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10 golf traditions that need to change now

October 11, 2022
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We’re not here to critique the game’s sacred traditions. Our sport leans into its great history, dating back to the 15th century, so we’ve had plenty of time to form meaningful traditions that golfers universally celebrate. Shaking hands on the first tee and after the round. The Masters Par-3 Contest. The final round of the U.S. Open on Father’s Day.

Undeniably, though, golf has picked up some more questionable customs that often leave us thinking, “That’s weird, why is that a thing?” Some are minor inconveniences, others prolong our already time-consuming sport and a few certainly don’t help us refute the argument that our game can, at times, be a little … stuffy.

With that, we present the 10 golf traditions that need to change immediately.

Paying for everyone’s drinks when you get a hole-in-one

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So let’s get this straight: You achieve something staggeringly improbable (12,500-to-one odds), something that you’ve been eagerly awaiting for years not knowing the day would ever come, and what’s your reward? A hefty bill at the clubhouse bar?

Defenders of this tradition, known to date back at least a hundred years, argue it’s a golfer’s way of sharing their good fortune. That’s like going up to your friend on their big day and saying, “Happy birthday! So happy you’ve had the good fortune to make it another year. I can’t wait to see what you’re going to buy me!”

In what other scenario do you have to buy insurance in case something good happens? Insurance, of course, is there to bail us out in case something terrible occurs—not to cover the four-figure tab your entire Wednesday night league rang up after you jarred one.

It’s time to flip this tradition around and properly celebrate the accomplishment by buying the fortunate golfer a drink.

Not being able to change your shoes in the parking lot

Is there really something so scandalous about golfers changing from their casual slip ons to their spiked shoes that it has to be done behind closed doors? We can sympathize with clubs encouraging appropriate attire and etiquette (collared shirts tucked in, taking hats off while inside, etc.) to maintain a professional feel, but this one goes a little too far.

If you want to quickly change your shoes in the parking lot and head straight to the first tee, you should feel free to do so. And if you prefer to go to the locker room to prepare for your round, all power to you. But mandating a certain ritual to maintain a certain aesthetic seems … a little stuffy.

Starters giving long monologues on the first tee

We’ve all been there. The first fairway is clear, and you’re putting the tee in the ground, only to be halted by the starter, eager to give you every little detail on your upcoming round. Let’s be clear, we don’t mean to delegitimize starters and rangers—they work hard to keep courses moving efficiently and properly. And some instruction at a new course is welcomed.

But, there’s a fine line between providing the necessary information and being guilty of “Golf Course TMI.” Cart-path only on the par 3s? Necessary. Please repair pitch marks and fill divots? Necessary. A three-minute monologue explaining how the recent storm made an area 50 yards off the fairway on No. 5 a little wet? TMI.

Courses being cart-only and not allowing walking

Golf is often referred to as a good walk spoiled. It’s a shame when a course doesn’t even give you a chance to walk and mandates a cart. Why prevent golfers from getting the exercise of a nice walk? We get it if your course is so hilly that it’s not feasible. But a typical 18-hole round will have a golfer walking 12,000 or so steps, roughly five miles. That’s great exercise for anyone, and to rob you of that chance just so you can collect a $30 cart fee is something awfully selfish.

Clubs prohibiting some employees from accepting tips

This is a tipping culture. If someone goes out of their way to help you, we’re trained to break out our wallets. When you’re a guest at a club, and you attempt to hand a $5 bill to the bag-drop attendant for grabbing your clubs only for them to explain why they must refuse it, it creates an unnecessarily awkward situation.

We can appreciate these club employees might still get paid appropriately—and that some members prefer that their year-end bill includes a lump sum of gratuity—but it doesn’t solve the dilemma of being a guest and trying to insist an employee accept a small amount of cash. We're more than willing to break out a few bills, and it shouldn't be a big deal to accept it.

Waiting for whoever is away (or has honors) to play

We hear it so much that it’s cliché at this point. Play ready golf. But, do we really fully understand the idea? Some believe ready golf to be simply: “I’ll be ready to play when it’s my turn to play.” Though this is a common understanding, let’s take the more radical approach.

How about, if you’re at your ball and ready to go, it is your turn to play. Provided you’re not hitting at the same time as someone else (and would that be the end of the world?), you should feel free to hit, even if you’re 50 yards past your partner—assuming you’re not in their way, of course.

Let's take this approach off the tee, too, and do away with honors. This tradition (or rule in match play)—we concede—certainly has its merits in competition, when playing first can influence strategy and reward a well-played hole. That’s not the issue.

Where the tradition needs to change is in our casual rounds, where pace of play is an ongoing battle. Taking the time to determine who had the lowest score and waiting for that person to put the peg in the ground wastes time and doesn’t serve much of a purpose when all you’re playing for is a post-round beverage.

We’ll make an exception in cases where a player makes a birdie or an eagle on the previous hole. Feel free to offer that player the honor to keep the vibes good.

Juniors being prevented from playing at certain times of the day

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Courtesy of City Parks Foundation

Though not all courses are guilty of implementing this rule, too many still prevent junior golfers from playing at specific times of the day, especially on weekends. The logic varies from course to course, but in principle, should any paying customer be excluded from playing when they want (assuming they fairly secured a tee time)?

The “juniors will hold up the course argument” is easy to dispel. Do we really think that the foursome of Bloody Mary-chugging 18-handicaps are playing faster than a group of eager 12-year-olds? Of course, there will be certain exceptions, but those should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, not a blanket prohibition.

From a philosophical standpoint, the policy of tee-time restrictions is even more concerning. Excluding a specific group of people from playing golf at a certain time, simply because of who they are seems … wrong. As our game moves to become more inclusive, let’s drop the tradition of dictating when juniors (or anyone for that matter) can and can’t play.

Everyone in the group playing the same tees

It’s a common scene. A group of four, all of varying abilities, reaches the first tee and tries to decide which set of tees to play. Concluding that it’ll be more convenient and save time to all play one set of tees, they settle on the 6,500-yard markers.

In reality, this set of tees might only be appropriate for one or two members of the group. The 25-handicap who struggles to hit it 200 yards has no business playing from that distance. Though it may seem more convenient, in the end it will take far longer to play a set of tees that’s not appropriate for everyone.

Instead, each player should pick the distance that’s right for them, even if that means the group is split up between two or three sets of tees. Assuming it’s the appropriate distance for each player, you’ll play faster and have more fun.

The expectation that a member will pay for a guest’s round

This one takes a little explaining. As we know, a member at a private club often invites friends, clients or co-workers to play with them at their course. In these instances where the member is clearly hosting the guests for a round, in all likelihood they’ll pick up the tab for the greens fees. That expectation is appropriate in our books (though it’s always polite for the guests to offer to pay), as the member wants to treat their friends to a special day on the course.

However, this expectation often makes it tricky when non-members want to play with their private-club friends but don’t want to invite themselves with the insinuation that the member will pay. Non-members should feel they can ask their friend to play together at the private course, without the expectation that the member will pay.

Sometimes it’s less about playing a swanky private track and more about the company of getting out with a friend. Just as public golfers invite each other to play at various courses, let’s normalize asking to play with your private-club friend at their course … and covering your green fee.

Private clubs not accepting credit cards

This one ties back into our previous point about members paying for guests’ greens fees. Will a member treat their guests to a post-round meal and want to charge it to their account? Sure. But, in many instances, guests may want to pay for their own (or the entire group’s) meal.

Yet, many clubs don’t have the option for guests to be able to use their credit card. When the bill automatically goes on the member’s account, it becomes awkward for both the member and the guest.