The USGA Rule Book: Etiquette

How well do you know golf rules?

How well do you know golf rules?

Let me go out on a limb and state that most weekend golfers probably try to follow the USGA rules. Sure, we might not walk back to the tee to re-hit a ball that’s gone OB (or play a provisional). And we sometimes take mulligans and gimmies, but for the most part, we try to play the game right.

But do we really know the rules? I’m sure many of you have thumbed-through the USGA rule book, but have you read it cover to cover? Probably not. So in this continuing series, I’m going to write about stuff you find in the rule book – perhaps about things you’ve never even realized.

For example, did you know there is a section in the rule book about etiquette? It’s purpose is to explain how the game “should” be played. In fact, there’s a subsection entitled “The Spirit of the Game” that explains since there are no umpires or referees, it’s up to individual players to take on the responsibility of playing the game correctly.

Under the etiquette section, there are subsections on safety; distractions; and how to act on the green. There is also a good amount of space devoted to keeping the course in good condition – including in the bunkers. I mention bunkers because I always assumed you had to use a rake. But according to the rule book, you just need to “smooth over all holes and footprints.” Only if a rake is “within reasonable proximity” should it be used. Granted, I’ll probably still always use a rake, but it’s interesting to know if you’re in a rush, you can technically smooth the sand out with your foot (and not feel guilty about it).

One common sore spot in golf is slow play. Players (especially weekend hacks like me) are always feeling pressure to keep up the pace – either from the group behind me or from the ranger. I’m constantly striving to catch that elusive 4-hour round. In fact, I’ve written about how a comfortable pace is probably more like 5 hours.

But golf courses tell you it should be 4 hours – why? They make it sound like that’s what it’s supposed to be. But the interesting thing is the rule book doesn’t put a time limit on it! In fact, no where in the rules of golf does it say a round has to take 4 hours (or anywhere close to 4 hours). It simply says, “it is a group’s responsibility to keep up with the group in front.” Further, it defines not keeping up when the group ahead has one full hole between you. So if you’re putting-out on the 5th and the group in front is putting-out on the 6th, you’re still good!

But the rules do suggest some things I rarely employ. For example, how often do you allow the group behind you to play through? Do you do it if you’re looking for a lost ball? According to the rules, not only should you allow the group to play through, you should allow them to play through before you even begin your search! Yep, if you think you might use all of your allotted 5 minutes to search for a ball (and the group is on the tee behind you), you should allow them to play through immediately, not after you’ve been searching for a few minutes.

So while we tend to think of etiquette as the unspoken rules in golf, the USGA obviously has a lot to say about it. In fact, it’s the first section of their rule book! The definition of golf terms, which we’ll discuss in a separate post, is Section 2. Golf is a complicated game – but it’s still meant to be enjoyed. Know your etiquette!

Related Posts: The USGA Rule Book: Definitions


  1. This book is very informative for all levels of golfers. The various rules written in this book are very easy to understand.

Speak Your Mind