The Unwritten Rules of Golf

Unwritten Rules of Golf
PGA.com
Understanding the culture and etiquette of golf can make the game even more enjoyable.
By John Kim
PGA.com
PGA.com

Series: Golf Buzz

Published: Saturday, August 17, 2013 | 9:42 p.m.
One of the greatest challenges to more people playing golf is the intimidation of learning the rules. No, I'm not talking about the ample rulebook provided by the USGA, because quite honestly, you probably break a number of them everytime you go out. No, it's the rules that we all are expected to play by, and that are not really found anywhere - the Unwritten Rules of Golf. 
 

When people talk about the honor, etiquette and life lessons of golf - they're not talking about a proper drop from a hazard or whether you dropped your marker on your ball -- they are talking about a culture of behavior that has been learned and passed down through generations of play. A breach of these norms can cause anything from disapproving glares to frosty tension - no wonder they can cause so much angst among the new players. But how do you learn them if they are, in fact, unwritten rules?!

Well, here's the end of those excuses. Let's start a list of "The Unwritten Rules of Golf" - and make them written.  I'll start with a round of 18 for now and we can add to these as you all name more. Then share the list - with new golfers, with old golfers who need a refresher (hey, we all know those) and those who've just never bothered to learn. Read 'em, learn 'em, live 'em. 
 
1.) Silence please: Golf is a social game. It's one of the best things about it. But golf is also a game of concentration. Don't talk to a player (or anyone else  - including into a mobile phone) when someone else is hitting. Your voice is both a distraction as they swing - and an excuse if they hit a bad shot. You don't need to provide either of those. 

2.) Leave the course like you found it (or better): Fill your divots, fix your ball marks, rake your bunker.  When your ball lands in an unfilled divot in the fairway or a footprint in a bunker, making your shot much tougher than it would have been, you'll understand why. On the green, fix your ballmark and perhaps one more. 

3.) Watch your shadow: Don't allow it to get in someone else's putting line or have it moving in the visual field as another player is hitting. 

4.) Watch your positioning: Do not stand too close or in the wrong area to another player. Directly behind a player's hitting/putting line can be a distraction. Really, anywhere that can encroach in a player's visual field as they swing. When on the green, if you want to "learn" from another player's putt, move to the correct line behind them AFTER they've hit the putt.   

5.) Sportsmanship trumps gamesmanship: You think you're gaining an advantage with the 'early walk' or the dropping of the bag or the 'cough' when they are putting? No, probably not. But you're definitely gaining a reputation as someone no one wants to tee it up with. 

6.) Tend the pin: It's never a bad thing to ask someone with a lengthy putt if they want you to 'tend the pin.'  That is, keep the flag in the hole until the putt has been struck and then remove it before the putt gets to the hole area. Also, if someone is just off the green, ask if they'd like to keep the pin in or out. 

7.) Safety first: Know when to yell "Fore!"  "Fore" is a warning that a wayward shot is coming. If you hit a shot that is headed towards another golfer, a course worker, any person - let them know a shot is coming their way. Seriously.

8) Tip well: The caddies, the beverage cart, the bag boys, etc. They aren't on the course for fun today, this is their job. You expect them to act in a professional manner, you should treat them professionally as they do so. 

9.) Return lost clubs: Players will inevitably leave clubs behind. Don't look at this as an opportunity to score a new wedge. You'll leave yours behind as well one day. This shouldn't even have to be said. But alas, it does.

10.) Keep up with the group in front. Pace of play is all the rage right now. For good reason. I'm not talking about speed golf. Just don't fall too far behind the group in front of you and you'll be just fine.

11.) Let faster groups play through: They'll be glad you did it, so will you. It's no fun for them to watch you plumb bob for a 7. It's no fun for you to know they are staring you down. Also, when you're playing through, be fast.  Don't hunt for errant shots too long. Don't measure up every putt.

12.) Don't laugh when someone misses a short putt: It's not funny to them. It won't be funny to you when you do it. And you will. (This actually goes for any bad shot)

13.) Respect the game: Have fun, but don't be obnoxious. Screaming/yelling so that someone three fairways over can hear you...not cool. Cussing is bad - doing it loudly is dumb. Shake hands with each playing partner/opponent after the round. Take your hat off when you do it. Don't wear your hat indoors. And throwing your club/putter in disgust is never ever appropriate.

14.) Putt 'em out: Unless your partner/opponent specifically tells you that your putt is "good" - don't assume it is and pick it up. We've all seen someone miss a three-footer and just because they are disgusted, pick the ball up or knock it away. The hole is not over until your ball is in the cup. 

15) Understand cart etiquette: Park in an area where you're not walking backwards after the hole to get back to the cart. Don't park where you're in the way of another player or another group. Don't start the cart during another player's swing. Don't start the cart as someone is starting to take a drink. Especially if they're wearing white. 

16.) Remember when you were a beginner: Don't be a jerk to those who aren't as skilled, or educated in golf norms. Rather than criticize, or get upset, offer to teach. 

17.) Don't sandbag: If you're in a competition, whether an organized tournament or a friendly wager - don't inflate your handicap hoping to win a few bucks or an acryllic plaque. The worst thing you can do in golf is cheat. It's the unforgivable sin. And this...is cheating. 

18.) Winner buys drinks after the round. If you won the big money (not condoning (or condemning friendly wagers)) - the least you can do is buy the group a round. 

You can add to these, debate them or tell the author he did a lousy job by contacting John Kim on Twitter at @johnkim
PGA.com

Comments

golfasga

Use mulligans wisely. As President Obama (might) proclaim . . . if you like your shot, you can keep it. Period.

wlbrockman

How about this? When playing twilight golf with a group, always play ready golf so that anyone playing behind you will be able to get to the clubhouse before sunset too.

pauls86

One more- Don't talk to my ball. I have a hard time with players who yell at someone's ball while it's in the air.
Fans who yell during tournaments (GET IN THE HOLE!, etc.) should be pepper sprayed before being thrown into prison.

drosenfeld01

All of these are fine, but I don't think silence should be #1. I know a guy who has everybody in the group on eggshells for the smallest little noise...who stares at a cart coming up to the previous green as if it's some horrible breach of etiquette. Most of us play on public courses with all sorts of stuff going on...barring some ridiculous intentional stuff, just pick your club, find your target and hit the ball. The noise ain't going to affect you any.

uEGfCVsHED

#10 and #11 are my biggest complaints. Tried to play 9 holes on Sunday afternoon with my wife. There were 4 women in front of us...supposedly playing a scramble? They had no idea there were people in front of them to stay up with, let alone the people waiting behind them. Totally and completely clueless. My round was over as we stood 50 yds. from them on the fifth fairway and we waited over TWENTY MINUTES as they decided it was cocktail time at the beverage cart. Never looked back, never waved us through, only interested in their own little world. My wife says it's one of the reasons that women like this that give other woman golfers a bad name. (Oh...and ranger was not help, as well.)

And I gave up my country club membership after 25 years so I could play different courses? What the hell was I thinking!?!?!?

bryceraley

My late grandfather taught me the etiquette of the game, and I'm grateful for it.

Great list!

We have to add, don't walk in someone's line on the putting green.

Also, don't hit into the group in front of you. Going for the green on a par 5 or driving a short par 4 would be two exceptions, if you just misjudged the distance.

If you wanted to make my papa mad, then do one of those two things.

The guy who spam commented about making money with Google is awesome by the way. His comment was highly relevant :)

dhall058

Here's an "Unwritten Rule" which is rarely mentioned: Avoid getting sloppy drunk and stupid before, during, or just after your round. Actually, this should apply to anytime you are in public, but it's even more annoying on the golf course.

kenbenson_1

as a TV viewer, i would like to add a sugestion. Don't walk in front of the camera while someone is putting. We all would like to see the putt go in...

yyogib

Hey Moyniham, If you don like golf move to Siberia. that place seems to fit your personality.

yyogib

Rule 13 is my chief complaint. Not only in golf but all sports now. It is no wonder other countries are being so critical of American sports especially golf. Many fans go to these tournaments for no other reason than to be seen and heard due to the number of television coverage. I have worked as a marshall for 14 years at PGA and LPGA events . Many fans don't have the slightest idea of golf etiquette or protocol . Something has to be done to weed out the disrespectful fans for the good of the game , the courtesy to other fans and players. If other countries want to act like idiots fine, so be it Don't make a laughing stock of the great game of golf and your country

yyogib

Rule 13 is my chief complaint. Not only in golf but all sports now. It is no wonder other countries are being so critical of American sports especially golf. Many fans go to these tournaments for no other reason than to be seen and heard due to the number of television coverage. I have worked as a marshall for 14 years at PGA and LPGA events . Many fans don't have the slightest idea of golf etiquette or protocol . Something has to be done to weed out the disrespectful fans for the good of the game , the courtesy to other fans and players. If other countries want to act like idiots fine, so be it Don't make a laughing stock of the great game of golf and your country

brpunker0421

Enough with the rules, and the "gentleman's game" bs... Best golfer in the world (Tiger) uses obscenities. And women are playing the game in larger numbers, so get past the whole "old boys network," sexist approach to the game. We're not on the f&*kin' tour. We pay hard-earned money to pay an overpriced game, keep that last word in mind... it's a game! Some of you folks take this way too seriously. We drop F bombs because we pay in excess of $75 per round to score 25 over par... and that's on a GOOD DAY. Golf would be a great game if it wasn't for the golfer.s

jsmith20112011

Here are a couple more:

1) Don't throw your clubs after a bad shot. That is dangerous!

2) Keep the cursing and raging to a minimum. Golf is a gentleman's game.

phznthntr

These are great, especially about replacing divots, raking bunkers, and fixing ball marks. I'd add placing rakes in bunkers too. Do not put the rake in the bunker. Can't tell you how many times over the years I've been left with an impossible stance because some guy left the rake in the bunker to catch my ball as it rolls in. I'd also add:
Know your limitations. Sort of in line with keeping pace. I can't stand it when I see a bunch of high teen handicappers, I'm a 17 so I know, playing from the tips or waiting for a green to clear on a par 5 from 250+. Play from the tees your handicap/skill level says you should. If you aren't sure talk to the starter for advice.

kygucitireco

Start working at home with Google! It’s by-far the best job I’ve had. Last Wednesday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this - 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringing home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link, WWW.MAX47.COM

golfnov26

"Early walk" is that toward a putt you know you are going to make or off the green???

SKGoldstein

I have a few more for you...

1. Always have the courtesy to wait patiently if you are playing with women or seniors who tee off from a forward tee box. This applies to everyone no matter where you've hit your ball, unless of course you do not make it to the ladies tees.

2. Don’t tee off just because you don’t see anyone in the fairway, especially if the pace of play suddenly seems to speed up. Wait a few minutes to see if the group in front of you is looking for a lost ball in areas that are not visible from your tee box.

3. When you finish playing don’t linger on 18 near the green, putting away your balls, tees, gloves and organizing your stuff, and don’t stay and clean and cover your clubs. Do it at the cart barn or drive to the clubhouse. The people on the fairway want to get to the 19th hole, too.

wjolly

#19-- If you take more than 1 or 2 "practice swings" before each shot, you are taking too many. It's one thing to stand behind your ball and take a practice swing to visualize the upcoming shot and get a feel for your swing tempo versus taking 4 or 5 swings and then shanking it into the trees. Most people are better off hitting the ball and avoiding practice swings all together.

_54

I'm pretty sure you can tend the pin from off the green. Bones did it for Phil on the 18th hole during 2011 Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. No penalty.

mirwin

Far from being an unwritten rule of golf, Item 6 referring to Tending the pin is actually a written rule of golf and you might want to check but USGA rule 17 seem to state that you can have the pin can be tended, waved in the air or removed from anywhere on the course.

Rhickin222

I am going to these n share with my first tee kid. He is starting to play but does not understand the unwritten rules.
Never hit someone's ball back to them unless asked. If your giving me a gimme, I will pick it up.
Leave the course better than you found it.

Keep pace. One thing that bugs me, when you are done, move off the green, don't take your good old time. Mark score cards at the next tee and allow the group behind you to approach the green.

Thank you, this is very helpful.

Rhickin222

I am going to these n share with my first tee kid. He is starting to play but does not understand the unwritten rules.
Never hit someone's ball back to them unless asked. If your giving me a gimme, I will pick it up.
Leave the course better than you found it.

Keep pace. One thing that bugs me, when you are done, move off the green, don't take your good old time. Mark score cards at the next tee and allow the group behind you to approach the green.

Thank you, this is very helpful.

beakadams

These are great. I would say always fix your ball mark plus one other. Nice job