Golf Etiquette for Beginners: Things Every Golfer Should Know

Golf Etiquette for Beginners

Introduction

Are you thinking about taking up golf or have recently started playing? One aspect that you might find intimidating is the rules of golf etiquette. Many parts of golf etiquette are really just common sense. Some can seem ridiculous to beginners though. Here are my tips to avoid any embarrassing situations at your local club.

Dress code

Dress code

Pretty much every golf club will have a dress code. Some will be stricter than others. Private courses such as Merion, Winged Foot, Royal Birkdale, Royal St. Georges etc are likely to have stricter rules. Your local public or municipal course will give you much more latitude regarding what you can wear.

If you stick to the following guidelines then it’s unlikely you’ll get yourself into hot water at any facility.

These guidelines are primarily aimed at men but there are some additional tips for ladies.

Always wear a polo-type shirt with a collar. Make sure your shirt is tucked into your pants (trousers). You should wear some form of golf slacks. Don’t turn up in jogging bottoms, denim, track pants, cargo shorts or linen!

If you are playing at a private club then avoid denim at all costs. Some public facilities might allow denim but I would suggest wearing some proper pants and then you won’t have to worry.

Make sure that any logos on your clothing are discrete. e.g. a basic logo not an enormous Nike swoosh across the whole of the shirt.

If you are tempted to wear shorts then make sure they are of a tailored variety and they should be knee-length. If you have chosen shorts then you may need to wear knee-length socks although clubs are tending to relax that rule. You would need to check with the individual golf course. Probably best to wear plain white socks when wearing shorts as well to avoid falling foul of any rules regarding them.

Wear some proper golf shoes. If your shoes still have metal spikes then you may be asked to change them as a lot of clubs now insist on soft spikes.

If you are intending to wear a hat then make sure you wear it with the brim facing forward.

Don’t forget to take your hat off when indoors. Waterproofs are also a bad idea anywhere other than the golf course itself.

Ladies tend to get a little more leeway with regard to their dress. Basically, most clubs would expect you to dress in a modest fashion whether male or female. Ladies will usually be able to wear tops without collars. They don’t seem to have the same rules regarding sock length when wearing shorts/skorts/skirts.

Quiet please

Quiet Please, Stand Still Please!

Sir Nick Faldo’s former caddie Fanny Sunneson would often shout “Stand still please” to the crowd as Sir Nick was preparing to play.

Out of respect for the other players in your group, you should remain quiet and still while they are taking their shots. I would also suggest if you are in close proximity to other players who are about to play then you should stand still and be quiet while they play.

In between shots, of course, golf is a social game and you will be chatting with your fellow players. You should always be mindful of not being so noisy as to put off other players on the course.

Avoid talking to another player’s ball! Even if you’re offering encouragement it’s best not to talk to another player’s ball it will almost certainly wind them up.

On sunny days you should also take note of your shadow as that may be off-putting to the other members of your group.

As many as 40,000 people a year seek treatment after being hit by an errant golf shot or clubhead.

Golf Digest

Health and Safety

Whilst not advocating slow play you should always be mindful of other players on the course. For example, don’t play your approach to the green until the group in front has cleared away. This includes hitting a shot that is likely to finish short. You never know how well you might strike the ball or if you get a hard bounce. You won’t win any friends by “driving through” the group in front.

Should you mishit a shot and feel that it is heading in the direction of other players you should immediately shout “FORE!” to warn them. This will allow them to take some form of evasive action.

I tend to err on the side of yelling fore too often rather than not enough.

If you happen to hear someone else yelling fore then rather than try to work out which direction it came from you are best advised to duck and also cover your head.

I’ve been hit on a couple of occasions by a golf ball and it is not fun. Fortunately, I was not hit on the head so it was only a case of bruising.

The same applies to players in your own group. Make sure that no one is going to get hit by your club before commencing your shot or practice swing.

Prince William, now Duke of Cambridge was hit on the head by a golf club as a child causing a skull fracture.

If it is not your turn to hit then make sure you are not in another player’s way or line of sight as they play their shot.

Never ever throw a golf club. It’s stupid, childish and ultimately achieves nothing.

Keep Your Eyes Open

While most people will have enough sense to watch their own shot it is amazing the times that the other members of the group don’t watch. It’s much better to have four pairs of eyes watching every shot. This will give you a much greater chance of finding your ball should you hit into trouble.

This is even more pertinent given the recent rule changes bringing the time allotted for you to search for a ball down to 3 minutes. Make sure you watch your ball to the point where it finishes moving.  Try and pick out some landmarks such as a tree or bush to help you locate the ball. This will help you greatly when trying to find your ball.

Time Management

A lot of clubs operate a tee time booking system so you know exactly what time to be at the 1st tee. Make sure you arrive at the club in plenty of time so that you can change and get your clubs set up on your trolley or golf cart.

The last thing you want to do is leave everything to the last minute and then turn up at the 1st tee breathless and feeling rushed. It is just not conducive to good golf. It is also disrespectful to your playing partners and everyone else that is behind you on the timesheet.

A recent statistic shows that on average, a golfer will make 8 pitchmarks during a round of golf. If 130 rounds are played per day, that’s over 7,000 pitchmarks per week; no surprise then that it can be difficult to hole a putt!

Leave the Course as You Find it

You should try to leave the course in the same condition it was in prior to you playing your shot. So on a tee box, this might mean using the sand and seed provided by the green staff to repair your divot.

On the fairway, you would either replace your divot or use sand and seed mix again. In a bunker, you would generally find that rakes are provided. You can smooth over the area where you played your shot and also any footprints that you left.

Arguably the most important is to repair ball marks on the green. Ball marks are caused when golf balls land on the green particularly if the greens are soft. The USGA studied pitch marks and their own findings suggest that unrepaired ball marks can cause issues for weeks. The USGA has a video showing the correct way to repair a ball mark.

All golfers should respect the course and I think this is one area where you show your understanding of the game. Repair the ball mark that you make and at least one other. Personally, I think this is one of the most important aspects of golf course etiquette.

Golf cart etiquette

Cart Etiquette

If you are riding in a cart then first and foremost you need to follow any rules that the club lays down with regard to sticking to the cart path etc.

Some clubs will allow carts onto the fairways and others are not so keen. Weather conditions will also dictate where you can and can’t go in a cart.

Make sure you follow any signs on the course to avoid causing damage.

In order to maintain the pace of play, you should drop off your playing partner at their ball with some clubs. Then you can then drive over to your ball while they are preparing to hit. They should then walk back to the cart while you are preparing to hit. This is obviously the ideal but not always achievable.

Note that you should always avoid getting too far in front of your fellow players if you are on a similar line as you may get hit by their shot.

Handcart Etiquette

Whether you have a handcart or an electric cart/trolley the same rules apply. Make sure you follow any directions regarding where to go with your trolley/cart. During periods of wet weather, the green staff may place signage directing you away from worn areas.

It is also good etiquette to keep bags/carts off tees and greens. Many people would also suggest that you avoid running a cart between a greenside bunker and the green.

While not strictly speaking etiquette, you will be best leaving your cart to the opposite side of your ball where you are going to stand. This means there is no danger of you hitting the trolley during your swing or realizing you are going to hit it and having to move it out of the way. For a right-handed golfer, you should park your cart/bag to the right of your ball wherever possible.

Sportsmanship

Sportsmanship

Golf is a game where Corinthian values are still highly prized.

Before the round, if you are playing with people that you don’t know then you should introduce yourself and shake hands. Although in the current pandemic scenario handshaking has become something to be avoided.

When someone in your group plays a good shot say so. Don’t smile or snigger if your opponent hits a poor shot or ends up in a hazard. Although if you are playing amongst friends some ribbing often adds to the enjoyment.

While golf can be a frustrating game you shouldn’t allow yourself to become angry to the point where you are putting off other players. It is often said that golf will show the true measure of a man. Try to be humble in victory and gracious in defeat.

Once the round is over you should shake hands with your playing partners (social distancing rules permitting) and thank them for a pleasant game.

Honor

The honor is given to the person who had the best score on the previous hole. This means they get to play first from the next tee box.

With clubs trying to speed up play it is often suggested these days that honor is only observed when playing in match-play competitions. All other competitions and social play would tend to observe ready golf. This means when it is safe for you to hit then you hit irrespective of whether you had the honor.

After the tee shots, the person who is furthest from the hole would be the next to play. If you are playing ‘ready’ golf and it is safe for you to play then you are able to play “out of order”.

Honesty

Especially at the amateur level, golf is a game where you are effectively the ‘referee’ for the other players in your group. When playing in a competition each player would have their card marked by another member of their group. Both players would sign at the end to say that that score was correct and the rules of golf had been followed.

As the marker, you should be noting the number of shots the player is taking rather than just letting them tell you what they scored. In addition, if there are any rules questions during the round you need to agree on a course of action with your fellow players. This might result in you having to consult the competition committee or professional after your round is complete.

You should also be keeping an eye out for any rules infractions, whether accidental or deliberate. For example, the use of the leather wedge (kicking the ball to a better spot).

Honesty and integrity are another very important part of golf course etiquette.

Cell phones

Cell Phones

An increasingly important part of modern-day life. Please show some respect to your fellow players by leaving your phone in silent mode. Don’t use the tired excuse ‘but I’m a doctor on call’. If you’re a doctor on call should you even be playing golf?

The last thing you want in your backswing is an annoying ringtone going off causing you to hit a poor shot. You should give everyone else the same respect by either leaving your phone in your locker or at the very least set it to a silent mode.

A more detailed look at cell phone etiquette.

Know The Rules

No one is expecting you to know the rules as well as someone on the R&A Rules Committee but an appreciation of the basics helps keep things moving.

  • Knowing where you should take a drop when the ball is unplayable or in a penalty area.
  • Knowing how to take a drop.
  • Where they can tee the ball.
  • How to take relief from casual water.
  • How to play a provisional (and when)

Instruction

If you’re in a competition then you can’t ask your playing partners for advice even if you just topped your eighth drive of the day! If you’re just playing a friendly game, save the tips and practice for the driving range. There are probably golfers waiting behind you and they don’t need to see you taking a lesson from your friends.

Apologies Not Necessary

If you’re having a particularly bad day the last thing people want to hear is you apologizing for every single shot you hit. If you’re playing with friends then they already know you can do better. If you’re playing with people you don’t know then apologizing all the time won’t make much difference anyway. No one is here to play badly just play golf and enjoy it!

Keeping Score

If you really are a beginner and struggling to break 100 then you may be better off forgetting traditional scoring. Count your achievements such as fairways hit, putts per hole, getting out of bunkers in one go that sort of thing. It puts less pressure on you and means you don’t have to hole out on every single hole for that twelve!

Practice swings

You see them on the PGA Tour standing there for five minutes swishing away with whatever club. Then the wind changes and the caddy moves back in with the bag. They swap clubs and the pro goes through the whole thing again.

It’s not great TV and is even less fun if you’re playing with someone doing that. Try to limit your practice swings. In addition, this will benefit the course because you may end up taking a divot with a practice swing, so the fewer the better.

Golf etiquette for beginners

Putting and on the Green

From a pace of play standpoint, you should be reading your putts while others are putting/reading theirs.

Once someone is over the ball you need to take a step back and make sure you’re not putting them off. Otherwise, don’t stand around waiting for your turn before deciding to read your putts.

Standing on someone else’s line. This has always been a big no-no in golf. With today’s modern spikes and even spikeless shoes, it’s less of a problem. It is still good manners to avoid walking on someone’s line or even their through-line. Someone’s through-line is the path their ball would take should it go past the hole.

Marking your ball. Once you reach the putting green you are entitled to mark your ball so you can clean it. It is best to use some form of coin or ball marker. Some people may find it distracting to have other balls on the green when they are putting. They may ask you to mark your ball even though you are not strictly speaking on their line of play.

Tending the pin. Until quite recently if you were putting on the green and your ball hit the flag while it was still in the cup that would attract a penalty stroke.

This meant that most people would ask one of their playing partners to tend the pin when they were putting.

The flag would be removed once the putt was struck to avoid a penalty. This no longer applies and you are able to putt with the pin left in. Some professionals believe it increases the chances of them holing out!

If you happen to be handling the flag then you should take care to avoid damaging the hole. Also don’t just toss the flag down on the putting green as you might cause some damage. Place it with a little bit of care. It takes a lot of hard work to get greens into good condition. Everyone should do as much as possible to keep them that way.

If you look at caddies on tour they also try to stand as far away from the hole as possible whenever handling the pin. This is to spread the amount of wear around the cup.

Gimmes. A gimme is the term applied where you concede your opponent’s putt as being in the hole. They should add an extra shot to their score. This would usually apply in match-play situations or friendly games. If you are playing in a competition then you are going to have to hole out.

Woman tending flag

Pace of Play

Slow play is one of the banes of modern golf. One area where most groups could speed up is only looking for your fellow competitor’s ball after you have found yours. You should also only be looking when you are unable to play because of the group in front.

Another way to keep play moving quickly is to make sure that you leave your trolley or bag to the side of the putting green in the direction of the next tee box. Watching a group putt out only to see them head in the opposite direction to collect their bag or trolley is pretty frustrating.

You should always fill out your scorecard while waiting to play on the next tee. Don’t stand on the previous screen counting back the shots you or your partner played. The group behind are standing there with steam coming out of their ears!

At the very least you need to keep up with the group ahead of you. Should you be unable to maintain that pace of play then you should think about allowing faster groups through.

Many golf courses will print on the scorecard how long a round should take and they may display more signs around the golf course. Please try to keep up as it helps everyone enjoy their day. It is also quite common to find golf courses introducing ready golf.

the 19th hole

The 19th hole

For some the most important part of their round. The social aspects of golf are often more important to some players than the golf itself. It is good manners to share a drink with your fellow players at the end of the round, even a non-alcoholic one.

Summary

If you are new to golf then all this may seem like information overload. Probably the most important things to remember are the ones regarding the safety and enjoyment of yourself and other golfers.

Always make sure it is safe for you to swing. Don’t hit a shot if someone might be in range. Don’t rely on others to shout fore if you think other golfers are in danger. Don’t be afraid to take evasive action if you hear someone else shout fore.

All of the other aspects of golf etiquette you will pick up over time. The majority of golfers will be helpful if you point out that you are a beginner. On the flip side don’t get upset if someone points out a rule or etiquette infraction.

Here is a quick rundown of things to remember:

  1. Be on time and don’t play slowly.
  2. Leave the course in good condition by raking bunkers, repairing divots and pitch marks.
  3. Respect other golfers by being quiet and still while they are playing.
  4. Watch where you walk! Be mindful of putting lines on the green.
  5. Don’t lose your temper!
  6. Be helpful by watching other players’ shots and assisting them in finding their ball.
  7. Turn your phone off or put it on silent!
  8. Make sure you know the basic rules of golf like how to drop from a hazard.
  9. Shout “FORE” if you think a shot might hit someone else.
  10. Make sure you follow the dress code.
  11. If you must take a cart then drive it sensibly.

You might find the golf glossary useful if you are just starting out in the game.

Frequently Asked Questions [FAQ]

If you are new to golf then check out my equipment guide for beginners.

Further reading:

Fixing a pitch mark is a privilege!

An appeal from greenkeepers

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