A primer on the proper etiquette required for golf.
Playing a round of golf with your buddies can be a rather casual affair. Maybe you even deliberately try to throw them off their game by coughing during a crucial putt. It’s all in good fun, right? But what about when you get that coveted invitation to play with your boss? Or when your future father-in-law tells you to meet him at the club? With them, a bad shot can be forgiven, but an etiquette faux pas will be remembered long after you walk off the course. And while it may not keep you from getting that big promotion or cause the wedding to be canceled, do you really want to risk it?
In the bag.
Fourteen clubs or less.
The rules state you can only carry 14 clubs in your bag. But, if you’re playing with your buddies, no one cares. But don’t be that guy with a bag full of gimmick clubs you bought from a late-night infomercial. Besides, if you end up carrying your clubs, you’ll need to shed any non-essentials.
Don’t blame the equipment.
You’ll quickly find out that you can spend a sizable fortune on golf equipment. Just like clothes, buy the best you can afford and learn to make them work. Besides, the only way you’re going to get a lower score is to play an easier course or practice more.
No phone calls.
Unless you’re OK with your cell phone finding its final resting place at the bottom of a water hazard, we suggest you turn it off before you get on the first tee. Not on vibrate. Off.
Don’t talk during someone’s backswing.
This is a rule that began when the first golfer hit the first tee shot in Scotland hundreds of years ago—and still holds true today.
Don’t try to help someone’s shot by yelling at it while it’s in the air.
The ball will go where the ball will go. Screaming “Get up!” or “Fade! Fade!” won’t help it. All you’re doing is broadcasting to the entire course that whoever struck the ball just erred mightily.
Repair your divots.
Beyond common courtesy, this shows the people who’ve invited you to play that you care about their course as much as they do.
Fix your ball marks on the green.
There’s even a tool for it. Looks like a big, two-pronged fork. Get one and always use it. Also, see above.
Rake the bunkers after your shot.
We know you want to spend as little time as possible in the sand, but grooming the bunkers after you dig your ball out is a necessary evil. As they say, “leave it as you would like to find it.”
Where. And when.
Show up to the first tee box at least ten minutes early.
As packed as courses are these days, getting a tee time is hard enough. Don’t run the risk of losing your spot by not showing up a bit early and being ready to go.
Best score tees off first.
At the start of each hole, the player with the best score on the previous hole has the honors of teeing off first. And the next best score and so on. On the first hole, whoever is ready first should tee off first.
The person farthest from the flag goes first.
Even if that’s you, on every shot, on every one of the 18 holes.
Let them play through.
Whether you’re the one slowing down the pace of play or not, always let a faster group behind you play through. It may seem like you’re conceding something, but let them through. Trust us, it’ll make for a more enjoyable round and they might buy you a drink in the clubhouse.
You’ve got five minutes.
An errant drive? Overshot the green by 25 yards? Your ball disappeared over the dogleg? It happens to the best of us. And when it does, give yourself five minutes to search for the ball. Then cut your losses. Nothing slows down play more than endless searching for golf balls in the deep rough.
Check the dress code.
Every course has its own dress code. Some require collared shirts. Some don’t allow metal spikes. Make sure to call ahead to find out what’s expected. If you need a little help, check out our recent article on what to wear on the golf course, Making the Cut.
Watch your ball.
When you’re with your friends, throwing a theatrical tantrum while your ball hurtles into oblivion is fine. But if you’re playing with your boss and decide you can’t look at an ill-conceived drive, you’re putting the burden of figuring out where your ball ended up on him. And being your caddie was probably not what he had in mind when he invited you.
Mind the flag.
If you’re the first to hole your putt, you’re in charge of replacing the flag. Think of it as a subtle way of saying “Yeah, I just holed that 18-footer and I’ve got this real skinny trophy to prove it.”
Cast no shadows.
Keep your shadow out of another player’s line when they’re putting. Reading a green is hard enough without adding an unnecessary impediment.
Should the golf gods smile upon you with a hole-in-one, be aware that you’ll be buying a round of drinks for everyone in the clubhouse. That’s just the way it is. But you still get bragging rights.
There are other bits of etiquette that pertain to golf and you may even know a few we haven’t included here. (If so, we invite you to leave your favorite etiquette tips in the comments section below.) But if you follow these, we’re fairly certain that at the end of your round, you’ll still be in the running for that promotion and the wedding will still be on.
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