Why Do Golfers Yell 'Fore!' for Errant Shots?

Looking at how the word 'fore' entered the golf lexicon

Golfer yells fore to warn others ahead to watch out for an errant shot
Golfers yell 'Fore!' to warn golfers or other people ahead to watch out for an errant golf ball. Fredrik Skold/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

"Fore" is another word for "ahead" or "forward" (think of a ship's fore and aft). And in golf, yelling "fore" is simply a shorter way to yell "watch out ahead" (or "watch out before"). It allows golfers to be forewarned, in other words.

Screaming "fore!" after a bad shot that might be hurtling towards another golfer or group of golfers is one of the quickest pieces of golf behavior that every beginner learns.

Likewise, ducking when you hear another golfer yelling "fore!" is picked up pretty early, too.

But why "fore"? Why that word? How did "fore" become a warning cry in golf?

The fact is that nobody knows for sure how fore turned into a golf warning. But there are two theories that are most prominent, so let's look at both.

When Did Golfers Start Using 'Fore' As a Warning?

"Fore" is in use by golfers around the world. One reason is that its use goes back a long time.

The British Golf Museum cites an 1881 reference to "fore" in a golf book, establishing that the term was already in use at that early date. The Merriam-Webster dictionary pegs the beginning of the golf use of fore to 1878.

But we know it goes back even farther. The website ScottishGolfHistory.org cites a golf glossary published in 1857 that included fore. It's reasonable to assume that its use predates that 1857 mention by a couple decades, maybe more.

So "fore" has been part of golf for a long time.

Theory 1: 'Fore!' Evolved from 'Forecaddie'

Historians at the British Golf Museum (and many others) have surmised that the term "fore," as a warning in golf, evolved from "forecaddie."

A forecaddie is a person who accompanies a grouping of golfers around the golf course, going forward on each hole to be in a position to pinpoint the locations of the group members' shots.

If a member of the group hits an errant shot, the forecaddie tracks down the ball and lets the golfer know its location.

In the early days of golf, golf balls were handmade, always custom-ordered and, therefore, expensive. Losing a golf ball was a real hit to the pocketbook well into the 1800s. So the forecaddie's role in olden times was even more important to golfers.

The most plausible theory about the evolution of "fore" as a golf term is that it is a shortening of "forecaddie." A golfer who hit an errant shot, the theory goes, yelled to the forecaddie to make sure they were watching and tracking. Perhaps they originally yelled out "forecaddie," but, ultimately, the shortened version "fore" is what caught on.

Theory 2: 'Fore!' Has a Military Origin

Another popular theory, one cited by the USGA Museum, is that the term has a military origin. In warfare of the 17th and 18th century (a time period when golf was really taking hold in Britain), infantry advanced in formation while artillery batteries fired from behind, over the heads of the infantrymen. An artilleryman about to fire would yell "beware before," alerting nearby infantrymen to drop to the ground to avoid the shells screaming overhead.

So when golfers misfired and sent their missiles - golf balls - screaming off target, "beware before" was shortened to "fore."

Those are the two theories most commonly cited, but, as noted, nobody knows with certainty how fore became a golf term.

What can be said with certainty, however, is that the term does originate in the fact that "fore" means "ahead" or "before," and, used by a golfer, is a warning to those ahead that a golf ball is coming their way.

Return to Golf History FAQ index