19 Etiquette Must-Know Rules for Golf Players (Don’t Cheat)

Golf is regarded to be a gentleman’s game and as such it must be played by gentlemen and women who are expected to observe certain manners and good behavior in playing the noble sport. Golf is also known to be the game of rich successful people, where players and spectators are supposed to follow both unwritten and written rules to maintain the discipline required in the sport and civility among all people involved.

The game of golf can mean a lot to different people. For some, it is a competitive game to play. Others play it to network or seal a business deal. Still, others play for fun and socialization. Whatever the reason that golfers have in playing the game, everyone is expected to follow these ethical rules to ensure that everybody can play the game in the manner in which the game must be played and let everybody enjoy and achieve their individual goals in playing the game. Here are some of the rules that are extremely important to know for anyone who wants to play golf.

1. Arrive at the Course on Time

Being late is a cardinal sin and this applies to all appointments and schedules whether you are meeting a relative, a friend, a work colleague, a boss, or a business partner. In the same way, not coming at your agreed time at the golf course is amiss. This is a form of disrespect to the time of other people who equally have important things to do with their lives just as you do.

Ideally, you should arrive at least 15 minutes before your tee time. That would mean arriving at the course 30 minutes earlier. That amount of time would be sufficient for you to prepare your gears and yourself before heading for the game. Arriving 30 minutes to the course means considering the anticipated traffic that you may encounter as well as other stopovers or side trips that you need to go on your way. If you will be late for some valid and unavoidable reason, you must have the courtesy to personally call your friend, colleague or game partner about your excuse and make sure to make up for the lost time.

2. Follow Prescribed Dress Code

Golf is a sport which entails you to wear a certain attire to play. It is not a place to display a fashion show or a place to show off your sculptured body. Classic golf attire is casual yet sporty. For men, the classic attire would be slacks or tailored shorts and a collared sports shirt. For women, this can be slacks or tailored shorts or skirts and a collared sports shirt. You should refrain from wearing your street clothes. Wearing jeans, collarless shirts, printed shirts, sleeveless shirts, and very revealing clothes are considered unethical. Wear proper golf shoes instead of sneakers, lofters or sandals. Some clubhouses have clearly defined prescribed attires that you should strictly adhere to.

3. Bring Your Own Gears

While borrowing some things from your friends may be normal and acceptable, you should make the effort of bringing your equipment to play golf. This means you should bring your own club, and make sure that you brought enough tees and golf balls to use. Incidentally, you should consider that your golf balls will get lost.

Borrowing clubs is not advisable even if your partner may be willing to lend you. You should consider that people have invested money on their gears and would feel uneasy if you add to the wear and tear of their things. Moreover, some players consider their gears special and sacred. Having someone else use it can be annoying. Even if you’re simply playing for fun, borrowing your playing partner’s things can be pestering. It doesn’t matter if you are starting with cheap bags or clubs. What is important is that you have your own gears to use without causing hassle or trouble to anybody, your friends included.

4. Use Honors Method to Determine Who’ll Tee First

Playing first from the tee is both a privilege and a pressure. It is a privilege because the first to tee often pertains to the best player or scorer. It is pressuring especially among beginners because all eyes are on the player who tees first. In a casual game, players can select their method to decide who tees off first. It can be as simple as agreeing which player is ready to go first or ready golf. It can also be determined randomly by playing paper-rock-scissors or drawing straws.

One other method used by golfers is by using the tee much like spinning the bottle. All players gather round and a tee is tossed. When the tee hits the ground, the player to whom the tee points get to play first. The procedure is repeated to decide who plays second, third and so on.

In the honor system among regular players, the player who had the lowest score on their previous game gets to tee off first. The player whose ball is furthest from the hole plays first. On ensuing tees, the player with the highest score on the previous hole tees first, and so on.

5. Keep Quiet

While golf is a social game, it is nevertheless a serious sport that requires players a lot of focus and concentration. Any form of noise whether verbal or physical can be a distraction to a player who is trying to make a putt or hitting a tee shot, especially in a narrow fairway. Because of this, you should refrain from talking with each other, talking over the phone, laughing or chuckling, snorting, rattling your clubs or loitering around the tee or green when someone is hitting. It would be advisable to keep your mobile phones to silent mode. Some clubs, however, do not allow carrying mobile phones inside the golf course premises.

Making unnecessary gestures that is visible in the peripheral vision of the player can also serve as a distraction. Any other movements or presence that will take away the attention of the player should be avoided. The idea is not to make any form of interference or disturbance that will give a player an excuse to make a bad shot.

6. Watch Your Shadow

Shadows can cause a distraction to players especially when putting green. The darker portion in the ground makes it difficult for players to assess the break. This is especially true when getting closer to the cup. You should pay attention to where you are casting your shadow and avoid casting it on a player’s putting line. A moving shadow is also visually distracting in the field to players who are hitting. You should be mindful of the direction of the sun or better yet simply stay out of the putting line if you have no business being there apart from just being a curious spectator. If you need to be there, you need to watch your position and make sure that you do not intrude on a player’s visual field.

7. Follow Safety and Security Protocols

Safety first is the foremost rule of any endeavor including golf. There is no point in doing something if you put your life on unnecessary risk. The safety-first rule applies to all people in the golf course, whether novice and professional players, caddie, spectators and observers, and all other golf personnel.

The golf course can be dangerous. Getting hit by a golf ball or club can be fatal. Thus, it is important to keep yourself and others protected at all times by following the universal safety rule when hitting. Before hitting a stray shot, you need to shout ‘FORE’ to warn others to protect themselves. On the other hand, if you hear someone else shouting ‘FORE’, this means you should alert yourself by protecting yourself especially your head. You should never stand in front of any player who is practicing a stroke or taking a shot.

8. Don’t Just Say “Nice Shot,” for Every Shot

The phrase “nice shot” is the most clichéd compliment in golf, thus, you need to make sure that you say it correctly. That means that the shot was truly nice or good else it would simply sound sarcastic and annoying. To avoid this, you should first look at the reaction of the player after evaluating what happened to the shot. The idea is to ensure that the player truly agrees with you that the shot was nice. If you see a negative reaction from the player or a gesture of disappointment, saying “nice shot” would not be appropriate. It could be misinterpreted as a mockery or an insult. It could mean that the shot was merely good enough for the player’s standards. Make sure that the compliment is sincere and appreciated by the player. If you are unsure of what happened, you just keep your mouth shut and reserve your opinions to yourself.

9. Show Your Support

There are different ways for you to show your support to a player other than saying the overused phrase “nice shot”, which can sound irritating to the ear. This can be demonstrated especially when a player is faced with a difficult shot such as a plugged bunker shot, a swing side of a tree or a 10-foot downhill putt. You can say simple phrases like “you can do it” or “you can make it”. Also, you should refrain from making unsolicited suggestions or advice on how to make the swing unless asked. You should let the player call the shots.

If the player successfully pulls the shot off, this is the best time to make a great compliment other than saying “nice shot”. Some alternative complimentary phrases included “That’s great!”; “That’s good!”; and “You’re in!” among others.

If the player fails to get through, you can still show your support by a simple nod. However, you should keep your disappointment to yourself and refrain from being critical by giving your two cents worth. What is important is to communicate on the player’s level without imposing any form of opinion or emotion to it.

10. Refrain from Asking What Someone Had on the Hole

Keeping score is important in every game. After all, it is the way to fairly declare who is the true winner. Any mistakes can cause a game if not a dispute. However, it is important to make sure that you scored correctly before making any announcements. It is frustrating and embarrassing for a player to announce a double bogey just as the golf ball touches the cup. In short, don’t jump into the wrong conclusions. Wait until they actually hole out.

Just like in declaring the winner in any contests, you need to double-check and make sure who is the winner before making any announcement. Any mistake in proclamation can only result in heartbreak or an unnecessary tiff among the players.

11. Never Cheat

Cheating in any sports destroys the very essence of the game. In golf, cheating is a mortal sin. Golf is used to build relationships, especially among businessmen. Cheating in the game can reflect that a person is not trustworthy. There are many cunning ways a player can cheat in golf such as by playing with multiple balls on each hole, making an extra stroke or mulligan, improving your fairway, grounding the club in the sand trap or leaving the flagstick while putting to name a few. The basic principle that you need to remember in golf is to “play it where it lies”. This means that you should never touch the ball and hit it where it rests.

12. Take Your Ball Out of the Hole

One of the best things to experience in golf is hearing your ball roll around the bottom of the cup. It provides a golfer a sense of success in making the put and finishing the hole. Once you achieve this, you should take your ball out of the hole so that you will not deprive others of the same pleasure. Moreover, knowing that a ball sits inside the cup can be distracting to any player. You should always take the time to pick up your ball out of the cup for the benefit of others.

13. Observe Cart Etiquette

Golf carts are important transportation for golfers who have mobility problems when walking. You should only use golf carts in designated pathways. Using the golf cart in open green can cause lasting damage on the course which can negatively impact playing conditions. You should maintain path restrictions, drive safely and slowly and park in an area where the cart will not get in the way to players. Some carts can have noisy machines thus, it is important to turn off the switch or avoid starting the cart when someone is on a swing.

14. Be a Sport

Being a sport means you need to play the game fairly within the written and unwritten rules of the game. More importantly, you need to learn how to accept loss or defeat.

When things are not working out well for you during the game, you should refrain from doing dirty tactics to distract your game partner such as coughing, showing your frustration, walking out or not enjoying the game. You should remain civil and obliging at all times unless you want to gain a reputation as someone with whom no one wants to play with.

When you lose a game, you should learn how to congratulate the winner. Regardless of how intense that game was played or how much money was at stake, you should remain social and composed. There is no room for violence in the sports of golf. There is no room for cry-babies. As a gentleman, you should learn how to face defeat and bounce back next time.

15. Leave the Course As You Found It

The golf course is not your property. It is just a place where you were given the privilege to play. You may have paid for playing but that does not give you any right or license to mess it up with your things or pollute it with garbage. You should pack your clumps and divots, mend your ball marks, and clear up your bunker. You should never leave a dirty mark anywhere by throwing your trash, garbage or any litter. You should pack up your equipment and leave the place as you have found it when you arrive.

There are instances when some golfers may have lost or misplaced their clubs accidentally. If you found any equipment that is not yours, you should give it to the lost and found or give it to its owner. Honesty is a true mark of a gentleman even if no one is looking.

16. Let Faster Groups Play Through

If you are playing in a public golf course, chances are that you are not the only group who is playing. There are other people concurrently playing with your group. Because not everyone plays the game in the same phase, it is possible that your group would be playing in the same hole. If that happens, you should allow the faster group to play through of courtesy. After all, they won’t be bothering you anymore once they have overtaken your group. Moreover, you will be more conscious of your playing when another group is waiting and staring down at you. Meanwhile, you should always try to keep up with the group in front of you to avoid the next group from reaching you.

17. Be Considerate to Beginners

Everyone who played golf started as a greenhorn. Hence, you should always render a little consideration to beginners by being more tolerant and sympathetic of their unfamiliarity or lack of knowledge of the norms, rules and other things about golf. Instead of being a ding-dong to amateur players, you should set an example on how to behave and play properly. Instead of complaining, criticizing or getting dismayed, you can opt to offer them advice or teach them some tips and tricks to improve their game. After all, that novice could someday become the next Tiger Woods or Ariya Jutanugarn in the future.

18. Tip Well

For rich people who can afford to play the sport, golf can truly be a great source of fun and pleasure. However, for the caddies, bagboys, drivers and other people who work at the golf course, your fun game is basically a work for them. You should, therefore, be a little generous in giving golf course gratuities to the workers. These workers are not your servants. They are there to work for you to make ends meet. They are people who must be treated professionally in as much as they dedicate themselves to the job. You should be generous in giving tips and refrain from being a scrooge to people who help you enjoy the game.

19. Treating After Winning

If you bag the victory prize especially in friendly wagers, the least you can do is to celebrate your victory or share your blessing by buying your group a round or giving your group a treat as a snack or dinner. This is an act of kindness that is a display of gratitude and appreciation to your partners. Whether you are playing for business or pleasure, the need to show an act of gratitude is a way to show your good character, which is the true essence of any sport.

Final Words

These golf etiquettes are an essential component of the game of golf. These ethical principles are one of those things that distinguish the sport as a gentleman’s game. It is through the manners and courtesy we give to fellow golfers that we demonstrate our respect for the game and to other people in general. And as the golden rule says, we need to treat others the way we want others to treat us.

Matthew Ryan

I'm Matthew Ryan, one of the guys behind MannersAdvisor.com I am passionate about the world of good manners, etiquette and proper behavior to have on any special occasion. Here I decided to share my passion with you!

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