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Golf Etiquette

October 25th, 2013

It can be difficult when starting anything new to know what the normal practice and rules of a game are. Unlike many sports, golf is played, for the most part, without the supervision of a referee or umpire. The game relies on the integrity of the individual to show consideration for other players and to follow the rules. All players should conduct themselves in a disciplined manner, demonstrating courtesy and sportsmanship at all times, irrespective of how competitive they may be. Here’s our handy guide to help you get a good idea of what is acceptable out on the fairway and how to blend in with your seasoned golfers.



Without some good common sense and a notion of how hard golf balls and clubs are, a golf course can be a very dangerous place. Both clubs and golf balls can cause serious damage if not handled in the proper manner. Players should ensure that there is no one in the direct vicinity during play. Check the area around you for others standing close by or in a position to be hit by the club, ball or any debris such as stones or twigs when you make a stroke or practice swing. Make sure that everyone is at a safe distance away from you. This applies to you as well, be sure to stand clear of other golfers and out of their direct line of sight to the next hole. Don’t take practice swings toward another person as rocks, sticks and grass can fly up and injure them. It’s also considered very rude!

Never play on to the next hole until the group in front are out of range. This is particularly important as a beginner, as you will have less control over the exact path your ball will travel. If you play a ball in a direction where there is a danger of hitting someone, you should immediately shout a warning. The traditional word of warning in such a situation is “fore.” This gives others a chance to move out of the way of the oncoming ball and prevent an accident. Make a point of apologising to any players your ball lands near, especially if it interferes with their game.

Golf can be an exasperating game at times, especially when you are just starting out and have not mastered the skills needed to be a good player. Avoid throwing a tantrum; while it is just a game, it is also a test of your sportsmanship and personal behaviour. If it’s a corporate game, you are also being judged on how you handle challenges and opponents. An important rule is to never throw clubs in anger. In addition to being rude and childish, it could also be dangerous to fellow players. It is frowned upon by club officials as well, due to the damage it can cause to the delicate green surface. Throwing clubs, sulking and barking profanity make everyone uneasy. We all have our moments of frustration, but the trick is to vent in an inoffensive way. Following a bad hole by hitting the next tee shot a little harder can help disperse some of your anger.


Respecting the green

Always make sure you try to take as much care of the green as possible. When the ball lands on the green, it can sometimes leave an indent which will affect putting. If you don’t repair it properly, you can destroy the root. Using a tee, penknife, key or divot repair tool to even out the grass, repair the mark by working the edges towards the centre, without lifting the middle area. Don’t tear the grass. Finish by smoothing the area with a club or your foot. Try to get the surface smooth enough to putt over.

Players should ensure that no damage is done to the putting green when putting down bags or the flagstick. In order to avoid damaging the hole, players and caddies should not stand too close to the hole as well as taking care during the handling of the flagstick and the removal of a ball from the hole. The head of a club should not be used to remove a ball from the hole. Players should not lean on their clubs when on the putting green, particularly when removing the ball from the hole.

Turf tends to explode on impact, making it difficult, if not impossible, to replace the divot. In this case you can use the toe of your shoe to kick in the turf around the edges of the divot. Many courses often put containers of a soil/seed mixture on their carts and tees. If this is the case, simply fill in the divot with the mixture.

Raking sand traps and bunkers like you mean it. Bring a rake into the bunker with you, remembering that you should always enter the bunker from the low side at a point nearest to the ball. Whenever possible, avoid walking on the steep face of a bunker. After hitting your shot, rake the area you played from, as well as all your footprints and any others within reach. Ensure the area is nice and smooth, ready for the next player. Don’t leave deep furrows from the rake. Before you exit the bunker, ask yourself “Would I be upset if I had to play from that spot?” Rakes should be left either in or nearby the bunker.

Always pick up your tees after leaving an area, even if they are damaged or broken. They can damage the green as well as maintenance equipment including mowers when tending to the course.


Consideration for others

Players should always try to minimise disturbance and distraction of other players on the course and should not intrude on their play by moving, talking or making any unnecessary noise. Quiet is required on the golf course. Golf requires lots of concentration, and even if the people in your immediate group don’t seem to be bothered, there are other groups all around you so be sure to keep your voice down. Do not yell out following a shot. Even if boisterous behaviour doesn’t bother your playing partners, there are other people on the course who may be within earshot. Players should ensure that any electronic device, especially mobile phones, taken onto the course does not distract other people. Never talk, rattle your keys, cough, or make other noises during another player’s swing. Golf is all about common courtesy and ensuring that everyone enjoys their round as much as you do.

Never walk through a playing partner’s putting line, or the line his/her ball may travel past the hole. Your footprints might alter the path of a partner’s putt. Walk around (behind) the partner’s ball. Be aware of your shadow on the putting green. Don’t stand in a place that causes your shadow to be cast across another player or that player’s putting line. Avoid walking in the line of your opponent at any time.

Players should not stand close to or directly behind the ball, or directly behind the hole, when a player is about to play. This has been covered in the safety section, but it can also affect other people’s swing style and concentration levels.

Always walk, don’t run. Running around is annoying, distracting and causes damage to the course. Walk quickly, but lightly. Never walk across the green to get to your ball, walk around the green.

On the teeing ground, a player should not tee his ball until it is his turn to play.


Flagstick and ball markers

Generally, if you don’t have a caddie, the player closest to the hole will tend to the flagstick. Make sure you aren’t standing on anyone’s putting line – the imaginary line that connects the ball to the hole. Hold the flagstick at arm’s length so the flag doesn’t flutter in the breeze, and make sure your shadow doesn’t fall across the hole or line. Loosen the bottom of the flagstick so it doesn’t stick when you try and remove it by pulling it straight up after the other player has putted. The flagstick should be removed right after the player has hit the ball.

If you lay down the flagstick, lay it off the green to prevent doing any damage to the green. A good tip to stop you forgetting a club out on the course is to lay it across the flagstick. This means you will have to pick it up when replacing the flag and moving down the fairway. It also keeps grips dry during damp conditions, and prevents the club from denting the green if it were laid directly on the grass. The flagstick should be properly replaced in the hole before the players leave the area.

If your ball is on a player’s line, volunteer to mark the ball. Players tend to use either a plastic marker or a small, dark coin such as an old penny. A golfer should always know which brand of ball they are using, or mark it to avoid confusion during play.


Pace of Play and Playing Through

Try to play at a good pace and keep up with others in your game. It is a player’s responsibility to keep up with the group in front. If they lose a clear hole and it is delaying the group behind, the current players should invite the group behind to play through, irrespective of the number of players in that group.

Playing through another group is one of the most difficult and contentious parts of golf. It is difficult because there is an implication that the group who is “being played through” is guilty of slow play and they typically resent that implication even if it’s true. So if you are going to ask another group to allow you to play through them, do so in a courteous manner and at a convenient time in the round. Be sure there is room for you to properly play through before you ask permission. If there is another group immediately ahead of the group you are asking, they will naturally decline to let you through and they will be annoyed that you bothered them.

Be courteous and quick as you hit your shots in playing through. If you are playing slowly (more than a hole between you and the group ahead of you) and you think the group behind might want to play through, invite them to do so. It might be convenient when you are on a green. Wave them up, stand aside and let them hit up to the green. As they are walking up to the green you can putt out. Then allow them to tee off before you on the next tee.

Players should be ready to play as soon as it is their turn. The player who is furthest from the hole hits first in a group. However, in friendly matches (as opposed to tournament play), this rule can be ignored in favour of “ready play” – players hit as they are ready. All players should agree to “ready play” before it is put into effect.

When playing on or near the putting green, they should leave their bags or carts in such a position as will enable quick movement off the green and towards the next tee. When the play of a hole has been completed, players should immediately leave the putting green.

If a player believes his ball may be lost outside a water hazard or is out of bounds, to save time, he should play a provisional ball. Do not spend too much time looking for a lost ball, particularly if there is a group behind you ready to play. If you insist on taking the full five minutes allotted in the rulebook to look for lost balls, golf etiquette says wave up the group behind to allow them to play through.

Begin planning your next shot as you approach the ball by studying the strength and direction of the wind. When you reach your ball, check the lie, select your club, visualize your swing and shot, and then play your shot. From the time you select your club until you actually hit your shot, you should take no more than 30 to 45 seconds.

When walking from your cart to your ball, take a couple of clubs with you. Taking only one club, then having to return to the cart to retrieve a different club, is a huge time-waster. When your group is not keeping up with the pace of play of the group in front, you should try to walk at a reasonable speed between shots.


Golfing Attitude

It is important that to bear in mind that golf is a different game to other sports such as team sports or tennis etc. You cannot win golf, simply improve your own score against other golfers. It should be considered as an experience rather than a fierce, competitive match between players. Try not to focus on getting perfect shots every time. This can be very time consuming, frustrating and eventually ruin your enjoyment for the sport.

If you are spending time on the driving range, use each time to improve one specific aspect of your golfing ability, rather than simply playing aimlessly. When initially starting out, it can be worthwhile to invest in a couple of proper lessons from an expert. This builds a foundation of good skills for you to work on in the future. It is notoriously difficult to unlearn bad habits you may have picked up. If you follow the professional’s example, it can prevent embarrassment out on the fairway in the future. It also presents the opportunity to get advice on equipment before heavily investing in the wrong type of clubs for your style. Golf coaches are more likely to have knowledge of what is suitable for you, as well as being able to recommend brands or stockists of kit.

Finally, at the end of the round, shake hands with your fellow players, congratulate the winners, console the losers, and thank them for their company. At the end of the day, the great pleasure of the game is the time you get to spend with your friends whether old friends or new friends you just made through the game.

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