When you’re out on the course, not much is more frustrating than waiting to tee off, and watching some schmuck waste ten minutes hunting for a ball he clearly lost in the woods (and out-of-bounds, no less).
He finally clears the way ahead of you, you smack your tee shot, and then wait several more minutes watching the same jerk take three mulligans on the green.
Golf etiquette is severely underappreciated these days. So if you want to have a good time on the green, make sure you know these unspoken rules of golf.
Know The Rules Of Golf
It should go without saying, but you obviously have to understand the core of the game if you’re going to have a good time. Make sure you decide how you’re going to play before starting at the first tee.
- Stroke Play: Most casual players will simply keep a running total of every stroke, with the lowest total being crowned the winner.
- Match Play: More popular in clubs and leagues, match play games are scored hole by hole, so strokes don’t carry over. Two players or teams compete to win more holes than the other by sinking the ball in fewer strokes on each hole.
- Foursome Play: In this format, two pairs of golfers compete with each other, with each pair sharing a single ball. They take turns shooting each stroke, with one player driving on the odd-numbered holes and the other driving on the even ones.
- Scramble: Another popular club format, scrambles are teams of four who count the best ball their team shoots. This means each player tees off, the team decides which tee shot they like best, and the other players pick up their balls. The team then shoots from the position of the ball that they didn’t pick up. They select the shot they like best, and repeat the process again. This procedure plays out on the green, as well.
There are several other types of scoring formats, but these are the ones you’re likely to run into the most. Trust me, if you’re playing Pinehurst scoring, your fellow players will be able to help you understand the rules.
Know The Course
Even players who’ve been golfing for years often disregard one of the most fundamental rules of the game, and of life in general: be considerate to others. Interrupting the game experience for other golfers is an easy way to have course staff chasing after you.
If you’re playing slowly and building up a line behind you, you’ll be told to let others play through. And if you’re creating problems on the course itself, like damaging the greens, you’ll be kicked out altogether. Keep it moving, and get on to the next tee.
Your scorecard will have a map of the course layout, which will help you understand how to properly move from one hole to the next. Don’t drive the wrong direction on the cart paths; look where you’re going so you don’t get lost or drive over territory where you shouldn’t be taking your golf cart.
Be Mindful Of The Players Behind You
Most of the most important yet unspoken rules of golf has to do with playing in front of other groups. Every golfer knows that on public courses, they’re going to wait around here and there. Take your time, size up your shots, take a practice swing, and do your thing. Just keep it moving. You don’t actually need four practice swings just to use your new hybrid iron to dig out of the rough. If you do, you should probably take the club to the range and get the feel for it there, first.
And, we know golf balls cost money, but so does everyone’s time. If you have players behind you, don’t make them wait for you to find your ball.
It’s fine to drive up and down the side of the hole and look for it for a couple of minutes. But, once you start re-tracing ground you’ve already searched, it’s time to give up and drop a ball. If you’re so concerned about a losing and important ball, here’s a tip: don’t play with sentimental gear if you aren’t willing to break or lose it.
Leave The Course How You Found It
Golf course maintenance is a tireless (and often thankless) process. A course that manages to keep even most of its grass healthy, green, and neatly cut is performing better than its competitors. It’s not all about aesthetics either; a well-maintained course is essential for players to be able to shoot with success.
This means if you break something, fix it. There’s a lot that you can do to blemish a golf course. Don’t worry, most of these things are commonplace, and they’re expected to happen as a regular part of the game.
How To Fix Divots
Especially as a newer player, you’re going to dig up a lot of dirt. If you hack at your ball, even successfully, and cut a hole into the ground as you do so, then you need to patch it up before you move on. Some golfers will carry patch sand in their golf bags, but this is unnecessary in most cases.
Look for the patch of ground you tore up, and replace it in your divot. Filling in this hole quickly can speed up the grass’s natural healing time by several days or even weeks. Do the groundskeepers a favor, and fill in your pitch marks. Your fellow hackers will appreciate not shooting into or stepping onto the hole, as well.
How To Fix Ball Marks
Nothing’s more satisfying than saving a bad second stroke by lobbing a shot with your pitching wedge high into the sky, landing just a couple feet back from the pin. But those lofty shots can do a number on the tender, delicate surface of the green.
If you’ve left a big ball-shaped dent in the green, you can fix this with a divot repair tool (which doesn’t really help with divots on the fairway, but makes a big difference on the green). Using the pointy ends of your tool, softly push up the ground around the edges of the ball mark to get it as close to level as possible. Then, you can use the bottom face of your putter to pat it down and flatten. This temporary fix is sufficient until the grounds crew is able to properly repair or re-sod the green.
Tees, Clubs, and Other Extras
You’re going to see broken tees littered all over the tee box. Just like any kind of litter, someone has to pick these up. Do your part, and pick up your broken tees! Making a habit of doing so will help you learn to drive without busting your tee, too (you know you’re not supposed to break them, right?)
If you break a club and it can’t be repaired, throw it out, and not into the woods. If your grips are shredding and breaking, get new grips; don’t leave a trail of rubber behind you. Don’t litter around the golf course, and do not bring glass bottles to drink from. And, for the love of god, don’t ash your cigar in the ball washers!
Be Respectful Of Other Players
Golf is a game best enjoyed among friends, but it’s played individually. When it’s not your shot, and your friend is lining up to tee off, stand clear off the tee box, and completely out of their line of sight. Keep quiet, and just enjoy the show while they do their business. Noise and movements distract even the best pro players; just watch a golf tournament, and listen to the crowd noise just before the golfer takes his swing.
In the same vein, don’t distract other players around you, either. This means using your indoor voice even though you’re outdoors, and it means keeping your phone on silent.
And finally, nothing is more nerve-wracking than being eyed up by a bunch of complete strangers. You may be stuck at the tee waiting on the group ahead of you, but don’t stare at the guy on the next hole over who’s trying to line up a complicated shot on a long dog-legging par 5. It’s just not polite.
Read Signs, and Obey Them
Golf courses buy expensive, ornate signs for a reason. They really mean business; fix divots and repair ball marks (see above), keep your cart on the cart path as much as possible. There are reasons for these rules. They help facilitate the efficient flow of play, and they help to maintain the grooming of the course itself.
Cart signs are especially important to obey, because some areas of a golf course can be hazardous to drive over. You’re always safe on a cart path, but if you need to venture off of the cement, watch for any signs pointing you away from hazardous hills or drops.
Golf courses are often built right up against private properties, as well. Homeowners will complain loudly to the staff if golfers are stumbling onto their property, so most courses will put up signage marking off the boundaries where these property lines begin. Be respectful, and don’t trespass; if you lose a ball over someone’s fence, cut your losses and drop a new ball.
Respect the Green
The green is the most sensitive patch of grass on every hole. Well-maintained greens are what make putting a unique part of the game of golf, and nothing ruins them more easily than a clumsy and inconsiderate golfer.
First off, your bag should never be on the green, even if it’s over your shoulder. The added weight alone will make each footstep imprint deeper and deeper into the turf. Keep your bag all the way off in the taller grass, even past the fringe of the green.
Tread relatively gently on the greens; this is not a place for running, jumping, or tomfoolery. If you’re having a raucous day drinking on the golf course, have a good time… but don’t you dare ruin the greens for the more serious golfers behind you.
When you remove the flag, set it gently on the ground; don’t drop it haphazardly, or it may leave a dent in the turf. And, when you’re done putting, put the flag back up! That’s respect for the course and for your fellow golfer.
Give Other Players Space
Never stand around a player who’s shooting, and don’t stand in their sight lines, even from a distance. Even the strongest players misfire occasional shots, and a ball coming full-speed right off the head of a club is a life-threatening hazard. If the thought even crosses your mind that you might be somewhere in the path of a flying ball, move away immediately. If you’re anywhere within 8 feet of a golfer who’s about to take their shot, you’re at risk of being struck with a club or a ball.
You can generally expect not to be struck by flying balls from golfers who aren’t playing with you… but it can happen. Be mindful of the group in front of you. If you see your shot exiting the hole in play, call a “FORE!” to signal to players on the adjacent fairway that a ball is flying overhead.
These rules apply on the greens, too. A putting line actually extends about three feet beyond the cup, so even if you’re walking around the outside of your friend’s line while they’re setting up, keep yourself far away from the cup. Or, stand behind them and don’t be in their field of vision, at all!
If you habitually play your game with respect & dignity, you’ll get a lot more forgiveness when the time comes to hunt for a ball or take a mulligan. What do you think the most important rules of the green are? Let us know in the comments below.