Golf Etiquette and Rules

Golf Etiquette and Rules Golf Etiquette and Rules

Playing a round of golf can be the most enjoyable, while also the most frustrating, four hours of time you can spend on any given day. Whether you are a veteran of golf, or just starting out, there are plenty of things that could go wrong in any given round of golf. From hitting errant shots to missing a four foot putt, a lot can go awry within each round.

One thing which can add to your frustration within a round is when you are playing golf with someone who does not understand playing a round of golf and some of the nuances of the game. This is especially evident when it comes to following certain etiquette standards, as well as some of the basic rules. Within this article, we are going to cover some of the most important etiquette rules which any beginner needs to know, as well as some of the most common rules that need to be followed while out on the golf course.

Within any sport, there are many unwritten rules and etiquette which are understood by those who have played the game for a long time, but may seem trivial to someone who is just now starting. These unwritten rules and golf etiquette set the foundation of what makes each sport unique, and should be passed along to each new person who plays in that sport. Golf is no exception to this, and listed below are a few of the etiquette rules which should be followed, and the reasoning behind them.

Dress the Part


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Golf was once considered a Gentlemen’s game, where men would dress up to play golf, and considered it an honor and privilege to be playing a round of golf with friends or colleagues. Over time, the game of golf has evolved into a sport which welcomes in anyone and everyone, and encourages people to be bring their own style onto the course. However, just because you are allowed to dress in your own style, there are still some boundaries which need to be adhered to.

Many golf courses still have dress codes for going out to play on their course. The more private the golf course, the more strict the dress code. For public courses, the standards are much looser. No matter which kind of course you are going to visit, it is important to call them ahead of time and see if they have any specific dress code.

A majority of the time, if you wear khaki shorts and a polo shirt, you will be in good shape, especially within any public course. There are some golf courses that require you to wear khaki pants. Most public courses will also allow you to wear some jeans on their courses. More than likely, they will let you wear a t-shirt as well.

There is some clothing which is typically forbidden within any golf course. These articles of clothing include any torn t-shirt, any jeans with holes in them, and any profanity on any piece of clothing. In addition, swim trunks and swimsuits are not allowed, nor are any mid-drift shirts.

If you ensure you are fully covered up when going to the golf course, more than likely, you will be able to get going and enjoy your round of golf, instead of getting derailed before it even starts.

Have the Right Equipment


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Anytime you go onto the gold course, it is expected you will follow the basic golf etiquette and that you will bring your own golf tees and golf balls to play with. There is nothing that can drag a group down faster during a round than having “that guy” who always needs a tee, or a golf ball, or wants to swing another players golf clubs constantly. Although there is nothing wrong with borrowing a club for a specific shot, if you constantly have to borrow a club from someone else in your group, after the round is over, you should go immediately over to your local golf store and buy that club for yourself.

If you want to know what to have in your golf bag, here are the basics. You can have up to 14 different clubs within your bag, with your choice of drivers, hybrids, irons, wedges and a putter. You can have multiple golf putters, but you can only have 14 clubs legally within your bag. In addition to the clubs, you should have 20 tees, and at least 3 sleeves of golf balls. Each sleeve typically has 3 golf balls in it. In addition to all of this, it is recommended that you have a ball mark repair tool, so you can make any repairs necessary on the green, as well as a ball marker, so you can mark your ball on the green if necessary. Another accessory most players like to have is a towel, so they can wipe off each club face after using it, especially if they created a divot with their shot, causing some dirt to be on the club face. Lastly, having a golf glove is also important, to ensure you have the proper grip on your golf club as you are swinging.

In addition to this equipment, to give you the best traction while on the golf course, it is recommended that you wear golf shoes with spikes. Most golf courses are starting to outlaw steel spikes, so if you have an older pair of golf shoes, you might need to replace them with rubber spikes, which tear up the course less.

When do you Take your Shot?


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Once you have dressed for playing on a golf course, and you have the right equipment and accessories to attack your round of golf, you are ready to arrive to the golf course. Once you have arrived to the course, and meet up with your group, you then have to determine who is going to tee off first. Although there are many different ways to determine this, from the serious to the funny, your group can decide who is going to tee off on the first tee however you see fit. Once you are on the course, however, there are certain etiquette rules that need to be followed.

First and foremost, when you are playing on any given hole, after each of you has teed off, the rule is simple – whoever is the furthest away from the hole hits first. This rule applies throughout the entirety of each hole that is played. No matter where any of you are within the hole you are playing, whether any or all of your are in the fairway, rough or the sand, whoever is furthest away takes the next shot. However, when you get on the green, it gets a little trickier.

The basic rule still applies; whoever is the furthest away from the hole putts first. If your golf ball is in the path of the person putting, you need to mark where your ball is, so it doesn’t get hit. If your ball gets hit, you have to putt wherever it ends up, so it’s important to putt from where you are. If a person putts, and they get within a foot of the hole, it is expected that they “putt-out”, so their ball does not get in the way of anyone else within the group. Not only this, you have the option of giving them a “gimmie”, which is, they don’t add a shot to their total, and they act like the ball went in the hole, and pick up their golf ball. Deciding on gimmies is a concept which should be decided upon before you start the round with your group, so everyone is on the same page.

Once each hole is completed, the order of who tees of at the next hole is determined by the results of the last hole. Whoever scored the best goes first, down to whoever had the worst score going last out of the tee box. This is not determined by overall score – it is solely determined by who had the best score on the hole which was just completed.

How to deal with Errant Shots


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No matter how many times you have hit a golf ball, there will be times where you hit a bad shot, whether that is off the tee box, or even from a perfect lie in a fairway. There are different etiquette aspects, as well as different rules, when it comes to how to proceed when this happens.

When you have hit a shot, and you can tell that it is either deep in the woods or it is outside a designated out of bounds marker, you have the option of playing a provisional ball. The reason for this provisional ball is to help save time. If you don’t use a provisional ball, and you go find your ball, and it is in fact out of bounds, you then have to hike back up to where you hit the shot from. This adds unnecessary time to your round, and then everyone has to be much more alert of when you hit the ball, so they ensure they don’t get hit. By hitting a provisional ball, you take this part out the equation. You should still go to the area you hit the first ball to check its status. If the ball did not land out of bounds, and you are able to hit it, then you can do so, and go pick up your provisional ball. However, if it is out of bounds, or you can’t find your golf ball, then you play your provisional shot you hit and move forward.

When it comes to adding strokes for provisional and lost balls, the rule is pretty simple. You count the stroke, plus you take a 1 shot penalty. So, if you hit your provisional ball, it is actually your 3rd shot, not second. If you choose to still go back to where you hit the original shot, same rule still applies, but it is your third shot, not a re-do of your first shot. However, another house rule you can implement in with your group is the use of Mulligans.

A mulligan is an option of being able to hit a shot over again, without penalty. Most groups do not let you have an endless supply of mulligans within a round. However, a standard option is getting to use a mulligan on the first hole of each round, and then having 2 more you can use at any time within the round. These mulligans can be used on the tee box, fairways, or even on the green. This is a rule that needs to be agreed upon at the beginning of each round, and once decided, held to throughout the round.

One other aspect to deal with when it comes to errant shots is the lie of the ball. This can happen even when you hit a great shot into a fairway. Typically, the expected etiquette is you play the ball where it lies, even if the ball rests in a divot spot on the course. Obviously, if your group decides ahead of time that if your ball lands in a bad lie that you can move it, then by all means. However, what those bad lies are needs to be very clear and precise, as you don’t want to pick the ball up no matter how it is, in order to get it to rest perfectly on the surface. The only time you should touch a golf ball with your hands on the course is when you are teeing it up, or pulling the golf ball out of the cup.

One other hazard you might run into while on the golf course is a water hazard. If your ball goes into a body of water, very rarely will you have the chance to pull it out. Therefore, you have to then take a drop; a drop is where you take another golf ball out of your bag, stand in the area where the ball crossed over into the water, and you drop the ball at that point. By finding the approximate line of where the ball went into the water, you still get to hit from that line, but the lie will more than likely not be great. Some golf courses also offer drop zones, which are set up for you to hit from in case you hit your golf ball into a body of water. And with any water hazard, anytime your golf ball finds it, you have to add a 1 shot penalty to your total for that hole.

Pace of Play and Course Management


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When you are on the golf course, you not only have to manage your own game, and observe the play of your group, but you need to be self-aware of where you are on the course, and of the groups who are playing in front of you and playing behind you. If you are constantly being pushed by a group who is playing behind you, the proper etiquette is to let them play thru. This will add a few extra minutes into your play, but the group behind you will be grateful, and you will not have them hovering over you on a constant basis.

If you happen to be playing quickly, and are always on the group in front of you, you can politely ask them if you and your group can play through. This is especially helpful when you are playing by yourself, and you have a group of three or four players in front of you. The best time to either let another group play through, or for you to ask to play through, is on a Par 3, as groups tend to get bunched up at the tee box anyways.

If you notice you are constantly playing at a slower pace, then you will need to examine what you do differently compared to others. It might just need to be a little bit more of a sense of urgency, or you might need a roller for your clubs, compared to carrying them, if they are slowing you down. You might also need to rent a cart, even if no one else in your group does, if that is what helps you keep pace with everyone.

Talking about golf carts, it is very important that you keep the golf cart on the designated paths around the golf course. Although it may be faster to take a golf cart thru the middle of a fairway, the grounds keepers do an amazing job of having the course ready for everyone to play. If you take your golf cart across the middle of the fairway, you could leave marks within the fairway, which will cause others who hit it into that part of the fairway after you to have to deal with some bad lies. There are times where the ground is also too soft to support the weight of the golf cart, and if you take it across, you could literally create a mud pit. Your cart should never go into a sand trap, or onto the green. If you use a golf cart, remember to keep it on the designated paths.

When you hit a golf shot, it’s important to fix any mark you may have created. If you hit from the fairway, and create a divot, you need to grab it with a divot tool, and put it back into place. If you are in the sand, and you hit a shot out of the sand, then you need to grab the nearby rake which should be provided, and rake the sand where you were, so you can smooth out the surface. Hitting out of a sand bunker is already a frustrating experience; hitting out of a sand trap that was not properly smoothed out, creating a worse shot for you, can make your shot outright miserable.

When you hit a shot onto the green, more times than not, you will make a small dent on the green surface. It will be from where the ball made its impact, and not necessarily where your ball ended up at on the green. Because the green is the softest ground on a golf course, it is very easy for your ball to make a dent. Make sure you take either a ball marker tool, or even just a tee if you don’t have a tool, and help get under the divot and bring the surface back to level. You also need to watch your spikes when you are on the green – if you drag your foot, you could create some marks along the green. If this happens, you will need to repair those as well.

Lastly, when it comes to taking your shots, you need to be aware of everyone else on the golf course. If you see your ball heading towards another group, you need to yell “Fore” as loudly as you can, to alert them there is a ball heading their way. If you happen to hit a golf ball into a different fairway than the hole you are playing, then you need to be aware if anyone or if any group is hitting the ball in your general direction. If they are, you need to let them finish their shots before you take yours.


Playing the game of golf can be a very exhilarating experience. There are not many aspects within any sport that can give you as much satisfaction as when you score well on a golf course. It is important to know the different rules and golf etiquette expectations when you go out on the golf course, so the level of enjoyment can stay high for everyone playing. Playing with players who do not understand the unwritten rules, or do things their own way, can be fun at times, but they take away from the overall enjoyment for everyone. So remember, makes sure you dress properly, have your own clubs and play the right way when on the course – if you do those things, then everyone will have a very memorable experience.


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