'Fair Green': The Original Golf Term for the Fairway

What today golfers call the fairway was originally called the fair green

Did you know that the fairway on golf courses wasn't always called the "fairway"? The original term was "fair green," or "fairgreen." It sounds weird, doesn't it?

Today, every golfer knows the three main components of the golf hole are the teeing area, the fairway and the green. But back in the day, golfers knew those areas as the teeing ground, fair green, and putting green. There were two "greens" in the game.

What time period are we talking about for the use of fairgreen? The use of that term extended into the 20th century.

The source for the information we are sharing in this article is the book The Historical Dictionary of Golfing Terms (affiliate link). That book points out the use of "fair green" for today's fairway goes back centuries in golf. The earliest citation in the book (which doesn't mean the term wasn't used even earlier) is from 1744.

Several uses of "fair green" from the late 1800s are included, as is this instance of the term being used all the way up in 1926: "One player's ball might fight a good lie within a foot of the fair green. ... These are the days of the divot takers and fairgreen butchers."

Now, just because fair green remained in use into the 20th century does not mean that "fairway" was not being used by that time. It was. "Fairway" originally was a nautical term, according to the same golf dictionary, which meant "a clear channel between rocks or shallows." Fairway, in its nautical sense, is still used today to mean a navigable channel in a river or harbor. That nautical use of "fairway" dates to the 1400s.

The term "fairway" in its golf sense overtook "fair green" in the early part of the 1900s. And when fairway started to be used in place of fair green, the switch happened quickly. By the time of the 1926 citation of "fair green" quoted above, that term would have already been considered archaic, with almost every golfer preferring "fairway."

So, there you have it: An interesting golf lexicon history. But it's still important today to know what the "fairgreen" was if you do any reading in old golf books.

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