The Modern Game

Golf Etiquette Guide: The New Rules Every Golfer Should Know

It's time to put the do's and don'ts of the game through a 21st-century filter
December 13, 2016
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By The Editors Illustrations by Peter Arkle

We've heard all the knocks against golf -- that it can be too hard, too expensive, and take too long -- but the one we're least willing to accept is that the game is too stuffy. It's true, golf holds firm to certain traditions, some conceived by men in tweed coats more than a century ago that are as relevant now as a mashie. In recent years at Golf Digest we've taken a hard look to determine what parts of golf etiquette should remain and what need to be updated for the 21st century. The conclusions are mixed. There are some fundamental principles of the game that are as worthwhile now as they were when Bobby Jones was giving his opponents three a side. Some of the other stuff, though, desperately needs to be put through a modern filter. The guidelines below, covering everything from what you wear to how you play, endeavor to do just that. -- Sam Weinman

Common Courtesy

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Illustrations by Peter Arkle

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. Here we tackle the most frequent questions we receive about common courtesy on the course, and how to conduct yourself in such situations.


Technology

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There are people who think of the golf course as a sanctuary free of electronic intrusion -- and there are the guys that are blasting music and making phone calls every other hole. There’s a happy medium, and we’re here to guide you through, gracefully infusing your golf life with the technology you love without annoying those trying to play golf around you.


Attire

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What you wear in golf often reflects your attitudes about the game. Are you a stickler for tradition, or are you willing to let your shirt tail flap in the wind? Our general feeling about golf style is that in the same way people don't wear coats and ties to get on airplanes anymore, the game needs to embrace a more casual vibe, particularly at public facilities looking to attract a wider audience. That said, there's a line to be drawn about respecting a course's existing rules. Where can you and can't you push the envelope? Here's where we can help provide some clarity.


Competition

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Competition on the golf course is fun and beneficial to your golf game. Playing for something can spur on-course progress and make those beers at the end of the round taste even better -- especially if you’re not the one buying. But how do you ensure that you and your opponents have a good time and don’t wind up swinging mid-irons at each other? Here are some simple rules to follow.


Casual Rounds

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The problem with casual golf is one person’s definition of casual differs from the next. In mixed company, it can be a small minefield. Walking versus riding, bringing your kids, whether it’s OK to pop open a few beers -- these are all questions that can arise on any given Sunday. It helps to have a general sense of what is and isn't cool.


Equipment

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They might just be clubs to you, but many golfers view their sticks in a more meaningful light, which makes sense. You’d have an emotional investment in a driver too if you just spent half your paycheck on it. Because of this sentimental feeling towards golf equipment, dealing with club-related matters can be risky. Here’s what you need to know regarding equipment etiquette.


Money

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The mental checklist golfers roll through before heading to the course for a round typically includes an assortment of “Do I” questions: Do I have the right clothes? Do I have time to hit some balls on the range? Do I have enough money? That last one might be the biggest “Do I” of them all. Even if you’re a guest for the day at a golf course, making sure you come prepared with the proper amount of cash is critical to avoiding those awkward moments when you might be left looking like Mr. Cheapskate because you forgot to stop at the ATM ahead of time. The question then is obvious: How much is “enough” money? Let’s answer this strategically.