So you are about to play your first game of golf...

What bits of golf etiquette and rules do you need to know to enjoy your first game without embarrassment?

Young golfers
(Image credit: AFP/Getty Images)

You have practised hard on the range and the putting green and you are now ready to head out onto the course for your first game of golf. What basic bits of golf etiquette and rules do you need to know so as to enjoy your first game without embarrassment?

Who starts? The person ‘with honour’ tees off first, that is the person who scored the lowest on the previous hole. If there are two of you and you both scored the same, the person with honour retains it.

Whose turn is it to play? Once you have teed off then the person furthest from the flag plays next. This can mean that someone could play several consecutive shots. The one exception is that convention normally has it that those off the green play before those on it.

Where should I stand when others are playing? Behind them and to the side is best. Somewhere well away from where they will swing their club, out of their eye-line and where your shadow will not put them off.

Trolley collision

Where can I take my trolley?

Anywhere bar tees, greens and bunkers. Some courses also mark areas around greens where trolleys cannot go, but these will be clearly signposted and marked.

Where can I place my bag? Same as above, but bags can be taken onto tees.

Where do I place my bag or trolley when I putt? On the side of the green nearest the next tee. That way you save time - an do not annoy the group behind you - by not having to walk back to collect your clubs.

How can I best avoid losing my ball? Watch it hard. When it goes into the rough or bushes pick a landmark which helps you identify exactly where it went. Golf balls are quite small, rough can be deep and treacherous, give yourself the best chance you can of finding it, and quickly, by narrowing the area of search.

How do I help keep the course in a good state of repair? Most courses want you to replace your divots, but some ask you not to as they re-seed them. On the green, repair pitch marks, those indentations on the green’s surface where the ball has landed. Do not take practice swings on tees in case you damage the tee surface.

Tom Watson raking a bunker at Sandwich

Tom Watson raking a bunker at Sandwich

What do I do in a bunker? If your club touches the sand it counts as a shot, so do not take a practice swing and do not rest you club behind the ball when you address your ball. After you have played from the bunker, rake the bunker to smooth your footprints and where you played the ball from.

Where do I stand when others putt? Somewhere which will not disturb those putting, and is away from the hole. Be careful when walking around the green not to walk on anyone’s line - the area of green directly between their ball and the hole which also extends beyond the hole a few feet. The idea is that way you cannot damage the turf your opponent is about to putt over.

You cannot stand directly behind someone putting. Sometimes you may wish to do so to get an idea of the slope of a putt, in which case stand nearby and move across once the person has hit the ball!

What is ‘marking the ball’ on the green? If your ball is the way of another’s direct route to the hole place a marker - either a purpose-made one or a coin - where your ball is, or a unit of measurement, typically a putter head, to the side.

What should I do with the golf flag when putting? If you hit the flag when playing a shot from on the green it is a penalty. So players will want the flag removed. This will be either before they play their shot, or, if they still need the flag in to show they are to aim, after the ball has been hit. In the latter case the one putting will ask someone to “attend the flag”.

To do this, stand to the side of the hole, reaching out to hold the flagstick. Make sure your shadow does not fall across the hole or line of putt, or you stand on someone's line. Once the player has struck his putt, remove the flag.

When placing a removed flag, place it somewhere where it cannot be hit by a putt so avoid placing it near the hole or near anyone’s line - and that includes the area behind the hole for over-hit putts.

Roderick Easdale

Contributing Writer Golf courses and travel are Roderick’s particular interests and he was contributing editor for the first few years of the Golf Monthly Travel Supplement. He writes travel articles and general features for the magazine, travel supplement and website. He also compiles the magazine's crossword. He is a member of Trevose Golf & Country Club and has played golf in around two dozen countries. Cricket is his other main sporting love. He is the author of five books, four of which are still in print: The Novel Life of PG Wodehouse; The Don: Beyond Boundaries; Wally Hammond: Gentleman & Player and England’s Greatest Post-War All Rounder.