101 Golf Secrets

Golf Secrets 49 - 51: Social

Golf Digest

"Etiquette" is a miserable word. It conjures up horrific childhood memories of a strict aunt scolding you for putting your elbows on the table or using the wrong fork. Etiquette is one of the major reasons golf is so intimidating to beginners: Newcomers to the sport, already rigid with fear at the prospect of hitting a duff shot off the first tee, are terrified of standing in the wrong place, saying the wrong thing, or wearing the wrong clothes. Hey, relax! Etiquette is nothing more or less than common sense.

Etiquette is the very first thing in the golf rule book. It can be boiled down to three main areas of concern:

  • Care for the course: The old leave-the-bathroom-as-you'd-like-to-find-it rule. Rake the bunkers, repair your pitchmarks, replace your divots. Don't play javelin with the flagstick.
  • Care for the golfers: Whenever ambulances are involved, golf really is a good walk spoiled. Don't hit into the people ahead of you, and always shout "fore" if someone's in danger. And if you hear someone else shout "fore," cover up your most important bits, which may or may not include your head.
  • Be courteous: Do unto other golfers as you'd have other golfers do unto you. Don't make the group behind you wait all day. However much you dislike that irritating guy in your foursome, there's no excuse for giving him the old coughing routine at the top of his backswing. On the green, give players room to play (and watch where your shadow falls). Don't tread on their putting line, and do not storm to the next tee, Montgomerie style, when you miss a tiddler and they're still putting out. Play by the rules. Be a good sport.

Finally, if someone has lousy etiquette, it's your duty to educate. The rule book says you're supposed to tell "the Committee," too, which has the right to take "disciplinary action" and, in a competition, "disqualify a player under Rule 33-7." But nobody likes a snitch. Golfers are a reasonable bunch. We can settle our disputes ourselves, thank you. Like I say, it's called common sense. Only it's not that common.


The great Canadian golfer, Moe Norman, played so fast that tournament officials sometimes asked him to slow down, and Norman, in response, devised various dilatory techniques: following a zigzag route to his ball; pretending to sleep while waiting for others to play; reading a book. He couldn't always contain himself, though. At the 1956 Masters, he teed off before the starter had finished announcing his name.

I like to play fast, too, partly because I'm convinced that the longer I think about a shot the more likely I am to screw it up. Most of my golf buddies feel the same way, and during friendly rounds we keep things moving by dropping the usual prohibitions against playing out of turn and moving around while others are swinging or putting. In tournaments and tight matches, though, even frisky players tend to gear down, and players who are slow to begin with slip into suspended animation.

How does a fast player cope? A couple of years ago, in a two-man tournament at my club, my partner and I played a match in which one of our opponents was hopelessly slow. Rather than allowing his pace to get to me, I set myself the challenge of playing even slower than he did—a highly satisfying tactic, and one that kept my blood pressure well under par. In another tournament, in which my own partner was the dawdler, I remained calm by taking delight in how thoroughly he was annoying our opponents. "Can't you do something?" one of them hissed at me at one point, and I said that I would try. A little later, as my partner was endlessly fussing over his club selection for a perfectly straightforward shot, I urged him, in a voice too low for our opponents to overhear, "Take your time."


I've studied golf architecture for 30 years, but here's how you can become a perceptive critic in 30 days. For starters, try some serious reading. Michael Hurdzan's Golf Course Architecture (second ed. 2006) is a nuts-and-bolts narrative of every phase of course creation, and Tom Doak's 1999 Anatomy of a Golf Course provides the perfect right-brained balance. Next, don't judge a course by how well it fits your game, and never judge one simply on difficulty. Analyze each hole from every tee, the lines and angles into each target, and hazard placement. (Don't be distracted by the artful look of bunkers. That's just window dressing.) Examine green contours, keeping in mind whatever direction water flows, a golf ball will follow. Then decide if the holes collectively require a myriad of different shots and command your undivided attention. Finally, don't rush to judgment. Good golf design requires many rounds to reveal all its subtleties, and a genuine golf-course critic never plays favorites.


Image: Golf Digest Resource Center