If you think about it, one of the biggest factors in enjoying a day on the golf course isn't the golf course itself or the facility or even the staff -- it's the other golfers. Golf course operators know that, but they can only say so much to their customers. After all, golfers are a fickle group. One cross word from a marshal, and they might never go back.
But how golfers conduct themselves reflects on the facility and impacts the enjoyment of other golfers as well as the bottom line of the club.
For example, if one golfer or group is holding up play for the entire course, golf that day becomes an unpleasant experience for dozens of players. The same holds true for golfers who don't respect the course or players who use foul language in the clubhouse.
So in the spirit of making the game fun for everyone, here are 10 guidelines for being the best golf customer possible:
Rule no. 1: Arrive well before your tee time
I used to play with a guy who would show up two minutes before tee time -- if we were lucky. So when I set up golf, I would always round the tee time back toward the hour in attempt to at least get him there in time to check in and make it to the first tee without inconveniencing the groups behind us. But here's the question: How far ahead should you arrive?
If you're going to the range, at least 30 minutes. Otherwise, 15 minutes is the bare minimum. You have to load your clubs, pay, put on your shoes and check in with the starter. And speaking of the starter, check in with him or her as soon as possible so they don't have to look for you. In golf, you really do have to be punctual, not only for yourself but everyone else on the course.
Rule no. 2: Keep up the pace
As one golf course operator told me: "Your position on the course should be directly behind the group in front of you, not directly in front of the group behind you." A good goal to be sure, and sometimes you have no choice but to be in both positions when play ahead of you is slow, but try to keep up.
And there are many things you can do to make sure you do. For example, pick up at triple bogey or when you're out of the hole. Drop you partner off at his or her ball, then go to yours. Be ready to hit when it's your turn -- or better yet, play ready golf. It's not that hard. And have your putt figured out before it's your turn to putt.
Rule no. 3: Don't pillage range balls
Have you ever hit a ball into the woods, gone to look for it and found a bunch of range balls? One guess where those came from. If you're that bad and that cheap that you have to take range balls out on the course with you, just stay on the range until you're ready to keep some of your golf balls in play.
Of course, at some private clubs, the range balls are better than what's in a lot of players' bags, so I've seen golfers steal range balls simply because they wanted to play with them. If you're that desperate, you might want to try buying used golf balls online (lostgolfballs.com, for example).
Rule no. 4: Stay off the back tees (for the most part) on the long courses
Even most pros don't play them, especially in casual golf. Why? Because it's really not that much fun. Heck, even at the U.S. Open, they don't play the back tees on every hole, so this notion of playing where the pros play is false. Leave it for the scratch 20-something flat bellies, if that's what they want to do. Why give this advice? Because 10- or 15-handicaps playing from the back tees slows up play. It just does.
Rule no. 5: Don't be afraid to tip
For God's sake, when you get done playing and the cart guys or gals want to wipe off your clubs, don't tell them you're fine and try to whisk away your clubs without tipping them. Those tips are a big part of their income.
I'm not saying you have to give them $5 or $10 a bag; and if they don't do a good job of cleaning your clubs, either ask them to do it again or just give them a couple of bucks. And while we're at it: Don't be afraid to tip a starter or a marshal who's been particularly helpful.(There's good karma in that.)
Rule no. 6: Don't sneak beverages (or bring your own cooler)
Leave your personal coolers at home. Believe it or not, most golf courses don't recoup expenses through green fees. Operating a golf course is very expensive, so cart fees and food and beverage sales help the bottom line. As one operator said, "We haven't resorted to frisking golfers on the first tee, but we'd like to."
Rule no. 7: Respect the course
This is a big one with operators and superintendents. When it's cart-path only, there's a good reason for it; they're trying to protect the course. I can't tell you the number of times I've been to a course right after a heavy rain, and certain golfers just drive on the course anyway until they're told not to.
And when it's 90 degrees, try to adhere to that one as well. Stay away from the greens with the cart, pick up your cigarette butts, don't leave sunflower seeds on the greens and fix your ball marks. In fact, fix yours and at least one other.
Rule no. 8: Dress like a golfer
Even if the course has a relaxed dress code, you should try to look the part. That means a golf shirt, non-denim pants and no cargo shorts at most courses. Some golf course operators might not tell you to go home if your duds aren't up to par because they need the money, but you're not doing them any favors. Poorly dressed players not only reflect bad on the players but the facility as well.
Rule no. 9 Don't curse in the clubhouse
It seems so obvious, but I can hardly remember the last time I've been in a crowded clubhouse and didn't hear somebody dropping the F-bomb or sharing inappropriate stories. Many of us complain about the pros' lapses during tour events, and then we have no regard for the people around us when we're sitting in the clubhouse having a post-round beer. (I've been guilty of this myself.) So keep it clean or at least quiet.
Rule no. 10: Don't monopolize the cart girl
On many courses, the cart girls are attractive. It's part of the overall F&B strategy. Here's the deal, though: Most guys have no chance with them, especially the old geezers like me who are 30 years older than the average cart girl. So just get your drinks and move on. No need to make time with them; it's not going to get you anywhere. And worse yet, it's not getting the group behind you anywhere.