Golf Etiquette 101: Essential Tips and Rules for Beginners

golf 101 etiquette for beginners

Golf etiquette is the set of unwritten rules and best practices that players follow to maintain a respectful and enjoyable environment on the course. These guidelines are crucial for the pace of play and ensuring that all players, regardless of skill level, have a positive experience. This comprehensive guide will explore essential tips and rules that every beginner should know, from pre-game preparation to on-course conduct. We’ll also delve into key statistics and answer frequently asked questions to give you a well-rounded understanding of golf etiquette.

If you are new to golf or just need a refresher on scoring and handicaps – see “Golf 101: Scoring Demystified.” Hitting the course for the first time this fall? Check out our posts “Beyond Pumpkin Spice: The Essential Guide to Conquering Fall Golf” and “Fairways and Footsteps: Navigating the Choice Between Walking and Riding.”

Why Golf Etiquette Matters

If you’re new to the game, golf ettiquette might seem like a leftover term from some bygone era, implying stuffiness and judgemental elders watching you’re every move. I know I did when I first started playing. I soon realized that was wrong and fell in love with all facets of the game, especially its history and tradition.

Understanding and following golf etiquette is more than just a formality; it’s a cornerstone of the game. First impressions matter, especially in a sport where you’re often paired with strangers. Knowing the basics of golf etiquette not only helps you make a good impression but also fosters a sense of community among players.

golf old ppl


Some groundwork must be done before you even set foot on the first tee. Arriving early is your first step in mastering golf etiquette. Aim to get to the course at least 30 minutes before your tee time. This lets you warm up, get comfortable with the surroundings, hit a few balls at the practice range, and do some practice putting.

Your attire also speaks volumes about your respect for the game and the course you’re playing on. Golf courses often have dress codes, and adhering to them is essential. This usually means collared shirts and slacks or tailored shorts for men. For women, appropriate golf attire includes skirts, skorts, or slacks paired with a collared or appropriate non-collared shirt.

If you need some attire suggestions, check our posts “Beyond Pumpkin Spice: The Essential Guide to Conquering Fall Golf” and “Five Golf Shoes for Fall Fairways.” Our partner, Puma Golf also has some great new apparel choices, including their Arnold Palmer collection.

golfer arriving at course
golfer choosing apparel

Featured Partners

On the Course

  • Once you’re on the course, the real test of your golf etiquette begins. Let’s start with the basics. Only hit one ball per shot to maintain the pace of play. Using the course as a personal driving range is a surefire way to annoy other players.
  • When it comes to hitting your shot, time is of the essence. From the moment you select your club to the time you hit the ball, aim to take no more than 30-45 seconds. This helps keep things moving and avoids delays for the groups behind you.
  • Standing position matters, too. While others are hitting, stand still and maintain silence. Standing directly behind a player who is teeing off is considered poor form. Your position should neither distract the player nor put you in the line of fire.
  • Adhering to “ready golf” rules in casual play is also advised. In ready golf, the player farthest from the hole typically hits first – this speeds up play and keeps play flowing smoothly.
time golf

The Essentials

When it comes to golf etiquette, some rules are absolutely non-negotiable. These are the essentials that every golfer, beginner or seasoned, should know and practice. By adhering to these essential rules, you contribute to a more enjoyable and fair game for everyone on the course. Here’s a quick rundown:

  • Fixing Divots: When you take a chunk of turf with your swing, it’s crucial to replace it. This helps maintain the course’s quality and ensures a smooth playing surface for others.
  • Repairing Ball and Pitch Marks: After your ball lands on the green, check for any indentations and repair them. A simple tool can help you lift the turf back to its original position.
  • Yelling “Fore!”: If your ball is headed toward where it might hit someone, yelling “fore” is a must. It’s a quick way to alert other players and potentially prevent injuries. The term “fore” actually has historical roots; it’s believed to have originated as a warning cry among artillerymen and was later adopted by golfers to warn those on the course.
  • Raking Bunkers: After playing a shot from a bunker, rake the sand to smooth it out. This is not just a courtesy but a rule in many places, ensuring that the next player has a fair shot.
  • Pace of Play: No one wants to spend their day waiting for a slow group ahead. By adhering to simple guidelines, like being ready to play when it’s your turn and keeping up with the group in front, you contribute to a smoother, faster game for everyone.

Cart Path Rules

Understanding cart path rules is essential for both respecting the course and ensuring a smooth game. In certain conditions, such as after heavy rain or on specific holes visible from the clubhouse, courses may implement “cart path only” rules. This means that golf carts are restricted to the cart path and are not allowed on the fairways or rough. Ignoring “cart path only” rules can lead to course damage and could even result in penalties or removal from the course. Always pay attention to signage and any instructions given at the start of your round to know when these rules are in effect.

More on Cart Etiquette

  • Don’t drive too close to the group in front of you. Allow them to clear the green before driving up.
  • When sharing a cart, drop your partner off at their ball before driving on to yours. Be ready to play when it is your turn.
  • Park the cart behind the green after putting and enter scores there to allow the next group to play their shots.
cart path rules

Phone Etiquette

While the golf course should be free of notifications and screen time, we recognize that smartphones have their place in the modern game. Many players use golf apps for scoring, GPS, and swing analysis. Here’s how to balance tech with tradition:

  • Silent Mode: Always keep your phone on silent mode or vibrate to avoid disrupting play.
  • Step Away for Calls: If you must take a call, step away from the playing area. Keep the conversation brief and quiet.
  • Texting: Limit texting to moments when you’re waiting for the fairway to clear or during natural breaks in play.
  • Golf Apps: Using apps for scoring or GPS is generally acceptable, but make sure the usage doesn’t slow down the game. Pre-load the app before starting your round to avoid fumbling with your phone on the course.
  • Social Media: While it might be tempting to post that hole-in-one, save the social media updates for after the round to maintain the game’s flow and respect your playing partners.
phone etiquette

Lost Ball Etiquette: The Three-Minute Rule

Losing a ball is an unfortunate but common occurrence in golf. While it’s tempting to spend as much time as needed to find it, the rules are clear: you have only three minutes to locate a lost ball. Once that time is up, the ball is considered lost, and you must proceed under the penalty of stroke and distance. Here’s how to handle it:

  • Start the Clock: As soon as you reach the area where you believe the ball landed, start a three-minute timer. Many golf GPS apps have this feature built-in.
  • Signal to Groups Behind: If there’s a group waiting behind you, signal for them to play through while you search. This keeps play moving and avoids delays.
  • Proceed with Penalty: If the ball is not found within three minutes, you must return to the spot of your previous shot and play under the penalty of stroke and distance. This usually means adding one penalty stroke to your score and replaying the shot.
  • Be Prepared: Always carry a few extra balls in your bag so you can quickly proceed if a ball is lost. This is not just good etiquette; it’s also a practical tip.

By adhering to the three-minute rule and being prepared with extra balls, you contribute to a smoother, faster game for everyone on the course.

lost ball

Mind Your Steps: Etiquette on the Green

Walking on the green might seem straightforward, but there’s more to it than meets the eye. Your footsteps can affect the ball’s path, so you must be mindful of where you tread.

  • Don’t walk in someone’s line to the hole, the imaginary line connecting the ball to the hole. Stepping on this line can create indentations that may alter the ball’s course. Always walk around the line and ask your fellow players for the best path if unsure.
  • Avoid walking between another golfer who is preparing to putt and the hole, as it can be distracting. Stand behind them or far enough away where you’re not in their line of sight.
  • Be mindful of where you place your feet when on the putting green, as standing too close to the hole can damage it. Try to keep your feet outside a 3-foot radius around the hole.
  • If you must walk through another player’s “through-line” (the path their ball would take if it goes beyond the hole), do so quickly and be sure not to alter the line by dragging your feet.
  • Use a flat ball marker and avoid large decorative ones that could get in other players’ way.
green line

Tending the Pin

  • The flagstick can be removed or attended (held above the hole) before a stroke is made and then removed promptly after the ball is struck.
  • When removing the flagstick, place it just off the putting surface. Avoid laying it down on the green.
  • Removing the flagstick is advisable in most situations, as research shows balls are twice as likely to go in the hole with the flagstick out versus in for off-center hits.
  • Leaving the flagstick in may help with distance perception on long putts and reduce wear on the green, but it provides no physics advantage except on very fast greens.
  • During competitive play, players should remove the flagstick unless conditions warrant leaving it in, such as high winds.
  • The flagstick can be left in for pace of play while putting without penalty, though this provides no advantage on most putts.

In summary, holding the flagstick while putting is allowed but must not improve the stroke, and removing the flagstick is advisable in most situations to increase the chances of holing putts. The choice comes down to player preference and situational factors like pace of play.

Common Mistakes

Even seasoned golfers can slip up when it comes to etiquette. Let’s review some of the more common mistakes.

  • It’s tempting to fill the silence with chatter, but it’s crucial to maintain quiet when someone is playing a shot. Talking during someone else’s shot is distracting and considered poor etiquette.
  • Letting your emotions get the best of you is also a no-no. Keeping cool is part of good golf etiquette, whether you’ve just missed an easy putt or hit a tree. Outbursts or tantrums are not only embarrassing but also disruptive to other players. See our post “Golf Swing Thoughts: Unclutter Your Mind.”
  • Lastly, it’s courteous to let faster groups play through if you fall behind the pace. This is especially important if you’ve maxed out on strokes for a particular hole. For beginners, being aware of the pace of play and other groups around you is key. With some basic courtesies, beginning golfers can avoid frustrating playing partners and ensure an enjoyable experience for everyone.

FAQ – Golf for Beginners

What is golf etiquette?

Golf etiquette is a set of unwritten rules that players follow to maintain a respectful and enjoyable environment on the course.

Why is pace of play important?

Maintaining a good pace ensures that the game progresses smoothly and that all players can complete their rounds in a reasonable amount of time.

What are the essential rules of golf etiquette?

The essentials include fixing divots, repairing ball and pitch marks, yelling “fore” when necessary, and raking bunkers.

What should I wear on the golf course?

Most courses have a dress code that usually requires collared shirts and slacks or tailored shorts for men and appropriate attire for women.

How do I handle my emotions on the course?

Keeping your emotions in check is crucial. Outbursts or tantrums are considered poor etiquette and can disrupt other players.

How should I interact with course staff and caddies?

Always treat course staff, including caddies, with respect and gratitude. They play an integral role in ensuring your game runs smoothly. Tip caddies appropriately and heed their advice – they know the course inside out!

Is it essential to keep score?

While it’s not mandatory, keeping score helps you track your progress and is a fundamental part of the game’s competitive aspect. Keeping score is necessary if you play in a formal setting or competition.

Can I use electronic devices like rangefinders?

Many modern courses allow the use of electronic devices like rangefinders or GPS watches. However, always check the course’s specific rules beforehand. Knowing the distance to the target can help improve your score. See our post “Course Management: Why You are Underclubbing and How to Fix It” for more information. Make sure that you know how to use your device and that you are not slowing down play.

Key Takeaways

  • Importance of Etiquette: Understanding and practicing golf etiquette is crucial for a smooth and enjoyable day for everyone on the course.
  • Preparation is Key: Arrive at least 30 minutes early and adhere to the course’s dress code to start your round on the right foot.
  • Pace of Play: Be mindful of the time it takes for your shots and adhere to “ready golf” rules to keep play moving.
  • The Essentials: Always fix divots, repair ball marks, yell “fore” when necessary, and rake bunkers. These are non-negotiables in golf etiquette.
  • Common Mistakes: Keep your emotions in check and be willing to let faster groups play through to maintain a pleasant atmosphere on the course.

join our list




Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.