Golf Etiquette – The Unwritten Rules Of The Game

The golf rule book has the title R & A, for Royal and Ancient. The game was played by the Gentry and Noblemen, not the peasants, and has a long history and tradition. Fortunately, we can now all play.

The most intimidating thing for a beginner is not so much the rules, but how to behave. As along with tradition comes a whole host of do’s and don’ts, AKA the Etiquette of golf. These rules of etiquette extend beyond just the game but entail what is expected “good form” before and after the time on the course.

Why There Are Rules?

There are very good reasons for these unwritten rules or laws. They are designed to protect the course and ensure the safety of players. They do make the game more enjoyable for all, once you understand them.

Most importantly to make sure everyone has an enjoyable time out there, as a round can last about 5 to 6 hours and you don’t want any external distraction or irritations. As we walk you through a day at the golf course, you will notice that most of it is not a minefield to trip you up, but rather logic and good manners.


Starting before the game, know your tee-off time and ensure you are there at least 30 minutes early. Nothing is more irritating than delays on the first tee as it disrupts the whole field. You should also allow some time to warm up and try a few putts on the practice green.

Dress Code

Before you even get out there make sure your attire is acceptable. Round neck T-shirts, shirts not tucked in, jerseys or vests with team logos, short shorts or denim, no socks, and trainers are all big no-no’s.

Shirts with collars neatly tucked into long slacks or shorts at knee length both with a belt is smart and looks good. White ankle socks or long socks with shorts and proper golf shoes are a must. Your local pro shop should be able to solve these options for you quite easily.

When you get to the first tee, identify your four ball, introduce yourself, and let them decide the order of tee off. When another player is on the tee, there is a right place and a wrong place for you to be standing.

Do not stand directly behind the ball in line with the target, or at 45 degrees over the golfers back shoulder, this is very distracting. Directly behind the player is also not a good idea. The best place is at 90 or 45 degrees to the player’s chest and two to three yards away.

Silence is Golden

On the first tee and throughout the game do not talk while another player in your four ball is addressing the ball. Cell phones are a hazard and should be on silent or preferably left in the change room.

Another noise irritation is the sound of the Velcro ripping on your glove and digging in your bag while someone else is playing a shot. Along with being quiet, stand still, don’t move around or fidget. Don’t start walking off the tee area until everyone has played their tee shots.

Other Rules and Etiquette

Now your off, there is a specific order of play. The person furthest from the green plays first and you mustn’t walk ahead as you might find yourself in the line of fire. Most important, you don’t want to leave the fairways scared with big divot holes. Always replace the grass from a divot or fill it with sand, many courses have a mix of soil and grass seed that you can pour into the divot which helps to restore the fairway quickly.

If your approach shot is likely to reach the four ball in front of you, wait for them to clear the area before playing. Should your shot be a bit wayward shout “FOUR” at the top of your voice if it is heading towards other players on the course. When you get there apologize and make sure nobody got hurt.

One of the most frustrating things in a round of golf is having to wait for the people in front of you. Speed up play as much as possible and if you wander into the rough allow about three minutes to find the ball then take a drop and a penalty. It’s a good idea to help others look for their ball so they might reciprocate when you are in the same position.

Approaching the green, you might find the bunker instead. Always enter the trap from the low side directly to the ball. Remember your wedge may not touch the sand before playing your shot. Take the rake in with you and tidy up the sand after your shot as well as the footmarks.

Now you are on the green, the first thing you do is to check for pitch marks and repair them immediately. Lift it with a tee peg or a pitch mark repairer working from the outside in, tap it down with your foot or putter, and check for other pitch marks which lazy players might have failed to repair.

Remember silence is golden and no movement while another player is putting. Don’t stand behind the putter or in front on the putting line. Check that your shadow does not interfere with the putting line. Never, never step on the green between the hole and your opponent’s ball on his putting line. A good idea is to leave your bag at the far end of the green where you will exit to the next tee box.

Here we are on the next hole and the “honor” rule comes into play again. Traditionally the player with the lowest score on the previous hole will tee off first. If there was no outright winner then the tee-off order remains the same. If it’s an informal game you can play “ready golf” and not wait for the best score if he is not ready. This will also help to speed up play and is encouraged in all stroke play formats.

It is also a good idea to mark your ball and know the brand or marks of your playing partners, just in case there might be some confusion along the way.

When you come off the eighteenth it is still not over, shake hands and thank your fellow players for a good and enjoyable day.

There are a few more things to consider, such as to use a caddy, take a cart or carry your own bag. A caddy can be very useful especially to new golfers. They can advise you on club selection, read the line on a putt, rake the bunker for you and most useful, find your ball in the rough. Seriously, especially if you at a course that you are not familiar with their advice could be invaluable, worth five or more strokes.

If you choose to take a cart, obey the local rules. Some clubs do not allow you to leave the cart paths, where this is allowed, remember the 90-degree rule. Enter the fairway opposite the lie of the ball and exit back to the path at the same place, do not go cruising up the fairway at full tilt. When carrying your own bag, for the young, tough and confident only be aware of where you place the bag on the tee and around the greens.

Should your four ball for some reason be slowing down play, and you find that you are holding up the team behind you, allow them to “play through”. Lastly, control your temper. Do not throw or break your clubs. Don’t swear and cuss after a bad shot. Do not hack at the fairway or green in anger, protect the course. This kind of behavior is unacceptable, will irritate the other players, and spoil the “vibe”.

Ultimately the best teacher is experience so try to play with people who know the game, keep your eyes and ears open. These rules will begin to make sense as you see them applied in various situations.

The rules and etiquette may seem a bit over the top at times, but they are there to protect the players, the condition of the course and to ensure you enjoy the game more.

Golf has a long and proud history, with rules and traditions. To get the most out of the game, comply and don’t try to swim upstream as you won’t be invited back again.

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Nick Lomas is the founder of GolfSpan, an avid golfer, not quite a pro but has over 15-years of experience playing and coaching golfers from all over the world. His mission is to bring the golfing community a better experience then it comes to choosing the right golf gear, and finding the right set up for your game.

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