Hank Haney’s 12 rules of etiquette for golf.
Golf has seen a massive boom as people look for safe outdoor activities to participate in during the COVID-19 pandemic. While all of these new players are great for the game, the need for basic golf etiquette education is at an all-time high. Below, I’ve covered the essential pieces of golf etiquette to help you and everyone else on the course have more enjoyable playing experiences.
1) Maintain Appropriate Pace
Without a doubt, my number one pet peeve on the golf course is when a group significantly slows down the groups behind them.
If there’s nobody ahead of your group and there’s a group constantly waiting behind you, your group should almost always play faster or let the group behind you play through.
The best way to improve your group’s pace is to play “ready golf” and avoid spending too much time looking for balls.
Generally, the player farthest away from the hole is supposed to hit their next shot. However, when playing casually with friends, you can all agree to let the player who is ready to hit first do so (ready golf). My golf buddies and I almost always adhere to ready play, regardless if there are groups behind us. Before doing so, however, check with the people in your group to make sure they’re all fine with this.
Don’t Spend Too Much Time Looking for Balls
We all despise that golfer who takes too long looking for a ball that they have no chance of finding. Don’t be that player!
If you think you might not be able to find your tee shot and it would demand a “retee,” go ahead and take a provisional shot so you don’t have to walk back to the tee.
Any golfer, especially those new to the game and high handicappers, can feel free to play by their own drop rules in a casual round of golf with nothing on the line. The rules of golf can get complicated, but if you’re new to the game, I’d recommend just dropping a ball where you think your ball went out of bounds and add a penalty stroke to your score. This won’t necessarily allow you to keep an ‘official’ score, but you can still get a sense of how you’re improving if always following your same ‘rules.’ Once you’ve developed your game, you can start strictly adhering to the official rules.
Help Others Find Their Ball
When playing in a group with other golfers, help them find their ball if yours is further than theirs or they’re next to hit. You should also help look for where other players’ shots travel when they hit them. Two pairs of eyes are always better than one.
Don’t Sacrifice Your “Pre-Shot Ritual”
While it’s crucial to keep a reasonable pace, you shouldn’t need to forego your “pre-shot ritual” or otherwise hurt your golf game. Unless you have some crazy routine before every shot, you should be able to cut out enough time through the above tips.
2) Repair Your Ball Marks on Greens
A few of my favorite local public golf courses’ greens have been destroyed this year with the increase of new players. While more traffic is always going to put greenskeepers to the test, unrepaired pitch marks play a significant factor in this golf green massacre.
Unrepaired or poorly repaired ball marks can lead to missed putts and surfaces that take weeks to recuperate.
You should always find and fix your ball marks on the green. It’s incredibly easy to do at an individual level, and when everyone helps maintain the green, all golfers benefit.
3) Replace or Fill Divots
When you take divots on the tee box or fairway, you should either retrieve and replace the divot or fill the divot with sand/mix.
Generally, either of these options is fine unless the course favors one option over the other.
4) Minimize Divots
You don’t need to take a divot on your practice swing and you should strive to avoid doing so. If everyone took three divots on each shot, the course would quickly be in shambles.
With that said, even some of the best golfer occasionally take a divot by mistake on their practice swing. If you do this, be sure to replace or fill it.
If hitting an iron or wedge from the tee box, you can set your ball behind another divot to avoid making a new one.
5) Maintain Sand Bunkers
This rule may no longer stand during the pandemic, but under normal conditions, you should always rake the sand to fix footprints or other imprints you made in it. Even if not using the rake because of the pandemic, do your best to smooth it with your feet or something safe to touch.
You should also prevent causing excessive change to bunkers in the first place. Enter a bunker to hit your ball from the shortest line.
6) Silently Stand Still and Out of the Way
When another golfer in your group is hitting their shot, make sure not to distract them. Always be silent and stand stilly out of view and out of the line of their putts.
You should also avoid distracting golfer in other groups. If other golfers are close to you, stay quiet and avoid walking or driving past them.
7) Follow All Golf Cart Rules
Even under normal playing conditions, golf courses limit where you can drive a cart. You should never drive the cart on or near tee boxes, greens, bunkers, or water hazards.
Often, golf courses will implement a 90-degree rule. This means that you should only leave the cart path towards your ball when a 90-degree turn would get you there. It’s a middle ground between no restrictions and cart path only.
Sometimes, most often after heavy rain, golf courses will require you to stay on the cart path. This is typically described as “cart path only.” Some individual holes on golf courses may always be cart path only for a variety of reasons.
Always follow your golf courses cart rules, including the rules for the particular day you’re playing.
8) Don’t Hit a Ball Into the Group Ahead of You
Never hit a ball when there’s a group ahead of you within your distance. This is the time you should actually use those exaggerated distances you tell your buddies you can hit a particular club.
It’s always best to err on the side of caution.
9) Always Yell “Fore” When an Errant Ball is Hit Towards Other People
“Fore” is a term commonly used in golf that essentially means “duck and get to cover.”
If you or someone in your group hits a shot that could potentially hit another golfer, always yell “Fore!”
Keep in mind that just because you can’t see someone, it doesn’t mean there isn’t someone in your ball’s path. For example, if you slice a ball towards another hole, be sure to yell “Fore!” even if you can’t see the other hole.
It’s sometimes hard to remember to do this in the moment, so be sure to yell this if you see someone else hit a dangerous ball.
While it’s rare for someone to be hit by a ball, it does happen. Depending on where the ball hits someone, they can get seriously injured or even die.
If you’re ever ahead of someone in your group, be sure to be as far out of their potential ball path and pay attention to their shot.
10) Don’t Drink Too Much
At Least in the United States, it’s very common for adults to drink beer or other alcoholic beverages during a round of golf.
If I’m golfing on the weekends or for a special occasion, there’s a good chance I’m drinking my fair share of beer during my round.
While I have no problem with drinking during golf and do it myself, it’s important not to drink too much!
First of all, I’ve actually seen people have medical issues that were likely a result of too much drinking out in the heat.
Beyond that, it can just be obnoxious when someone has had too much to drink on the golf course. There’s no appropriate place for some of the behavior I’ve seen from drunk golfers, but the golf course is one of the least appropriate places.
If nothing else, drinking too much will likely annoy you and your golf buddies as your game degrades.
Lastly, always be sure to have a safe way to get home. Don’t drink at the course and then drive home!
11) Don’t Play Loud Music While You Golf
I’ve already discussed that you should try to stay reasonably quiet on the golf course, but loud music is becoming a problem as of late.
In my opinion, there’s no problem listening to music quietly through a speaker in your cart, but if the golfers on the next hole can hear it, that’s a big problem.
If listening to music, keep it at a volume that can’t be heard more than 5-10 feet from your cart. Be sure members in your group don’t mind and turn it off if close to them during a shot. If you get close to another group, turn the music off until you get away from them.
Finally, make sure listening to music isn’t against the rules at your golf course.
12) Dress Appropriately
It’s best to look up the dress code online or call ahead before getting to the course.
While golf is often thought of as a game played only by “stuffy” people, you should be fine if you follow these simple golf etiquette rules.
In general, just be friendly and personable to other golfers. When dealing with other groups or the course, think about what you’d want other golfers to do.
Be sure to help maintain the golf course. If we all do it, we’ll all have much better playing experiences.