Welcome to the greatest game of all.
I’m writing this letter to the roughly half a million new golfers who’ve taken up the game, or returned to it, during the pandemic. You’re our biggest new “class” of players in nearly two decades. We’re thrilled to have you join us.
But — and there’s always a but — we’d like to set the record straight. You started teeing it up, thrashing and slashing at that little white ball, and driving carts on (and way too frequently off) paths during an unprecedented time for the world and for our sport.
So, allow me to be a little old school and tell you how things are going to be now that we’re back to “normal” — and also give you a few pointers on how you’re supposed to act on a golf course.
For the past year, you’ve been a freewheeling single-cart driver, zipping on fairways and fringes to your heart’s content — and to the golf course’s detriment. Now it’s time to slow down, take on a passenger and keep the golf cars where they belong.
During the pandemic, when facilities couldn’t hire enough help to maintain courses or police players, it was the wild west. You could drive how and where you wanted. No more. To accommodate the increased volume and interest, we need to play nice, smart and safe.
First, carts. Keep them on the paths unless you’re advised otherwise. And now that it’s safe to be with others, two players in a cart. If you insist on going solo, we’re going to insist on charging you double. Single carts are economically unfeasible and bad for the course.
Second, some basic on-course etiquette. If you started playing in the last year, you might not have had the following explained to you. But if you want to be a golfer, these are all “givens” that should be followed to keep the course in better shape for you and the players behind you.
1. Fill your divots. Wherever you make one, tee or fairway, fix it. And if you see a disruption made by someone else, fix that too. There’s probably a bottle of sand on your cart. This is what it’s for. Pour it on the scrape and smooth and tamp it down below the level of the turf. This will best help the turf recover without the sand damaging the reels of the mowers.
2. Repair ball marks … and not just yours. Half the game is contested on the putting green. ALWAYS repair your pitch mark. Then, while your partners are wandering the green looking for their marks, repair at least one more.
3. Find the bunker rake, use the bunker rake. They’re put there — in the bunker, on the edge of the bunker, on your cart — for a reason. And don’t just drag it behind to smooth your footprints: Make a concerted effort to return the sand to a smooth, even surface. Also, ask your superintendent how and where to enter and exit a bunker. Quick tip: It is not where the slope is steepest.
4. Follow the rules about cart paths. They are there for a reason and help protect and preserve the course. Always stay on the paths along tees and greens — and if it’s been raining.
5. Maintain pace of play. Whether you’re walking, riding or pulling a trolley, keep it moving. Everyone wants to get done in a decent amount of time (a good rule: no more than four hours for 18 holes). I strongly endorse the idea of leaving the flagstick in the hole. It’s faster and will improve your putting. Fast play makes fast friends.
6. Don’t ask for what you can’t handle. Don’t demand that your superintendent create course conditions that neither you nor your club budget can handle. When it’s tournament time, we’ll toughen it up for you. In the meantime, play for fun.
7. Learn a little about what it takes to keep the course in shape. Ask your superintendent how much time and money are invested so you have a good time out there. Don’t be afraid to ask why the course has been set up a certain way — for instance, if it’s a busy weekend, certain tee and flag placements help move everyone along — or why you shouldn’t play with frost or standing water on the turf. And please, just because you mow your lawn, don’t think you know how the course should be maintained.
8. Remember the Golden Rule … that “do unto others” thing. You’re not the only person out there, so along with making sure you leave the course in the best possible condition, be nice. Exercise decorum, tolerance and patience. Much more than skill, golf commands civility and sportsmanship.