The first rule of golf is to try not to hit anyone. The second rule is to try not to let anyone hit you. The third rule is not to make any money from hitting people or from letting them hit you.
This blog is about the first two rules: how to behave respectfully when playing on a golf course, and how to behave appropriately when playing a round with others.
I am not an expert on golf etiquette, but I have had a lot of experience playing with people who are and I find it very confusing.
The first thing to say about golf etiquette is that it isn’t really golf etiquette. There is no such thing as golf etiquette. It’s a trick the game plays on you.
It’s true that in some countries the rules of golf are more complicated and obscure than they are in America; but that doesn’t make them more correct. It makes them harder to understand. A beginner will have trouble with them, and a beginner should not have trouble with them.
A beginner wants to avoid mistakes which would be fatal at any level of play, so she can concentrate on learning to play well, not on learning the rules.
Golf etiquette is a complex subject, with an impressively large number of rules. Some golf etiquette is pretty obvious: no littering, no swearing (except under your breath), no eating or drinking in the clubhouse, and so on. But there are some more subtle things that have to do with course management and etiquette towards other players.
Here are some of the most common issues that arise when golfers aren’t playing well or behaving politely:
-Making excuses (“Well, there should be a hole in one here!”)
-Making up “rules” for how you want to play the game (“I can hit it as far as I want here!”)
-Lying about your score (e.g., saying “I just hit three balls in the same place!”)
-Trying to play better than everyone else without trying harder (“I’ll show them who’s the best golfer in this area!”)
-Rushing a putt by pulling off the clubface or using an illegal stroke (i.e., using an illegal swing part way through the swing)
Golf is a game of social etiquette. If you don’t know the rules, it’s hard to know where to stand and how to position your body or how to signal your intention. It’s also difficult if you don’t know the background history that explains what’s okay and what’s rude.
Here’s a brief course on golf etiquette. You can probably skip most of these, but I wrote them down to learn when I first started.
The first thing to do is learn to putt. This takes time, though; in fact, it takes forever. A lot of golfers find the putting green a hostile place.
The notion that golfers should pay attention to each other is something of an anachronism. It was only in the last decade that a course in Scotland began using the phrase “the gentleman’s game” as a selling point. And even then some courses didn’t adopt the phrase until after their visitors had complained about its absence.
Do you want to play with people who will care if you break a rule? Then don’t play golf. Maybe you want to play with people who’ll do what they can to make you happy even if they’re breaking a rule? Then maybe golf isn’t for you.
At any rate, at this point I’m going to assume that your aim is not to get yelled at by a golfer but rather to enjoy the peace and quiet of the beautiful game.
So what are the rules of etiquette?
Everyone who goes to a golf course wants to play well. But the person who plays well and the person who plays badly are not always the same, and beginners especially don’t know which is which.
So: what do you say to the other players? What do you wear? When should you tee off? How should you walk up to the first hole?
The rules of golf are very simple: no hitting of your own ball, or any other person’s ball, or interfering with another player’s shot; and no unsporting conduct, such as swearing or yelling at the other players.
There are also many unwritten rules that have evolved over time. They have changed a lot over history; many of them seem silly now but were important then.
There is no substitute for experience. The best way to learn how to play golf is by playing it often, in company.
The most important thing is that everyone at a golf course wants it to be fun.
Golf is a game that rewards the totally indifferent. It’s a great game for people who don’t want to think about anything, who are happy not to have to think about anything, who want to be able to just get on with it and forget about the whole thing.
It’s a very forgiving game. If you break your clubs and lose your ball, or if you forget what club you’re supposed to use, or if you’re a little late getting your swing back after missing a putt, none of these things matters as much as it does in other games. If you miss a putt, it’s no big deal; on the next hole you’ll make one just like it.
The result is that golf is full of people who are completely out of their depth, thinking it’s something they can do without effort when in fact they’re being completely dominated by the game. Many golfers are like doctors: completely convinced that they know more than anyone else about medicine; but if you ask them how many antibiotics work on Staphylococcus Aureus, they’ll tell you ‘only penicillin’.