Golf etiquette

8 Rules of Golf Etiquette to Take You From Tee to Green

Has the British Open ignited your passion for a game of golf? Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned golfer, you need to adhere to the rules of golf etiquette even before you step onto the first tee.

While the historical origins of golf are much debated, it is believed that the modern version that we play today has its roots in 15th century Scotland. Originally, the game was played with sticks, pebbles and rabbit holes but by the 1700’s it had advanced to using golf clubs carved from wood. St. Andrews, a small town on Scotland’s east coast, became known as the birthplace of modern golf and it was here that the rules of the sport were thrashed out in 1754.

Today, the rules of golf etiquette are not just there to encourage the players to behave politely towards one another, they also provide safety in a game where a hard ball flying through the air can reach speeds of over 200 miles per hour.

1. Be punctual

Being late for a golf game will cause unnecessary stress to your playing partners and get the round off to a bad start. If you are consistently late, fail to turn up or cancel at the last minute, don’t be surprised if you’re not invited again.

Try to arrive at the course around 20-30 minutes before the tee time to give yourself ample time to warm up and chat to the others in the group. If you don’t know the people you are playing with, make sure you introduce yourself and find out the order of play.

2. Dress appropriately

Despite being a sport, golf courses are usually devoid of colourful Lycra. Instead, collared shirts or polo shirts and long trousers or tailored knee-length shorts with belt loops are the order of the day. Shirts must be tucked in, socks (preferably white) have to be worn and do make sure that you invest in a pair of proper golf shoes.

The rules are similar for women and T-shirts, halter neck tops or vests should not be worn. Golf dresses or skorts (a cross between a skirt and shorts) are generally acceptable but be aware that most private clubs prefer the length to be no more than 4 inches above the knee. It is worth taking the time to check the specific dress code of the course you are playing to avoid the embarrassment of being turned away because of your outfit.

3. Silence is Golden

Keep quiet and stand very still whenever a player is lining up or about to take their shot. This goes for your mobile phone as well – put it on silent mode and leave it in your bag for the duration of the game. Even a seemingly small thing like adjusting the Velcro on your golf glove can be incredibly distracting for a player who is mid-swing.

You need to stay in line with the other players in your group when someone is hitting a shot. It is bad etiquette to stand behind a golfer on the tee or anywhere else on the golf course. If you are playing in the early morning or late afternoon, it is also essential to pay attention to where your shadow is cast to ensure it doesn’t touch the putting line.

4. Do Not Cheat

This may seem obvious but when you’re out on the course it can be tempting to ‘bend the rules’ if things are not going your way. The rules of golf are also very complex and sometimes mistakes are made out of ignorance. If you are in any doubt about the correct rules, ask your fellow players or one of the officials at the clubhouse.

Always keep a count of how many strokes you have played and be honest – do not try to discount any lost balls or “air shots” to improve your score sheet. If you lost a ball or it goes out of bounds, you need to replay from where the lost ball was struck. Don’t be tempted to simply drop another ball at the point where you think it went missing.

5. Avoid Slow Play

Wherever you are playing, try not to hold up the flow of the golf course by being too slow. To keep up with the group ahead of you, aim to be playing your shot onto the green just after they have safely vacated it.

Preparation is an important part of playing golf but use the waiting time in-between shots to figure out what club to use next and take it out of the bag ready for your turn. Efficiency is key so don’t waste time by discussing the hole or filling out your score card while still on the green as this will hold up the group behind. But remember that it is also considered very rude to leave the teeing area before everyone has hit their shot.

6. Show Respect for the Course

The golf course is there for everyone’s enjoyment and it has to endure a substantial amount of wear and tear. Do your bit to keep it in tiptop shape by repairing your pitch marks on the green and replacing divots in the fairways. This encourages the grass to grow back quicker and prevents unsightly brown marks.

When you’re on the putting green, pick the ball up instead of scooping it out of the hole with your putter. If you are using a trolley or golf buggy, follow the signs and do not take them inside the white lines in front of the greens.

7. Do Not Lose Your Temper

There is no doubt that golf can be a frustrating game at times but do not let a bad shot affect your golf etiquette. If you want to be invited back for another round, try to keep your temper in check at all times.

Do. Not. Throw. Your. Club. Ever. This is non-negotiable and probably the quickest way to earn yourself a bad reputation. While the odd expletive is forgivable, do not rant and rave after every bad shot. Keep a positive attitude and remember that golf is meant to be fun!

8. Stay for a Drink

It is customary to stay and have a drink with your group after the round is finished. If you really don’t want to stay, have a good excuse up your sleeve and deliver it politely. In pre-Covid times, good golf etiquette also included shaking hands with all the other players but for now a friendly nod will have to suffice in most instances.

Make sure that you adhere to the rules of the clubhouse, which may include removing your hat and changing your footwear before entering. And remember not to undo your impeccable golf etiquette by drinking too much on the 19th hole!

Do you want to learn more about sports etiquette? Check out these articles:

A Guide to Ski Etiquette
Who’s for Tennis? A Guide to Wimbledon Etiquette

This article was written by Åse Anderson, Head of Communication at The British School of Etiquette

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