A golfer's definitive guide to playing through

January 14, 2023
Hispanic men playing golf

Dave and Les Jacobs

A sign as you walk to the first tee at Seminole Golf Club is meant to be taken broadly, but we think it can be particularly impactful advice about playing through: Play well, play fast. Play poorly, play faster.

Holding up a group behind you is akin to driving below the speed limit in the left lane—if you can’t keep up, move over. Playing through is basic etiquette, yet golfers routinely fumble the logistics on this pace-of-play commandment.

Whether you’re the slower group waving another up or the speedy twosome motoring through, we’ve compiled this definitive guide to help you better manage one golf’s trickiest situations.

For the group playing through

Do: Return the courtesy by hurrying up, which means…

Hustle as quickly as you can to your ball: Remember our left-lane analogy. When the stubborn car finally moves over, you’re not going to take a couple miles to pass them. Same thing here. When a group shows proper etiquette in letting you play through, make sure you return the favor by getting out of their way as quickly as possible.

Give your buddy the five-footer: Now is not the time to study the grain and read the knee-knocker from both sides of the hole. Pick it up and move on.

Keep it simple with your rangefinder: Don’t make the slower group regret their good deed by firing your laser at the front of the green, back of the green, front bunker lip, flagstick, trees beyond the green, etc. Get one number, and get it fast.

Consider pushing your match to the next hole: Everyone is out of their rhythm in an effort to get out of the way—put the match on hold until you reach the open hole in front of you. Just be sure to make that clear before you hit your tee shots, so all competitors are on the same page.

Save the chatting: Your PGA Tour vs. LIV Golf, quasi-political debate can wait until the next hole.

Don’t: Try and play through a group after the 17th tee

There are diminishing returns to playing through later in the round—it’ll likely slow down play more than speed it up. You’re almost there. Deep breaths.

Don’t: Confront the slow group in front of you

If a group is ignoring your passive-aggressive, hand-on-hip staredown, avoid filing a formal request to play through. No matter how polite you may be, it’s unlikely to be well-received and could (will) escalate the situation. Flag down the ranger if the situation is especially egregious. And if you don't see a ranger, you can always call the pro shop.

For the group waving up

Do: Let a group pass when you’re on the tee

The ideal time to let a group pass is on a par-3 tee box. Take your time walking to the green while the passers finish out and move on. Try to avoid waving a group up when you’re on the green. Once they finish out, they’ll be in your way on the next tee.

Don’t: Focus on how many are in the group behind you

Playing through is not simply a numbers game. If you’re in a threesome and the foursome behind you is on your heels, let them go ahead. Same deal with carts—just because you’re in carts doesn’t mean the walkers aren’t playing faster than you.

Do: Consider if there’s space to let a group go in front of you

This takes a bit of feel. Of course, if every hole is lined tee to green, the trailing group is out of luck. Yet, just because there is a group ahead of you doesn't mean you can’t let the speedy twosome pass. If there’s just one or two groups ahead, they’ll likely be able to play through them as well.

Don’t: Stare down the group playing through

Hitting shots while playing through is nerve-wracking enough. They don’t need the added pressure of you scrutinizing their setup, turn and weight-shift, no matter how well-intentioned. That said, if the group is obnoxiously taking all day to play through, cue the passive-aggressive staredown.

Do: Take your ego out of it

You may be hesitant to let a group play through for a variety of reasons. “We couldn't be playing any faster.” “We’re in carts and they’re just walking.” Lose the ego. Just give a nice “Enjoy it out there,” be cordial and let everyone get on their way.