Picture this: spring is in full bloom and the conclusion of the Masters tournament just announced the unofficial spring solstice; golf season is upon us. Before we all know it, America’s courses will be littered with aspiring players, shattered hopes at shooting under par, and the occasional smattering of cheers from your playing buddies at the elusive birdie or eagle.
I may be biased, but I think that golf is one of the greatest activities for people to be involved in, for both men and women alike. The game offers both personal enjoyment and business / social implications, bringing both together into an enjoyable afternoon in a well-manicured setting.
This article is not meant to be a primer on the perfect swing or offer swing tips. Plenty of sources out there exist for the inquiring mind. Rather, I want to talk a little bit about why you should be playing, rules of etiquette that will go a long way in impressing your playing partners, and things to be aware of for beginners.
Why People Should Play Golf
As said above, golf is a great equalizer of a game. The concept of a handicap allows players of different skill levels to complete on a “numerically equivalent” playing field, allowing for good spirited and fair competition between husband and wife, boyfriend and girlfriend, and between friends. Beyond that competitive aspect between people, this game is really about you, your clubs, and the course. The pursuit of a great round of golf is intoxicating, and the positive reinforcement of steady improvement is dangerously addictive.
Golf also offers career implications. If men or women want some extra face time with the boss beyond forced dialogue at the all-too-awkward holiday party, the golf course is a great place to start. I’d argue this is true for many guys, and even more so for women, as fewer working women seem to be golfers and this can be a great opportunity to maybe cross perceived or implied gender barriers.
Also, golf can reveal a lot about the character of the people you are aligning yourself with. A man I know once told me that you can learn a lot about a person from watching how they play a round of golf. The ability of a person to show grace in the midst of a meltdown, patience with slow players, a good attitude even if the score isn’t in the golfer’s favor, and even something as simple as playing the ball as it lies reveal integrity. Trust me, these things aren’t a stretch. If a person is playing a competitive round and feels the need to cheat, that tells you something about the character of the person that you’re interacting with.
If you want to ingratiate yourself with the higher-ups, having the ability to go out there and competently play and follow the rules is a really good idea.
Acting / Looking The Part
I want to stress that last point: while it's great to be both an excellent player, excellence is developed over time and with much practice. Proper etiquette is not tied to skill, and novice to professional alike can show care for the game and for their playing partners. Some may see the rules of golf as a "gentleman's game" as being stodgy, but proper dress, self-policing pace of play and rules violations, and respect for people around you are hardly worth complaining about.
For newer or even frequent, I'd stress the following points:
(1) Proper attire is important. I'd stress that a nice pair of golf pants or golf shorts shouldn't be something you wear around all the time, and cargo shorts are pushing it. No one should be wearing denim, either. Further, no one should go out to a golf course, no matter if it's a local municipal course or a country club, wearing a t-shirt. Shirts should have a collar and be tucked in. Even if you can't really play, you at least want to try to look the part. This is a great area for guys to get girls to play, as women can really make their golf attire look fashionable and put together cute outfits. For the fashionable men out there, plenty of good options exist to put together a good golf outfit even if you're on a budget.
(2) Know where to stand and when to be quiet. Players in a group should not stand directly behind the person playing a shot, and if you're going to be in the line of sight, try to stand still. Whatever conversation you're having can also wait a few seconds. Hitting a ball where you want it to go is hard enough, let alone when people are carrying on about something. This goes for both the tee box, approach shots, and putts on the green. On the putting green, don't walk between someone else's ball and the hole, as your golf spikes can leave marks that shoot the ball in unintended ways.
(3) Take care of the course. If you hit a ball into the sand trap, rake it. If you take a huge chunk of grass up on a shot, get the grass and step it down to cover the hole. When you make a ball-mark on the green, fix it. The course maintenance staff shouldn't be the only ones spearheading this effort, and the groups playing behind you will certainly appreciate the ability to hit a putt without fear of getting knocked off line by your lack of care for the putting surface.
(4) Pace of play matters. A round of 18 holes should not take 6 hours to complete. If the golf course is busy, that's one thing. If it's not and you're a beginner or just not a great player, consider letting the groups behind you "play through" (i.e. get ahead of you on the course). If that's not an option, make sure to not exacerbate the annoyance by goofing around or hitting extra shots for practice.
(5) Keeping your cool. I'll readily admit that golf can be really frustrating. What's even worse is playing with the person who bangs their club on the ground, yells after each shot, or pouts at things not going their way. Every golfer has done this, but try to contain yourself. You're outside, you're enjoying a day, and you've paid for this round. We're not playing for our livelihood, so cool it.
(6) Mulligans. Regular scoring and rules of golf suggest these aren't allowed in competitive rounds. If you want to use one or 2 in a friendly round, that's fine. But make sure you establish it with the group as to how many people are going to get, and when they can or can't be used.
(7) Keep track of your own score, and be honest. If you made an 8 on a part 3, call it out. That little dribbler you hit because you pulled your head up? That counts just as much as the 165-yard 8-iron you just flushed pin-high. The only way that you're going to get better is taking your lumps and counting your strokes.
This might seem like a lot, but doing such simple things can go a long way in showing respect for the people around you, the course, and the game itself.
For Beginners or Developing Golfers
Golf is a lot of fun, but it can be really expensive. Make sure that you're investing your money in the right areas.
For example, many advertisements out there talk about how Titleist balls are the best. While that's probably true, it's not going to impact the non-advanced player in a discernible way. I'd advocate buying refurbished balls -- as you're likely to lose them again any way, consider it as paying it forward. I've been seriously golfing for years, and I still do this. You can spend less on the balls and more on actually playing to get better.
When it comes to equipment, get your own. Courses offer rentals, but if you seriously want to play the game, you need to shell out the funds to own your own sticks. I'd probably advocate buying a used set of nicer clubs (Callaway, Nike, TaylorMade, Ping, etc.), rather than a full set offered of a lesser known brand. The used set might be a little more expensive right away, but you'll also be able to learn and use those clubs longer.
Etiquette lessons do exist, and classes for beginners are offered at many driving ranges or by local professionals. This is a really good thing to do, and will teach you a lot of the basics.
If you really get bit by the bug, consider getting some swing lessons. I've used GolfTec before, and it does make a huge difference. These can be quite expensive, so make sure you're committed before going this route. Golf is a very counter-intuitive swinging motion, and it requires proper muscle memory to develop over time to play well consistently. You wouldn't try to cook a brand new recipe without studying how to do it properly, so consider that principle when it comes to golfing as well.