Most golfers dream of the day they can knock every drive down the fairway, every fairway shot onto the green and so on. Unfortunately, even for professionals, errant shots are a byproduct of a game as precise as golf. Golf is also a sport of etiquette, which is why a special term has been coined that golfers should use the next time they hit an errant shot near other players.
Any time a golfer hits a shot he believes could potentially strike another golfer, that golfer is to yell out, "fore." It is viewed as a form of proper golf etiquette to do so.
How to React
The moment a golfer hears "fore" yelled out on a course, she should immediately place her head down and cover it with her arms to prevent injury. Getting behind a tree or other hazard is beneficial as well.
Origin and Meaning
"Fore" is another term for "ahead," and, thus, is simply a more abbreviated way to yell "look out ahead" to unsuspecting golfers. This shortening of the term is necessary due to a golf ball's velocity once struck by a club. However, according to the USGA, "fore" is Scottish in origin, and can also be viewed as a shortened version of "before" or "afore." Golfers began using the term as early as the 18th century. The term has other potential roots as well. One meaning comes from shipping, as in "fore" (ahead) and "aft" (behind). Another has military origins; soldiers would yell "beware before," alerting their comrades to drop to the ground, before shooting. "Fore" also has roots in the game itself. A forecaddie follows golfers around the course, assisting in course navigation and shot location. When a member of a group hits an errant shot, the forecaddie used to yell out the full term, before shortening it to a simple "fore."
The word "fore" has even come into play in legal cases. A New York appeals court in 2009 ruled that a Long Island golfer had no legal obligation to yell "fore" after hitting a shot that blinded a friend in one eye. The state Appellate Division held in Anand v. Kapoor (2007) that Anoop Kapoor could not be held liable to Azad Anand for ignoring one of the "universally recognized" customs of golf before he shanked a ball into Dr. Anand's left eye.
Sometimes after hitting an errant shot that may be a danger to other players, a golfer -- not having much time to think -- will yell out a term besides fore. These could be "left," "right," "down," or even a simple, "look out." Whatever the term, upon hearing any term that could be similar to "fore," cover the head and keep the head down.