Life Begins At » Golf etiquette
Entertainment Lifestyle

Golf etiquette

So you want to play golf? Golf Australia’s championships manager Emily Miller shares tips from the tee to the clubhouse.


There are two basic forms of play – match play and stroke play.

Stroke play is the more common form of golf in Australia, whereby each player in a competition competes against the rest of the field. The score for each hole is recorded on the score card and totalled at the end of the round. The player with the lowest score is the winner. If there is a handicap event, handicaps are deducted from the gross totals and the player with the lowest net score wins the handicap section.

Match play is the more traditional form, when two players or sides compete against each other hole by hole, with the number of holes won, lost or halved deciding the match. A hole is won by the player who has the lowest score or net score on that hole. The player who wins the most holes out of 18, wins the match. If a player is leading by a number of holes greater than the number of holes remaining, they have won the match and the remaining holes do not need to be played.


The rules of golf are universal, but unlike many other sports, they are applied by the players themselves. Therefore, every golfer should carry a Rules of Golf book, which is free and available from most golf clubs or state associations. The Rules outlined here are very simple but will assist initially.

  • Playing the ball as it lies: The Rules generally do not permit you to improve the position of the ball. You may not bend or break anything growing or fixed except in taking a fair swing. You are not allowed to press anything down but you can remove loose natural impediments such as stones, twigs or fallen leaves without penalty, except in a hazard. In a bunker or a water hazard, you are not permitted to ground your club before you hit the ball.
  • Lost ball and “provisional” ball: If you think your ball may be lost or out of bounds, you can save time by hitting a second ball from the same spot. This ball is called a “provisional ball” and you must tell your partners of your intention to play a “provisional” before doing so. You are allowed a maximum of five minutes to look for a lost ball. If you find your ball and it is in bounds, you must pick up the provisional ball and continue to play with the original ball. If your first ball is lost or out of bounds you must continue to play with the provisional ball counting all your strokes, plus one penalty stroke.
  • On the green: You can repair ball marks and old ball plugs on the green if these affect your putting line. However you may not repair spike marks. You may remove leaves and other loose impediments on the line of your putt and you may also mark the position of your ball to pick it up and clean it.
  • Unplayable ball: Sometimes a ball may land in a position where it is very difficult or impossible to hit. If you decide you cannot hit your ball you may declare the ball unplayable, except in a hazard. You may then pick it up and drop it at one of the positions below adding one penalty stroke to your score.
    1. at the spot from which the original ball was last played; or
    2. at a point any distance back from the spot where the ball lay in line with the hole; or
    3. within two club-lengths of where the ball lay but not nearer the hole.

If you declare the ball unplayable in a bunker and you decide to drop under options 2 or 3, you must drop the ball in the bunker.

  • Taking a drop: There are some instances under the Rules of Golf where you can pick up the ball and relocate it – sometimes with a penalty and sometimes without a penalty. To drop the ball, you must stand upright, hold the ball at shoulder height and arm’s length and drop it. If you drop it and it accidentally touches yourself, your partner or equipment before it strikes the ground, or it rolls closer to the hole, you must drop the ball again, without penalty.
  • Water hazards: If you hit your ball into a water hazard, you may play the ball as it lies without grounding your club or by adding a one stroke penalty: play another ball at the spot from which the original ball was last played; or drop a ball behind the water hazard keeping the point where your ball last crossed the margin of the hazard in line with the hole and the spot where you drop the ball.
    If the hazard is marked with red stakes, you may also drop a ball outside the water hazard within two club-lengths of and not nearer the hole than where it last crossed the margin of the hazard, or at a point on the opposite side of the margin.
  • Local Rules: Most golf courses have Local Rules which are specific to their club. You will find these either on the back of the score card or prominently displayed at the clubhouse.


Golf etiquette is a mixture of courtesy, safety and common sense. Regardless of experience or level of play, every golfer is expected to abide by the same code of behaviour. Here are a few tips

  • Course care: If you take a divot, it is up to you to repair the damage. Carry a sand bucket (if available) and fill the divot with sand, or replace the turf and press it down with your foot or hand.
  • Greens: Try to avoid walking close to the hole or walking on the putting lines of your partners. Be careful not to damage the green with the flagstick or by leading on your putter. Most importantly repair pitch marks on greens as a courtesy to the course and your fellow competitors. The longer a mark stays unrepaired, the longer it takes to mend
  • Bunkers: As with greens, it important to leave bunkers in a good condition for following players. After playing from a bunker rake or smooth the area you played from and any footprints before leaving the bunker.
  • Golf carts: Carts can be damaging to the golf course however if you take note of the following, you will help protect the course
    • Keep away from green surrounds and teeing grounds.
    • Do not drive through damaged or wet areas.
    • Drive only where directed.
    • Check with the pro shop regarding any other course rules.
  • Pace of play: In a group of four players, an 18-hole round should take about four hours. So, here are some tips to ensure this time will be achieved:
    • Walk quickly to the tee and between shots.
    • Be ready to play when it is your turn (select your club and plan your shot while others are playing).
    • If you have the honour, tee off as soon as it is safe to do so.
    • Limit practice swings to one and pre-shot routines to a minimum.
    • If your ball may be lost or out of bounds, hit a provisional ball.
    • If a ball cannot be found immediately, let the group behind you play through.
    • Leave bags and buggies where they can easily be collected walking to the next tee.
    • Where possible, hole short putts without marking and lifting your ball.
    • Leave the green quickly.
  • Safety and consideration for others: Most of this is common sense, but as a reminder:
    • Before a practice swing or playing a shot, ensure that no-one is standing too close to you.
    • Before hitting the ball, make certain that the people in front of you are out of range.
    • If your ball is headed towards someone else, shout “fore” – golf’s universal warning to take cover.
    • Take responsibility for your own safety too. Make sure you don’t walk too close to a swinging club or get in the way of flying balls.
    • Try not to move, talk or create disturbance or noise while others are playing a shot.
    • Ensure your shadow does not distract other players, particularly on the putting green.
    • Do not stand too close or directly behind the ball, or directly behind the hole, when a player is about to play.
    • Remain near the green until all players have holed out.
  • Dress: Most golf clubs, particularly private ones, have specific rules relating to minimum dress requirements both on the course and in the clubhouse. If you dress in neat, casual attire you will be suitably dressed in most instances, however football or tennis shorts, thongs, singlets, t-shirts and jeans are generally not permitted. Don’t be afraid to ask what you should wear if you are going to a course, or have a look at the club website. A phone call could make sure you look the part and avoid embarrassment.

Most importantly enjoy the game and the commaraderie!

More Information

Golf Australia sells the publication ‘Tee it Up: A Guide to Club Golf” to help you better understand and enjoy this fantastic game. Visit for more information.

About the author

Alana Lowes

Add Comment

Click here to post a comment