Common Courtesy: Giving advice, maintaining good pace, and playing through

December 13, 2016

Years ago during a high school rules clinic, one of my fellow juniors asked an instructor what constitutes proper golf courtesy. “If I have to define it, you don’t get it,” the official replied. It’s that type of systemic vagueness that makes golf decorum so maddening.

Until now, that is. Below we tackle the most frequent questions we receive about common courtesy on the course, and how to conduct yourself in such situations.

I’m a beginning golfer paired with a good player. How do I survive the round?
Don’t get overwhelmed. It can be intimidating to be paired with a better player, and possibly amplify insecurities regarding your game. Use this opportunity as a learning experience. Take note of the player’s swing, his technique around the green, pre-shot routine, even something as simple as his demeanor and etiquette. And don’t be afraid to ask questions. Most golfers are happy to pass knowledge to beginners. You do have a responsibility, however, to keep things moving. It’s OK to struggle, but “struggle” and “slow play” don’t have to correlate. Four over par should be the max score on any hole; once you reach the limit, pick up. Moreover, don’t let your labors drain your attitude or outlook. Golfers can deal with newbies. They have no tolerance for ********.

I’m paired with a beginning golfer who is really struggling. How do I survive the round?
Compassion is key. That slow, flailing greenhorn was once you. Without belittling, let them know it’s OK to be liberal with the rules by improving lies, placing their penalty shots on the other side of the hazard and conceding less-than-automatic putts. Unless they ask, avoid giving tips and advice; they’re already overwhelmed, and don’t need more thoughts running through their head (more on this in a moment). Do feel free to pass on general etiquette or rules, however, and try to keep things light so they enjoy themselves. And if it’s really bad? Perhaps call it a day at the turn and hit the range instead.

Illustrations by Peter Arkle

How do I to tell someone to pick up the pace?
When informing a partner to get their butt moving, avoid a singular accusation. Instead, use “we” as in, “Looks like we better get going, think we’re holding groups up.” If it’s a family member or friend, feel free to be more direct. Even in this circumstance, don’t deliver the “speed it up” edict in emotional or confrontational terms. It will only exacerbate the situation.

When am I supposed to let groups play through?
For whatever reason, most golfers view letting others ahead as a shot to their manhood. Which is absurd: If you’re in a foursome, it stands to reason that you’ll play slower than the single or twosome behind you. If there are no groups immediately in front of you and you’re holding up individuals or a pairing, give them the greenlight with a wave, then proceed to move to the side of the hole. If this happens more than once in a round -- especially if the groups behind are multiple players -- take it as a hint that you need to pick up the pace.

What’s the deal with smoking cigars on the course?
If they’re good enough for Miguel Angel Jimenez, aka “The Most Interesting Man in the World,” they’re good enough for you. Smoke ’em if you got ’em, but don’t make a mess of your leftovers on the course.

What about smoking something, um, other than cigars?
Whatever you do when hitting the links by yourself is between you and the great Scorer in the sky (or, depending on your residence, your local enforcement community). When teeing it up with others, however, the only grass you should encounter are the blades wiped off your irons.

What’s my role in fixing the golf course and stuff like that?
It’s all pretty simple, but some golfers fail to do this. When you make a divot in the fairway, replace it. Mark on the green? Fix it, as well as any other indentions you encounter. Rake the sand after your trip to the beach. Keep practice swings to a minimum so you don’t tear up the turf. And for God’s sake, the woods and high weeds are not a trash can, you monsters.

Can I give my playing partner swing tips? I really want to help!
I don’t care if your partner’s hacks make Charles Barkley look like Adam Scott. Unless someone specifically asks for advice, don’t give it. We know you’re trying to help, but adjustments and swing practice are for the range, not mid-rounds. Moreover, your partner will likely be offended, possibly making for an awkward afternoon.