The unwritten rules of golf: As important as the official rules
At a recent breakfast with golfers of various experience levels, the discussion of etiquette came up. Some of them knew most of these unwritten rules, while others knew very little. Experienced golfers take it for granted that most golfers know etiquette. It’s an unwelcoming assumption.
For one, how do most people learn golf etiquette? When I started to play the game some 25 years ago, it was through embarrassing trial and error that I discovered most of this stuff. I think I was in my 20th round before someone finally pointed out that I wasn’t supposed to step into other players’ putting lines. I remember thinking at the time, “I wonder how many times I’ve done that?” It was probably 10 times a round.
I asked our breakfast group if they knew about the through-line. No one knew, and I’m guessing the majority of recreational golfers don’t know about stepping in the “potential line” of someone else’s missed putt. Or where do you stand on the tee when someone else is hitting his or her tee shot? How about on the green? When and how should you mark your ball on the green? How do you properly fix a ball mark? (most superintendents would agree most golfers, including some pros, don’t get it right.) What does “ready golf” really mean, and can you take it too far? And who’s responsible for replacing the flagstick after everybody is done putting? (I had a big blowout with someone on this 15 years ago in Myrtle Beach. The general rule of thumb, by the way, is the first person to hole his or her putt replaces the pin, but some folks get a little too hung up on that for my liking.)
None of this stuff is covered in the Rules of Golf, yet it’s important for the enjoyment of the game, especially when you play with strangers who might get bent out of shape if you repeatedly violate these principles. If you step on my line, I don’t get too excited, but I have my pet peeves as well. One is writing down scores at the cart next to the green instead of waiting until the next tee. Not only does it slow down play, but it’s dangerous if the group behind you starts firing at the green. But again, if you’re new to the game, how do you know?
I think one of the better initiatives as of late is “Get Golf Ready”, which is part of the Play Golf America program (Playgolfamerica.com). Usually taught by PGA professionals, not only do these programs cover some basic instruction, but more importantly, how to fit in at the golf facility. There’s a lot to know.
One course that I recently played, Bear Trap Dunes in Ocean View, Del., really stresses its beginner golf programs like Get Golf Ready. Bear Trap Dunes is also a Troon Golf facility. Troon also runs its Player Development Programs in conjunction with Get Golf Ready. And chances are there’s a course near you that does the same. And that’s smart. Because by introducing the game to new players and trying to retain them is a good for business. And if they come to your facility to learn the nuances of the entire game, they’re likely to return to play where they were welcomed and now comfortable. Even better, they’ll tell someone else.
Not only does Get Golf Ready cover many of the etiquette questions above, but also stuff many of us don’t really think about like how to get around a clubhouse, what to wear on the course, how to warm up, and a whole litany of other things most experienced golfers take for granted. And if truth be told, a refresher course on some of this stuff for experienced golfers isn’t such a bad idea either.
You want to grow the game? Make people feel welcome. Getting them golf ready really helps.
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