There is certain etiquette all golfers are taught when first learning to play the game, such as not to step in another person’s line on the green, and not to talk while another person is hitting. Those are the basics, but not what I’m talking about here. There are underlying rules of etiquette; ones that you may never even know existed.
You see, the mind of a golfer is very fragile, and often irrational. It’s understandable, since there’s a constant battle going on inside of it — juggling swing thoughts, demons, highs and lows. At any point a golfer’s patience can snap, and the last thing he or she needs is a push from a playing partner.
When you’re in a group with another golfer, your job is to be respectful, helpful, enjoyable, and sometimes just stay out of the way. You don’t want to unknowingly aggravate a player in your group (unless you’re playing match play, maybe), but that’s another discussion entirely.
Here’s a list of 10 unwritten, unspoken rules of golf etiquette.
Don’t talk to someone else’s golf ball
I know, you’re only being polite. But when golfers spray a shot and it’s heading for the water, you can bet they know it’s heading for the water. They don’t need you yelling at it or begging for it to stay dry. If they want to instruct their golf ball to behave a certain way, leave it up to them.
The last thing you want is for them to say GO as their ball flies toward a fairway bunker, while you’re telling it to SIT… only to see it land in the sand. Awkward.
Your pleads to another’s golf ball can also come across as insincere, or even disrespectful. For example, if the ball is clearly hooking left into the trees, and you yell “spit it!” you’re basically saying that the golfer just hit a shot that needs to get extremely lucky. Surely the player doesn’t need to hear your confirmation that he or she just hit a terrible shot.
It’s their golf ball; they paid for it, they hit it and they know best where it’s going. When in doubt, silence is always the best approach.
If you say “nice shot,” make sure it was a nice shot
“Nice shot” is undoubtedly the most overused compliment in golf, so make sure to at least use it correctly.
Imagine you’re a scratch golfer and your ball is in the fairway about a 100 yards out, your favorite number. The pin is tucked back-right, but you’re eyeing it up and looking to attack in hopes of making birdie. You end up tugging it, and didn’t catch it cleanly either, so you let your hand off the club in disappointment. The ball lands on the front left portion of the green for an outside chance at birdie, and you’re heated. You slam the club back in your bag, upset at the missed opportunity, and another player in the group gives you a half-hearted nice shot.
Now, not only did the compliment go unappreciated, but the scratch golfer may now be thinking, “Are their standards so low of my golf game that they think that’s a nice shot?”
And this goes for any level of golfer. No one wants to hear nice shot when it was below their standards. The point is, compliment a player on hitting a good one, but make sure the player actually agrees with you.
Show some love
On the flip side, if your playing partner is faced with a difficult shot — maybe they need to hit a towering shot over a tree to a green guarded by water — and they pull it off, make sure to say something more than “nice shot.” Especially if you’re the one who said “nice shot” when that same player hit a semi-chunk from 100 yards on the hole before.
Since the mind of a golfer is fragile, it doesn’t hurt to stroke their ego a bit when they hit an amazing shot. The golf clap was invented for this reason.
Don’t ask someone what they had on the hole as soon as they hole out
While it may not seem like a big deal, keeping score can be a lot of pressure. It’s easy to miscount, forget to mark down the scores from a previous hole, or simply mark down the wrong score. Such mistakes can easily lead to a dispute if handled improperly.
Nothing is more irritating to most golfers than having to announce to the group they made a double bogey as soon as their golf ball touches the bottom of the cup, though. If you just saw them three-putt, or you know they hit a ball out of bounds on the hole, don’t ask “What’d you have there?” as soon as they hole out.
Since they’re probably either angry or upset, give them a few minutes to collect themselves before having to confirm they had a terrible hole. And think before you say “nice par,” forgetting about the ball they dunked in the water, because then they have to correct you and say “actually it was a bogey.” It just reaffirms the heartbreak.
No talking during a no-hitter
If you’re a baseball fan, you know that you should never talk to a pitcher who’s throwing a perfect game or no-hitter, as to not disrupt him while he’s “in the zone.”
The same goes for golfers, but it’s even worse. For golfers, zones are particularly fragile, and any mention of performance, swing thoughts or score can be destructive.
So if a golfer just hit the first six fairways of the day, don’t ask something like, “How are you hitting all of these fairways today?” Chances are, they’ll snipe the next tee shot way left. And if they’re clearly playing better than their handicap suggests, they’re either sandbagging, or know exactly how well they’re playing that day. Don’t disturb them by saying, “Hey, you’re playing pretty well today, eh? Is this the best you’ve ever shot?” If it turns out they screw up their potential best round ever, you can bet they’ll be blaming you and your question when the round is over.
Also, don’t ever say this: “Hey, do you know you only need a bogey to break 80. Have you ever broken 80 before?” No they haven’t broken 80 before, and they won’t today because now it’s in their head.
Don’t hit, or even look at someone else’s golf ball
Want to see a golfer completely lose the plot? Walk over to their golf ball, bend over to look at it, then address it with a golf club.
Anyone who has had someone accidentally hit their golf ball knows there’s nothing that makes a golfer angrier. If your golf ball happens to be in the vicinity of someone else’s ball — or if there’s even a chance of it — be extra, extra careful that you’re hitting the correct one. I’ve seen disputes over golf balls turn into fisticuffs.
And, whatever you do, DO NOT hit someone’s golf ball, realize it’s theirs, and then drop the ball back in a worse lie than where you found it. Not even your worst enemy deserves that.
Tell someone if they’re teed up in front of the tee markers
Don’t wait until after they’ve hit the shot to tell them their ball was in front of the tee markers. If you noticed it, that means you noticed before they hit the ball, or else you wouldn’t have been able to tell. Don’t put another golfer in that awkward position, because there’s only two ways of dealing with it:
- They take the stroke and re-tee, in which case they’re fuming because you could have saved them the stroke.
- You agree to let it go, but then the player feels bad and can’t concentrate the rest of the round knowing it wasn’t completely by the rules.
Golf is a game of sportsmanship, and you should never want another player to incur a penalty. Even if you’re playing against them, calling penalties that you could have saved from happening is a sure way to make enemies in the game.
Wait until the clubhouse to pay
I know it hurts when you’ve lost a money match, and you want to get the payment over as soon as possible, but on the 18th green in front of an audience is NOT the right time to do so.
You need to be sensitive to the fact that some people are uncomfortable advertising that they gamble on the golf course, and others are even more uncomfortable with people knowing they won. Wait until you’re in a more private setting to settle your bets. If they want to then brag to their friends or fellow members, that’s their right.
Take your ball out of the hole before someone else putts
There’s something poetic about the sound of the golf ball rolling around in the bottom of the cup. It’s confirmation that you’ve successfully completed your goal of making the putt, and your award for finishing the hole.
There are only 18 opportunities to hear that sound during a round, so don’t rob your playing partner of any of them.
Plus, you don’t want your playing partner thinking about your golf ball that’s sitting in the bottom of the cup, rather than concentrating on what he or she needs to do on the green. Maybe you’re just trying to speed up play or not get in the way of the other player, but it’s never wrong to just hurry up and grab your ball out of the hole.
Seek instruction, but make sure it’s timed correctly
There’s not a golfer on the planet who will refuse to give advice to a player seeking assistance with their game. Even on the PGA Tour, where golfers compete against each other for seven-figure paychecks, players give each other pointers when asked.
That being said, right after someone hits a shot that spins violently off the front of the green is NOT the correct time to ask, “How do you get the ball to spin back like that?” If the ball spins off the green, I can guarantee they weren’t trying to do that. And if they duck hook a ball into someone’s backyard, that simply isn’t the right time to ask, “How do you make the ball draw like that?”
There’s a time and place for instruction; just make sure it’s not when your playing partner is ready to snap their club in half.
Inspired by Assistant PGA Professional Steven Westphal
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