The 12 unwritten rules of good golf etiquette

Woman taking shot on golf course

Tianna Nadalin

Posted November 02, 2022

One can be forgiven for being bad at golf, but not for having bad golf etiquette. Avoid these faux pas and unwritten rules of golf to make sure you get invited back for another round. 

When it comes to golf, there are the official rules and then there’s etiquette, and both of them need to be adhered to if you want your day on the green to be a hole-in-one.

From not talking during someone’s back-swing, to staying out of their shadow-line, there are some common faux pas your fellow golfers will thank you for not committing. 

How a person conducts themselves on the course can have a big impact on the enjoyability of the game so, whether you’re new to the sport or a seasoned golfer, it’s a good idea to learn which behaviours are deemed socially unacceptable on the course.  

To ensure you get invited back to the clubhouse, here is our guide to good golf etiquette. Keep it handy the next time you're playing a round at one of RACV's five stunning Australian golf courses.

A beginner's guide to golf etiquette 

Give warning of wayward shots 

Everyone hits a wayward from time to time. When you do, it’s important to give other players the heads up. Yelling “Fore!” is how you do this. This also applies if you’re playing on a course with houses or that crosses public areas; the warning is for everyone – not just those on the course.

Silence is golden

Golf is as much a mental game as it is a game of skills, so it’s important to keep distractions to a minimum when you’re on the course. That means no talking while someone is taking a shot (or preparing to) and making sure your phone is switched off or on silent. Better yet, leave it in the change rooms. If you do need to take a call, try to make it quick and keep out of earshot of the person playing.  

Keep your shadow off someone’s putting line

This is a simple thing beginners often don’t think of that can be really irritating when you’re trying to take a shot. When someone is putting, it can be distracting if you're moving your shadow around in their line, or over the hole, even if they can't see you directly.


Man taking swing at gold while friend waites out of sight behind him

 Stand far enough behind a player that you’re not in their line of sight. Image: Getty. 

Avoid standing on someone’s line

Other than talking through someone’s shot, when it comes to distractions, this is probably one of the biggest – and most annoying. Stepping on someone’s putting line means your spikes can leave little indents in the greens, which can upset the line of the ball and derail the putt. Being aware of and walking around people’s lines is also important when you’re walking between holes. Also, be careful to steer clear of people’s through lines (where the ball will go if they miss the shot).

If you’re ready to go, play your shot

There’s the honour system and then there’s ready golf. The rules dictate that the player farthest from the hole plays first but this can really slow down the pace, especially over a friendly nine holes on the weekend. Instead, ready golf is simply being ready to take a shot when it’s your turn. This means being prepared, having your clubs ready and not having three practice swings at the ball.

Keep pace with the group in front of you

One of the most common complaints when it comes to golf is slow play. Be mindful of your pace and always try to keep up with the group in front of you. If you know you’re on the slower side, being prepared to play when it's your turn on the tee and green, and never searching for a lost ball for more than five minutes will help speed things up. Using a GPS device or a rangefinder might also help keep you on the right course. And if you really can’t keep up, let the group behind you play through; other people would like to golf, too.

Mark your ball

As well as making it easier for you to identify on the fairway – or in the forest – marking your ball also helps others know you haven’t just dropped another ball after hitting a bogey. But for the instances where you do lose your ball, it’s wise to keep a spare in your pocket so you are ready to hit another when you need to; and you will need to eventually.

Golf givot

Repairing your divots is just common courtesy. Image: Getty.

Take care of the course

Nobody enjoys playing on a poorly maintained golf coure, so fixing your divots and marks is the least you can do to help keep the tee and fairway in good condition. As well as replacing your divots, if you hit into the bunker, make sure you rake it so that the next player doesn’t have to hit their golf ball out of the crater you just made. 

Speaking of divots, don’t make them during practice swings. 

Arrive early to tee off 

Aim to arrive 20 minutes before you’re scheduled to tee off. Not only does this give you time to check in, get organised and hit some practice shots, it also means you’re less likely to keep other people waiting and make everyone else tee off late. 

Be a good sport

Shake hands at the start of a round and wish your mates a good game, then shake again at the end. This is just good sportsmanship. If you want to be a little more old school about it, you can even take off your hat before you do it.

Keep your temper under control 

Nobody likes having a bad day on the course but, sometimes, it’s inevitable, and losing your temper whenever you play a bad shot isn’t going to improve your game – or your handicap. Throwing your clubs, swearing and sulking only serve to make sure nobody enjoys the round. If you’re frustrated with your game; stop, take a deep breath and shake it off. If you need to hit your next shot a little harder to let off some steam, go for it. Just remember to replace your divot if you do. 

Set ground rules before you tee off

From what constitutes a gimmie to penalties for spraying a ball out of bounds or even moving a ball off a tree root – establishing the rules for your group at the start of the round is essential, especially if you’re playing with new partners.

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