Golf’s unwritten rules of etiquette can prove as vexing as the swing itself. Some rules are familiar even to non-golfers – you don’t talk while another player is swinging, for example. Others must be learned and reinforced on the course.
Golf etiquette is really quite simple, and will become second-nature after you’ve played a dozen or so rounds. But in the early going, here are some do’s and don’ts to keep in mind.
Do: Know when it’s your turn to hit—The basic rules for order of play are as follows:
On the tee, the player who scored best on the previous hole has the “honor” of hitting first. The player with the second-best score is next, etc… If two or more players scored the same on the last hole, the honor reverts to the one who scored best two holes back, and so on.
For the remainder of the hole, the player who is farthest from the hole is “away,” meaning it’s his turn to hit.
During many casual rounds, golfers will play “ready golf.” This simply means that on the tee, golfers play in the order in which they’re ready without concern for honors. This may or may not carry over to the remainder of the hole, depending on the group.
Do: Be aware of other golfers’ positions—As a beginner, your shots are unlikely to be consistently straight or predictable. Before swinging, always make sure none of your partners are in harm’s way.
Do: Yell “Fore!” when your ball is headed toward another player or group—Many courses have fairways that parallel each other, and it’s not uncommon for shots from one hole to sail onto the adjacent one. When you hit such a projectile and notice other golfers in the ball’s flight path, shout “Fore!” loudly enough that they can hear it. And when you hear a fore call from another group, duck and cover.
Do: Repair your divots and rake bunkers—When you strike down on (or behind) the ball, you’ll often tear out a hunk of turf, or a divot. Most courses supply sand bottles on carts; shake a layer of sand into your divot and you’re done. If you’re walking, ask the starter for a sand bottle to carry with your bag.
Do: Allow faster groups to play through—If you notice the group behind yours waiting while your group tees off, hits approach shots or putts out, it’s common courtesy to allow them to play through. After consulting your partners, give the other group a wave and step aside while they play the hole and move on.
Don’t: Take too much time preparing to hit—Yes, you’ve got a million swing thoughts swimming in your head. Before the round, pick one or two fundamentals and focus only on those during the round. Try to limit yourself to two practice swings before each shot.
Don’t: Step in another player’s putting line—As you walk onto the green, note the position of each player’s ball and make sure not to step on anyone’s line to the hole before they’ve putted. If you have trouble spotting someone’s ball marker, just ask the player to point it out.
Don’t: Stand too close to a player who’s hitting or putting—Some golfers are touchy about others standing nearby, even if there’s no chance of hitting them while swinging. To be on the safe side, always give fellow players at least 10 feet of space.
Don’t: Spend more than a couple of minutes searching for your ball—Yes, golf balls are expensive, especially if you buy them brand-new. And technically, the rules allow five minutes to search for a ball before declaring it lost. As a beginner, however, you’re likely to hit several shots into the weeds and woods each round. In the interest of your partners and those behind you, give yourself two minutes to hunt before dropping another ball.
Don’t: Scream obscenities, throw clubs or pitch tantrums over poor results—Hopefully, this one is self-explanatory.
If you remember nothing else, remember this: Golf is a game of sportsmanship, decorum and camaraderie. Behave accordingly and you’ll be just fine.