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.
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