Golf etiquette refers to a set of rules and practices designed to make the game of golf safer and more enjoyable for golfers and to minimize possible damage to golf equipment and courses. Although many of these practices are not part of the formal rules of golf, golfers are customarily expected to observe them.
Divots are part of the game, and should always be repaired to keep the game enjoyable for all those playing the course. A golfer should replace the loose grass and gently step on it to set it in place. Some courses may have buckets of sand or seed used for repairing divots. Regardless, golfers should fix any damage inflicted on the course.
Golf demands concentration, so quiet is required on the golf course. Golfers should not run during play, which can be annoying and distracting to other players and may cause damage to the course. Golfers should walk quickly but lightly during play.
Golf carts are a convenience, a luxury even, and should not be used to annoy or distract other players. The cart should be parked behind or beside the tee, but never in front of it. Carts should normally stay only on the paths, and are required to do so on many courses. When a golfer gets out to walk to the ball, he or she should take a few extra clubs along to save an extra trip should a different club be needed, thereby keeping the pace of play moving along.
Should carts be permitted off the paths, golfers should observe the "90 degree rule": make a 90 degree turn off the path towards the fairway to a given ball, and return straight back to the path, not along the path of greatest convenience. Carts inflict wear and tear on the course, and can be accidentally driven over another player's ball. Golfers should keep the noise of backing up to a minimum and must always set the brake when leaving the cart.
The first player has the honor of teeing up first. This can be decided by drawing straws, flipping a coin, or just by offering the honor to a player. Should a player be offered the honor, he or she should promptly accept and start playing, to maintain the pace of play. Play should begin from the back tees first, and the next player should be ready when the previous player has finished. After the first hole, the player with the lowest score has the honor.
A golfer should always know which brand of ball he or she is using to avoid confusion during play. It can also help to mark or otherwise distinguish the ball, so a golfer can identify it more easily without having to pick it up. Not only does this save time and help avoid penalties, it also helps to demonstrate organizational skills and seriousness about the game.
Line of sight
In the tee box, other players should stand alongside the person playing, safely out of the way and not behind the player getting ready to swing. While another golfer is playing, his or her playing partners should not take practice swings, select a club or replace one in the bag, cough, sneeze, or make other noise and distractions. Even small movements are frowned upon, as they might be seen in the player's peripheral vision. Should the player about to play the ball ask his partners to move, the request should be honored. In fact, the USGA recommends: "Players should not stand close to or directly behind the ball, or directly behind the hole, when a player is addressing the ball or making a stroke."
When getting ready to swing, a golfer should make sure that no one is behind him or her or in the path of the swing. A golfer should remember to pick up the tee after a drive.
Pitch marks on the green
A ball hitting the green often leaves an indentation, a pitch mark, where it strikes the ground. These need to be repaired to keep the green in good condition. After golfers have arrived at the green, they should make a point to find pitch marks and repair them. The process is simple, fast, and painless.
The golfer should insert a turf tool into the ground on the high side of the pitch mark, then press the tool forward to push the soil back into place, not backward. A backward motion pulls the roots loose and further destroys the grass. If needed, the process should be repeated on the other side of the mark, redistributing the soil evenly. The golfer should finish by gently tapping the spot with the putter.
Playing in turn
On the tee, the player who "has the honor" is the first to tee up and play. After each golfer has played from the tee, the person who is furthest away from the hole is next to play. Depending on the circumstances, a player may hit more than once before the turn passes to another player.
Normally, playing in turn always proceeds from the person furthest away in towards the next player. However, there are cases where it is more reasonable for a player closer in to play again, such as on the green when the player's ball is very near the cup and potentially blocks another player's shot, or if a player is waiting for the green to clear in order to take his or her shot.
On the green a golfer should be aware of many things. One of them is the putting line of each player. Every ball is connected to the cup by an imaginary line, the path the ball will (hopefully) travel into the cup. Walking, standing, or stepping on these lines creates footprints that can deflect the ball off its path toward the cup. Golfers should note each player's putting line, and avoid stepping on it as they play on the green. A golfer should walk around the lines or step over them.
A second but related concern involves the hole itself. A golfer should avoid stepping within at least a one-foot radius of the hole. Golf instructor Dave Pelz, among others, has described a "doughnut effect" around the hole caused by players' footsteps pressing down the ground around the cup, especially when a player goes to retrieve a ball. While subtle, these footsteps interfere with the path of the ball and can cause missed putts.
According to the rules of golf, a player is not allowed to "ground" the club in any type of hazard. This means that as a player is getting ready for a shot, he or she cannot allow the club to touch the ground, sand, water, or anything else during a practice swing. A player is allowed to thrash as much sand, water, etc., as necessary during the actual shot.
A player should always enter and leave a bunker from the low side. After the shot, a player should rake the sand smooth again to leave a fresh surface for other players. Normally, the rake should be replaced alongside the bunker, not inside it.
An important rule is that loose impediments inside hazards cannot be touched or removed. Sticks, grass, leaves and the like must remain. Trash and other debris such as cigarette butts or beer cans, can be removed and discarded. Should the ball have landed in casual water within a bunker, a player is permitted to move the ball to a dry area of the bunker, provided it is not moved closer to the hole.
A golfer should always be aware of his or her pace of play. In informal play, if a golfer has attempted two or three times to get the ball out of the sand and failed, he or she should surrender to the hazard. The golfer should pick up the ball and drop it outside the bunker for further play. While not allowed under tournament conditions, this will help move the game along in informal play.
Slow play is a critical problem with the game of golf, and has little to do with skill level, age, gender, or experience. From the first drive to the last hole, each player should be ready to play when it is his or her turn. Normally, the player furthest from the hole (being "away") plays first, and continues until another player becomes "away." While this is a good tradition to follow, golfers may play out of turn if their playing partners agree that it will speed up the pace of play. A golfer should avoid taking unreasonable time over his or her swing, which might well produce a bad shot.
Golfers should try to follow closely the group ahead of them, and not to be "pushed" by the group behind them. One rule of thumb is that golfers should have to wait on the group in front of them to hole out as they are teeing up. Otherwise, their pace of play may be too slow.
A golfer should not waste time after a poor shot before hitting his or her next one. Although professional golfers often seem to take long amounts of time before each shot during televised tournaments, they have their careers on the line. And even the professionals are subject to penalties for extremely slow play. A quicker pace of play makes the game more enjoyable for all golfers.
A golfer should choose the correct tee for his or her skill level, regardless of where the other members of his or her group are playing. The different tee lengths are one way to help even the playing field. A golfer should tee the ball between the two markers for his or her given distance. The ball must be even with or behind the markers. Should a golfer swing and miss, it counts as one stroke. Should a golfer knock the ball off the tee during a practice swing, he or she is allowed to re-tee the ball without incurring a penalty.
Even in informal play, a "mulligan" is not automatic. If a golfer wishes to take one, he or she should ask permission and not waste time about it. A mulligan is technically not part of the game and goes against the very essence of the game.