Dictionary of Golfing Terms (affiliate link) gives the original meaning as a golf ball "situated on ground that slopes down in the direction of the line of play." So when a golfer was playing a ball that was sitting on a downslope, and the slope was running down in the same direction as the target line, that was a hanging lie.

That use, the dictionary explained, was from an old landscaping use of the term "hanging" to refer to ground on a steep slope. A "hanging meadow" was a meadow on sloping ground, a "hanging woods" referred to trees on a slope. And in a hanging lie, the ball was hanging on, rather than running down that slope it was sitting on.

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