Golf is scary for many beginners. There is tons to learn such as how to swing the club, manage the course, putting lingo, dress code and yes, even golf course etiquette.
Some people are sticklers for etiquette and tradition, so it makes sense to learn proper golf etiquette before you play your first round. Or as much as you can since there’s too much to learn in one go.
I’m going to help you out too. One of my goals with The Divot is to lower the barrier to entry – to help you quickly get past the learning curve of how to play golf. This guide to golf etiquette rules is one way I’m trying to do that.
I recommend you bookmark this page. Read it periodically, especially before you play your first couple of rounds, to ensure you don’t any major breaches of the following golf etiquette.
General Golf Course Etiquette
1. Don’t cancel your round at the last minute – especially if something else comes up. You should only cancel if you’re sick or if it’s an emergency. You made a commitment to your partners – honor it.
2. Keep your temper under control. Throwing a temper tantrum and freaking out is uncalled for and it may make the others in your group feel uncomfortable. And never throw your clubs or strike them on the ground in anger. We all make bad shots – you need to learn how to deal with them in a productive way.
3. Golf is about honesty and honor. You’re responsible for counting your strokes or the number of shots you take on any hole. This is especially important if you’re in a golf tournament or creating a handicap for yourself.
4. Don’t say anything to someone who makes a bad shot or mistake unless you’re trying to encourage them. But even then not everyone will want to hear anything. When someone makes a good shot, let them know by saying “great shot” or “nice one.”
5. Keep up with the pace of play. This is an especially important tip for beginners, as they usually take several minutes to figure out what to hit, where to hit it, and they take several practice swings. You always want to be thinking about your next shot and be ready to take your next shot. Odds are if you ask if it’s your turn, you should’ve went already. And if your group is playing “ready golf,” then simply hit when you’re ready so long as it’s clear for you to do so.
6. Make sure you’re quiet when someone is going through their routine or about to swing. Stand still, don’t talk with the others in your group, and don’t rummage through your bag.
7. Keep your pre-shot routine to 30-45 seconds – the shorter the better to keep the game moving.
8. Show up to your tee time early – at least 5 minutes but 20 minutes is better. This will give you time to use the bathroom, buy tees or balls, and get a few practice putts in. You should show up 40-60 minutes early if you want to get some practice time in on the range before your round starts.
9. Save the instruction for the driving range. Don’t ask your buddies or partners what you’re doing wrong or how to play a spot. Get golf lessons instead. And on that note, don’t give unsolicited advice. Most people don’t want it. Giving advice is a bit sketchy anyway even if they do ask if you’re not an instructor.
10. If you’re constantly asking to borrow a club, make sure you buy one for yourself once your round is over. Borrowing clubs slows the game down and might even inconvenience whoever you borrow it from.
11. Stop apologizing for your play. As I’ve said in my article about playing golf with strangers, no one is going to care if you usually “never play this way” or “don’t know why you’re playing so badly.” You’re unlikely to play with the same strangers again. And most people are worried about their own game and are out there to have fun. So, just play your game, keep up, and don’t worry about apologizing.
12. If you’re not playing “ready golf,” then the player who scored best on the previous hole will tee off first on the next hole. That player has the “honor” or “honors.” If no one won the last hole, then you’ll use the order from the previous hole.
13. If you hit a shot towards another person or group, or if you’re unsure of where your shot is headed, yell “fore” as loud as you can to warn them.
14. If you’re playing slow or if the group behind you is playing quickly, ask them if they’d like to play through. You can also ask slower groups in front of you to play through if you’re constantly nipping at their heels.
15. Know which brand of ball you’re using or mark your ball so that you can find it quickly and so that you don’t accidentally (try to) play the wrong ball.
16. After playing in the bunker, you should smooth it out with the rake. Do a good job – make sure the bunker is nice and smooth, just how you’d like it to be for you.
17. You should dress appropriately per the golf course’s dress code. The dress code for municipal and par 3 courses varies, though jeans and t-shirts are generally okay. However, public golf courses and private clubs requires khakis, slacks, chinos, or some other kind of nice pants that aren’t blue jeans. Shorts are generally okay, as well as skirts for women. Most golf courses require you to wear collared shirts too.
If you’re not sure what the dress code is, call ahead and ask.
Your appearance speaks volumes about you as a person, and the neatly appointed golfer, like a businessman or someone headed to church, gives the impression he thinks the golf course and the people there are special.Golf Digest
18. Turn your phone off. It can ring and distract people. It might keep you from noticing when it’s your turn too. Anyways, you’re out there to play golf, so turn your phone on silent and put it away.
19. Don’t wear caps or hats in the club house.
20. If you’re playing a match play game and you’re obviously behind, pick up your ball and move on to the next hole. This will speed up the pace of play and save a lot of time.
Greens and Putting Etiquette
21. Once you’re all on the green, be sure to mark your ball. You can use a coin, poker chip, or some other kind of flat marker. Be sure not to move your ball as you set your marker down.
22. Don’t walk in someone’s putting line. You can leave marks or indentations that will affect someone’s putt. Once someone putts, you can walk behind their ball (in their putting line) to get ready to putt your ball.
23. Repair your ball marks on the green. This happens when the ball comes in and lands on the green. It makes a dent. Use a green repair tool, a knife, tee, or anything else sharp to repair your mark. This helps the greens to grow back quickly and to keep them nice.
24. Make sure you stand in the right place when someone is about to swing or putt. You don’t want to be directly behind them or over their back shoulder, as they’ll worry about hitting you or having you in their peripheral vision will distract them. It’s much better to be about 90 degrees to them.
25. The person closest to the hole should tend to the flag. Pull it out without damaging the grass. And either hold it or lay it down off the green out of the way.
26. Read your putts when others are putting so that you’re ready to putt when it’s your turn. However, don’t do this if you’re in a spot that’s distracting to the other players.
27. Do not stand behind the hole when someone is putting. This is distracting.
28. You should avoid stepping near the hole/cup as it can do damage and alter the path leading into it.
29. Watch your shadow. In the early morning and evenings when the sun is low, you can cast a shadow which can be in someone’s putting line.
30. If you hit a ball into a non-penalty area, like the bushes or trees, consider hitting a provisional ball (and let your partners know that’s what you’re doing). That way, if you can’t find your ball, you don’t have to go back and hit another one. You can just take the one-stroke penalty and plan the provisional ball.
31. Try to park your bag or pushcart in a spot that’s on the way to where you hit your ball next so that you don’t have to backtrack to grab your bag, which will slow the game down. And park your bag on the side of the green closest to the next tee for the same reason. And NEVER take your pushcart over the greens, as that can damage them.
32. The person furthest away from the hole hits first. If you’re wondering if you should hit, odds are you should’ve hit already. Many people play ready golf, which means that when you’re ready and it’s safe to do so, you should take your turn.
33. Don’t dig for lost balls too long. If you can’t find your ball within a couple of minutes, either do a drop or play a provisional ball (depending on how strict you’re playing). That way you don’t hold the game up. A good rule of thumb is to only play with balls you can stomach losing.
34. Repair your fairway divots. We all need to do our part to keep the course looking good and in good shape for other players. You’ll want to replace the turf you removed if possible. It’s also a good idea to spread the seed/grain the course provides (if they do) around the area.
35. Don’t place your carts or bags or other equipment in front of the greens. This is a distraction to other players making their approach shots. You want to place your golf gear on the side of the green nearest the next tee box.
36. If you’re driving a cart and you have to stay on the cart path, carry more than one club to your shot so that you don’t have to go back to your bag.
Did I get any of these wrong? Is there any golf etiquette I missed? Let me know in the comments.