For those who are just taking up golf, learning the rules of etiquette can be daunting – and even off-putting! It needn’t be that way. Most of the basic rules of etiquette are common sense and surround areas such as respecting other players, safety and the basic quality of the game of golf.
In the following guide, we hope to cover most if not all of the main areas of golf etiquette, with tips and advice that should help you settle in just nicely.
We are going to split this guide into a series of sections, these being:
If you are familiar with the players you are having a round with, things may be easier for you. If not, you need to remember that they are in the same boat! As we’re starting at the beginning, let’s talk about how you should dress, which is one of the biggest and most comprehensive areas of golf etiquette.
Do not wear jeans or any blue denim, beach shorts or football and rugby shorts (nothing that is more than 4” above the knee) and do not wear trainers. No untucked shirts, t-shirts or vests, rugby or football shirts, and again, no blue denim. All of this may see you refused access to the course.
Do wear a golf or polo shirt with a collar; golf trousers, tailored trousers and chinos and – in warmer weather – tailored shorts are the order of the day, as are socks – a must – and golf shoes. In colder weather, tightly-fitted anoraks and jackets are permitted.
For ladies, the preferred dress is usually a skirt that falls just below the knee, an appropriate golf or polo shirt, no denim, and nothing ridiculous such as very short skirts and high heels! Check with the course beforehand for their dress code, as you don’t want to be disappointed.
If you want to wear a hat, make it a cap – with the brim forward at all times – or a subdued sunhat and, in general, try to steer away from bright and garish colours, as that’s just not golf! In summary, smart-casual all the way, and if you’re playing somewhere new, give them a call beforehand to make sure your chosen attire will comply with their rules – some of the bigger, more expensive clubs can be rather ‘stuffy’ about their dress codes!
Don’t be late – lateness is seriously frowned upon in golf circles. Everyone taking part has set aside this time to play, and may have other commitments too. Make sure you get there early – remember you may need to pay course fees, and you want to get a few practice swings in before you head out to the first tee – by at least 20 minutes, and ever, ever just decide not to turn up!
As well as a competitive sport, golf is a social occasion, so no-shows will mean you are marked down in your appropriateness! If you do have to cancel, ensure you let the others know in good time.
Bags outside – if you are meeting in the clubhouse, your bag stays outside. This is a rule that has always been in place, and always will be in place in every golf club, wherever you are. Also, don’t take your bag into the pro shop.
Polite introduction – if you are playing with a group you are not familiar with, be sure to introduce yourself. You may need to ask around the various people in the clubhouse to find those with your tee-off time. Don’t worry, golfers tend to be a friendly and helpful bunch!
Introduce yourself by name and a with a strong handshake. You may or may not wish to inform your colleagues you are a novice. They won’t mind, and may well be more than willing to help with advice and tips during the game.
So, now you’re all sorted for your upcoming round; let’s talk about how you need to behave on the tee.
2. Etiquette on the Tee
Turn your phone off – That’s the first thing you should do when you arrive at the club. You don’t need it when you’re playing golf, and you don’t want to disturb other players – or yourself. Your companions will get very frustrated if a phone keeps making noises. That’s rule 1 – turn it off!
Learn where to stand – this is always – during the entire game – where the player in play knows where you are, so never behind them. Make it 45 to 90-degrees from the chest angle of the player, and a good few yards away. Once again, never stand behind another player if it can be avoided.
Remain silent and don’t move – when a player is teeing off, all the other players should be absolutely silent, and remain perfectly still. Total concentration is needed to get a good tee shot. If the player makes a decent shot, it’s only common courtesy to make a comment on it. If not, don’t say anything unless you know the player personally, it’s not done!
‘The Honour’ – teeing off first is known as ‘the honour’. In play, this is traditionally given to the player with the lowest score on the previous hole. At the first tee, it will be decided amongst yourselves however you wish.
Be Patient – leaving the tee before every player has teed off is also not done. Wait until all shots have been taken, and walk with the others.
Now that you’ve teed off, you’re into general play, which is our next area of etiquette.
3. Etiquette in General Play
We won’t repeat the bit about remaining quiet when others are playing their shots, or those about standing in the right place, as we think we’ve got the point across! Let’s have a good look at what the etiquette is when a game is in play, beginning with how fast you should play.
Take Your Time – golf is not a fast game in any way. There is a lot of concentration needed to play a good shot, so nobody expects you to rush. However, there is a limit; don’t spend too much time practicing shots as nobody has all the time in the world. As a novice, you will naturally need more time and your colleagues will recognise this, so keep your pre-shot routine as concise as you can.
This is one area where you can do a lot of thinking before you take your shot, and while others are taking theirs. Know which club you need, and be ready to take up your position when the time comes.
The general rule overall is to keep on the move; don’t stand around in despair if you make a poor shot, as you will simply get in the way of the flow of play.
Remember you want to endear yourself to the other players rather than irritate them! Take your time, but not too much.
Keep Your Temper in Trim – there is no excuse at all for bad behaviour or bad temper on the golf course. It will not go down well with your fellow players, and you will most likely not receive a repeat invitation to play. Here are a few tips on this subject:
Keep bad language to a minimum; everyone is entitled to a few complaints after poor shots, but don’t swear after every poor shot.
Never, ever throw a club. This needs no explanation.
Never, ever break a club either.
Do not hit the ground with your club in anger.
Remember, you are all there for an enjoyable game of golf. It really does not matter if you play a poor round, and nobody will care as long as you don’t let your temper loose. They won’t ask you back if you are not enjoyable company!
Have Respect – following on from the above, respect is due not just to the other players – in terms of congratulating them on good shots, not getting in the way, and being generally polite – but also to the greens and the course itself. Repair divots on fairways as best you can, do the same with any marks on the green you may have made while pitching, and do as others do – or, if they don’t, you can start to lead by example!
Socialising – so, you’re here to play golf, and with a bunch of people you don’t know or may have met a couple of times only. They might be strangers to the rest of you too, it happens often. We’ve mentioned that you should stay still and silent while they play their shots, and that it is polite to congratulate others on good shots. It’s also wise not to offer advice, unless someone asks you if you have any!
Between shots, stick with the crowd. Get to know your fellow players – it’s a great opportunity to expand your social circle – and join in the banter and chat. Don’t isolate yourself, you’ll miss half the enjoyment of playing golf.
Remember that as a beginner, more experienced players will be able to advise you on how to improve. Don’t be afraid to ask them for advice; if they want to give it you’ll find they will.
Be Aware of Others – the likelihood is you won’t be the only group on the course, and you won’t travel at the same speed as others who are also playing ahead or behind you. Be aware of those who are also out there. Never play a shot if it is going to go into a group of players, and if you should happen to hit someone – it does and will happen – offer them an apology, and it is usually quickly forgotten.
That’s about it for general play, so how should you behave when on the green? Much as elsewhere is the answer, but with a few extra points to consider!
4. Etiquette on the Green
The green is where a lot of the real concentration takes place. This is where it all happens, and where you need to make sure – more than anywhere else on the golf course – that you don’t get in anyone’s way! You know where to stand, and how to be quiet and still, so let’s look at the finer points of etiquette on the green.
Keep off other player’s lines – between the golf ball and another player’s hole is a straight line. Don’t stand on it if you can avoid it. It’s as simple as that.
Mark your ball – if you need to move your ball, use a coin or other flat marker making sure it is not on another player’s line.
Be aware of your shadow – try not to cast a shadow over another player’s line; it’s easy to do, and they will most likely politely ask you to watch your shadow if you do happen to cover the line.
Hold the pin – it is helpful should you be nearest the hole to hold the pin for another player’s putt. This is basically polite and should not need a second thought.
Fix any marks – worth mentioning again, but you should fix any marks you make when pitching as best you can, so the green is in top condition for any players who follow.
Now you’ve played your 18 holes, and made some terrible shots and some half-decent ones, it’s time to retire to the clubhouse. Before you do, be sure to shake hands with all others in your group; this is just common courtesy – as, in fact, is a great deal of that we have written here – and will be much appreciated by the rest of the players.
Next, you’re going to stay for a drink. Really, you are, even if it’s just a short one!
5. Etiquette after the Round
For many people a round of golf is not just a game. It’s a welcome distraction from the rigours of work or the stresses of home, and an opportunity to enjoy the company of other like-minded people and potentially make new friends.
It is only polite to stay for a drink after the round – it doesn’t have to be an alcoholic drink – and have a chat with your fellow players.
Of course, you may have something urgent to attend to, in which case you can politely make your excuses and leave, but why miss out on a relaxing drink or two with people who might have an interesting tale or two to tell?
You might want to have a shower beforehand – many golfers do, especially after a round in warmer weather – but rest assured the others will wait. Be aware that it might also be polite to buy a round!
One last thing: take your hat or cap off before you enter the clubhouse, as it is only polite to do so!
Before we wrap the article up, here’s a great video from Golf Monthly on a few etiquette mistakes we regularly see!
We recognise that there’s quite a bit to take in above, but in all honesty, most of it will come to your naturally. The basic summary is this: dress appropriately, be polite and friendly, and don’t spoil everyone else’s day!
I'm Rob. I'm an avid golf enthusiast and golf tutor with over 40 years experience playing this beautiful but frustrating game. I'm here to offer advice (if you want it) and share my passion with golfers from around the world.