If you are a beginner or just starting to understand the game more, then playing on the course can be a little intimidating to be honest. It pains me to say, but you don’t have to go too far to find golfers who love to complain about how others play or conduct themselves at the golf course.
In this article I’m going to give you a few tips about general play and how to feel comfortable on the course, and I will also let you know when you are not in the wrong at all and you have just come across one of those miserable golfers!
What I would like to get across is that most of the etiquette that I abide by and will mention in this article, is about being polite to the golfers around you. The main reason that we play golf is for the enjoyment of it, so if these things help to keep people in good spirits, then all the better!
Pace of play
Pace of play is a contentious topic throughout the world of golf. When we are watching professional golf, we’re there to be entertained, so quite frankly it’s boring to wait for a player to hit their shot. When we are playing ourselves, it can be devilishly frustrating and difficult to play when it is taking ages. However, playing too fast can also be an issue around many golf courses.
Personally speaking, the most important parts of pace of play have nothing to do with skill level, and no one should ever make you feel bad if you’re having a bad day. In fact, a lot of golfers who are self-professed “quick” players, are actually quite the opposite because they get the basics wrong. The basics surround areas like; where to leave your bag, how to get ready while others play, Ready Golf, and walking speed.
I believe that where to leave your bag is one of the biggest time wasters that I see on the golf course. General principles are that when you reach the green, you should try and leave your bag between that green and where you will be walking to the next hole. It is also important to have situational awareness on the golf course.
There are few things more frustrating for the group behind than when someone is dawdling in the fairway watching the golf in front of them, while they are still in range of the group behind. If you can move forward, you should always give as much space as possible for players behind you. It is also unacceptable to take practice putts on the green if there are players waiting to hit.
Ready Golf is a modern introduction to golf which reduces the importance of ‘honour’ in the playing order.
- Normally the player furthest from the hole will always play first, or on the tee the player with the lowest score on the previous hole will go first.
- Nowadays you basically just play in order of whoever is ready first, with the favour towards those traditional order rules. This definitely helps because there can be situations where someone is putting the pin back in on the previous green, so they won’t be ready to play their tee shot in time.
- With Ready Golf there is no pressure to wait for this player or for this player to rush. It is a welcome introduction and keeps the rhythm going more effectively, which should be good for everyone’s game!
Walking speed can be one that some people are simply not very aware of. If you are playing on a quiet summer evening and there are barely any people on the course, then by all means enjoy a leisurely stroll and chat while you play (those are often the best times to be out on the course!).
However, if you are playing on a busy day or in a tournament, then you will have to pay more attention to matching the speed of the ground in front. I find that a lot of amateurs panic when they are falling behind and they start rushing their shots and losing concentration, but the best tip here is to simply speed up your walking between shots, then make sure you take as much time as usual on your actual shot. This way you will improve your speed without compromising your own game.
What I want to impress upon anyone trying to get into this sport, is that you never have to feel bad about hitting a lot of shots. If you are taking longer than your playing partners because you are having a bad day and hitting more shots, then that can happen to anyone. If you are playing those shots at a good pace and trying your best to keep pace, then it’s their problem if they can’t handle that.
Respecting the course
This is an important part of golf and it mostly relates to taking divots, making pitch marks on the green and raking bunkers. If you are in the UK then you should always replace your divots where possible (if you are abroad, they sometimes use sand to fill the divots because it is different turf). If you go into a bunker then you need to rake over your footprints and where you hit the ball, plus any other indentations you see in the sand.
Some bad habits that I see on the golf course, ones which you should avoid doing, are; scooping the ball out of the hole with your putter, slamming clubs on the ground, putting your bag on or too close to the green, and putting your feet too close to the hole (you should try and bend down and reach over a little bit).
Where do I stand?
Generally speaking you should always try and stand behind the ball, ideally to the side of the person hitting. If you stand directly behind the ball, that can be distracting for them. A lot of golfers also find it distracting if you stand behind their back. That is more of a preference thing, but to be safe you are always trying to stand to the open side of the person hitting.
If you are in the fairway area, then it will often not be as straightforward as that. It’s still highly recommended to stay behind the ball, but you do want to be moving towards the direction of your ball, so find a safe spot between those areas.
You can only really go ahead of the person playing if you are substantially off to the side and not in their view at all. If you could be a distraction at all, then you need to move to another area.
It is also polite to stop moving as someone is going to hit their shot, also in the groups around you. For example, when you are walking past a different green and someone is about to hit a putt, you should stop and wait until they have made contact, then it is okay to carry on.
Talking during play
To be honest, if you just enjoy playing social golf with your friends and you don’t take it too seriously, this might not matter to you. Having said that, if you start playing golf with other players, it can be good to know the etiquette. The basic thing to keep an eye on is when someone is starting their routine prior to hitting a shot. If they have reached that stage, there is a good chance you will put them off by talking either to them or around them. The environment does get very quiet as you prepare to hit a shot, so you’ll find that you become more sensitive to noises, which is why hearing someone chatting during your backswing can be particularly off-putting.
The crux of this section is about keeping the noise down, so your phone comes under that umbrella as well. It used to be that you shouldn’t have your phone on at all, but thankfully that is not expected any longer. It is still important that your phone is silent or on vibrate at least though. Hearing a ringtone go off is pretty annoying and you have no control over when it may happen so it’s best to try and avoid any altercations there!
Searching for your ball
There is a rule, which was changed recently, that you are allowed a maximum of three minutes to search for your golf ball. The three minutes begins from when you reach your ball. If your playing partners reach the ball before you, that does not count towards your three minutes. The three minute maximum is to ensure that a player doesn’t spend ten minutes desperately searching for their ball, thereby holding up the whole field behind them!
Picking up your ball
As a beginner or higher handicap it is unlikely that you will play much ‘medal’ golf. This means that you will generally play stableford or another points based game. The benefit of a game like this is that the worst you can do is score 0 points, even if you were having a disastrous hole.
If you score a nett bogey, then you get 1 point, and a nett double bogey is 0 points. So if you have already taken your double bogey shot, the etiquette of golf suggests that you should pick up your ball as you cannot score any points. This helps to keep the speed of play going along nicely, plus it gives you a bit of a breather before you get to the next hole, so it’s a win-win in my eyes!
Be aware of your surroundings
One point of contention on the golf course can be “calling through” the group behind if you are holding them up. The obvious situations are if you are playing in a three or four-ball and there are two players playing behind you (or even just a one-ball). In this scenario they will play considerably faster than your group, so it would be respectful to allow them to play through your group and carry on ahead.
A less obvious scenario is if you are the same number of players, but you are searching for a lot of balls, or just struggling to keep up pace in general. With these situations I find that it is best to simply wait at a safe spot and let them through. If not then it is likely that your group will be feeling pressured to move forward, and their group will be growing in frustration at their waiting times, so everyone is losing.
Unfortunately you can sometimes come across players who are just ridiculously quick and they feel entitled to be able to play at such a speed at all times. They get instantly irate at being held up for the minutest moment and have a face like thunder when you let them through! Don’t worry about these types too much, it is just as improper to play unreasonably fast as it is to play too slowly.
In terms of actually letting the group through, you should stand to the side of the hole and signal to them that they can play up. You can signal by waving your arms and motioning that they come forward.
I hope this article will make you feel a bit more comfortable on the golf course. I love this sport very much, but I can’t pretend that I’m not aware of how it can be slightly intimidating because of the rules and ‘traditions’. Thankfully golf is starting to evolve into a more inclusive sport accepting of a few different traditions which I feel has made the game more sociable and accommodating to a variety of different generations.
The etiquette of the game really isn’t that tricky once you understand which things really matter. Quite a few of the instances of complaints can come from people who just love to complain, which we can come across in any walk of life! But if you stick to these basic principles of on-course etiquette then you should have an enjoyable time yourself and contribute to other players’ enjoyment on top of that.
I hope you found this article helpful and feel encouraged to get out and keep learning about this brilliant game!