19 Helpful Tips to Golf Course Etiquette
One of the most complex and unique things about the game of golf is “golf etiquette”. And it is one BIG reason why golf is can be a challenge to learn.
So, let’s make this easier on you.
While etiquette is typically learned out on the golf course, why not read through some of it ahead of time? I’ve listed 19 etiquette tips for golf to help you get a head start.
1. Proper Golf Dress Code
There are specific items of clothing that you need to conform to while playing golf. Golf comes from very traditional roots and some of these same traditions are still around today.
However, golf is being played and enjoyed in increasing numbers. Expect to see different levels of strictness at the various golfing venues and courses. With the addition of more entertainment style practice ranges, and facilities, you won’t see the stricter dress codes here. Definitely more casual and low key.
However, if you head out on a golf course, you may see more dress codes being enforced. Typically, looser guidelines might be seen at par 3, executive or public courses. Stricter dress codes are usually observed at private exclusive golf clubs. Be sure to call the course before you arrive to see what the dress code is. The worst thing that can happen is they won’t allow you to play or you might have to purchase an item to two in the Pro Shop. Something that adheres to the dress code.
For women, typical golf attire includes a skirt, skort, shorts or pants, a golf shirt with a collar. For men, it would include a pair of knee-length shorts or golf pants and a collared shirt. In the past, the collared shirt was the most enforced part of the dress code. Today, it is still important but it is becoming more and more relaxed at some courses.
Most golf courses don’t have a requirement for golf shoes except that metal spikes are no longer allowed on golf courses or in clubhouses. The reason is that these metal spikes can cause a lot of damage to the greens, course, and inside flooring. Other optional accessories that are highly recommended as part of the golf attire include a golf glove, hat and sunglasses.
2. Be Punctual for the Scheduled Tee Time
A tee time is the scheduled time for your group to tee off on the first tee. You’ll see times like 12:12 pm or 2:24 pm because tee times are calculated to allow for a specific number of minutes between groups. Usually it’s something like 12 – 15 minutes between each grouping or tee time.
The last thing you want is to be late for your scheduled tee time. Some courses may not even let you go out if you miss it by even 5 minutes as it can back up the rest of the groups that day.
Be sure to arrive earlier than your scheduled tee time. It is best to arrive with enough time to practice at the range, putt, use the restroom, and get your clubs and bag ready.
It is typical to be waiting and ready to tee off at least 5 minutes before your scheduled tee time. This means you are checked in with the Starter, the glove is on, a tee and ball are in hand, and you are waiting at the first tee or waiting for the Starter to give you the signal to go ahead.
3. Keeping Pace of Play
Pace of play in golf is very important.
Let me say this again. Pace of Play is really important.
What this means is that you need to constantly be moving ahead towards the green or the next hole. Keeping up with the group in front of you is a good indicator of keeping pace. A typical round of 18 holes takes about 4 hours. 9 holes takes 2 hours. Some courses may even be less depending on the golf course.
Plan for about 15 minutes per hole except for the par 3’s, which should take less time.
Golf can be a long day and if you are following a group in front of you that is very slow, it can irk the most patient of players.
Sometimes it can be hard to know how fast or slow you are playing, but if you are keeping up with the group in front of you, then you are good.
Alternatively, if you look back and the group behind you is constantly waiting around, and the group in front of you is nowhere to be found or has moved ahead, you’ll want to pick up the pace or let the group behind you “play through”. This allows the group behind to move ahead of you and play through your group on a particular hole while you wait for them to play that hole.
This works well if you want to take your time. Just beware that there may be more groups behind them and if you keep letting groups play through, it can be distracting to your game and a lot of waiting on your end.
Sometimes, it might be better to pick up the pace of play.
4. Quiet, Please
While it can be very social during a round, golf is actually a quiet and respectful game allowing individuals to focus while hitting the ball. You must be as quiet as possible during someone’s golf shot or while they are setting up to hit their ball (includes the practice swings).
Talking in someone’s backswing is not a good thing and a big no-no. This also means no fiddling in your bag or whispering to another golfer during this time. Yelling, screaming, or playing loud music is not something that is done on the golf course. The only time you hear someone yelling loudly might be at a big professional golf tournament (after the ball is hit) or when someone is yelling FORE!
If you hear “FORE” being yelled, you must duck and cover your head. It means an incoming golf ball has been hit towards someone and that could be you.
A golf ball can be very dangerous as it is very hard and compact. If a golf ball hits you on the head, it has the potential of giving you a concussion and knocking you out. Be very careful and mindful of where people are located.
If you accidentally hit a golf ball towards a group of people, it is your responsibility to yell FORE as loud as you can to warn and protect them from being hit. If you have a group in front of you that you have caught up to, you need to wait to take any shots until they are out of range. It is very dangerous to “hit into them” and disrespectful.
6. Order of Hitting
According to the rules of golf, the person who is furthest away from the pin or the hole hits first.
This is the safest way to play so people aren’t standing in front of other hitting their balls on the course.
The only time this doesn’t apply is on the tee box for each hole. The golfer who had the lowest number of strokes on the previous hole officially has the “honors” to tee the ball first.
To speed up the game, some groups might play what is called “ready golf”. This means simply whoever is ready to hit can tee off. This helps speed up the pace of play.
7. Where To Stand in Golf
Standing too close to a golfer while they are swinging or in someone’s line of sight is not good for several reasons. For safety’s sake, standing too close is dangerous. Make sure you are standing far enough away from someone when they are hitting their ball and while they are taking practice swings.
It is also distracting to stand in someone’s line of sight as they are hitting their golf ball. Line of sight is anywhere they can see you in their backswing, peripheral vision or in front of your line like on the putting green.
8. Walking In Someone’s Line
Walking in someone’s line is typically referred to on the putting green. Even a footprint may have an effect on the roll of the golf ball. The “line” is the invisible line between a golf ball and the hole. It is best to walk around the golf ball or ball marker and the hole. If you must walk through, make sure to gingerly step over the invisible line and avoid walking directly on the line.
9. Marking Your Ball on the Green
When your ball lands on the green, you will need to “mark your ball” with a ball marker. Many courses will have ball markers for sale or available, or you can use a coin or something fun as long as it is flat. Marking a golf ball is proper etiquette on the putting green. Balls left on the green while others are putting can be distracting and may be in someone else’s line.
To mark a golf ball, place the ball marker just behind the ball without moving the ball until it is down. Once the marker has been placed, you can pick up your golf ball and clean it off. When your ball is furthest away from the hole, it is your turn. Place your ball down at the same spot in front of the marker as it laid before you picked it up. Here’s a great video on how to mark your ball.
10. Tending the Pin and Pin Etiquette
The rules of golf by the USGA and R&A made big changes over the last several years. Many of them were enacted to help speed up the game. One of the rules used to be that a golfer would be penalized if they putted from the green with the pin in the hole and it was not being tended. Tended means that someone needs to have their hand on the flagstick ready to pull it out if the ball went in the hole.
According to the new rules, a golfer has the option to leave the pin in the hole when putting from the green and there is no penalty for leaving it in untended. What to keep in mind is that when taking the pin out of the hole, be sure to not damage the grass around the hole. And lay the flagstick down far enough away from rolling putts. And don’t forget to put the flag stick back in the hole before leaving the green!
11. Repairing the Course to the Way You Found It
This one is about respecting the golf course. We learn this as children – to leave something the way we found it. In golf this means if you take a divot or leave marks in the fairway, the green or the tee box, we must remember to fix it as best as possible.
In the fairway or tee box, it is proper etiquette to replace your divots if possible. Find the clump of grass that came off when hitting your shot and replace it back to the divot it came from. Some courses have containers with a seed mixture that you just sprinkle on top of any divots. You can find these seed mixtures on the sides on riding carts and sometimes next to tee box markers.
On the putting green, a ball mark or pitch mark is what is typically seen. These are the little welts or indentations in the putting green surface. It is our responsibility and job as golfers to respect the course and repair these ball marks. If they aren’t fixed right away, these welts and marks tend to turn brown and can also leave greens pretty chewed up in the long run.
The best method is to use a repair tool to properly fix these marks. This video shows the proper way.
12. Bunkers or Sandtraps
This is more of a rule, but important to mention. When your ball lands in a bunker or sand trap, you can not perform a practice shot that touches the sand with your club at address prior to hitting your shot. If you do so, it can lead to a penalty stroke in your score.
Golf etiquette in bunkers means raking the sand trap after you hit your ball out of the bunker. You must rake the divot where your ball was as well as any footprints in the sand that you made. Leaving it as best you can for the next golfer who ends up there. No one wants their ball to land in a footprint or divot from someone else’s shot.
When you are done, you should leave the sand rake somewhere along the outside of the bunker. Do not leave the rake in the bunker.
13. What to Say on the Golf Course – Power of Positivity
What are you supposed to say after someone hits their golf shot. Usually it is something like:
“great shot”, “good ball”, “nice one”.
Anything that is positive is good. Unless you have that relationship with someone and want to give them a hard time. But typically that doesn’t go over all that well with anyone.
So, what do you say if someone has a poor shot? Nothing really. Quiet is good. Every now and then I’ll say something like, “you’re safe” or “not in trouble”, etc. But sometimes whatever you say might trigger something. Most golfers when they have a poor shot already have enough negative stuff in their head and might be sensitive to someone else’s negative comments.
14. Riding Cart Etiquette
Respecting the golf course is a big thing. Superintendents and maintenance crews spend a lot of time trying to keep a golf course in good condition.
When riding in a golf cart see if there are any rules for the day. It might be that carts need to “stay on the cart path”. This means that you can not drive the carts on the fairways or any parts of the grass.
Typically this happens when there has been a lot of rain that day or the day before. Carts might tear up the course and do harm to the fairways.
Also, be sure to follow the “cart” signs.
These signs are usually up closer to the green and have arrows pointing to which direction to go. In most cases, you’ll see a cart path to follow around the green to park. The signs tell golfers to not drive their riding carts beyond this point.
Cart etiquette includes driving respectfully and being careful not to tear up the course. Beware of cars on roads if you need to cross any and other drivers or golfers.
And finally, do not drive up ahead in front of someone who is hitting their shot. This can be dangerous and it is disrespectful. It is best to stay at or just back from the person hitting.
15. Push Cart Etiquette
Pushcarts can be rolled pretty much anywhere on the course except for the green or bunkers. They are a great addition to golf because instead of having to carry your golf clubs on your back or riding in a cart, golfers can walk, push their cart and still get exercise.
There are some tips on course management from a perspective of where to put your pushcart. As you approach the green on any given hole, think about where the next hole is located and park your pushcart on that side of the green if possible. That way when you come off the green, your pushcart is already there and you don’t waste time crossing over the green while the group behind you is waiting.
Also make sure your pushcart isn’t too close to you while you are taking your shot or too close to your playing partners and their line of sight.
16. Golf Ball Etiquette
White golf balls used to be the only ball you could find. Colors in all different varieties are now available which make it a lot easier to identify a golf ball you are playing.
Many golfers mark their golf balls with a permanent marker with some sort of unique pattern or line. This is to help identify their ball when it is out on the course or to help them line up their putts. Both are allowed in the game of golf. Being able to identify your specific golf ball can eliminate confusion and potential penalty strokes (hitting someone else’s ball).
After you hit your shot, be sure to watch the ball actually land and stop so you know where to go for your next shot. This is easy to do if your ball is in the fairway. Harder if you are near the woods or in thick rough. After you see the ball stop, pick a landmark that you can use to help locate the ball when you get up closer.
The worst is if you can’t remember where you hit it. It happens a lot as a beginner.
The time allotted now to finding a lost golf ball is 3 minutes. This helps with the pace of play. If you lose a ball, it is ok to hunt around for it just don’t spend a lot of time or the pace will slow considerably. This is why it is really important to keep an eye on your ball as it lands and stops so you can find it faster when it is your turn.
It is good etiquette to help others find their ball as well as long as you are not up next to hit. If that’s the case, hit first then go help.
Always think about the pace of play.
A quick note: this gets more into the actual “rules” of golf, but if your ball is lost in a penalty area (water) you can take a drop along the path where it went in. If your ball is lost in a non-penalty area, the rule is to hit from the same spot you just hit from previously.
If you think it might be lost just after you hit, save time by hitting a provisional ball from the same spot and just tell everyone “this is a provisional” in case you can’t find your ball. This will save a lot of time than having to go back to this original spot later on.
17. Honor and Honesty in Golf
After you start playing on a golf course, you’ll be responsible for counting your strokes or the number of shots you hit on any given hole.
You then mark this number on your scorecard for that hole. Golf is all about honesty and honor. This means thinking back and making sure you count every stroke (mostly for competition or if you are trying to create a handicap for yourself). There are a number of ways to keep track of your strokes. There are apps on phones as well as bead or stroke counters you can find online.
18. Good Sportsmanship
Golf is all about tradition and respect. It is not a good thing to hear people swearing or going off on their golf game or their club.
Being around people who get worked up and angry because of a poor shot can be somewhat offputting and awkward. Golf teaches us many things, just like in life. Keeping our emotions in check is important and, definitely hard to do.
We all experience these strong emotions while playing golf. Try to shake it off and move on to the next shot or hole when you get frustrated. Be humble when you win and a good sport when you lose. Be positive and supportive with other’s shots.
On the green, when someone putts really close to the hole, you can let your partner “have it” or tell them “it’s good” or “take it away”. This means they don’t have to actually putt the ball into the hole. This is called a “gimme” in golf.
After the round, it is customary to shake your partner’s hand. And thank them for a great round or a great day on the course. Then you head to the 19th hole for some socializing.
19. Golf’s 19th Hole
After a round of golf, it is so fun to head to the 19th hole. The bar or restaurant located at the golf course. It’s now time to socialize, reminisce and relax after playing golf. A reward for a day out on the golf course. This is one of my favorite ways to end a great day of golf with friends.
Just remember, there is a lot to know with golf etiquette when playing golf. Noone expects you to know it all in the beginning. We all had to learn it as beginners. You’ll start to remember through playing and repetition and making mistakes too.
Most partners you are playing with will be fairly lenient and helpful in explaining etiquette and rules especially if you are new to golf.
But, if you just read through these important etiquette tips, you will be in great shape for your round.