10 Rules of Golf Etiquette
Golf is a sport with a long and proud heritage. As well as being a game with a comprehensive set of rules, there is also an established etiquette. These written and unwritten rules dictate how you should behave both on the course and in the clubhouse.
If you are a beginner or novice player, it’s always worth taking the view of a more experienced player or buddying up with someone who knows the ropes. It’s easy to make a mistake. But too many golf etiquette violations could get you off the course.
Learn the USGA rules and familiarize yourself with the regulations at your local club or wherever you play. As for the rest, well, that’s a mix of common sense, good manners, and tradition.
Follow this definitive guide to the rules of golf etiquette.
10 Golf Etiquette Rules
Some golf etiquette rules have a basis in the games’ professional regulations, like the lost ball rule, while other etiquette rules are simply convention and tradition developed over time.
Before diving in, it’s also worth noting that some etiquette rules can vary depending on which course you are playing and even vary from country to country. Our advice is always to do your homework first before playing a new course.
Here are some of the most commonplace golf etiquette rules.
1. Wear Appropriate Attire
Most golfing dress codes derive from centuries of convention and tradition but always check with a new club if they have any specific rules or if you are playing in a tournament.
Wearing the wrong thing is a bad look. Golf is a game of prestige and a long heritage, so appropriate attire is also a sign of respect to other players, the course, and the game.
Here are some dos and don’ts.
- Wear a collared polo shirt with sleeves and tucked-in—untucked shirts, vests, tee shirts, or football shirts are an absolute no.
- Knee-length tailored shorts are perfect if it is very hot or long trousers. Avoid short shorts, chinos, and anything made of denim.
- Players must wear socks at all times. Ankle length or long are both acceptable.
- Wear proper spiked golf shoes, but no metal spikes, as they ruin the grass.
2. Be Punctual
Always arrive early, so you are ready to tee off at your appointed time. There is nothing worse than keeping other players waiting.
Allow around 20-30 minutes to show up, warm-up, and hit a few practice shots before your allotted tee-off time. Warming up also helps avoid injury if you don’t start your round from cold.
Always remember, no golf bags in the clubhouse; leave them outside.
3. Follow the Cart Path Rules
Check with the golf shop or clubhouse about the cart path rules for the day. Rain might dictate that you cannot drive all over the course, but you still need to stick to established paths.
Driving should be at a moderate speed and show consideration for other golfers.
4. Warm-up Golf Balls
When you warm up on the putting green, you should use no more than three balls. These should be clearly marked, so they are easy to identify from other players.
Be polite and don’t putt in the way of other people.
5. Keep Quiet While Other Players Are Hitting
Show other players the same consideration you would expect when preparing for and taking a shot. Even a twig breaking can be an unwelcome distraction, so background chatter is a cardinal sin and will mean you will not get asked back.
Being quiet also includes mobile phone ringing. Pop your cell on silent before you start the round, so you don’t get caught out.
It’s also best to stand still and wait patiently for your turn. Putting away or taking out clubs can be a distraction; even undoing the Velcro on golfing gloves can cause a mis-hit at the wrong moment.
6. Moving or Standing Behind Someone on the Green
Standing behind someone’s line of sight when they are putting, or moving right at the wrong moment, can be incredibly distracting. It will not earn you any brownie points with other group members.
Don’t stand behind the hole, either. It can come across as you are assessing the player’s shot and interfering.
Watch your shadow, particularly if you are playing in the early morning or late afternoon. It is easy to cast a long shadow across another golfer’s play line.
7. Wait For Every Player to Tee Off
Don’t leave the teeing area until all of your group have played their ball—this is one of the rudest things any player can do.
8. Lost Ball Etiquette
Lost ball etiquette is an example of where the USGA has a rule supporting the protocol. In 2019, the USGA rolled out a few updates, reducing the time permitted to look for a lost golf ball from five minutes to three minutes.
9. Repair Pitch Marks and Divots
It is polite to leave the green you have just played in as good a state as possible. Carry a handy divot tool or pitch mark repairer in your pocket to make quick repairs and protect the course you will doubtless be playing on again.
10. Shake Hands at the End of the Round
Always offer a handshake and a thank you at the end of the round. It is proper form to stay for a drink in the clubhouse, but if you can’t or don’t want to, have a polite and credible excuse at the ready.
What Are Examples of Poor Etiquette on the Golf Course?
Not Introducing Yourself to People You Haven’t Met Before
Walk around the different groups and ask them their tee time until you can find who you are playing with, if it is people you haven’t met.
Once you find the group, greet everyone, make introductions, and shake their hands. Make eye contact and smile.
You can tell the other players if you are a beginner or novice—it’s up to you—but don’t be an apologist. Otherwise, they will think that you are going to ruin the game.
Walking on Another Player’s Play Line
It is extremely rude to walk on a fellow player’s line or through-line, which is where the ball would go if it missed long. Many players are unaware that a through-line extends two to three feet past the hole.
Slow play puts many people off golf who are just starting in the sport and can also severely irritate the others in your group.
Try and maintain good momentum when you play. It’s best to reserve time and care for tricky shots. Walk or ride briskly around the course.
If you are using a cart, remember to take more than one club for your shot, so you don’t have to keep running backward and forwards—this can slow up play.
If you are carrying your bag, try putting it in a logical place where it is accessible if you need it. Avoid placing it so far away that you waste time having to fetch it before moving on to the next hole.
Always be ready when it is your turn to play, but make sure that preparation doesn’t distract other golfers as they take their shots.
Using Your Cell
Golf is quite an old-fashioned sport, and there are plenty of players around who were playing the game before cell phones.
It is rude to be on your phone during a game. If you need to leave your cell on, switch it to silent and check it discretely if there is a pressing need. A round is supposed to be a time when you can relax away from technology.
Not Knowing the Rules
Learn the USGA rules and understand how they apply to the course you are playing and the game on the day, preferably before you tee off.
For beginners, learning all the rules might mean the odd, slightly awkward question, but better that than really making a faux pas.
Placing a Golf Bag on the Tee Box
This mistake is easy to make if you walk rather than ride. The bag can scuff up the hitting area; worse, it can be a visual distraction if it’s in another player’s striking vision.
Driving a Golf Cart Onto the Green
This behavior is so insulting that other players or the course manager may ask you to leave.
Demonstrating Bad Behavior
Everyone hits a bad shot from time to time. You may even do it frequently if you are a novice, but it is not the time to lose your temper.
Don’t swear or shout and never throw a golf club in anger. Apart from anything else, it is dangerous. Taking divots out of the ground in frustration or breaking a club is also terrible form.
Not Shouting ‘Fore’
If your ball is heading towards another group, always shout out ‘fore’ to warn other players. Sometimes accidents are unavoidable, but a warning can help golfers take avoiding action to prevent an injury.
Try not to hit if the people in front of you are still reachable. Slow players are very frustrating, but it is dangerous and will just cause rancor on the course.
Talking to Someone Else’s Golf Ball
Some people do talk to their clubs and golf balls. That’s fine if it’s your own, but unacceptable if the ball belongs to another player and certainly an error if the ball ends up missing.
Some players feel that someone else encouraging their ball could jinx it. It’s a kind of superstition. So, although it may be well-intentioned and you may have gotten used to shouting at the television screen when you watch the Masters at home, don’t do it on the course. Stay silent, stay professional.
Giving Unsolicited Advice to Other Players
Never give advice unless specifically asked about a shot or a swing. If someone does solicit your advice, keep it neutral and generic, never personal.
Not Keeping Your Divot Patterns in a Line on the Driving Range
Some players maintain that divot patterns should be in a row, others in a vertical line. Whichever you opt for, it is bad etiquette to leave random patterns scattered over the driving range.
Not Knowing Common Golf Terms
Bone up on all the golf terminology so you can understand what other players are saying without feeling the need to ask.
Golf is a well-regulated sport, but much of the etiquette is unwritten. Based on conventions and traditions that have built up over decades, golf etiquette is something that takes time to learn and understand.
Golf etiquette is not a substitute or alternative for the game's rules, which you also need to learn. Different courses may have specific regulations, and there can be additional requirements during tournaments—always ask if you are unsure.
Be the player everyone wants to play with and always invites. Be considerate, follow the rules and observe etiquette, and you will never be short of a game.
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