The golf rule book has the title R&A, which stands for Royal and Ancient. The game of golf was originally played by the 15th-century gentry and noblemen of Scotland, not the common folk. Golf has a long history of tradition. Fortunately, we can all play nowadays, but how it started in formality explains why the game has golf etiquette.
The most intimidating thing for a beginner is not the rules but how to behave. Along with tradition comes a whole list of dos and don’ts for golf course etiquette. The golf etiquette rules extend beyond the game, so any golf fan will benefit from knowing them.
Let’s dive in!
Three Categories of Golf Etiquette
When it comes to golf etiquette rules, you should understand the three categories that include:
- Care of the Course: This follows the principle of “Leave No Trace.” Take care of the golf course; fill it in even if you didn’t create a divot. If you enter a bunker, rake it afterward. Leave no trace on the green.
- Consideration for Others: Consideration for others goes a long way on the golf course. Whenever you play, think of other golfers. Don’t do things that will hurt their shots or annoy them.
- Pace of Play: Keep a steady and consistent pace. You don’t need to play fast, but keep up with everyone else. If other golfers behind you catch up, let them play through. When your turn arrives, always be ready.
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Common Golf Etiquette Mistakes
Especially in the beginning, you may violate one of the rules. The most commonly violated mistakes in etiquette include:
- Giving unsolicited golf swing advice
- Playing out of turn
- Not raking the bunkers
- Not repairing divots
- Walking in someone’s line
- Throwing clubs or smashing objects
With the exception of the second one, most of the things mentioned are common sense and acting politely toward others. For example, it should be common sense not to smash objects with your golf club.
11 Rules of Golf Course Etiquette
The earliest golfers established unwritten rules and laws for a reason. They wanted to protect the course’s beauty and ensure everyone’s safety. They also make the game more enjoyable for all. This is the intention of the golf course rules written by The R&A.
Because a full round (18 holes) can take anywhere from 3 to 5 hours, with four hours being the average, you don’t want to distract anyone during the round.
As I walk you through a day at the golf course and how to behave, you will notice that most of the golf etiquette for beginners is not a minefield to trip you up, but common courtesy and common sense.
1. Arrive 30 Minutes Early
Before the game, know your tee time and arrive at least 30 minutes ahead. Nothing more annoys everyone at the course than delays on the first tee because it disrupts the whole field. I say 30 minutes early because you should also allow some time to warm up at the driving range and try a few putts on the practice green.
2. Dress Code
Before you head to the golf course, dress appropriately. That basic golf and etiquette rule will go a long way.
- Round-neck T-shirts
- Untucked shirts
- Sports jerseys
- Vests with team logos
- Shorts no more than 4 inches above or below knee
- No socks
- Shirts with collars neatly tucked into long slacks
- Shorts at knee length with a belt fit right in on the golf course
- White ankle socks or long socks with shorts and proper golf shoes are a must
- Proper golf shoes would include molded spikes, cleats, lots of hidden padding, breathable material, and lightweight
This proper golf etiquette creates a classy vibe out on the course and helps you feel more comfortable.
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3. Getting to the Tee
When you get to the first tee, identify your four-ball, introduce yourself, and let them decide the tee-off order. When another player is on the tee, there is a right place and a wrong place to stand.
Don’t stand directly behind the ball in line with the target or at 45 degrees over the golfer’s shoulder. This distracts the golfer. Directly behind the player can create a dangerous situation. The best place to stand is 90 or 45 degrees to the player’s chest and 2 to 3 yards away.
4. Avoid Distractions
Let’s look at the unwritten rules of golf for distractions. On the first tee and throughout the game, don’t talk when another player addresses the ball. Smartphones should be on silent or left in the changing room.
Pay attention to small things like the sound of Velcro ripping on your glove or digging in your bag while someone tees up. For golf etiquette on the tee box, don’t walk off the tee area until everyone has played their tee shots.
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5. Don’t Be a Poor Sportsman
While losing your temper might look funny in the movies, don’t throw or break your clubs. Don’t swear after a bad shot. Don’t hack at the fairway or green in anger. Protect the course and practice good sportsmanship. Poor etiquette on the golf course won’t win laughs—it will guarantee that you play by yourself in the future. Bad behavior on the course can even lead to confrontation.
6. Fix Your Divots
Never leave the fairways scarred with big divot holes. That’s one of the USGA etiquette rules. Always replace the grass with a divot or fill it in with sand.
Ask the country club ahead of time about their rules on divots. Many golf courses offer a mixture of soil and grass seed that you can pour into the divot, which helps to restore the fairway to its original condition.
7. The Play-Through in Golf
If your approach shot is likely to reach the four ball in front of you, wait for them to clear the area before playing—common sense, basically. Should your shot be a bit wayward, shout “Fore!” at the top of your lungs if it is heading toward 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 to wait for the people in front of you. If a group comes up behind you, let them play through. It lets you relax and enjoy the game more. Try to speed up the play as much as possible, but if you wander into the rough, allow about three minutes to find the ball, then take a drop and a penalty to keep the game moving forward.
Think of courtesy, too—more common sense polite things. For example, when someone loses their golf ball, help them look for it.
8. Sand Traps
As you near the green, you might find the bunker. Always enter the trap from the low side directly to the ball. If you enter the sand trap, your wedge can’t touch the sand before your shot because it ensures you don’t ease the challenge of getting out. Take the rake in with you and return the sand to its original condition after you escape the trap, including removing the footprints.
9. The Putting Green
Now, a little bit about the golf etiquette on the green. The person farthest from the green plays first. Don’t walk ahead because you might find yourself in the line of fire and blocking someone’s shot.
Now you are on the green, and the first thing you do is to check for pitch marks and repair them. Lift it with a tee peg or a pitch mark repairer working from outside. Tap it down with your foot or putter, and check for other pitch marks that players might have missed. Nothing wrong with doing a little extra to benefit everyone.
When on the green, don’t talk, and don’t move whenever a player putts. Don’t stand behind the putter or in front of the putting line. Move away if your shadow interferes with the putting line since this can throw off the golfer. Don’t step on the green between the hole and your buddy while he’s putting. Also, don’t bring your bag with. Leave it at the far end of the green, where you exit to the next tee box.
10. Going to the Next Tee
Here we are on the next hole, and one of the honor rules of golf etiquette comes into play. Traditionally, the player with the lowest score on the previous hole will tee off first. The tee-off order stays the same if there was no outright winner. If it’s an informal game, you can play “ready golf” and not wait for the best score if he is not ready. Ready golf will also help to speed up the play. They encourage it in all stroke play formats.
It is also a good idea to put ball marks on your ball and know the brands of your golf buddies. When you hit the ball out on the course, golf balls all look the same, creating an issue with mixing up the balls. If you have the same brand as a buddy, mark your ball to find it fast.
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11. Golf Cart Etiquette
There are a few more things to consider, such as hiring a caddy ($100 to $140 per bag), taking a golf cart, or taking a cart bag. New golfers may especially enjoy the benefits of a caddy, but even the PGA Tour pros use caddies. They can advise you on club selection, read the line on a putt, rake the bunker, and find your ball in the rough. Especially if you play an unfamiliar course, their advice could mean the difference between a par and a bogey.
If you choose to drive one of the golf carts, obey the local cart path rules. Some golf courses don’t allow you to leave the cart paths, but even those that let you, most advise against it to protect the fairways. Know where the golf cart can drive, and remember the 90-degree rule. The 90-degree rule says to enter the fairway opposite the ball’s lie and exit back to the path at the same place. Don’t cruise up the fairway at full tilt.
If you’re carrying your own bag, just be aware of where you place the bag on the tee and around the greens.
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When you come off the 18th hole, it is still not over. Smile, take off your hat, shake hands, and thank your fellow golfers for an enjoyable day—good sportsmanship.
Learning golf etiquette takes time, so don’t feel bad if you break a rule from time to time. These rules will become secondhand nature over time.
The rules of golf etiquette may seem a bit over the top at times, but they protect the players, the condition of the course and ensure that you enjoy the game.
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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.