June 9

A Beginner’s Guide to Golf Etiquette (24 Rules)

For those of you who are relatively new to the game, you’ve no doubt already observed that golf is a game that’s played with strict adherence to a long and detailed list of rules that have governed the sport for hundreds of years.

In fact, despite being a game that has no referees or umpires, unlike almost every other sport in the world, golfers take great pride in playing by the Rules of Golf and in self-policing their own conformance with these rules.

But in addition to this faithfulness to the rules that golfers have always demonstrated, golf also demands of its participants that they behave in a certain way on the golf course, in accordance with a certain unwritten code of conduct known as golf etiquette.

These two taken together – a self-regulated conformity to the rules and a commitment to always act with integrity, honesty, and sportsmanship – make the game of golf unique among all games.

It’s easy to see why it’s earned the designation of being a “gentleman’s game.”

What is Golf Etiquette?

Golf etiquette refers to a set of rules and practices designed to make the game of golf safer and more enjoyable for golfers and to minimize possible damage to golf equipment and courses.

And although many of these practices aren’t part of the formal rules of golf, golfers are customarily expected to observe them.

In a way, though, golf rules and golf etiquette are inextricably linked.

In fact, this linkage is stated right in the Rules of Golf​:

Rule 1.2:

“All players are expected to play in the spirit of the game by:

  • Acting with integrity
  • Showing consideration of others
  • Taking good care of the course”

If you watch any PGA tournament on television, you’ll routinely see evidence of the importance of etiquette to the game as players are always, with very few exceptions, considerate and courteous to their playing partners and respectful of the golf course and the rules of the game.

In fact, golf etiquette is so integral to the professional game that, when there’s a rare break from these norms (e.g., a player showing blatant misconduct on the course), it becomes headline news the following day.

But etiquette is not a code of conduct just for professional golfers.

Anyone who plays the game, at any level, is expected to understand and display all the aspects of golf etiquette.

If any player decides to disregard this important part of the game, other golfers will recognize that immediately and will usually be more cautious about welcoming them into their playing group.

But golfers who demonstrate respect for etiquette will always be welcomed, regardless of their handicap level.

​2 Legends, ​2 Quotes ​on Etiquette

To bear out the importance of golf etiquette, take a look at the following quotes from two icons of the game commenting about the issue over 70 years apart:

“In golf, the customs and etiquette and decorum are as important as the rules of play.” - Bobby Jones
“The object of golf is not just to win. It is to play like a gentleman and win.” - Phil Mickelson

As you undertake to improve your golf game as a beginner, you should also work just as hard to learn and exhibit all of the ways in which golfers are expected to behave.


Starting Them Young

The long term future of golf is in the hands of our youngest players. And it’s vital that these youngsters appreciate and carry on the traditions of the game.

In an effort to introduce younger players to these traditions and to the importance of golf etiquette, a fantastic organization called The First Tee attempts to instill in these young kids a set of core values that are aimed to last them a lifetime.

The First Tee is a youth development organization that has more than 1,200 chapters around the country, and which uses the game of golf to develop character and values in their young participants.

Their central training consists of a set of values that they teach them, comprising behaviors that define how they should behave, both on the golf course and, more importantly, in their lives.

These core values, although taught by The First Tee to their students, are excellent examples for all beginners as you seek to understand what it really means to exhibit golf etiquette.

The First Tee’s “Nine Core Values”:

  1. Honesty
  2. Integrity
  3. Sportsmanship
  4. Respect
  5. Confidence
  6. Responsibility
  7. Perseverance
  8. Courtesy
  9. Judgment

If you want to really know what golf etiquette is all about, The First Tee has captured it in their youth training program.

Accepted Practices of Golf Etiquette

Etiquette is not just shaking your playing partner’s hand after your round.

There are accepted behaviors that should be exhibited all around the golf course and, for that matter, even on the driving range, in the clubhouse, etc.

Always remember that others will judge your character by how you behave on the course.

They’ll form opinions about you based on your discipline, your adherence to the rules, your integrity and respect for others, and your respect for the course itself.

And although it can seem to beginners that there are an awful lot of these rules of etiquette, it really isn’t hard or intrusive to put them into practice.

As LPGA player Paula Creamer once said, “There is etiquette in golf, but it's not any harder to learn than what to do at a dinner party.”

Etiquette Around the Course

As a way to make them a little easier for you to understand and appreciate, we’ve broken down these “rules of etiquette” based on where you are during your round of golf.

So we’ll be discussing the various behaviors you should attempt to emulate when you are:

  • On the tee boxes
  • In the fairway
  • On the greens
  • In sand traps

But first, here are some general etiquette guidelines that apply everywhere:


General Etiquette

Rule 1. Do Your Best to Avoid Slow Play

There’s no need to move at such a rapid pace that you feel rushed and make everyone else feel rushed...

But you should be mindful that slow play affects everyone, not only those with whom you’re playing but also all the other groups behind you.

The time to keep the pace moving is between your shots, getting from where you hit to where you’ll hit next.

Keeping up the pace between shots will allow you to take your time once you get to the ball so that you can then focus and prepare to make your best possible swing.

Rule 2. Ready Golf

A corollary to the pace-of-play issue is the concept of playing “ready golf.”

Rather than always strictly adhering to the standard of allowing the golfer farthest from the hole to play first, amateurs should agree that the player who’s ready to hit should be the next to play, regardless of their position on the course relative to other players.

“Ready golf” usually applies to play between tee and green, but typically, once on the green, golfers prefer to revert to “furthest away goes first.”

If you play “ready golf,” you’ll go a long way toward improving your group’s overall pace of play.

Rule 3. Let Faster Groups Play Through

If the group behind you is continually waiting for your group, chances are they’re playing at a faster pace than you.

Allowing them to play through shows courtesy to them and speeds up the overall pace of play on the course.

Rule 4. Keep Your Emotions in Check​

We all get upset from time to time when we make a bad shot, but it’s poor etiquette to go over the top in a show of anger.

Amateur golfers need to remind themselves that there’s a reason why they have higher handicaps. It’s because they’re still improving and can’t be expected to hit every shot perfectly.

Ask yourself this:

If you know ahead of time that you’re going to be hitting some bad shots during the round, why would you get so upset when you actually do?

If you go into your round with that mindset - that a certain number of less-than-ideal shots are to be expected - then it should be easier to tame your temper when the next one invariably happens.

Rule 5. No Phones on the Golf Course​, Please

Unless there’s some emergency situation that you have to deal with, refrain from using it during the round.

It’s a big distraction to others in your group.

Rule 6. Limit Conversations

In addition to eliminating phone conversations on the course, you should also be careful to limit conversations with others in your group when someone’s preparing to play their shot.

Often, golfers will get engrossed in a conversation and will be oblivious to the fact that another playing partner is about to hit.

If you’ve ever tried to hit a shot while others are talking, you can appreciate what a distraction that can be.

It’s best to be a silent partner…at least when other players are hitting.

Rule 7. Help Search for the Ball

If others in your group are having difficulty finding their ball, make sure to lend a hand in the search.

The new rules of golf permit a maximum of three minutes to search for a ball before declaring it lost, so the more eyes the better in tracking it down in the allotted time.

Not only does it help the pace of play, but it’s a courtesy to your fellow golfer that hopefully will be reciprocated when you find yourself in the same situation.

Rule 8. Shaking Hands

At the conclusion of your round, it’s customary to remove your hat, shake everyone’s hand, and thank them for the game.

On the Tee Box

Rule 9. Honors

The golfer in your group who had the lowest score on the previous hole is said to have “honors,” which means that he’ll be the first player to hit from the tee box, with the remainder of the hitting order determined by who had the next lowest score on the prior hole.

Rule 10. Where to Stand

There’s often confusion as to where golfers should stand when someone in their group is preparing to hit their tee shot.

The proper position is to stand 90° to the chest of the golfer (in other words, facing them) and at least 2 yards away from the ball.

Under no circumstances should you stand behind the player’s back as they tee off or behind them on the target line.

Both of these positions are very distracting to the golfer getting ready to hit.

Rule 11. No Talking

Going back to Rule 6, there should be no talking when a player is getting ready to hit his tee shot (or any other shot, for that matter).

In the Fairway

Rule 12. Replace Divots

In the spirit of respecting the golf course, always replace any divots that you take after a shot.

Some courses rely on the golfer to retrieve the actual piece of sod, while others provide a container of a sand or seed mixture that’s to be poured into the divot cavity. Either way, make sure to observe this most basic rule of golf etiquette.

A divot left unfilled is not only unsightly, but it creates the possibility of an unfair lie for any subsequent golfer who’s unlucky enough to have their ball land in it.

Rule 13. Don’t Stand to Close to Players

When another player is hitting from the fairway or rough, don’t stand too close to them.

You should also position yourself so that you’re not in their visual field, and that includes minding your shadow.

A moving shadow can be a distraction to a golfer who’s preparing to hit.

On and Around the Green

Rule 14. Survey the Contours

As you approach the green from the fairway, well before you actually get there, you should begin visually surveying the contours of the surface.

This preliminary view will provide you with valuable information about how your upcoming putt will break.

Having this information beforehand will also improve your group’s pace of play, as less time may be needed to line up your putt when it’s your turn to play.

Rule 15. Identify Where the Next Hole Is

Also, as you’re approaching the green, identify where the next hole is.

Then, put your bag or cart in a spot on the route to that next tee box.

This saves time from having to retrieve your bag from the other side of the green after everyone has putted out.

Rule 16. Repair Pitch Marks

If your ball landed on the green with your approach shot, make sure to look for and repair the pitch mark that it made.

And while you’re at it, go ahead and repair any others you see as a courtesy to players behind you.

Rule 17. Don’t Drag Your Feet

Be careful not to drag your feet on the putting surface or to leave any other marks or indentations.

Rule 18. Don’t Step on the Line of Someone’s ​Putt

Most golfers are aware that the cardinal rule on the putting surface is to avoid stepping on the line of someone else’s upcoming putt.

The putting line is defined in the Rules of Golf as “the line that the player wishes his ball to take after a stroke on the putting green,” including “a reasonable distance on either side of the intended line.”

Beginners should know that golfers consider this a very important element of golf etiquette, and some will even get upset when a playing partner ignores or overlooks it (even if it’s unintentional).

Even in today’s environment, where many players use spikeless golf shoes (which leave few, if any, marks), players still expect that everyone will respect the “sanctity” of the putting line.

Rule 19. Don’t Step on the Through-Line

While most players are aware that they should avoid stepping on someone’s line, what they may not be aware of is the importance of not also stepping on the “through-line” of your playing partner’s upcoming putt.

The “through-line” is the several-foot area beyond the hole; essentially, the continuation of the putter’s line after the hole.

Why is it important to avoid stepping on the through-line?

Because if the player misses their putt and the ball goes beyond the cup, you don’t want to leave any marks or indentations that they’ll have to confront on their next putt.

Rule 20. Stay Away from the Putter's Peripheral Vision

Many times, amateur golfers will stand in a position to get a better read on the break of their upcoming putt.

This could either be behind the putter looking straight down their putting line or on the other side of the hole on the extended putting line.

Both are considered improper etiquette.

Players awaiting their turn to putt should remain out of the peripheral vision of the putter, and in no case should they ever stand on either end of the putting line.

Rule 21. The Flagstick

There are a number of things to keep in mind regarding the flagstick:

  1. If you remove the flagstick, avoid dropping it on the putting surface. The impact of the flag on the green could leave indentations that could potentially impact someone’s putt. It’s best to either lay it down gently, away from anyone’s putting line, or better yet, to lay it down on the fringe.
  2. If you’re asked to tend the flagstick, you should make sure that you don’t stand too close to the hole while doing it (again, to avoid leaving footprints or indentations close to the cup). Stand a couple of feet from the hole, holding the pin at arm’s length. And, to prevent the flag itself from creating a distracting sound when flapping in the breeze, pull the flag taut against the pole.
  3. Make sure that your shadow is not across the putter’s line.
  4. In deciding where to stand when you tend the flagstick, position yourself on the “high” side of the hole. For example, if the upcoming putt will break from the player’s right to left, the “right” side of the hole is considered the “high” side, while the left side of the hole is considered the “low” side.
  5. Why should you stand on the “high” side? Because the large majority of amateur golfers tend to miss breaking putts by leaving them on the low side (they don’t play enough break). This means that on their next putt, they would be putting from the left of the hole, and the person tending the flagstick should not stand on the likely spot from which the next putt will take place.
  6. Finally, when tending the pin, before the player hits their putt, loosen the bottom of the flagstick from the base of the cup. This will ensure that it doesn’t stick in the cup when you go to remove it during the putt’s approach to the hole.

In the Sand Traps

Rule 22. Always Rake the Bunker

We mentioned that one of the underlying principles of golf etiquette is to have respect for the golf course and to leave it in the same (or better) condition as when you found it.

This definitely applies to when you find yourself in a sand trap.

Always carefully rake the bunker after your shot to remove your footprints and return it to a flat, smooth surface for the next visitor.

Rule 23. Enter and Exit from the Low Point​

Many sand traps have high lips and steep slopes.

When you enter and exit the trap, make sure to do so from the low point of the bunker.

Dropping down into the trap from a steep descent or climbing out of the trap up a steep incline leaves deep furrows and indentations that are difficult to smooth out properly.

Rule 24. Remove ​Sand from the Bottom of Your Shoes

After you leave the trap, tap the bottom of your shoes with your club to remove any sand that may have accumulated.

If this isn’t done, you run the risk of tracking sand onto the green.


Golf etiquette is an extremely important part of the game of golf.

In fact, (a) golf and (b) etiquette have traditionally gone hand in hand.

Observing a code of practice that places courtesy, respect, and fair play at the heart of the game is a fundamental that defines golf and which has its origins in the earliest rules of the game.

The etiquette golfers show to one another out on the course is one of the things that distinguishes golf from all other sports.

And remember, displaying proper golf etiquette doesn’t require any special golf skills, size, or strength.

Every golfer, young or old, man or woman, thin or stout, can be a scratch golfer when it comes to etiquette.

The game relies on the integrity of the individual to show consideration for other players and to abide by the rules.

All players should conduct themselves in a disciplined manner, demonstrating courtesy and sportsmanship at all times, irrespective of how competitive they may be.

This is the spirit of the game of golf.

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