'No Golfer Is Permitted To Loudly Enthuse About Another Player’s Shot Before It Has Finished Its Travel' – The 8 Unwritten Rules Of Golf That Everyone Should Follow...

The official Rules of Golf are all well and good, but it is the unofficial, unwritten rules that actually make the golfing world go round...

unwritten rules of golf
(Image credit: Dan Gould)

At this point, we're all familiar with the Rules of Golf (at least, we should be). But what about the unwritten and unspoken ones that all club members and nomadic golfers should abide by? We begin with the most important one of all... 

Rule 1)  Embarrassingly bad golf: All golfers are allowed to play terrible golf, so long as they don’t make a fuss about it. Nobody minds playing with someone having a shocker, as long as they don’t have an 18-hole strop and they don’t hold everyone up. The truth is, if you are quick to reload, quick to search and quick to carry on, you are everyone’s dream playing partner. Especially since they’re probably winning a few quid off you. 

Rule 2) Ideas above your station:
No one with a handicap of 20 or higher is allowed to prescribe swing advice to another player in their group, no matter how badly that golfer is playing.  Seriously, who do they think they are?  Have they seen their swing?

Rule 3) Premature congratulations: No player is permitted to loudly enthuse about another player’s shot too soon after it has been hit or before it has finished its travel and trajectory. The only thing worse than seeing your sweetly struck fairway wood tail off into a penalty area is hearing a playing partner trill, ‘Oooh! That’s a fantastic shot!’ while the ball is half way to its watery grave. Penalty: a short, sharp Chinese burn.

Rule 4) Apologising while on the golf course:  

4.1 Foursomes: In a change to the existing gentleman’s agreement, it is no longer correct that a foursomes player does NOT need to say sorry to their playing partner after a horrendous shot. To hell with that. They absolutely SHOULD say sorry, in a loud voice and a genuine tone of shame and regret. After the round, replacements for all of your Pro V1s they’ve lost wouldn’t hurt, either.

4.2  Match play: It is unacceptable for any player to apologise to their opponent after playing a remarkably fine, or unlikely, shot, such as the outrageous holing of a tricky chip. Penalty: immediate loss of hole. We know what you’re doing. Stop it.

Rule 5) Giving a gimme: Officially, it is up to the individual golfer’s whim, discretion and spite as to whether or not they concede a putt during non-competition golf and match play golf. Having said that…

5.1 Friendly games: Golfers should concede all putts up to the length of Ian Woosnam (5ft 4in).

ian woosnam

(Image credit: Getty Images)

5.2 Match play: If an opponent is NOT conceding any short putts, then a golfer should NOT concede any of theirs. If an opponent IS conceding short putts… then a golfer should NOT concede any of theirs. If an opponent’s putt is only a few inches in length, a golfer should pause to consider the match situation… then NOT concede it.

Rule 6) Low person better-ball strokes system: Instead of everyone in the group taking their full handicap allowance, it’s simpler – and funnier – to annoy the lowest handicapper by bringing them down to 0 (giving them no shots whatsoever), then just subtracting their handicap off everyone else’s.  Serves them right for being off 7 and practising regularly. 

Rule 7) Looking for balls: All golfers should remember and apply the Law of Distance – a struck ball has almost certainly not gone as far as the deluded striker thinks it has.

7.1 The 100-ft rule: You are not obliged to help any playing partner search for their ball if your own ball is 100 feet away or more. It slows the pace of play and they’ll only go and find it just as you reach them, anyway.

7.2 Two-ball searching: You are expected to assist in any search of your playing partner’s ball. There are only two of you playing, so it would be very rude not to – even if you are 3-down at the time.

lost ball

(Image credit: Getty Images)

7.3 Three-ball searching: The third player in the group is under no official, or moral, obligation to join the other two in a search. In fact, please don’t.  There is something deeply dispiriting about everyone in a group looking for the same ball. 

7.4 Four-ball searching: Partners search first; opponents search second. Or not at all.  

7.5 Match play searching: It is understood that you will be r-e-a-l-l-y s-l-o-w to join the search for an opponent’s ball. It is understood that you will, at some point, deliberately search in the wrong area, where your opponent’s ball clearly didn’t go and will never be found in a month of Sundays. It is understood that you
are under no obligation to remind your opponent of the Law of Distance.

Rule 8) Looking out for your own ball: The golfer who fails to keep an eye out for where their own shots have gone, expecting others to do it for them, is the golfer who searches alone. And, eventually, plays alone. And probably lives alone. Certainly, makes love alone.

Richard Russell

Richard Russell is a creative director and author of the book My Baby Got The Yips – The Random Thoughts Of An Unprofessional Golfer