Golf Etiquette: The 15 Strangest Unwritten Rules in the Sport

John BurkeContributor IMarch 23, 2011

Golf Etiquette: The 15 Strangest Unwritten Rules in the Sport

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    MARANA, AZ - FEBRUARY 26:  Bubba Watson shakes hands with J.B. Holmes on the first playoff hole during the quarterfinal round of the Accenture Match Play Championship at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club on February 26, 2011 in Marana, Arizona.  (Photo by Stuart
    Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

    Golfers do some strange things when they are out on the course.

    And no, I do not mean all the bets that start once the beer starts flowing.

    I mean the etiquette. 

    We already have a rule book, filled with rules and exceptions to those rules. 

    In fact, there are so many official rules to the game, it is simply not logical to expect most average players to know them.

    Hey, even most of the professionals (cough, cough, Dustin Johnson) are not aware of all the rules.

    But on top of the official written rules, we have rules of etiquette.

    These are not rules you can read somewhere. These are rules you pick up by watching and playing the game.

    And if you don't follow these rules, I can guarantee you will not be very popular with your playing partners. 

15. Fore!

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    MONTREAL - SEPTEMBER 29:  Tiger Woods of the U.S. Team shouts 'fore' as he hits his tee shot to the ninth hole during the third day morning foursome matches at the Presidents Cup at Royal Montreal Golf Club September 29, 2007 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
    David Cannon/Getty Images

    Everyone hits a wayward shot now and again. 

    But you better know what to do when your errant shots are heading for another player.

    Yelling "Fore!" is a tradition that is centuries old.

    And I suggest you keep that tradition alive. Unless, of course, you want to face the wrath of very angry golfers.

14. No Talking

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    MARANA, AZ - FEBRUARY 24:  A marshall holds a quiet please sign during the second round of the Accenture Match Play Championship at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club on February 24, 2011 in Marana, Arizona.  (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)
    Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

    Want to know the fastest way to anger your playing partners?

    Talk while they are swinging or preparing to hit.

    This drives me nuts.

    I usually stay fairly calm on the course. If, however, the other members of my group start talking when it is my turn to play, I can start running hot.

    It is a simple rule to follow. It takes no talent to do. It just takes respect. 

13. Putting Line

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    PACIFIC PALISADES, CA - FEBRUARY 18:  Phil Mickelson putting on the 13th hole during the second round of the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club on February 18, 2011 in Pacific Palisades, California.  (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)
    Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

    This etiquette rule used to mean more when all players wore metal spikes.

    With the invention of plastic spikes, our feet leave less damage to the greens.

    Even so, it is still expected that you will walk around the putting lines of those in your group.

    No one likes to miss that important par putt, and they especially don't like it when they feel it was YOUR spike mark that knocked the ball off line.

12. Shaking Hands

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    RIO GRANDE, PR - MARCH 13:  Michael Bradley (L) shakes hands with Troy Matteson whom he beat in a one hole playoff to win the Puerto Rico Open presented by at Trump International Golf Club on March 13, 2011 in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico.  (
    Michael Cohen/Getty Images

    I am all for thanking your playing partners after a nice day on the course.

    What I am not for is slowing the groups behind you so you can take off your hat, find someplace to put your hat and then try to shake your partner's hand. 

    This is another habit that average hackers took straight from the PGA Tour.

    A simple handshake will do. 

    And, please, for the sake of the others on the course, if you feel the need to do a full PGA Tour embrace, step off the green!

11. Shadows on Hole

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    This one goes alone with the putting line. 

    Most amateurs have enough trouble reading greens. The last thing they need is a shadow covering the hole. 

    So next time you step onto the green, make sure your shadow is not covering the hole.

10. Raking Sand

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    CARNOUSTIE, SCOTLAND - OCTOBER 06:  Martin Kaymer of Germany holds a bunker rake during a practice round for The Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at Carnoustie Golf Links on October 6, 2010 in Carnoustie, Scotland.  (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Image
    Andrew Redington/Getty Images

    I think the most irritating thing on a golf course is finding yourself in a footprint in a bunker.

    The reason it is irritating is simple: PEOPLE ARE JUST TOO LAZY TO RAKE.

    No one likes ending up in a bunker, so why not make the experience as painless as possible for those playing behind you?

9. Honors

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    AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 08:  Honorary starter Arnold Palmer hits his tee shot on the first hole during the first round of the 2010 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 8, 2010 in Augusta, Georgia.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    This rule is not always followed, but it is better to be safe than sorry.

    If you know you did not get the best score on the first hole, hang back a little to see if the player who scored the best goes first.

    If he does, then you are most likely playing the honors system. If he doesn't, then don't be afraid to hit when ready.

    Personally, friendly weekend matches should always be played without a strictly enforced honors system. Golf already takes close to five hours now on public courses; pace of play needs all the help it can get.

8. Texas Rules

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    DORAL, FL - MARCH 13:  Tiger Woods hits his tee shot on the first hole during the final round of the 2011 WGC- Cadillac Championship at the TPC Blue Monster at the Doral Golf Resort and Spa on March 13, 2011 in Doral, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Gett
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    I have heard this rule called a number of things from Texas rules golf to names that cannot be put on this site.

    Regardless, the premise of the rule is that if a male player's drive does not make it past the forward or more commonly known as the ladies tees, that male player must play the rest of the hole with his "club" hanging out of his pants.

    And while I am still waiting for the day when a man actually does this (I think it would be hilarious), it is always a good line to jab your playing partners with.

7. Ready Golf

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    MARANA, AZ - FEBRUARY 25:  (L-R) Caddie Joel Stock and Ben Crane talk on the second hole fairway during the third round of the Accenture Match Play Championship at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club on February 25, 2011 in Marana, Arizona.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/G
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Want a good way to anger every other golfer on the course?

    Play strictly by rules that state the player farthest from the hole plays first.

    While these rules have good intentions, in today's golf environment they often slow play tremendously.

    Instead, players should hit when ready. It not only speeds up the round, but it makes it more enjoyable for all.

    After all, no one wants to be like Ben Crane, who is known for his slow play.

6. Divots on Practice Swings

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    DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - FEBRUARY 03:  Paul Casey of England plays out of a divot at the 17th hole during the pro-am as a preview for the 2010 Omega Dubai Desert Classic on the Majilis Course at the Emirates Golf Club on February 3, 2010 in Dubai, Un
    David Cannon/Getty Images

    Often good golf shots are accompanied by a solid divot.

    Good practice shots, however, are not.

    A golf course takes enough of a beating during the season that when taking a practice swing it is expected that no divot is taken.

    Remember to always fill your divots. Along with unraked bunkers, unfilled divots is another pet peeve of mine!

5. Control Your Temper

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    SOTOGRANDE, SPAIN - OCTOBER 28:  Sergio Garcia of Spain pulls a strange face after his bogey on the 18th hole during the second round of The Volvo Masters on October 28 2005 at Valderrama Golf Club in Sotogrande, Spain.  (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty I
    Andrew Redington/Getty Images

    It happens to the best of us. We hit a couple of bad shots, and our mood goes from bad to worse. 

    But when playing in your weekend foursome, try to not be the player who gets angry.

    It takes something away from the game, and as much as I dislike those who criticize Tiger Woods for his poor behavior, they do have a point.

4. Standing Still

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    HONG KONG - NOVEMBER 19: Colin Montgomerie of Scotland asks the spectators to keep quiet on the 3rd hole  during day two of the UBS Hong Kong Open at The Hong Kong Golf Club on November 19, 2010 in Hong Kong, Hong Kong. ( Photo by Stanley Chou/Getty Image
    Stanley Chou/Getty Images

    Golf is the only sport that requires players to strike a ball at rest. It is also the only sport that requires other players to stand perfectly still when others are swinging.

    Hitting a golf ball well requires immense concentration. 

    Someone walking in the eyesight of a player swinging is enough to turn a potentially good shot into a terrible one.

    So next time you play, remember to stand still when it isn't your turn. 

3. Dress Your Best

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    MARANA, AZ - FEBRUARY 23:  Ian Poulter of England looks on during the first round of the Accenture Match Play Championship at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club on February 23, 2011 in Marana, Arizona.  (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)
    Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

    When I go to play golf, I always try to look my best.


    I believe that when you look good, you play good.

    Next time you are on the range, look down at the players.

    The majority of the time, the best-dressed players will also be the best players.

    And while there may be exceptions to this rule, dressing well instills confidence.

    So when you play, always dress your best; I bet it will help your game a little bit. 

2. Turn off Your Cell Phone

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    ST ANDREWS, SCOTLAND - JULY 18:  Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa chats on a mobile phone outside the Jigger Inn on the Old Course, St Andrews on July 18, 2010 in St Andrews, Scotland.  (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
    Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

    We have all seen it. A guy is about to swing, and a cell phone goes off.

    Not only is this distracting, but it is also disrespectful.

    If you must bring your cell phone on the course, turn it to silent.

    And if you must use it on the course, do so in a way that does not affect your playing partners.

1. Learn as You Go

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    ST ANDREWS, SCOTLAND - JULY 13:  Arnold Palmer of the USA stands on the balcony before the past champions dinner before the 139th Open Championship on the Old Course, St Andrews on July 13, 2010 in St Andrews, Scotland.  (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Im
    Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

    I once heard Arnold Palmer say that a vital part of golf is learning as you go.

    This applies not only to the game itself, but also to etiquette on the course.

    When you first start playing, watch some of the better players at your local course. Not only will you see some pretty good shots, but you will also see the proper way to act on the course.

    And if available, take some lessons from your local teaching professional. They can teach you how to act on the course.

    I know that if it were not for the patient men who taught me the game and how to act, it would have been much harder to reach the level I currently play. 


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