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A Guide to Golf Etiquette: Respecting the Game and Fellow Players


There are certain golf etiquettes that should be followed – on and off the course – because they help produce a better and more enjoyable experience for not only yourself, but the individuals you are playing with and everyone else who is teeing it up that day.

The most important thing is showing up on time for your scheduled start, whether you are golfing individually or as a group. In fact, be at the first hole at least 10 minutes in advance just to be safe. Just like any other appointment, if you are late it holds everybody up. You also run the risk of having the appointment cancelled. If the appointment is booked ahead of time, which is the case with most golf courses whether they are private or public, there are usually rules in place for cancellation. If you book an appointment and fail to show, you will almost certainly be charged, in particular if you are a member of a club. Or if you are asked to book with a credit card, it will likely be processed. If you have booked a tee time and are unsure about weather conditions that may delay tee times or cancel them, it is best to check with the course. Some people show up hoping to join a group, so bear that in mind if a member of your group fails to show up and there is someone willing and available to join you.

In addition to being on time, it is always a good idea to come half an hour to an hour before tee time to make use of the driving range and/or putting green. It is also good to get properly limbered up to literally get in the swing of things.

Many golf clubs or courses have rules pertaining to proper attire, so it is best to know this ahead of time. If you are a member of a club, this is common knowledge, and showing up in raggedy clothes or something offensive will likely prevent you or your group from playing. Public golf courses are not as strict as private ones, but that does not mean you can take off your shirt. So, it is best to dress comfortably and smartly. Again, if in doubt contact the club. It is better to be sure than sorry.

Always come with enough balls, knowing you will lose a few, particularly if you are new to the sport. Have at least half a dozen in the bag, even more if you are a neophyte. It is also a good idea to mark your balls or know specifically which ones you are using so you don’t misplay someone else’s or hit one in the woods that you find and assume is yours.

Play from the tee that best suits the distance you hit the ball. Do not be a hero and play from the furthest tee if you can’t hit it 300 yards or more. If you are a high handicap or just a beginner, play the forward tees. Again, make it easier for yourself, your group and everyone else behind.

If your first tee shot is lost, do not play a second shot. It is just a waste of time. Play the next shot in the fairway, in a spot close to where the other players’ balls have landed. This also applies to the rest of your shots. Repeating shots is wasting time.

If you are using a golf cart, be sure you know how to operate it, and do not go crazy taking them on joy rides. Firstly, it is dangerous to do that and could cause an accident and, secondly, you could damage them. It is an electric vehicle and must be treated as such. You should also be aware of where to park it, particularly around the green, not on it. There are signs indicating where to park it.

Once your group has begun, try to keep a steady pace of play. The one thing that annoys golfers, in particular experienced ones, is slow play. It is common for novice or inexperienced golfers to play slowly because it takes them longer to advance their balls or they lose them. Some people take way too long to search for lost balls after slicing or hooking them. Do not make a lost golf ball into a scavenger hunt.

If you are playing as part of a group of inexperienced players, it is courtesy to allow the group behind you to play through. Most golf courses have marshals that are monitoring play and will quickly spot a group that is taking far too long to play. And do not spend unnecessary time analyzing every shot. Yes, you want to play well, but don’t play every shot like you are in the Masters.

If you hit a bad shot that is headed towards someone, always say fore loudly and clearly. Don’t assume no one will get hurt by an errant shot. It is always a possibility.

Always look for the group ahead to finish their shots before you or your group plays. This avoids the possibility of hitting someone while they are still in sight. If you can’t see them, they have likely moved ahead.

The player with the longest yardage to the hole – or who is furthest away – should be the one hitting first. Don’t just go ahead and take your turn because you advanced the ball further than anyone in your group or don’t want to wait for them.

If you have taken a chunk out of the grass with a shot, try to place the divot back in place where you created it. You are helping the course superintendents who are managing the course. Some courses have sand available to fill in the divot.

If your ball lands in a bunker, make sure to rake the spot where you walked and hit the ball. Don’t just walk away angry or frustrated because people playing behind you might land in the bunker and it’s unfair to them.

Fix any ball marks on the green, whether you or anyone has caused it, because it is good for the overall playability. You can use a tee to work around the mark to flatten it out, but don’t dig it out. If you are not sure how to do it, ask someone who is more experienced.

Always wait until someone has putted before moving because it’s distracting. Also, watch where you are walking on the green to avoid getting in the line of someone else’s shot. It may seem like a little thing, but it matters.

If you are taking too many shots to finish a hole, don’t drag it out. It is adding more time to the round. Again, if you are playing among friends and/or not keeping score, decide when it’s time to move on to the next hole. Also, if you or someone in your group have a gimme putt, it’s not necessary to play it when you are among friends. It is one more way to speed up play.

Always put the flag back in the hole when you or your group is finished. The flag is important as a target for the group behind, but some people fail to put it back. Usually, it is the person who holes out first is the one who puts the flag back in, but the important thing is someone does it.

The flag can be left in for any and all players if they so desire. Leaving the flag stick in has become a trend in the professional ranks.

Whoever holes out first is given the honor of playing first on the next hole.

Always remember to pick up your clubs if you leave one sitting on the ground. It is common for someone to carry two clubs with them, particularly a putter, rather than going back to the cart after an approach shot. Playing for four or more hours you might not be as mentally sharp as when you began, even more so if it is a sweltering day and you’ve had a few beers. Start with 14 clubs in the bag and check to see you finish with the same number of them. If you think you have left a club behind, chances are someone will find it and return it to the pro shot.

If you see someone has left a club, a club head cover or anything else of significance, pick it up and return it to the pro shop. Do not keep it. That is really poor etiquette.

Whether you are having a good day or a difficult day, try to maintain your temper. No one wants to hear someone bragging if they are having a great round or swearing if they are having a lousy one. Sound carries. If you have hit a really bad shot, don’t go throwing your club in the water or the woods or break your club in half. Yes, professionals do it at the highest level out of frustration, but there’s a lot more on the line for them playing for money or qualification points. Still, it’s not a good look and no one likes a sore loser. Remember, you are a guest on the course and bad behavior might lead to a future expulsion. Private clubs are extremely sensitive to poor sportsmanship.

If after nine holes your group decides to take a break to eat or drink, you will have to wait before starting up again. If there is a group that is playing through, it is courteous to allow it to continue. Some clubs or courses have specific rules about this or have starters who are monitoring the proper order of playing.

Once you finished your round, regardless of how you played, always shake your fellow players’ hands. It is not necessary, but you should finish the round the same as you started – with courtesy and respect.

If you have tracked a lot of mud or dirt on your shoes, clean them before entering the clubhouse. Most courses have foot pads to clean your shoes to prevent dirtying up the clubhouse.

If you are so fortunate to register a hole in one, it is a rule of thumb to buy everyone in your group a beer. Many clubs want their members to inform them if someone has scored an ace because they record it. If you are in a generous mood, you can buy a beer for everyone in the dining room to celebrate. That is one surefire way to become the most-liked person in the room.

And much the same way as good behavior is paramount on the course, it is equally important off it. If you are using the change room facilities, be clean and neat. Again, this is respecting fellow players and the club.


Perry Lefko
Perry Lefko
Perry Lefko is an award-winning writer who has published nine books, three of them bestsellers. He has been involved in sports writing for more than 35 years and has interviewed many superstar athletes. He lives in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada and enjoys watching golf and playing it.

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