Private % vs. Public %August 12, 2010

Golf's 'Other' Rules

We surveyed golfers all across America to learn what's acceptable -- bluejeans?! -- at their courses now

The main rules of golf are dependably immutable. You know the powers-that-be won't start allowing "hit till you're happy" off the first tee in competition or declare, "You know what? You can ground your club in a hazard from now on."

Yet golf's other rules -- its unofficial customs and etiquette -- are in a state of constant evolution. Bluejeans at the club? Out of the question a few years ago, but now acceptable at many courses. Cell phones? Considered a hideous invasion a decade ago. Now it's the rare club that doesn't allow them somewhere on the premises.

Depending on your point of view, these represent welcome changes in a game that is sometimes too stuffy for its own good or pernicious threats to the sport you love -- or maybe somewhere in between.

To find out where clubs stand on these and other mannerly matters, we surveyed more than 2,600 public and private-course golfers throughout the United States. Here's what they told us about the rules where they play the game, circa 2010.

COURSES THAT ALLOW DENIM (BLUEJEANS)

PRIVATE: 37%

PUBLIC: 68%

Among private clubs that allow denim, 74% permit it in "designated areas" only.

COURSES WHERE COLLARLESS SHIRTS ARE OK

PRIVATE: 60%

PUBLIC: 69%

Collarless shirts are rarest in the Northeast, where 49% of private clubs ban them.

SNEAKERS IN THE CLUBHOUSE ARE PERMITTED

PRIVATE: 85%

PUBLIC: 93%

92% of all Midwest courses allow clubhouse sneakers, the highest percentage.

COURSES WHERE CARGO SHORTS ARE PERMITTED

PRIVATE: 54%

PUBLIC: 92%

The Midwest is cargo-central; 96% of its public tracks allow them.

FLIP-FLOPS OR SANDALS ARE OK IN THE CLUBHOUSE

PRIVATE: 61%

PUBLIC: 79%

Among courses that do not allow flip-flops, 67% also outlaw denim.

COURSES WHERE GOLF CARTS ARE MANDATORY

PRIVATE: 13%

PUBLIC: 11%

Among courses that smile on walking-and-carrying, 80% permit it at any time.

COURSES THAT ALLOW HATS INDOORS

PRIVATE: 69%

PUBLIC: 96%

Southern public courses are most comfortable with hats inside; 97% allow it.

COURSES THAT ALLOW CELL-PHONE USAGE

PRIVATE: 83%

PUBLIC: 98%

18% of all courses that allow cell phones forbid their use on the golf course.

COURSES THAT LIMIT TEE TIMES FOR WOMEN

PRIVATE: 31%

PUBLIC: 2%

30% of clubs limiting women's tee times do not restrict guest play.

COURSES WHERE MEN MUST TUCK IN THEIR SHIRTS

PRIVATE: 76%

PUBLIC: 24%

Even at public courses that allow jeans, 14% still require men to tuck in their shirts.

WHERE WOMEN MUST TUCK IN THEIR SHIRTS

PRIVATE: 29%

PUBLIC: 13%

Courses requiring tucked-in women are almost twice as likely to limit their tee times.

COURSES THAT PERMIT CAPS FACING BACKWARD

PRIVATE: 31%

PUBLIC: 74%

This look is least popular in the Mid-Atlantic region (only 23% of private clubs allow it).

IT'S OK TO LIGHT UP IN DESIGNATED AREAS

PRIVATE: 79%

PUBLIC: 76%

Smoke 'em if you got 'em in the Northeast, where 80% permit it.

WHERE JACKETS ARE REQUIRED IN SOME ROOMS

PRIVATE: 26%

PUBLIC: 1%

Of all courses requiring jackets, 78% ban backward-facing caps.

CLUBS THAT LIMIT TEE TIMES FOR JUNIORS

PRIVATE: 60%

PUBLIC: 11%

37% of clubs limiting junior play keep them off the course on weekend mornings.