Golf Etiquette for Beginners
In golf, decorum isn’t just appreciated—it’s expected. Rules for proper conduct are inseparable from the game itself, and egregious breaches of golf etiquette can brand a player as disrespectful or worse.
Sounds pretty scary, right? Fortunately, first-timers need not be intimidated if they simply follow some basic instructions and their own common sense.
We recently spoke with Pete Hermes, Caddie Master at Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Illinois, to get some tips on golf etiquette for beginners. Hermes should know better than anyone how to behave on the course—Medinah hosted the Ryder Cup in 2012 and routinely ranks in the top half of Golf Digest’s best courses in the country, so he must be doing something right.
At a private club, collared shirts and dress slacks are the norm. Public courses are much more relaxed in terms of dress code, and Hermes says that jeans are a common sight. If in doubt, check the course’s website ahead of time.
The Player Farthest Away from the Hole Hits First
The player with the lowest score on the previous hole always hits first on the tee. After every player has teed off, whoever is farthest from the hole hits first. On the very first hole of the round, groups might award “honors” (as in, the honor of going first) by flipping a tee or racing golf carts in a 40-yard dash.
Don’t Stand Where the Ball Might Hit You
As a rule, you never want to stand in a position where the golf ball can hit you. Otherwise, it’s polite to stand out of sight and to not make any sudden movements. Hermes advises standing at least 8 feet from whoever is hitting, in line with either the player’s nose or back.
Don’t Talk When Another Player is Shooting
Any time another player is standing over his or her golf ball, complete silence is best. Socializing between golf shots is perfectly fine, but you should be able to hear the wind rustling through the trees when another player takes a shot.
Follow Proper Putting Protocol
Just like on the rest of the course, the player farthest from the hole is given the honor of putting first. Nobody should putt until every player has made it to the green.
Play at a Brisk Pace
Pace of play on the golf course is very important. This is where beginners can do a lot to make sure they’re not holding up other players. Hit quickly, don’t spend too much time chatting or looking for a lost ball, and pick up your ball if things get out of hand. According to Hermes, a normal 18-hole round should take about four hours to complete.
Know What to Do When You Lose a Ball
If you’re playing by the rules of competition, there are certain procedures to follow when you lose a ball. If a tee shot is completely lost, players are supposed to return to the tee box to hit again, with a two-stroke penalty. With that said, in a noncompetitive setting, most players will just drop a ball to keep the game moving quickly.
Take Care of the Course
First of all, don’t litter. You should also be sure to repair any divots or pitch marks on the green, rake all sand traps, and keep your cart away from the green. The best advice? Just leave the course the way you found it.
Hermes may know everything there is to know about golf etiquette, but even he occasionally stumbles upon something unexpected. “One time,” he recalls, “I saw someone get hit by a ball and just walk away like nothing happened. That had to have hurt!”
The moral of this painful story? “Be mindful of your position whenever you’re on a golf course.” And never forget to have fun out there—golf may have some complicated rules to abide by, but it’s still a game, after all.