How to be a good golf course citizen

Being a good golf course citizen means getting the details right, down to where to replace rakes in bunkers.

Everyone knows about the basics of course etiquette: keeping up pace of play, fixing ball marks and raking bunkers. But enjoying the game and making it better for others involves more than that. Here are some basic guidelines for getting the most out of your golf round.

1. Read up on the place beforehand. Before you head off to play, do some basic research. The internet teems with background material, as do specialized golf architecture websites GolfClubAtlas.com or here at Golf Advisor. It doesn’t matter whether you’re playing Pebble Beach or Max A. Mandel Municipal Golf Course in Laredo, Texas. Every golf course has a storyline, a history and an outstanding feature or hole.

Understanding the history of a course before you play it will further enrich the experience.

2. Place the rakes back in the right place. Sounds trivial, but it’s the question I get more than any other about course set up: Should bunker rakes go inside the hazard or outside?

After years of study, I’ve come up with the answer. First, do whatever the course recommends. If they don't have a recommendation, place the rake half inside, with the teeth set facing down in the sand and the handle sticking out so that it can be reached without going into the hazard. This method causes the least disturbance to the sand, the easiest access, and the least potential impact to incoming golf shots.

Not every course has explicit rake directions, but this is a pretty good rule to follow.

3. Respect course signage. There’s a reason the course manager puts out ropes and posts directing cart traffic. You can’t tell about a wet spot in the ground until your tire tracks are axle deep, which is too late. The same goes for avoiding fescue roughs and native areas – steer clear, and if the GPS cart guidance system flashes a warning, obey it. Otherwise you may cause unnecessary wear to the course, or may even have to push the cart out.

Golf course signage and instruction is there for a reason. Obey each one.

4. Pick up any litter you see, not just your own. It’s frustrating how much litter can accumulate on a golf course – cans, plastic wrappers, cigarette and cigar butts, discarded golf ball packaging, and old scorecards. If you see something, pick it up and help clean up the course, even if it’s not yours.

5. Be a golf course scout. Keep an eye out for anything that looks out of place and might pose a problem or even a danger: widow-maker tree limbs, an irrigation leak, rocks working their way up in bunkers from freeze-thaw cycles. A common problem early in the morning is the occasional fuel or hydraulic leak on mowing equipment that can leave a telltale trail in the turf. II you chance upon any of that, make a note or, better yet, call it into the pro shop right away.

6. Don’t be the hero to fix slow play. If the group ahead of you or somewhere else out on the course is obviously lagging, call it in to the pro shop and ask them to send out a ranger right away. It can be very dicey these days to take it upon yourself to get the group ahead to speed up. Let the course rangers or golf shop staff handle it.

7. Respect the entire staff. That includes those females running beverage carts around the course. I’ve seen all too many cases where guys think it’s cool to flirt or be suggestive. It’s not. It’s embarrassing and inappropriate.

8. Be a good critic. Thoughtful criticism means taking into account the things you like, the things you didn’t like and ways that something might be made better. Show your appreciation to the staff for the hard work they put into the place by being thoughtful and constructive in any judgments you make.

It's okay to have an opinion about a golf course. But it's beneficial to be as informed and as fair as you can.

9. Vote. After the round, take your judgments and put them into course ratings that the public can see. You’ll be doing other golfers a favor as well as the managers of the facility you’ve just played.

Follow these guidelines and you’ll be more engaged in the round, have more fun and learn something and you’ll have a chance to have an impact on the industry.

What are some little things you like to do around the golf course to improve the experience for everyone? Let us know in the comments below:

Veteran golf travel, history and architecture journalist, Bradley S. Klein has written more than 1,500 feature articles on course architecture, resort travel, golf course development, golf history and the media for such other publications as Golfweek, Golf Digest, Financial Times, New York Times and Sports Illustrated. He has published seven books on golf architecture and history, including Discovering Donald Ross, winner of the USGA 2001 International Book Award. In 2015, Klein won the Donald Ross Award for lifetime achievement from the American Society of Golf Course Architects. Follow Brad on Twitter
8 Comments
Commented on

Fixing ball marks on the greens is so basic but most golfers either don't want to bend over or they don't know the proper technique so they simply leave it. It is a pet peeve of mine so I find myself fixing my own and two or three others. Besides handicaps golfers should be rated on how they treat the course. I.E. Rake traps, replace divots and repair ball marks.

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Act like an adult. Do not be so loud that other groups can hear every word and swear word you yell. Do not play music in the cart. Respect others around you who paid the same as you to enjoy their experience without having to hear nasty music and bad language. Respect the game. If you have not learned proper golf etiquette then stay at home with your playstation. Resort courses, please respect your other patrons who do exercise proper etiquette and follow your rules, the rules you post. Don’t be so desperate for business that you are not willing to remove unruly people from your course.

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Agree with everything here.

Commented on

Call ahead for tipping etiquette at that course and bring a mixture of small and large bills.

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On the greens, repair your ball mark and at least one other. Learn the preferred way of repairing ball marks on the course you are playing. Fill your divot and at least one other. When using a cart, avoid well-travelled areas, wet areas, newly sodded areas. Play “ready golf” and move along, paying attention to your position relative to groups in fron and behind you.

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Support the club and have a drink and something to eat afterwards, rather than go somewhere else.

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Funny, the rake picture shows a trap that does not look like it has been raked in years.

Staff
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I took the photo at a course on Vancouver Island - Crown Isle - coming off of a stormy, wet week of fall weather. The course is normally in very good shape, but I agree - that bunker could use a good combing.

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How to be a good golf course citizen