The 10 mistakes you’re making at a private course, according to country club snobs

January 24, 2023


Golf’s reputation for having too many rules precedes itself. Some of them are pretty antiquated or out of touch, and we cringe while obeying them. We can tell you, whether or not you agree with them, you will be judged by other golfers if you don’t follow these guidelines—some subtle, some not so much.

We’re sure you know most of the basics of golf (if not, here’s a great starter), but here we’re focused on the little nuances of navigating private clubs—as archaic as the rules might be.

We polled a group of our course-ranking panelists, who get invited to the most exclusive clubs around the world, for their best advice in these situations.

Grabbing all the ball-markers/tees on the first tee

The grubby-handed guest who has ball-markers and logoed tees falling out of their pockets because you took too many doesn’t make for a great first impression. It’s OK to grab, say, 3-5 tees or markers … one for yourself, a few for friends. But taking more than that is an issue. These are the small things that club employees and your host will notice.

Wearing a shirt or hat with the club’s logo to a place you’re playing as a guest

You ain’t a member … you’re just confusing people. It’s OK to wear the shirt or hat to another course or out and about. But not to the actual club.

Having way too much stuff in your bag

If there’s a chance you might take caddies, don’t show up with a really heavy bag. It’ll cause a scene—the caddiemaster and the caddie will have to politely ask you to remove items —so just take care of that part at home.


Andrew Kaufman

Changing shoes in the parking lot

Is there any harm in changing your shoes in a parking lot? Nope. But throughout the years, this has become a custom looked down upon at private clubs. So much so, your host might actually get in trouble if someone spots you clanking around on the ground with your shoes. Imagine an adult tattling on another adult about someone literally changing shoes? Welcome to the (sometimes) frustrating world of golf.

Wearing sloppy or inappropriate attire

Again, just like the “don’t change your shoes in the parking lot” rule, this one clangs a little bit with 2023. Shouldn’t you be able to wear whatever the hell you want? Truth is, the private club guidelines are loosening up quite a bit … hoodies and joggers are bound to not turn too many heads. But just realize if you wear your Loudmouth, John Daly-inspired outfit to a stuffy private club, a member of the board is likely to give you the evil eye. At least, you better keep your shirt tucked in, young man. There are few things more embarrassing than being a grown adult and being told your shirt is too sloppy.

Putting your hat on backward


Scott Halleran

True story: I was once walking from my car to the locker room at a club where I had a junior membership, and without thinking, I just threw my hat on top of my head … so it was kind of hanging off the side of my noggin. As timing would have it, the club president walked past me, and he told me: “Hey kid, we keep our hat forward here.”

Rickie Fowler was also famously asked at Quail Hollow to turn his hat forward, just a few year before he ended up winning the tournament. Change sometimes takes awhile to happen in golf, and this is one of those things.

Not taking your hat off under cover

This might be seen as generational and old-school, too, but we get it … it’s a sign of respect. If it’s a traditional private club, chances are you’ll be expected to remove your hat in the locker room or clubhouse.

Arriving with too many bag tags

You’ll be judged as privileged before you even step on the practice putting green.

Placing your golf bag on the tee box or greens

You won’t get judged as hard at a public course–though it’s also not advisable there. But at a private club, this kind of move might earn your host a letter. You don’t want to be accused of damaging the grass on the tee box, so remember to leave your bag in the rough.

Not tipping the bag-drop and locker-room attendants


Andrew Kaufman

You know you have to tip the caddie, but there are other people to tip who are essential. If someone grabbed your bag from your car, or cleaned your shoes in the locker room, they deserve a gratuity.