Golf’s customs are such an integral part of playing the game, it is important that beginners understand golf’s unwritten “code of conduct.” The consequences of not knowing the rules of the game can be embarrassment, irking your playing partners, subjecting you to expulsion from the course (throwing your clubs), not being invited back to play on the course, to dangerous situations (failing to yell “Fore!” when a shot goes awry). Remember, playing a round of golf should be enjoyable for everyone.
Presented here are fundamental do’s and don’ts of golf etiquette. Obviously, it would be next to impossible in this venue to cover all the subtleties of gamesmanship which could be construed as “etiquette,” or lack thereof, so we won’t even attempt answer all possible scenarios. We will cover the basics of golf etiquette, enough to orient a golfer to the basic courtesies they will be expected to know when they step onto the course.
Obey all signs posted on the Course. We recently played on a course that had signs posted “Warning – quicksand.” If you looked at the area, it didn’t look dangerous. Our host confirmed the truth of the signs (they were peat bog quicksand) and told us stories of the rescues that had to be made. This rule is a simple one – obey all posted signs and warnings.
Be courteous, know when to be quiet. When another player is playing his shot, do not talk, do not jangle change in your pocket, do not rattle clubs in your bag, do not take practice swing. Be still, and be quiet. Give the other player a chance to concentrate. It’s worth noting that the time to be quiet begins before the player steps up to his ball.
Golfers with even a small amount of experience go through what is known as a “pre-shot routine,” which usually begins about the time they pull a club from their bag. They might then stand behind their ball and look down the target line before stepping up to the ball and addressing it. It is during this “pre-shot routine” that it is customary and polite for other players to step aside and observe a moment of silence.
On the Tee and in the Fairway
Where do you stand. Do not stand directly behind another player’s intended target line. This is a violation of the rules if the player is your partner, and otherwise it’s distracting because the player can usually see you out of the corner of his/her eye. Do position yourself so that you can observe where the ball goes. Not only is it courteous to watch where their ball goes, but it will speed up play, and potentially save your playing partner the cost of a ball and the lost ball penalty.
Advice and Comments. The basic rule is be always be positive and DON’T offer advice. When you are playing for the first time with someone, be conservative at first about complimenting or critiquing a shot. Follow the lead of his friends, pay attention to his comments, and wait until you have a good understanding of what is a good and bad shot for a particular player. Don’t assume that everyone’s standards are the same as yours.
Let faster groups play through. If you have a gap of more than 2 strokes ahead of you, you are playing too slowly and you may be holding up other golfers behind you. Fortunately there is a solution that will allow you to play at your pace. Invite faster groups to play through, that is, let them go ahead of you.
Know what ball you’re playing. All golf balls have brand names on them along with a number (usually 1, 2, 3 or 4). Know the brand of ball you are playing and the number on it so you can positively identify the ball as yours. Experienced golfers use a permanent marker to put a mark on their ball. Think of your own unique marking, maybe a dot over the brand name, or a series of two or three dots. Mark all the golf balls you’ll be playing your identifying mark. Then if you find another Titleist 3 right next to your Titleist 3, you’ll know which is yours. Always identify a ball as yours before you play it. (Do so without lifting it.) It might belong to the guy who’s playing the hole adjacent to the one you’re on.
Yell FORE! when appropriate. When you hit a ball in the direction of other people on the golf course, you should yell, “Fore!” loud enough so they can hear you. And you should do so to give them plenty of time to cover their heads, not just as the ball is about to land. Getting hit by a golf ball is no fun, and can cause devastating injury, such as loss of an eye, or even death. It’s nothing to fool around with.
Know when it’s your turn and be ready to hit. It is customary for the person who took the fewest strokes on the previous hole to tee off first on the next hole. This is known as “honors.” You’ll often hear someone say, “it’s your honor.” That mean’s you’re first to hit on the tee. Then, after everyone’s ball is in play, the player whose ball is furthest from the hole is expected to play next. If you’re furthest from the hole, then “you’re away,” and it’s your turn. Be ready to play your shot when it’s your turn. Slow play is one of the most annoying problems everyone in golf fights. Don’t slow down play by dilly-dallying to your ball. Be ready to play when it’s your turn. That means if you’re riding a cart and you must keep the carts on paths, take more than one club with you. You may think you have a 7-iron shot on the other side of the fairway, but when you get over there and discover that the little white thing you saw from the other side of the fairway was actually a Milky Way wrapper, and that your ball is actually 175 yards from the hole, you’ll wish you had your 4-iron (or another club). Take a handful. And keep an extra ball in your pocket. Just in case.
Bags, pull carts and riding carts. Know where the cart is. Don’t park it 50 yards in front of the green and leave it there after you pitch on to the green. You’ll have to walk all the way back there when you’re finished putting and the group behind you will have to wait before they hit. Pitch the ball to the green, then go back to the cart and drive it up near the green. If you’ve driven to the green and your ball is off the green, take your chipping club AND your putter. Otherwise, you’ll have to chip, and then walk all the way back to the cart and get your putter, needlessly slowing everyone down. And don’t drive your cart past someone who’s in the middle of their routine. Stop and wait until they’ve hit. A cart whizzing by is just as distracting to a player who’s hitting as having people walking around and talking. More so when the cart is being driven toward them.
Etiquette on the Green
Don’t walk in someone’s line On the greens, be aware of where everyone else’s ball (or mark) is. It is bad form to step on someone’s line. Take the few extra steps to walk around their line, or at the very least, step over it without stepping on it. And if you’re wearing metal spikes, don’t drag your feet! It leaves an uneven surface for the next group to putt on. In case you don’t know, the “line” is the route that the ball will travel on the green from the spot where it stopped to the hole. Mark your ball on the green Keep a ball marker or coin in your pocket to mark your ball’s spot on the green. If your ball is near someone’s line, they’re not going to want to look at your ball and wonder if their’s is going to hit it.
Mark your ball by placing the coin behind it, then lift your ball. The Rules of Golf allow you to remove your ball from the green and clean it (which is a good idea, especially if it picked up a clump of mud). If your coin is in another player’s line, they may request that you move it. Simply pick out a spot in the distance, a tree or a bush or a ball washer–something you can use as a reference point–and place your putter head next to your coin, pointing it in the direction of the reference point. Then simply move your coin one putter-head length. If that’s not enough, move it two putter-head lengths. (Then, be sure to remember to replace your coin in its original position before you replace your own ball.) If you putt/chip your ball near the hole and do not plan to putt out, mark your ball with a coin or ball-marker. Aside from being a distraction, other players will incur a 2 stroke penalty if they play a putt from the green and their ball hits yours. Which brings us to …
Putt Out’s and Gimme’s. There are times when it’s allowable and in fact, courteous to putt out of turn. If your ball rests within inches of the cup, your partners agree, and you will not interfere with another player’s golf ball, you may then putt. It is a courtesy so ask “ok if I putt out?” Agree on the first green what is allowable for gimme’s – that is, close enough to the hole so that time is saved by picking up the ball for an acknowledged stroke. Usually it is within a shaft length of the hole.
Tending the flagstick The Rules of Golf state that a ball which is played from the green must not strike the flagstick. If it does it’s a two-stroke penalty (or, in the case of Match Play, loss of the hole). Therefore, when players are within range to be able to see the hole from their ball, it is customary to remove the flagstick and lay it down somewhere out of play. However, if a player is putting from far enough away that he can’t see the hole, it is customary for someone to “tend” the flagstick. This means you stand beside the hole with your hand on the flagstick, and you remove it after the player strokes his putt and before it reaches the hole. When you tend the flag for someone, stand on the side of the hole so you don’t cast a shadow on the hole (that makes it harder for the player to see the hole).
Balls just off the Green. When a player’s ball is off the green (“off the green” also includes that closely-mowed area around the edge of the green called the “fringe” or the “collar”), he has the option of leaving the flagstick in the hole. Before removing the flagstick, ask the player “how he wants it”–in, out, or tended. If they want it left in, DO NOT remove it as the ball approaches the hole!
Watch your shadow As mentioned before in describing the proper procedure in tending the flagstick, players should always be mindful of where they’re casting a shadow. When other players are putting, always stand quietly still, and be sure your shadow is not in someone’s line. Same thing with any other shot on the golf course. Make sure your shadow is not a distraction to other players.
Pace of play
Slow play. Golf’s biggest problem is a slow pace of play. We discussed earlier about knowing when it’s your turn. Nothing will irritate your playing partners more than if you take an eternity to pull the trigger. Make up your mind, and make the shot. The longer you stand over the ball, fidgeting, taking practice swing after practice swing, the less likely you are of making a good shot. Get on with it.
“Ready golf” Many golfers and golf courses recommend playing “ready golf,” which, in essence, is a custom which states that when you get to your ball, play your shot. Proceed to your ball as soon as it is safe and begin preparing for your shot. Be ready to play when it is your turn. On the green, survey the contours and grain while other players are putting if you can do so without being distracting then putt as soon as it’s your turn.
Ready golf and carts. When playing from a cart, drop one player off at his/her ball with several clubs and, if it is safe, drive the cart to the second players ball. This way, the two players sharing the cart can both prepare for their shots at the same time. If you take a cart and you are not allowed to leave the cart path, drive the cart until it is roughly even with your ball and take several clubs (maybe the one you think you will need and one above and one below) with you to your ball. If you really have no idea what club you will need, pull your bag off the cart and take the whole thing with you to your ball.
Scorekeeping. Do not write your scores on the scorecard until you reach the next tee.
Recreational Golf play. There are many times when the score is less important than learning and improving our golf games. While we’d all like to play as well as touring pros, it just ain’t so. Recognize that there is a difference between professional golf tournaments and recreational golf (the kind most of us play). While you are learning it is acceptable to bend the rules to speed up play. Pick the ball up if you have over 10 strokes on a hole. Move the ball out from under a bush or tree. Take a mulligan or re-hit a shot if it doesn’t hold up other golfers. If you have any doubts, clear it with a partner. We aim to learn, improve and enjoy this game. Scoring is secondary except in tournaments and if wagers are being made.