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Opinion & Analysis

Top 5 “Unwritten rules of golf”



This past week, the conversation around unwritten rules in sport reared its head again when Fernando Tatis, Jr. ripped a grand slam in the 8th inning on a 3-0 count while his team was already up by seven runs.

Some commentators said it went against the “unwritten rules” of baseball to take a full rip in that situation, while others believe if you don’t want someone to hit a grand slam, don’t load the bases and throw a 92 mph meatball over the plate.

Golf, like baseball, is filled with unwritten rules, but what makes it different is the fact that, unlike baseball, golf is an individual pursuit, and for beginners, they can be tough to navigate and understand. It is part of the reason many people getting into the game feel intimidated or shy to ask questions since they don’t want to appear to be unknowledgeable.

So, for the sake of golfers who need a little refresher and new golfers alike, these are the top-five unwritten rules of golf—written down.

1. Don’t walk on a putting line (or through-line)

This is one of the easiest ones to understand and is part of golf etiquette. When you are on a green you don’t walk between where a player’s ball is and there estimated line towards the hole, but it’s not just that line you should worry about. In many cases, you should also take into consideration the “through-line” which extends to a reasonable distance (between 4-6 feet) beyond the hole in case the player misses.
During recreational play, this is normally not an issue but for some sticklers in competition, it can become a point of contention. Personally, I like Jack Nicklaus’ point of view, “I never worried about the through-line because I never had any intention of missing the first putt.”

2. First one to hole out gets the flagstick

In our current golf landscape, this “rule” has taken a bit of a backseat to flags being left in at all times, but if you are the first person to finish out on a hole, it is also your responsibility to pick up the flag and replace it once everyone else has finished.

This simple act is akin to the shopping cart theory

“The shopping cart is the ultimate litmus test for whether a person is capable of self-governing.”

“To return the shopping cart is an easy, convenient task and one which we all recognize as the correct, appropriate thing to do. To return the shopping cart is objectively right. There are no situations other than dire emergencies in which a person is not able to return their cart. Simultaneously, it is not illegal to abandon your shopping cart. Therefore the shopping cart presents itself as the apex example of whether a person will do what is right without being forced to do it.”

3. Pick up and move on when taking a BIG number

Unless you are playing a competitive round of golf, the unspoken rule on a busy course is double par and pick it up. Consider it a small opportunity to reset for the next hole or to move up to the green and putt out before playing on.

If you are worried about keeping a handicap, Equitable Stroke Control takes over anyway:

“Equitable Stroke Control” (ESC) is the downward adjustment of individual hole scores for handicap purposes in order to make handicaps more representative of a player’s potential ability. ESC sets a maximum number that a player can post on any hole depending on the player’s Course Handicap. ESC is used only when a player’s actual or most likely score exceeds the player’s maximum number based on the table in Section 4-3 of the USGA Handicap Manual

4. Find it – return it!

This one shouldn’t even need to be noted but, for the sake of general human decency let’s make it very clear—if you find something on the course, whether it be a club, headcover, or rangefinder, return it to the pro shop if someone doesn’t come looking for it on the course.

On the other hand, the one thing you can find and keep are golf balls, hoard those to your heart’s content.

5. Play from the correct tees (yes, even YOU)

This is a big one and sits at number one on my personal list of the unwritten rules. Playing from the right tees not only allows you to play fasters and have more fun, but it helps keep the pace of play around the course too.

The general rule for selecting the correct yardage/tees to play from goes like this—and also requires you to be honest about the yardage you hit your clubs

5-iron distance X 36 = The yardage you should play from

Forget how many sets of tees exist on the course, or even the color – and for the last time—stop calling the most forward tees the “ladies tees”—there are just called “forward tees.”

I once heard DJ Piehowski of No Laying Up quote a Scottish caddie, “If we’re making too many birdies and  having to much fun, we can always move back a tee.”

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Ryan Barath is part of the Digital Content Creation Team for GolfWRX. He hosts the "On Spec" Podcast on the GolfWRX Radio Network which focuses on discussing everything golf, including gear, technology, fitting, and course architecture. He is a club-fitter & master club builder with more than 17 years of experience working with golfers of all skill levels, including PGA Tour players. He is the former Build Shop Manager & Social Media Coordinator for Modern Golf. He now works independently from his home shop and is a member of advisory panels to a select number of golf equipment manufacturers. You can find Ryan on Twitter and Instagram where he's always willing to chat golf, and share his passion for club building, course architecture and wedge grinding.



  1. retired04

    Aug 29, 2020 at 8:47 am

    length of the course to play? simple-the old “tee it forward” program promoted by Jack N. among many others, kept it simple. If you can’t reach the majority of the 3’s and 4’s with a 7 iron or less (carry yardage), you are playing the WRONG tees-and definitely not having the fun and enjoyment you should.

  2. Suncoast9

    Aug 28, 2020 at 11:29 am

    While #5 is a good guideline, I would also factor in skill level. I carry a 1 handicap and hit my 5 iron 165 yards. #5 suggests I should play at 5940 yards, yet on a good day I can break par at 6600 yards. Conversely I know many golfers who hit it 180-185 and should definitely be playing shorter tees.

  3. Todd Halpen

    Aug 28, 2020 at 10:20 am

    Third player to hole out gets the pin, not the first.

    • Doug

      Aug 28, 2020 at 10:38 am

      Yeah, that makes a lot of sense . . . smh

    • Boyo

      Aug 29, 2020 at 10:39 am


    • ken

      Aug 30, 2020 at 5:27 pm

      Nope..ONce all in the group are on the green, the player closest to the hole gets the flag. Or asks “everyone good leaving the flag in the hole?”
      First to hole out, then holds the flag or places it out of the line of those remaining to play.

  4. Elizabeth SchofieldWallace

    Aug 28, 2020 at 10:14 am

    #2…With the new rules and “ready golf” we regularly send the first two players to finish the hole to the next tee. Waiting for all four to putt out adds 25 minutes to the round. Perhaps ok if you are fast players, but if you are holding the field up, sink your putt and move along.

  5. G

    Aug 27, 2020 at 11:41 am

    I agree with Matt. #2 is dumb. 99.9% of the time the flag is already out before the first person holes out (pre covid). In my 40 years of playing usually the person closest to the hole (or one of the closer ones) would remove the flag after asking the person who is away, if they want it removed.

  6. matt

    Aug 26, 2020 at 2:59 pm

    I’ve been playing golf my whole life, my dad is a pro, I was a junior all-American and played D1. I have never heard of #2. It doesn’t even make sense in a world before the flagsitck rule changed – which was all 2 years ago. You had to pull the flag before you putted, how does the first to hole out get the flagstick? Ok so this might be “new etiquette,” but its very new indeed. Just get the flag every few holes and you’re doing about your due.

    • JOe

      Aug 26, 2020 at 10:36 pm

      You have misunderstood the “unwritten rule”.

      They are telling the first person that holes their ball to go and get the flag stick and be ready to place it in the cup once all the other playing patterns are finished.

  7. not all irons are the same

    Aug 26, 2020 at 1:16 pm

    5 iron * 36 is outdated because it depends on what kind of set a player’s using. a 5i in some sets is lofted like a 4i in others. i think a better rule of thumb would be based off of loft. a similar rule of thumb would be how far do you hit a 40* degree iron, *44. if you hit it 150, the suggestion is 6600. if 155, it’s 6820. if 160, its 7040.

  8. disappointed in Barth

    Aug 26, 2020 at 12:37 pm

    ESC is no longer used. Maximum score on a hole is now net double bogey.
    Also, encouraging people to keep (pick up) balls that they find is reckless. So many golfers just pick up a golf ball thinking that it must be lost when it’s actually someone’s ball in play. This is the most overlooked “unwritten rule” that gets violated on a daily basis.

    • Karsten's Ghost

      Aug 27, 2020 at 2:25 am

      Same thoughts. If you don’t have a handicap, then if you miss for double, pick up triple. Otherwise, play to your max ESC number.

      Also agree on the balls. What? Seriously… it’s the opposite. Unless you’re dead sure it’s no one’s ball, AND you want what is likely to be either garbage, fine. But it’s obnoxious to encourage the “lookers”.

      • ken

        Aug 30, 2020 at 5:33 pm

        Triple bogey max is “in the pocket”. Even if there is a stroke play betting game involved. No one wants to watch a guy plumb bob for a 9

    • ken

      Aug 30, 2020 at 5:30 pm

      If a ball is found in a non play area, its fair game. If in play, leave it as you find it.

  9. Golfer

    Aug 26, 2020 at 12:25 pm

    I hit my 5 iron (25 degrees) 195 yards and am definitely not playing a course from tees that are 7,020 yards.

    • Funkaholic

      Aug 28, 2020 at 11:05 am

      That was my thought, I am a 16 handicap and I hit my 5i 200 yards, I would be a 25+ from 7200 yards. Distance is meaningless in that respect. I can hit my driver 265-275 but that doesn’t translate to Gir, I still top shots, duff them into the water, hook them off of the course and other maladies that plague higher hdcp players. 6000-6300 max for me until I reach single digits.Some say at my level I should move up to the “senior tees but, that would actually eliminate the top end of my bag which is where I struggle most, I would rather keep struggling with that until I get it under control. If the course is too short, I might as well go back to playing par 3 courses.

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Opinion & Analysis

“Golfers pay way too much attention to iron lofts” – On Spec podcast



On this week’s episode of the “On Spec” podcast on the GolfWRX radio network hosted by Ryan Barath, the main focus of the show was on the misconception around fitting irons based on handicap and the focus on iron lofts – AKA “loft jacking”

The goal of the episode was to explain how irons are designed to help optimize the target golfer using a number of factors including lofts, and why it’s more important to focus on final results rather than stock specs.

“The goal should be for your clubs to go the right distance with the right trajectory… golfers focus too much on loft and not dynamics”

You can listen to the full show below, the above quote starts at 22:42

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Opinion & Analysis

Keep your golf body moving at home



Over the past few months, I’m willing to bet that a lack of golf, limited access to gyms and spending more time at home in sitting positions will likely be having a negative effect on our posture.

This means certain muscles (pecs, abs, hip flexors) getting tight and short, thereby hunching us over, rounding our shoulders forward and tightening our hips. This combination can wreak havoc on our golf swings, particularly our ability to rotate efficiently.

This simple sequence of exercises, performed daily, will help maintain posture and mobility in the key areas that facilitate rotation in our golf swings. You can find these exercises and much more on the Golf Fit Pro app for iOS.


1 – Mid Back Massage – 1 x 90 seconds

Using a foam roller or tightly rolled up towel, aim to apply firm pressure through the mid and upper back whilst gently pushing out the rib cage and arching back. Move up and down the roller or towel to target different areas of your spine.


2 – Upper Back Extension – 1 x 30 seconds

Using a bench, box or chair, push the chest down toward the floor whilst keeping your abs / core engaged. You should feel this in your mid and upper back.


3 – Straight Arm Chest Stretch – 1 x 30 seconds each side


Find a wall, post or doorway, place your hand flat with elbow pointing to the floor and arm straight. Gently turn away from your hand until your feel a stretch in your chest and front of your shoulder.


4 – Step Up and Turn – 1 x 5 reps each side 


In a push up position, move your foot to the outside of your hand (or as close as possible) then rotate your upper torso with arm straight, aiming to point your hand straight up to the ceiling.


5 – Back Swing and Follow Through – 1 x 10 reps

Using a piece of rubber tubing or as pictured, the GravityFit TPro, get into your golf set up position pushing out against the tubing. From there turn into your backswing and then into your follow through. Aim to do the majority of the rotation with your torso, keeping your hands in front of your body.


You can check out more of Nick’s articles and services here:

Golf Fit Pro App
Online Training


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The Gear Dive: Talking new Callaway Gear with Dave Neville



On this episode of TGD, Johnny chats all things new Callaway gear with Sr. Director Brand and Product Management Dave Neville. They go deep into Epic Speed, the new Cally irons, and basically everything else.

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