Golf Etiquette: The Basic Rules for Beginners and Experts

Rory McIlroy (Left) and Tiger Woods (right) exercising golf etiquette after a round.

    Golf is often referred to as a gentleman’s game. With that, golfers are expected to behave a certain way when they are on the course. This is where a very important part of the game comes into play, golf etiquette. Golf etiquette is the customary code of polite behavior that ensure that not only you, but the people playing in the group behind you, may have an enjoyable experience on the course. There are a few main concepts that factor into great golf etiquette: punctuality, pace of play, course maintenance, behavior on the green, and sportsmanship.


    There is almost nothing worse than delaying your tee time. Punctuality as it relates to golf doesn’t mean showing up at your tee time, it means showing up at least 15 minutes before your time to tee off. This is out of courtesy to your fellow golfers. Let’s face it, no one wants to be held up on the tee box waiting for a player when they could be sending sweet drives down the fairway. At most country clubs, players are advised to show up at least 1 hour before their tee time. Showing up ahead of time also gives you enough time to warm up and leave all the bad shots at the range. This way you won’t torture your fellow golfers with bad shots in the first few holes because you didn’t have time to warm up. Exercise courtesy and show up at least 15 minutes before your tee time.

Pace of Play

    There are several factors that can affect the pace of play in a round of golf. As a good benchmark a round of golf should not exceed 4 hours and 30 minutes for a foursome. Meaning that each hole should be completed in 15 minutes. There will be times when you will have to go over but this is the best goal to have when keeping pace of play in mind.
    One major factor that slows the pace of play is the time it takes to hit a shot. Far too many golfers spend way too much time on practice swings than hitting the ball. It should take a player anywhere from 30 to 45 seconds from the time a club is selected to the time the ball is struck. Speed up the pace of play by taking fewer practice swings. You’ve already warmed up at the range anyway, right?
    Another culprit of slow play is spending too much time to look for a lost ball. The ruling is that we should spend no more than 5 minutes looking for a potentially lost ball. We all understand that golf balls are expensive but they should be kept in play in the first place. If you have to spend a lot of time trying to find it, chances are you are better off hitting another shot. This point makes for a great segue, if you hit a ball that is questionable, declare and hit a provisional, this way you don’t have to spend time walking back to the spot where you came from. Golf is an onward sport. Practice your golf etiquette and keep up the pace of play by declaring provisional balls and spending less time looking for lost balls.

Course Maintenance

    A very important part of golf etiquette involves the up-keep of the course itself, course maintenance. Course maintenance from a player’s point of view is making sure that this course is in good conditions for the players behind you. A very simple rule to follow from that is to leave the course in better shape than you found it. Responsibilities that fall under course maintenance include raking bunkers, cleaning up after yourself, and repairing divots both on and off the green. We’ve already discussed how to properly repair a divot so I trust you are up to speed in that regard. Repairing divots and pitch marks on the green will ensure that your putts will have more of a true roll. It’s important to mention that you can also repair spike marks but if it is your line you must wait until after you putt.

Golf  Etiquette on the Green

    There are a couple of important rules we must follow on the green to ensure that everyone gets the most out of their golf round:
  • ·       Do not walk in your fellow golfer’s putting line. Stepping in the line of another golfer is rude and border-line cheating.
  • ·       Make sure to watch your step as you approach your ball on the green. Mark your ball, especially if it is the line of a player that is further away from the hole than you. 
  • ·       Don’t stand in the line of sight of another play. Standing directly behind a player is distracting and impolite.
  • ·       Don’t make any noise while a fellow golfer is preparing to putt. Don’t spend a lot of time celebrating after you putt. Remember, we must keep up with the pace of play.

Final Thoughts

    There is a good chance that we, at some point or another, end up violating some of these basic golf etiquette guidelines. After our discussion here, I hope we can apply a conscious effort to avoid these violations in the future. If there are any important golf etiquette rules I’m missing, drop a line in the comments below. I’d love to hear what rules you hold dear.


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