How to Follow Proper Golf Etiquette

In golf, unlike almost any of the trash-talking sports you can watch on TV, sportsmanship is paramount. Golf is an easy game to cheat at, so every player is on his or her honor. But golf also has its own code of etiquette:

  • Don’t talk while someone is playing a stroke. Give your partners time and silence while they’re analyzing the situation, making their practice swings, and actually making their swings for real.

    Don’t stand near them or move about, either — especially when you’re on the greens. Stay out of their peripheral vision while they’re putting. Don’t stand near the hole or walk between your partner’s ball and the hole. Even be mindful of your shadow. The line of a putt — the path it must follow to the hole — is holy ground.

  • Be ready to play when it’s your turn. You're up when your ball lies farthest from the hole. Make your decisions while you’re walking to your ball or while waiting for someone else to play. Be ready to play. And when it’s your turn to hit, do so without delay. You don’t have to rush; just get on with it.

  • The honor (the first shot) on a given tee goes to the player with the lowest score on the previous hole. If that hole was tied, the player with the lowest score on the hole before that retains the honor.

  • Make sure everyone in your group is behind you when you hit. The same is true for the group in front of yours; wait until they're well out of range before you hit.

  • Pay attention to the group behind you. Are they waiting for you on every shot? Is there a gap between you and the group ahead of you? If the answer to either or both is yes, step aside and invite the group behind you to play through. This is no reflection on your ability. All it means is that the group behind plays faster than you do.

  • Help out the greenskeeper. A busy golf course takes a lot of a pounding over a day’s play — all those balls landing on greens, feet walking through bunkers, and divots of earth flying through the air.

    Do your bit for the golf course. Repair any ball marks you see on the greens by reshaping the turf so that it's flat. (You can use your tee or a special tool called a divot fixer, which costs about a dollar in the pro shop.)

    Also, smooth out or rake any footprints in bunkers (but only after you play out). And replace any divots you find on the fairways and tees.

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  • If you must play in a golf cart, park it well away from greens, tees, and bunkers. To speed up play, park on the side of the green nearest the next tee. The same is true if you’re carrying your bag. Don’t set it down near any of the aforementioned, but do leave it in a spot on the way to the next tee.

  • Leave the green as soon as everyone has finished putting. Imagine you’re ready to play your approach shot to the green, and the people in front are crowding around the hole marking their cards. That’s poor etiquette on two counts: It delays play, and the last thing the greenskeeper wants is a lot of footprints around the cup. Mark your card on the way to the next tee.

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