Basic Golf Etiquette to Know Before You Hit the Course

By Nick Heidelberger

Golfers shaking hands after round

Learning proper golf etiquette adds one extra layer to picking up an already complex game. But by following these golf etiquette guidelines, you’ll learn how to carry yourself on the golf course with ease.

Golf Etiquette Rules

Trying to memorize every golf etiquette rule can seem daunting, but once you understand that all those etiquette rules support these three common goals, golf etiquette becomes common sense.

  1. Allow your playing partners to play free of distractions or obstacles and in a safe environment;

  2. Maintain proper pace of play;

  3. Take care of the golf course.

General Golf Etiquette

Before we get into etiquette in specific areas of the golf course, let’s touch on some general golf etiquette guidelines.

  1. Be quiet. If another golfer is teeing up their ball or selecting their line of play, it’s time to wrap up any conversations immediately. From the time a playing partner addresses the ball until their shot is in the air, remain silent.

  2. Give space. Don’t crowd a fellow golfer by standing too close to them or leaving your golf bag in their personal space.

  3. Be aware of your shadows. If your shadow, or the shadow of your golf bag, is in a playing partner’s vision for their upcoming shot, move to eliminate the distraction.

  4. Rake your bunkers. Any time you play from a bunker, use the rake provided to rake over any impressions from your footsteps and swing.

  5. Dress appropriately. The definition of proper golf attire can vary depending on your gender, the course, and the time of year you’re playing golf. At the very least, be sure to avoid denim, clothing with holes, and beachwear. Collared shirts are always a safe bet.

  6. Yell “fore!” when it’s necessary. If you see a ball, whether it’s yours or a playing partner’s, that is potentially headed towards anybody else on the golf course, be sure to yell “fore” to warn them of the potential danger.

Tee Box Etiquette

Let’s start where your round of golf starts, on the tee box.

  1. Be ready when it’s your turn to play. When you’re on the first tee, decide the order of play among your group however you want. On all following holes, the person who made the lowest score on the previous hole has the honor to tee off first. Don’t wait until it’s your turn to play to get your ball, tee, and glove ready.

  2. Track your partners’ shots. Having an extra set of eyes on where exactly their ball lands helps your pace of play and can even help scores by eliminating lost ball penalties. You’ll be very thankful when your partners return the favor.

  3. If you hit a shot that may be out of bounds or lost, hit a provisional ball. This might seem like an unnecessary use of time, but it will actually help speed up your round.

  4. If you take a divot anywhere on the golf course, including the tee box, use the divot mix provided on the tee or on your golf cart to fill the divot. If no divot mix is available, retrieve the chunk of turf to fill the divot.

Golf Etiquette on the Green

Once you reach the putting green, golf etiquette changes, but the objective to be courteous to your playing partners and maintain a good pace of play still applies.

  1. If you hit the green with a full shot, your ball probably left a mark on the green. Before you do anything else on the green, locate your divot and repair it with a divot tool or a golf tee, and if you notice any other divots, repair those as well.
fixing divot with tool

  1. Never walk through somebody’s line. To be courteous to your playing partners, you must be conscious of their line, which is the line between their ball and the hole. Instead of walking through someone else's line, walk behind their ball or around the other side of the hole, watching out for other players' lines in the meantime.

  2. Once all players are on the green, the player set to putt last (the player closest to the hole) is responsible for pulling flagstick (assuming everybody in the group prefers it to be removed). The first player to hole their putt is responsible for replacing the flagstick once the group is finished on the green.

Golf Cart Etiquette

If you prefer to use a golf cart when you play, always obey all posted signs on the course, and follow these golf cart etiquette rules to ensure everyone’s safety and proper care for the golf course.

  1. Avoid wet areas. Many times the golf course staff will warn you of any wet areas on the course that you should avoid with your cart, but you should always be on the lookout for yourself, and steer clear of wet areas.

  2. Follow the 90 degree rule when it applies. The 90 degree rule means you use the cart path until you can take a 90 degree turn to your ball, rather than cutting corners and driving through the fairway and rough. The course staff will alert you when the 90 degree rule is in play, and you can preserve course conditions by obliging.

  3. Never drive a golf cart through tall fescue or native areas. This can cause unnecessary damage to the course.

  4. Never drive a golf cart on a tee box, putting green or fringe, collar, or green bank, or in or around bunkers.

  5. When parking your cart around the green, park between the green and the next hole to allow for a quick exit and to minimize any wait time by the group behind you.

Golf Bag Etiquette

When you’re carrying your golf bag, many of the principles of golf cart etiquette translate to your golf bag. These are mostly common sense, but here goes.

  1. Don’t put your bag down on the putting green, teeing area, in a bunker, or in tall fescue or native grass. Just like a golf cart, your golf bag can damage the course. Instead, set your bag in the rough that surrounds these areas.

  2. Don't walk with your golf bag while a playing partner is playing. Club clatter can be just as distracting as side chatter to a golfer standing over their shot. Be still from the time they address the ball until it's in the air.

  3. When you’re heading to the putting green, be sure to drop your bag between the back of the green and the next tee box so it rests along the path from the hole to the following tee. This will eliminate any unnecessary back-tracking and help your pace of play.

Pace of Play Etiquette

Pace of play has an enormous impact on a golfer’s enjoyment of their round. A slow round can suck all the joy out of an otherwise perfect day on the golf course. It’s up to each individual golfer, and each group collectively, to do their part to help with pace of play. If your group wants to go the extra mile to keep a good pace, agree to play ready golf throughout your round.

  1. It’s worth repeating to be ready to play when it’s your turn.

  2. Minimize practice swings. One or two practice swings are plenty. Visualize your shot, and hit it.

  3. The Rules of Golf allow three minutes to search for a lost ball. If you can’t find your ball within the allotted three minutes, proceed under the lost ball penalty and move along.

  4. Know when to pick up. The World Handicap System enforces a maximum score of net double-bogey on any hole. That means once you’ve exceeded par, plus any handicap strokes you get on a hole, plus two, it’s time to pick up and move on to the next hole.

  5. Be efficient at the turn. If you must stop for a bathroom break, beverage, or snack at the turn, be efficient. It’s a quick pit stop, not an elaborate halftime break.

Conclusion

It’s impossible to list every golf etiquette rule, but by being conscious of eliminating distractions from your playing partners, taking care of the golf course, and keeping the pace of play moving, you’ll be well on your way to great golf course etiquette.

About the Author

Nick Heidelberger is the Editor of GolfLink. He has a degree in journalism from the University of Idaho and has been an avid golfer for more than 10 years. In the years prior to joining GolfLink, he worked for the New England Section of the PGA of America.