Basic Rules of Golf Etiquette

garcia-woods-be-gentlemanIt’s great to be enthusiastic about playing golf and know the basic rules on the game in order to play. But there’s another important aspect of the game, which has to do with the decency of knowing the rules of fair play, respect for other golfers, the golf course rules and your conduct in a golf environment. And that is called Golf Etiquette.

If you know and practice the following basic rules, you’ll be considered as a “gentleman of the green carpets” … ok I just made that title up, there’s no such thing. But seriously, please take a few moments to read the following rules and you’ll surely be playing as a true gentleman golfer, worthy of playing in any course.

Top 20 Basic Rules of Golf Etiquette

1. Wear proper attire where required

Many golf courses require you to wear proper golf attire in order to be admitted. And though regularly nobody will tell you anything (unless you’re playing in your underwear), just pay respect to the course and the game in general by wearing proper clothing. And that clothing is:

  • Collared Shirt, frequently a polo shirt (no t-shirts or tang tops)
  • Golf shoes with soft spikes (no tennis shoes, boots or sandals)
  • Slacks, casual shorts or golf skirts (No jeans, dresses, or swimming wear)

2. Keeping Quiet

This doesn’t mean you have to play in mute mode, just have common sense when somebody is about to hit their shot. You may already know golf is about relaxing and concentrating before you hit your shot, so please:

  • Do not shout, scream, laugh out loud, or any other form of intentional noise while somebody is about to hit.
  • Don’t practice your swing while others are at address. I used to take this for granted, but the swooshing sound of the club while practicing your swing does create distraction to others also.
  • Cell phones off. Turn off your cell phone, or at least put it on vibrating mode.
  • Stop your cart if someone near is about to hit a shot. The cart noise and movement may be a distraction.
  • Cart break release. If your cart has the lock on the brake, do not unlock with your foot until the player has made his shot. Unlocking the break can cause a loud clanking sound in most carts.

3. Cart Paths

  • Be aware if there are 90º rules. This means that you can’t drive your cart up and down the fairways. You have to drive your cart using the cart paths and only when you reach the area where your ball is, you enter the fairway in a straight angle perpendicular to the cart, well you don’t need to be exact but you get the idea. This rule is enforced by some courses in order to keep the fairways in optimum conditions.
  • Cart signs. Notice some holes may have little signs when reaching the green that say “carts that way” o something like that telling you to not drive your golf cart near the green and surrounding areas.

4. Balls

  • Mark an identifier to your golf balls. Most balls are white, and many players in the course at the same time may play the same golf ball brand you’re playing, so be sure to put a mark on your balls with a small identifier like lines, dots, or you initials etc. using a sharpie so there are no confusions.
  • Provisional ball. When you hit a ball somewhere you’re not sure you’ll find it, such as the woods, the hills, high rough, etc. you can hit a provisional afterwards just in case you don’t find the first ball. hit your provisional ball once everyone else has finished their turn. And you have to let your fellow players know.
  • If it’s not your ball, leave it there. I’ve seen many times newbie players snag balls that they’re not theirs. I mean finding a ball in the hills or in the woods when apparently there are no other players but you and your buddies is one thing, but I’ve seen people lifting balls from the middle of the fairway, and that’s a no-no.
  • No range balls into the course. Try not to snag range balls into the course. Other players may notice this and you’ll look bad. Even worse, if the course’s marshal catches you he may call your attention and even has the right to ban you from the course.

5. Agree on friendly rules prior to starting the game.

When playing in a tournament, well you have to stick with official golf rules but when you’re with your buddies, sometimes a few flexible rules may apply. But be sure to agree on them before you start your round:

  • Mulligans. This is a second chance at driving your shot from the tee without a stroke penalty. This is regularly valid only at the starting hole, but if you guys are lousy players then you can agree to more icon_smile
  • One-club-distance. Sometimes your ball may land very near to a tree, a bush, or any obstacle that may interfere with your swing. And though the rule says you have to play the ball where it lands, when this situation comes up, this friendly rule allows you to move your ball the distance of one club, (nooo not the driver you cheater!! icon_rolleyes ) a short or mid iron just as long as your ball is no nearer to the hole from the original position. That means you can move the ball back or to the sides only.
  • Gimme. This friendly rule applies any time your ball is on the green and near the pin about a putter length or less from the cup. When that’s the case you may ask for a gimme, meaning you may lift the ball and add one stroke as if you made the put and went in. This is a confidence break to your fellow players letting them know that you trust they will make the put since it’s very near. But if you know your buddy is a lousy putter and the competition is tight, then you may not want to give him the benefit of the doubt.

6. Mulligans go last.

If you are taking advantage of the mulligan rule because your driving shot was bad, then wait until everyone else hit their shots before you take the second shot, and not right after your first bad one.

7. Shout Fore!

When you see your ball fly off heading somewhere in the direction of other players, or with a totally unexpected trajectory please shout “fore!” in order to warn others. And even before you hit a shot, if your ball is in a nasty lie meaning you have no clear idea where the ball can go, is also a situation to shout fore.

And what the heck means “fore” anyway? Well, here’s a short but interesting article on wikipedia.

8. Five minute max. to find your ball.

Everybody knows lost golf balls cost both money and a stroke to your scorecard. But please consider other players waiting on you to keep up the speed of the game. If you can’t find your ball within 5 min. just drop another ball about the area where the ball exited the fairway, and add a stroke to your score. In fact that’s an official rule.

9. Repair Divots

You wouldn’t like your ball to land on a chunk of ripped of grass with the risk of messing up your shot, right? Well neither do other players. So the proper thing to do is to repair your own divots:

  • On the fairway. Sometimes the chunk of grass is nearby or it didn’t rip of completely, and if that’s the case you can grab it with your hand or move it with your club and step on it. In other situations this will not be possible but your cart may have a can with divot repair mixture (sand or soil) you can pour into the divot until is fairly even.
  • On the green. Use a divot repair tool to fix your ball divots or dents. If you don’t have that tool handy, sometimes a pair of tees may do the trick.

10. Bunkers.

Similar case to landing on a divot. I mean landing on a bunker by it self increases the difficulty of a shot, now add to that the possibility of landing on a footprint that another a-hole player forgot to repair…jeez man, give me a break! So please:

  • Repair (rake the sand) your footprints and divots on bunkers after your shot.
  • Enter bunkers from the lowest side. This is to minimize the damage by your footprints and have less sand to rake after your shot.

11. Player farthest from the hole shoots first.

It doesn’t matter if you were the last player who drove your ball from the tee, if you were the shortest hitter you will be next on the second shot. The ball farthest from the hole always takes the next turn, and so on with the next players until the nearest one hits last. Same rule applies when on the green. Farthest ball from the pin putts first.

12. Control your outbursts of emotion.

Every golfer has a right to feel frustrated, disappointed and even have a grumpy face, but unleashing outburst of anger, yelling, screaming, cursing and even throwing clubs is unacceptable. This not only makes everyone else uncomfortable, but it can also harm your self or others around you. Restrain from any negative exaggerated expressions. Trust me, you will feel ashamed afterwards if you unleash tantrums.

13. Consider the distance from groups ahead.

Hitting your ball at a distance where it’s possible you can reach other players ahead of you is not only rude, but also dangerous. A hit with a golf ball can cause severe injury, so be patient and wait for the fairway to clear.

14. Last player who scored best has the honors.

Honor last hole’s scoring to decide who drives from the tee next. That means if you went first on the last hole and scored par, but your buddy scored a birdie, then your buddy drives first on the next hole. Scoring hierarchy is logical (eagle, birdie, par, bogey, double) so follow the scoring accordingly to reorder player’s turns.

15. Avoid slow play.

Try to keep up the pace with other fellow players, or else you may be called to attention by the course’s marshal. 1.5 to 2 hours is the avg. time it takes to play for every 9 holes. So relax, take your time to play but don’t lounge too much. Looking for lost balls constantly, taking 5 or 6 practice swings on each shot, taking way too long to read the green, holding conversations with your friends in the middle of the fairway, etc. all those little time spenders add up, so be mindful of your time and speed of play in order to keep up the pace.

16. On the green

  • Use a ball marker on the green. When you ball is on the green first, and another player is near you or your ball is near his putting line, it’s a good idea to mark the spot of your ball with a coin, a token or a ball marker. That way balls don’t hit each other interfering with the putt.
  • Don’t take the flag out until everyone is in the green. Maybe you reached the green sooner than your fellow players, but if you take the flag out while other players are still outside the green, they’ll not have a reference to the hole location.
  • Don’t step in the putting lines of others. Stepping on the expected path from a player’s ball to the cup can produce slight footprints or dents on the green, thus affecting the trajectory of the ball. So mind other players’ golf balls where you walk when on the green.
  • Avoid casting your shadow on the green. If another player is about to putt, and your shadow is falling down his putting line, this may cause him to misread the green. So move your butt somewhere else!!

17. One bag per player.

A common golf course restriction is that nobody is allowed to play unless they have a golf bag. That is, a golf bag per player should be in the playing party. This is because many people ride as a “partner” or a “rider” which is someone who is just coming along without playing, frequently a caddy, a friend or a spouse. And these people are charged a very low fee. So this restriction is just to make sure nobody is playing while they only paid as a rider. A marshal will notice this and call your attention.

18. Let single players join you.

As a newbie, this was one of the first rules of etiquette that I ignored and made me look like a douche.

Frequently I played with 2 other guys, being a threesome most of the time. So the staff that schedules the tee offs sometimes gives the same start time to single players in order to complete a foursome and optimize the course’s schedule.

Well, we were not aware of that. And us being all lousy newbies we were not comfortable playing with strangers worrying that they may get bored with our level of play or even hold them up from their regular game pace, so we just took off after we drove our shots leaving the single guy behind.

Until one day, a dude after racing his butt to catch up with us on the 3rd hole, he said in a afflicted but bothered tone: “Hey what the heck man? Why won’t you let me play with you guys?” (hehe it’s funny now that I think about it, but also shameful) after we explained our newbie reasons, we learned that no matter the level of play, when the course is packed with people the staff exhorts single players to join od number parties. And that’s the rule, which I later embraced. Joining perfect strangers is a good way to meet interesting people playing golf.

19. Mind the golf course’s marshal.

Needless to say this is the authority that enforces the golf course’s rules, safeguards the conditions of the course facilities and foresees the security of the players in general.

They’re also a good source of information regarding the course conditions and facilities. So be respectful and friendly to them.

20. Shake hands, thank and congratulate.

Lastly, it doesn’t matter if you win or loose, be sure to practice good manners. It won’t hurt being polite at the end of a round to your fellow players. If you don’t want to take of your hat at least shake hands and thank them.


There are even more rules of etiquette, including to getting to know the official USGA or PGA rules. But the ones described above are the most common and useful in any course.

And if you have the chance to play at pricier courses or even private country clubs, you’ll surely notice more etiquette rules are followed.

Don’t see etiquette rules as enforcements or restrictions, remember that these were created in order to create a friendly and safe environment for golfers, as well as a way of keeping some chivalry in the tradition of golf.

Every sport has some kind of etiquette rules, or maybe called a “good sportsman conduct” even in boxing. Golf just happens to have so many possible situations that may arise within game play.

After you learn them, you won’t even think about them, as they will be part of your common sense as a golfer.

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