A Golf Primer
Journey through history – The game of golf is an ancient and veritable one, with centuries-old roots. Whether you are of the school of thought that golf can be traced back to the Roman game of paganica or the Chinese game of chuiwan, the English enumeration of cambuca or the Persian pastime of chaugan the modern game can be traced to Scotland where the first documented records of golf harken to the 15th century. If you are picking up clubs to play a round, take some time to appreciate the early beginnings of the game and the historical principles that can still be found on the course like discipline, courtesy, sportsmanship and integrity.
Know the rules – The USGA does more than host championships and opens, and one of its vital, yet perhaps unsung, roles is maintaining the Rules of Golf in the U.S.. Before you take a turn on the course, familiarize yourself with the 34 Rules of Golf, outlined in the USGA’s Rules of Golf. The front sections of the book include a quick guide to the rules and proper etiquette as well as a review of any rules changes that have occurred since the last printing of the book. This pocket-sized publication is small for a reason – put your copy in your golf bag and refer to it on the course when questions arise.
Instruction and practice – If you are a new golfer, obtaining instruction from a local club professional and spending time at a practice range or putting green is worth consideration. Even if you’ve been playing golf for a while, club pros can give you targeted lessons that have the potential to shave strokes off your game. Having additional tips and tricks from a lesson or two will not only make your round more enjoyable, it will instill confidence in your ability.
Arrive on time – Being punctual to the first tee box is an essential facet of the game. Make it a point to arrive at the course in ample time to check in and warm up, and be prepared to tee off at your designated time. If just one group is late, the entire day’s schedule can be affected.
Look sharp on the first tee – Dress the part of a golfer. Many courses have a dress code that must be followed during play, including collared shirts and no denim. Proper golf shoes with soft spikes are encouraged and many times mandatory. Aside from showing your respect for the game, the club and the course, dressing the part often leads to playing the part more effectively.
Equipment – Ensure you have everything you need for the round before embarking. This means the proper amount of clubs, a golf glove if you so desire and an ample supply of tees and balls. It is encouraged that you mark your balls with a distinguishing mark so as to avoid questions and disputes on the course. Other items you should bring along with you include a ball mark to use on the putting green and a divot fixer.
Teeing off – Players should place their balls between the appropriate tee markers while on the teeing ground. You may extend behind the teeing area up to two club lengths, but never tee up in front of the markers. The initial order of play can be chosen at random by drawing straws or a quick game of rock-paper-scissors. On subsequent holes, the player with the best score on the preceding hole goes first. Many golfers play “ready golf” and encourage fellow-competitors who are ready to alter the teeing order. Discuss these things with your playing partners prior to the round.
When on the teeing ground, etiquette dictates that golfers stay out of the way of their playing partner’s line of sight and remain quiet so as not to cause a break in concentration for someone in your group. It is recommended that conversations throughout the round be held at a low volume so other golfers on the course are not disturbed. Also, players should ensure that any personal electronic devices are not used to disturb other players. In a recent addition to the Rules of Golf, players cannot listen to music while hitting the ball, only in between shots. Refer to Rule 14-3a, Appendix IV and the Etiquette section for more information on using allowable electronic devices.
Tee it forward – Play from the set of tees that best fits your game. In an initiative that was introduced in 2011, the PGA and USGA encourages golfers of all skill levels to play from tee markers that match their average driving distance. Golfers, particularly new golfers, should not feel pressured to play from the tips or use the tees that their fellow-competitors are using. Use the tees that best suit your golf game in order to have a more enjoyable round.
Teeing it forward would be another instance in which the teeing order might be altered as players teeing off from more forward tees would start the hole last, rather than going in order of the last hole finished. In the same vein, be confident in your game and don’t listen to unwarranted or even illegal advice (see Rule 8) on the course. Use the clubs you feel best suit the shot at hand and play to your abilities.
Safety comes first – While golf is not known as a dangerous sport in comparison to many, there is always risk involved and safety is paramount. Be sure you are not standing too close to fellow-competitors who are swinging clubs and before you swing check the area to ensure you will not hit anyone. If you hit an errant ball that might hit someone on the course, loudly yell “fore” to warn individuals of an incoming golf ball.
If you are driving a golf cart, take care to do so in a responsible manner just as you would driving your own vehicle on the road. While golf carts don’t reach outrageous speeds, there is still a very real risk of injury or even death if you are driving irresponsibly.
Take proper precautions in inclement weather. If the course suspends play due to weather warnings, heed their advice. Playing in lightning can lead to serious injury or death as a club has the potential to act as a lightning rod. Also, sheltering under trees poses a legitimate risk of being struck as well, so leave the course entirely when advised to do so.
Care for the course – Part of the game of golf that makes it so challenging is the fact that you are not just playing against your fellow-competitors or yourself, but against nature. Take care to leave the course in the same shape you found it, so carefully rake bunkers and repair divots in the fairway and pitch marks on the putting surface. Use your divot fixer on the green to ensure a smooth putting surface exists for players on the course behind you.
Prevent unnecessary damage by not leaning on clubs while on the putting green, avoiding taking additional divots whether in practice or out of frustration swings and following all local signage regulating cart movement throughout the course.
Etiquette on the green – The player who is farthest away from the hole will generally putt first. The flagstick is to stay in the hole until all players have reached the green. Fellow-competitors who are chipping onto the putting surface do have the option to request removal of the flagstick if they so desire. Be mindful of the line of putt of your fellow-competitors and do not stand on it. When other players are making a putt do not move about the green or cast shadows on their line. Mark your ball if it is obstructing someone’s progress to the hole who will be putting before you. All members of your group should stay near the putting green until everyone has successfully finished the hole.
Pace of play – Play at a good pace and keep up with your fellow-competitors. It is a group’s responsibility to keep up with the group in front. If you are lagging behind and others are waiting on you to play, invite faster golf groups to play through. Don’t dawdle on the teeing ground or greens and be ready to play at all times. Oftentimes courses will establish a suggested pace of play to adhere to.
Knowing what equitable stroke control, or ESC, is and how to utilize it can be a big help when your pace is lagging. ESC is the downward adjustment of individual hole scores for handicapping purposes in order to make your index more representative of your potential ability. All of us are bound to have one or two blow-up holes per round, and ESC prevents those holes from inadvertently skewing your handicap up unnecessarily. The USGA has placed a maximum number of strokes one can take on a hole based on his or her individual handicap index. Use this tool to appropriately adjust scores when necessary. Once you have reached your ESC number on a hole, pick up your ball and move on to expedite your pace during the round.
Wayward golf shots – No matter what level of golfer you are, bad golf shots are inevitable. If you hit an errant shot into a water hazard or out of bounds follow local and USGA rules when playing your next shot. If the ball has crossed the white out of bounds stakes, you must take a penalty stroke and play the ball from its original position. If you believe you have played into this predicament, go ahead and take a provisional ball before looking for your original ball. Refer to Rule 27 for more information on provisional balls.
If your ball is in a water hazard, Rule 26 explains the process of taking your penalty stroke and where to drop the ball in relief. Water hazards have different drop procedures than lateral water hazards, so refer to the local club rules and the color of stakes present to determine which procedure you should take to continue play. If your ball lands in a yellow-staked water hazard, take a one-stroke penalty and drop a ball on the line where the original ball entered the hazard on the same line as the flagstick. The process for a lateral water hazard, designated by red stakes, is to take the penalty and drop a ball within two club lengths of the spot where the ball last crossed the margin of the hazard, but no closer to the hole.
After the round – Take some time to enjoy the company and camaraderie with your fellow-competitors. Settle bets made on the golf course, compare scorecards and regale your friends with your memories from the round. Relax in the club’s restaurant or pick up a souvenir in the golf shop to celebrate the round or prepare for your next day at the course.
Before you head out, don’t forget to post your score. Use the computer in the clubhouse, visit NCGA.org or open your NCGA mobile phone app to record your round and calculate your handicap index. Establishing your handicap index enables you to compete on an equitable basis with your fellow-competitors, regardless of skill level. It also gives you a great tool to track your progress and improvement as a golfer.
These 14 tips illustrate just a few of the many things you should keep in mind as you strike out on your round of golf. Have you figured out why there are 14 things listed? If you haven’t, open up the Rules of Golf and refer to Rule 4-4.
What else would you tell a novice before they head out to play?