The beginners’ guide to golf etiquette

Three golfing friends walking together along a fairway

Everything you need to know to be a well groomed and considerate golfer
Image: LightField Studio

New to golf? If you’re keen to make a good impression out on the fairway but are still a little unsure of the ins and outs of golf etiquette, we have the answers you’re looking for. We asked some of our favourite golf bloggers for their tips on how to play a polite, considerate, and well-groomed round of golf – this is what they said…

How to dress for golf

Chino trousers in mushroom from Samuel Windsor

Chino trousers are ideal for the golf course
Image: Chino trousers in mushroom from Samuel Windsor

Golf has a reputation for stuffy dress codes and pernickety on course etiquette, but that’s changing says David Short. A member of the PGA since the late sixties, as a club pro’ he’s introduced hundreds of people to the game and, for the past 25 years, has run his own golf coaching business, David Short Golf. He says:

“One of the biggest challenges has been dragging attitudes in golf into the modern era, while trying to uphold an etiquette on the course that is necessary to protect the course and allow everyone to play in an acceptable manner and pace.”

David explains that, because most modern dress codes are simply aimed at ensuring a smart casual standard, there’s no need to over-think your golf wardrobe:

Any reasonably tailored casual trousers are acceptable. Tracksuit, cargo pants and jeans are OK at a driving range but not golf course dress.

Golfing in the sunshine? Ben Swanton, who writes the ever-popular golf blog Ben Swanton Golf, explains that shorts are perfectly acceptable attire: “As long as they are tailored or golf specific then anything goes. Wear as loud as you want or as understated as you want. One thing I cannot stand are clubs that enforce a “long sock” policy with shorts – Golf really needs to enter the 21st century in some instances on this. Wear whatever socks you want to!”

As for your shirt, David Short says a polo or roll neck is the way to go:

Polo or roll neck are thought of as being golf dress and more comfortable to swing a golf club than button day shirts.

Over at UK Golf Guy, the site for golfers with a wanderlust run by David Jones, the advice is simple: If in doubt, check the club website. Other than that, David says: “I think it’s good to feel comfortable in what you’re wearing but also dressing up just a little bit. And always tuck in your shirt!”

Etiquette tips for tee off

Closeup of a hybrid to tee off with

Ask at the golf shop if you’re not sure which teeing area to use
Image: sattahipbeach

Your scorecard should tell you which tee is the right one for you says David Short:

In general, reds are ladies tees. On older courses, there will be two other teeing areas. The furthest back for men members’ competitions and another for everyday use. Usually these are white and yellow respectively. Modern courses often have these, plus a championship tee and a seniors/novices tee somewhere between the ladies’ and men’s tees. If in doubt, ask at the golf shop.

If that sounds complicated then why not do as UK Golf Guy, David Jones, suggests: “If you are a beginner my advice is to go to the very front tees and only move back when you want a bit more of a challenge. That way you are likely to enjoy things more.”

Whichever tee you use, if there’s one thing all our experts agree on it’s that manners matter at the tee. All of them said their pet hate was people standing in the wrong place, rattling change, pulling velcro tabs, and talking while they addressed the ball.

So where should you stand? David Jones says:

Always stand so the player can see you when they are playing but a little behind in case there’s a shank coming and slightly out of their sight-line. That way you won’t be hit and the other player won’t worry about hitting you!

David at David Short Golf agrees, adding that when a right-handed player is addressing the ball, you should “never [stand] in a direct line behind the ball or to the left of that.”

As for those all important practise swings, take as many as you like, says Ben Swanton over at Ben Swanton Golf, “but once it’s your time to tee up and hit, you’ve got 30-40 seconds to go through your routine and hit.”

Etiquette on the fairway

Person filling in a divot on a golf course

Repair large divots by filling with sand
Image: Daxiao Productions

However good (or bad) you are at golf, our experts agree that you should always take care to leave the course in as good a state as that in which you found it. Take divots, for example. It’s inevitable you’ll take them but, says David Short: “Always replace what you can and tread them down or use the sand divot fill sometimes provided.”

The other golf biggie is keeping up your pace of play. Because you share the course with both your own party and everyone else using the course, you must avoid holding up other players. As David Jones says:

Nobody will mind if you are a beginner and a bad golfer as long as you are moving at a good pace and aware of those around you. Walk quickly between shots, be ready to hit when it’s your turn and concentrate on what you are doing and you’ll be fine.

But what if you do fall behind? “If you are not keeping up with play in front and others are waiting on you,” says David Short, you should allow other parties to play through. Our experts also agree you should take a similar approach to taking mulligans – taking your shot again if you mess it up. As Ben Swanton says:

Ultimately you have to be aware of how long you are taking during the round. If you are slowing up the course, then don’t take as many and maybe drop a ball near to where yours might have landed and play from there.

Bunkers and buggies

Person raking up marks on a golf bunker

Always rake any marks you make in a bunker
Image: Panya_Anakotmankong

You’d think the whole point of golf buggies was to speed up your progress around the course, but this isn’t necessarily the case say our golf experts who on the whole prefer to walk. As Ben Swanton puts it:

Golf is quicker walking, plus it was always meant to be a “walking” game … If you have to have a cart, then you just have to be mindful about who you partner with in the buggy. Ideally similar style games are good to save time driving to each other’s balls.

David Short says “Don’t drive off until playing partners have played and be aware of where others are following behind. Keep them away from greens and the immediate surrounds and park them where you exit the green for the next tee.”

As for bunkers, you should enter and leave at the same point – the shortest line to the ball and, as David Short says: “Always rake all the marks you make walking in and out and playing your shot including the divot you make.” Ben Swanton adds: “New rules with bunkers have come into force, where you can take an unplayable lie in the bunker and drop it outside of the bunker for a penalty stroke. If you really struggle in bunkers this can be a relief!”

Golf etiquette on the green

Closeup of a golf ball nearing a hole with somebody playing golf

Be quiet and stand still while your playing partners are putting
Image: haeryung stock images

Once you’ve finally made the green, it’s vital to respect other players and the playing surface, say our expert golfers. Leaving your golf bag on the edge of the green, take just your wedge and putter onto the green, lying your wedge down carefully when not in use and, says Ben Swanton:

Have a pitch repairer on you so that you can repair any potential damage caused to the surface of the green. Do not lean on your clubs on the green while you are waiting to play your shot either.

As well as looking after the playing surface itself, you’ll also want to show consideration to your fellow golfers. Ben Swanton says sticking to a few simple rules ensures you maintain good etiquette on the green:

“Try not to stand on a playing partners line (i.e. the route they are likely to putt their ball). When your playing partners are putting, be quiet, stay still and do not stand in their eye line. Make sure you mark your ball if you think that it could be struck by a playing partner when they are putting.”

Wondering how to tend the pin for your golf buddies? David Jones of UK Golf Guy says: “The change of rules in 2019 means you can leave the pin in now to putt and unless you’re really close there’s no point in taking it out.” 

If, however you do decide to tend the pin, David Short says you should just “stand away and to the side of the hole making sure the flag is loose.” And remember, as David Jones says:

“Good putting is all about pace – don’t try and hole every putt, just try and get it as close to the hole as possible!!”

Now you have all the knowledge you need to make a good impression on the fairway, all you need now is the game to match. Many thanks to David Short, David Jones and Ben Swanton for their help and advice – three great guys who combine a wealth of golf expertise with fine writing.

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