Golf Etiquette (A Beginners Guide)

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If you’re a new golfer, you want to fit in. While your game might not always allow for it, you can blend in by playing and dressing the part. The biggest key is acting the correct way.

Others think you need to focus on lower scores, we think it’s by following the basics we’re laying out here in our Golf Etiquette article. This post won’t cover every nuance, and believe me there are plenty, but it will help you feel more comfortable playing with other people.

Ready Golf & Time

There is hardly an easier way to identify a group of beginner golfers than how long it takes them to play. When golfers fall behind the group in front of them, it creates a ripple effect that spreads to every group behind them. This ripple slows the rounds of all and could delay other players from teeing off.

You make other golfers unhappy, you make the staff unhappy. In other words, you do not want to do this. So how is this avoided? You play ready golf at the earliest sign the group ahead is pulling away.

Ready Golf

It is standard practice for the player furthest away from the hole to hit the next shot. It is also standard that the person who makes the lowest score on the previous hole is the first to tee off.

To make the explanation easy, ready golf means if you are ready, you hit your shot. Forget normal golf etiquette, it does not matter if you are the furthest from the hole or not. By doing this, it speeds up play since nobody is waiting around while other people get to their ball.

Being ready for your next shot

A major part of golf etiquette is being ready when it’s your turn to hit. This does not mean you need to swing the second your playing partners ball lands, but at that point you’re on the clock. Your goal should be swinging around 20 seconds after the person who most recently hit.

This time frame sounds quick, but when following the rules of golf etiquette is very easy to achieve. While other players are hitting you should be measuring distance, via rangefinder or approximating from a nearby marker, and selecting your club. This is the easiest way to save time as once it’s your turn all you have to do is take a practice swing and hit your ball.

Number of practice swings

Speaking of practice swings, limit your number of these per shot to one or a maximum of two. Many golfers confuse a pre-shot routine with the opportunity to fix their swing. This is incorrect. The swings immediately before hitting your ball should be more of a mindset thing than actual practice.

You’re getting comfortable, not improving your skills. Have the correct club in your hand and limit practice swings. By doing this you ensure that you will save time and keep your group moving.

What is the proper distance between groups?

There are signs you are falling behind the group ahead of you. There are also signs you are slowing down the group behind you. Any indication of this should trigger a golf etiquette response of playing ready golf and speeding up.

Having more than one full hole between groups means the second group is falling behind. This is something that cannot happen if you are trying to follow the basics of golf etiquette. Ideally, you want to be hitting into a green as the group ahead of you begins teeing off on the next hole. If you’re on the same hole, you want to be getting to your drives as they finish putting.  If you are waiting to hit each shot, the group in front of you is playing slowly. If the group behind you is waiting for every shot, you need to speed it up.

How long is a golf round supposed to last?

You want to shoot for 4 to 4.5 hours for a round of golf. Every course will have their own recommended pace of play posted in the clubhouse or at the 1st tee, but these are general times to aim for. We break down average pace of play below. These are times for on the course, but always remember to build time into your schedule at the 19th hole (course restaurant and bar).

  • 4 hours is quick
  • 4.5 hours is normal
  • 5 hours is way too long

As you make the turn (go from the 9th hole to the 10th) and it has been 2.5 hours, this is a sign to pick up the pace. You likely won’t be able to play the back in 1.5 to get down to the 4-hour mark, but it’s golf etiquette to try.

Rain Checks

When there is bad weather such as thunder or lightning, the clubhouse will “blow the horn”, which is a loud noise (usually airhorn) that can be heard from anywhere on the golf course. In some cases it’s a short delay, in others you cannot finish. If you are unable to play all the holes you paid for, it is appropriate golf etiquette to request a rain check.

A rain check is essentially a gift card or rebate which allows you to come back and play an additional 9 or 18 holes depending on how far along you were. Most courses will do this, others will not. Either way you are within your rights to ask.

Where to stand playing golf

Let’s get the obvious out of the way. Never stand in front of a golfer where you can be hit with their shot.

You should always stand behind the person hitting, however not so close behind that you could be hit with their club. You also do not want to stand directly behind someone since you could catch their eye while swinging and distract them. The best golf etiquette is to stand about 10 feet away.

Golf Etiquette (A Beginners Guide) on what to wear

Guidelines for what to wear often change from course to course. In general, the nicer (more expensive) the course, the stricter they will be with guidelines. At a lot of places breaking the dress code rules is enough to be asked to leave. We’ve listed out a few of the most standard rules below.

  • Collared shirts
  • Shirts tucked in
  • No jeans
  • Golf shoes, sneakers are acceptable
  • No metal spikes (looking at you Bryson)
  • No gym shorts
  • No cargo shots (not always a rule, but might get you a few funny looks)
  • Hats worn forward (for the stuffier of golf clubs)
  • No hats inside the clubhouse or bar

Not so much of what to wear, but outside coolers are not allowed at golf courses. In allowing outside food and alcohol, it cuts into profits. Additionally, courses have their own liquor license and bringing your own drinks is no different than bringing alcohol to a bar. It’s not allowed, but we can’t deny it’s harder to be caught than in a bar.

What happens when you hit a ball at someone?

This is not only golf etiquette knowledge, but safety knowledge. It hurts to be hit with a golf ball. If it’s in the arm, you get off with a bruise. If it’s in the head, damage can be very bad.

When you hit a ball and it is going towards someone shout “fore”. This gives the people a heads up a ball is coming and to take cover or cover their heads. Even if your shot does not look it will hit them directly, but will land close, you still need to yell fore.

Yell loud, make sure you are heard and apologize when you get close. Hitting it near someone is uncontrollable, every golfer knows this. As long as you tell them it’s coming you followed golf etiquette.

Three mistakes to avoid

There are plenty of golf etiquette faux paus, but some are worse than others. If we listed every one we’d be here all day. You’ll learn them as you play, but these are a few you need to know the second you step on a course.

Bag on the green

Golf bags cannot be placed on the green. Instead, place your bag in the rough between the next tee and green you are on (also a timesaver). If you put your bag on the green it leaves impressions which make it harder to putt on for anyone going over that spot later on.

That is a rule for bag carriers, but the principle applies to those in carts. Carts cause serious damage when not driven properly, so don’t even think about bringing your cart within 15 yards of the green, much less on it. Driving on or too close to the greens will get you asked to leave immediately.

Talking or driving a cart while people swing

Speaking of golf carts, besides being heavy they are loud and distracting. You should never start driving in a golf cart while someone close by is swinging. Much like yelling (with the exception of fore) or talking, it will mess up others and irritate them.

This rule of golf etiquette applies to people on your hole and the ones close by. If you are more than 50 yards away, don’t worry about it. But, when you know you are close enough to cause a disruption by talking or driving your cart, make sure to wait for them to hit before making any noise.

Not respecting the rules (of the course and those around you)

Blending in on a golf course requires following golf etiquette, respecting the course and others playing. Skill level aside, your presence won’t bother anyone if you take care of the place and watch out for others. If you shoot 70 on 9 or 18 holes, not much else matters.

Help others find their ball when you can. Be nice to the course staff (very important). Keep the pace moving and dress to fit in. As long as you are trying, other golfers can recognize this. Golf etiquette is easy to follow, but hard to master. Always keep an open mind and be willing to learn.

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Mike Regan
Mike is a weekend golfer from Connecticut and a student of the game. Any day he keeps it under 80 is a good day. When he's not writing about golf or playing, he works in higher education fundraising.