Ten pace-of-play and golf-course-etiquette tips for beginning golfers

Greetings, new golfers!

Let me be the first to welcome you to our grand game. (Lord knows, we need each and every one of you these days.)

And we also know golf can be intimidating at first: weird rules, funny clothes, strange lingo.

So before you play your next round, I'd like to offer up a bit of advice on how you can fit right in with low-handicappers -- all without having to buy the fancy gear or shoot the low scores.

But first, an admission: All of us in the game need to do a better job of not only lightening up the rules a little for you but also educate you with the complex ways of golf course etiquette.

We don't need bigger holes or clubs. We want you to feel comfortable out there, which leads to more fun. In turn, we ask you keep up the pace, and that way scratch golfers can play with 36 handicaps. And in what other sport can two vastly different abilities play alongside one another?

So here are 10 tips every new golfer should know about basic golf course etiquette and how to keep up the pace.

1. Be early to your tee time

If your tee time is at 1:40, don't show up at 1:40. And there is no "5-minute rule" when it comes to grumpy starters. You should arrive at the course a solid 20 minutes before your tee time so you can check in, get your bag loaded and complete any other miscellaneous housekeeping (hot dog, sunscreen, buy tees, etc.). If you want to hit some warm-up balls, add an extra 15-20 minutes.

Your whole group should be at the first tee 5-10 minutes before your tee time (or within eye sight of the starter) and ready to have your peg in the ground at the starting time.

2. Learn how to share a golf cart

In my opinion, the no. 1 reason for player-induced slow play is inefficient golf cart management.

The relationship you have with your golf cart mate should resemble a game of leap frog -- not a three-legged sack race.

Drop your partner off at their ball and go to yours (and when they hit they can walk back to the cart). If being dropped off, always take a few different clubs to your ball. If you and your cart mate's balls are relatively close to each other, park in between them and you can get ready to hit at the same time.

Bring putters or other wedges to the green for one another if necessary.

Who says golf isn't a team sport?

3. Don't play balls you can't afford to lose

There is virtually no point to buying new golf balls until you can actually play with one for a few holes before it ends up in a back yard or at the bottom of a lake. Play balls you won't mind losing in the weeds, because your playing partners don't want to help you look for more than a couple balls during a round anyways.

Now, while the pro tours employ a five-minute rule on ball searches, your group should spend a lot less. As a general rule, if your ball trickles into the woods and you think you might have a shot, do a quick once or twice over before dropping (making sure no one is waiting on the tee behind you).

But if it sailed in deep, leave it behind and drop somewhere near where it entered and take a penalty stroke.

4. Read your putts while others are putting, and then be ready to hit

I've watched a lot of beginners not line up their putt until the previous player's already marked their ball. Be proactive: Line up your putt as others are putting (just be sure you're far enough away to not be distracting), and once their ball is rolling, get your ball down and start your routine.

If your ball isn't in the way, you can put it down and pick up your mark before it's your turn to hit.

5. Go easy on the practice swings

We know, the golf swing feels weird, but when you're on the tee, try and make a practice swing or two off to the side while others are preparing to tee off. On a recent episode of "The Golf Fix," Michael Breed suggested a 45-second pre-shot routine from the time you pull the club to the follow through. That's really the slowest-case scenario. Shoot for 30 seconds.

Now, if you're at your ball and it's not your turn to hit, feel free to take a few extra practice swings, just be ready to go when it's your turn.

6. If you have to ask if it's your turn, you probably should have hit already

I've seen this a lot with beginners: They're standing at their ball somewhere just off the green with three sets of eyes on them before they suspect something and ask, "Am I up?"

Don't let it get that far. If you're away, or, hell, even if it's a close call, just go. The group will appreciate your proactivity.

7. Give the phone a rest

You're in the outdoors and among people, don't stay buried in your phone. Leave it in the cart with the ringer off -- don't keep it in your pocket so it goes off on the green as your partner is over a three-footer.

Checking football scores are, of course, the exception.

8. Instruction is for the driving range

I know, once you hit your seventh drive of the day dead left, you want to ask your playing partners what you're doing wrong. Chances are, we can offer a suggestion, and it might fix it for a hole or two, but you're better off with a lesson or group clinic at the range after work once a week or a couple times a month to gain any real improvement.

9. Have selective memory with your scorecard

Adding up an 18-hole score well north of 110 or 120 shots is more grueling than the round itself. Your score doesn't matter until you're really challenging 100 without mulligans and such.

Instead, chart achievements: Write down pars and bogeys, or one-putts, up-and-downs.

Make double-par a max score. A par-5 implosion shouldn't ruin the rest of your round.

10. Lastly, stop apologizing for your play!

Look, the game's difficulty gets to all of us. A few years back, I was so disjointed on a South Carolina golf trip that I showed up on the first tee with only my 6-iron. It was the only club I felt I could keep on the golf course. And I've been playing the game (competitively through high school) since I was 8 years old.

So understand: We know what you're going through. The game is damn hard. You don't have to explain yourself to your partners with a, "Man I really don't know what's happening today" or "I'm usually not this bad..."

Keep your head up and a smile on your face. Gloat a little when you hit a good shot, and laugh off the bad.

You paid the green fee to have fun. You're outdoors and you're not at Home Depot picking out tile with your significant other.

Just enjoy yourself at a tidy pace.

7 Min Read
March 17, 2021
Avoid bad habits in the beginning of your journey and your learning curve in this tough game will be a lot faster.

Brandon Tucker is the Sr. Managing Editor for GolfPass and was the founding editor of Golf Advisor in 2014, he was the managing editor for Golf Channel Digital's Courses & Travel. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and nearly 600 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker and on Instagram at @btuck34.
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Question...if I'm off the green, but closer to the hole than another golfer on the green, whose turn is it?

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Technically it their turn to go because they are 'away' but this is often not followed in casual play because once someone takes the flag out the group wants to leave it out.

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Golf etiquette help needed

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This is a great article and full of really helpful tips!

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People can play awful golf, and still play quickly. My wife and I recently played 9 holes with a cart and nobody in front of us. I shot 41, she shot 62....and it took us an hour and 8 minutes total.

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I loved that you mentioned that we have to stop apologizing for our play. I was planning on taking my husband to a golf course for his birthday, but I was worry about not knowing what to do. Like you mentioned the best thing that we can do is keep a positive attitude and try to enjoy the experience as much as we can. http://www.golfdm.com/

Commented on

Excellent tips. I am new to play golf. I have started in last week. As a beginners I am facing lots of problem. So I looking for some professional golf player advice. I have <a href="https://golferfx.com/how-to-use-golf-alignment-sticks/">golf alignment sticks</a>, I have started with this, as I came to know that it will help to set the perfect posture of body before hit the golf ball. You have suggested to have smile on face while playing. But still now I am little afraid about swing.

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Well said, Amen to that brother...

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Great tips! I would just add to replace divots and repair ball marks. Also, keep the course clean. No sunflower seed on the greens.

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For right handed golfers which side of the ball should you park cart in the fairway?
Right side of the ball or behind golfer?

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I'd park to the side and not behind them.

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Excellent article.
Kind of like the 10 Commandments of Golf.
Should be everyone's first lesson.

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Ten pace-of-play and golf-course-etiquette tips for beginning golfers