As if learning how to swing a golf club wasn’t hard enough, learning how to play the game by the Rules of Golf can be a lofty task for beginners. But what about those “unwritten” rules that are inherent in almost any sport?
Did you know it’s bad etiquette to walk in the line of someone’s putt or lay on the line for that matter? How about talking in the backswing of your playing partner? For new golfers, breaking one of these undocumented rules can be extremely embarrassing.
Here are 20 of our favorite unwritten rules of golf, in no particular order. As always, be sure to add your unwritten rules in the comment section below!
20. DON’T THROW YOUR CLUBS
Everybody gets angry or frustrated on the course. Sometimes you might even get enraged. This doesn’t give you an excuse to act like a gorilla and start throwing your clubs all over the place. Not only could you hurt another player, but you look like a Grade-A moron.
The best thing you could do is take the high road. Besides, golf courses have the right to kick you out if seen throwing clubs. Take some deep breaths, swallow your pride and take your triple bogey like a man.
19. GOLFERS SHOULD BE SEEN, NOT HEARD
Not only is golf a game of etiquette and respect, it’s also really freakin’ difficult. While golfing great Lee Trevino follows the “grip it and rip it” philosophy, most golfers like to take their time and concentrate on each shot.
That’s why silence is golden while your playing partners are addressing the ball. After he or she has struck their shot, feel free to talk as much as you want. But that doesn’t give you an excuse to poke fun of others, which we’ll address next.
18. DON’T MAKE FUN OF PLAYERS
Did I mention that golf is really hard? Chances are you’ll witness — or take — a handful of embarrassing shots during a round. Skulled wedges, chili-dipped chips and all-around whiffs are commonplace on most courses. It is commonly understood that laughing, mocking, or otherwise degrading your playing partners after a poor shot is disrespectful.
Unless, of course, you’re one of my lunatic friends and have absolutely zero conscience. Seriously, those guys are animals.
17. NEW BALLS ARE ATTRACTED TO WATER
While this “Unwritten Rule” might not help you with golf etiquette, it will definitely help you when deciding whether or not you want to break out a brand new golf ball at difficult par 4 water hole.
It’s known amongst golfers that new golf balls are attracted to water hazards. It’s also known that the magnetic pull towards the water is directly related to how much the golf ball costs. So if you step up to the signature water hole at your local golf course, think twice before opening up a new sleeve of Titleist Pro V1 golf balls, because more often than not, it will end up in the water.
16. CLEAN UP AFTER YOURSELF
Just because you’re outdoors and on a golf course doesn’t mean you get to turn into a slob. Be sure to replace your divots, fix your ball marks on the putting green, rake the bunkers, and replace the flagstick on every green. Your mother doesn’t work at the course (most likely).
One of the worst things you can do it leave your trash, beer cans etc laying around on the golf course. Leave the course beautiful as it was intended. So be sure to practice good manners and clean up after yourself like big boys and girls.
15. DON’T WALK IN THE PUTTING LINE
This might be tough to remember at first, but it is usually poor form to walk on the imaginary line between someone’s golf ball and the hole when putting. Have you ever seen the pros on TV prance around the green like they’re doing some weird tribal dance? Chances are they’re trying to walk around their playing partners’ putting lines. This is just one of many instances when it pays to stay aware of your surroundings.
Messing up someone’s putting line might not be as big a deal nowadays — since spikeless golf shoes are the norm — but you also don’t want to give your playing partner any excuse after he misses that four-footer.
14. LET FASTER GROUPS PLAY THROUGH
This is by far one of the most overlooked unwritten rules in the game. It is common courtesy to allow the group behind you to play ahead if that group is playing faster than yours. Not only does this allow your group to maintain a comfortable pace, it also gets that annoying group behind you off your tail. Everybody wins, and you avoid an awkward conversation at the 19th hole after your round.
And by the way, it is never acceptable to “fire a quick warning shot” by hitting into the group in front of you. You aren’t proving anything by harming a fellow golfer. Just stop it.
13. A GOOD SHOT WILL MOST DEFINITELY BE FOLLOWED BY A BAD SHOT
This is one of those unwritten rules that every golfer learns very quickly in their golfing careers. Golfers across the world fear the shot directly after a good one because they know a bad one is coming. So if you walk up to the tee and hit the best drive of your life 300 yards right down the middle of the fairway, beware of that next shot. By the way, enjoy this wonderful game.
12. ON LONG PUTTS, TEND THE FLAGSTICK FOR YOUR PLAYING PARTNER
It can be pretty difficult to see the hole when lining up a long putt. This is especially true if there are multiple hills or undulations on the green. If your playing partner is staring down a lengthy putt, do the right thing and hold the flagstick while they putt.
As the putt reaches its halfway point to the hole, go ahead and pull out the flagstick. It’s that simple.
11. KEEP RAKES IN THE BUNKER
This rule might differ from one course to the next, but the most common place to keep the bunker rake is inside the bunker. This all but prevents a golf ball from rolling into the rough and against a rake, which is more a nuisance than anything. Unless your course has a different local rule, keep things simple and just leave the rake in the sand.
If you are worried about your golf ball landing next to a rake in the bunker, don’t. The Rules of Golf allow you to move the rake before you hit your shot.
10. OFFER GIMMIES IN NON-COMPETITIVE ROUNDS
Unless your foursome declares “no gimmies” at the beginning of the round, feel free to offer your playing partner the chance to “pick it up” if you’re just playing for fun. This allows your partner to decline the offer if he or she wants, but at least you’ve done the polite thing first.
Of course, you also have a responsibility to never assume a putt is “good” until you hear someone tell you to pick it up. Always putt out everything, no matter how short the putt may be.
9. CART PATH ONLY REALLY MEANS ‘CART PATH ONLY’ NO DUKES OF HAZARD
When a golf course posts signs that say cart path only, they aren’t joking. I’ve seen numerous people ignore the signs and do as they please.
Hey knucklehead, the sign is there for a reason. If you want your local golf course to look good and have conditions worth playing in next time, follow these signs. Your lucky there isn’t a sniper squad waiting on the embankment picking you off after you violate these signs.
8. DON’T BALL HAWK
Photo Credit: Cy Cyr Photography
Everybody is very impressed with your 30-foot extendable ball retriever, grandpa. Now keep that monstrosity in your golf bag before the group behind us starts firing warning shots over our heads. Nothing is more annoying than watching someone search for ball after ball in a creek, especially if their ball never went in the drink to begin with.
We all know that golf balls are expensive. We also know how frustrating it is when you lose a brand new ball right out of the sleeve. But nothing makes you seem more cheap than spending 10 minutes fishing for golf balls.
7. KEEP THE FLAG QUIET WHEN PUTTING
Anyone who has ever caddied before knows to keep the flag from whipping around in the wind while people are trying to putt. Not only will the sound of the flag cause a problem, but a dancing flag shadow can also be a huge pet peeve. Do the right thing and either hold the flag close to the flagstick, or just lay the whole thing on the green.
You’ll notice professional caddies take great care in limiting flag-waving when you watch golf on TV. Take a page out of their book and practice good flag etiquette.
6. LESS TALENTED GOLFERS ARE SURE TO GIVE YOU ADVICE
I’m not sure why everyone wants to give unsolicited advice while on the golf course but please stop it. If you are just learning this great game, you are sure to run across golfers who ‘talk the talk, but can’t walk the walk’. I guess the worst players make the best coaches?
So if you are that 25 handicap player giving others advice, please stop. Your shanked ball into the house on the first tee proves that you really don’t know what you are doing.
5. THE GREEN IS NOT AN ASHTRAY
Cigars and cigarettes are common vices enjoyed on the golf course. Golf carts don’t (usually) come equipped with an ashtray. That doesn’t mean it’s okay to throw your cigarette butts on the putting surface. An empty water bottle or beer can serves as a fine ashtray in a pinch. Discard your trash in an appropriate manner.
4. KNOCK THE SAND OFF YOUR SHOES
Have you ever walked onto a putting green that looks more like a bunker than a putting surface? More often than not this is due to people walking out of a greenside bunker and onto the green without cleaning their golf shoes first. All you have to do is tap the bottom of your shoe with your wedge to dislodge any sand from your sole. Everyone on the golf course will appreciate it.
3. MIND YOUR SHADOW
Flags aren’t the only things that make a shadow on the putting green. Stay aware of your own shadow so it’s not hovering over someone’s golf ball on or off the green. It can be very distracting for your partners, especially if you’ve got a little more… um… volume than others.
This rule also applies on all areas of the course and for all golf swings. Shadows can be extremely distracting on the tee box or fairway, too.
2. PICK UP AND RETURN LOST CLUBS
There are different opinions on how you should handle a lost golf club on the course. Some might say you should just leave it where the person who lost the club last used it (so he or she can return to the last place they remember using it). But you can’t go wrong with just picking up the club and returning it to the pro shop after your round.
Another option would be to pick up the club and try to return it to the appropriate group on your own (if you can track them down, of course).
1. REMOVE YOUR HAT WHEN SHAKING HANDS
Remember kids: golf is a game of etiquette. If you’re a male and you prefer to shake hands with your fellow competitors on the 18th green, then be polite and remove your hat beforehand. It’s the gentlemanly thing to do.
READ ON: 5 More Unwritten Rules of Golf (Honorable Mentions from the Community)
HONORABLE MENTION 1. YELL ‘FORE’ WHEN APPROPRIATE
If your shot is heading straight for the head of another golfer, do the right thing and scream “Fore!” as loud as possible. Most golfers are conditioned to duck and cover when they hear that signal. Plus, it’s a great way to do your due diligence before you knock somebody out with your Pinnacle.
Don’t go overboard with your shouting, however. Just as yelling fore could save someone from a painful situation, it can also incite a ton of anxiety among other groups if used too often.
HONORABLE MENTION 2. MOVE YOUR BALL MARKER
If your ball mark could interfere with the stance or putting line of another player, offer to move your ball mark to the left or right. This should give the other player enough room to make a proper putting stroke. Just remember to replace your ball mark to its original position before hitting your putt. Otherwise, that’s a penalty.
HONORABLE MENTION 3. PLAY FROM THE CORRECT TEE BOX PLEASE
Everybody likes to pretend they’re on the PGA TOUR. Perhaps more accurately, everyone likes to get their money’s worth on the course. That doesn’t give you an excuse to play from the tips when you can’t break 100 on the course. Swallow your pride, get in your cart and move up to a set of tees appropriate to your skill level.
Many courses have taken a direct approach to enforcing appropriate tee boxes. If your course has a tee box policy, do the right thing and adhere to it.
HONORABLE MENTION 4. PLAY “READY GOLF”
Unless playing in a sanctioned competition, it is common courtesy to everyone on the course to play “ready golf.” This means it is acceptable to be a bit “lax” on the rule of having the player furthest from the hole play first. In an effort to speed things up, just hit the ball when you’re ready.
HONORABLE MENTION 5. THE BLOW UP HOLE IS INEVITABLE, JUST ACCEPT IT
Golf can be a tricky game. One moment your are putting for birdie and the next moment you are putting to save a triple bogey. It is inevitable that the day you are having the round of your life you will run upon that “blow up hole”. Don’t worry, it happens to the professionals as well. Take a look at this scorecard from Kevin Na.
Know any unwritten rules that belong on the list? Tell us in the comments below!