Etiquette for Golf Spectators Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Etiquette for Golf Spectators

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A golf spectator sneezing.

So, you have paid your money at the gates and before you lie 18 holes of rolling countryside, large sand pits1 and lots of water. If you have never been to a golf tournament before you need some brief pointers on how you are expected to behave.

Obey the Stewards

You will encounter a number of pompous gentlemen wearing golfing shoes who you do not recognise from the programme. They will also be wearing an arm band despite the fact that no one has died and will be carrying paddles regardless of the fact that there's no auction room in sight. These gentlemen are usually members of the club on which the tournament is being played, so they do actually own the place before you ask, 'Who do you think you are?' They also are there to protect the players and of course you, the paying public.

Quiet Please

There is nothing more annoying for a professional golfer than being about to make that crucial putt on the 18th green when some idiot suddenly spots his mate across the green and shouts, 'Yoo hoo!' Actually, any sound can be a distraction to the total concentration required to propel the 1-inch diameter of plastic anywhere on the golf course. The stewards should be waving nice signs saying 'Quiet please' and 'No flash photography' to let you know when to stop talking etc. There is a mistaken concept among some golfing spectators that 'Addressing the Ball' means shouting 'Get in the hole!' before it has been given any forward momentum by a golf club. The only person who should be addressing the ball is the player and he does this by placing his club next to the dimpled projectile; he does not require vocal accompaniment to achieve this.

As well as not talking to those around you, all mobile phones should been turned off. After all, you cannot rely on your boss not to call you at the precise time that the crucial putt is being made to check that you have had a productive day out selling his product.


You may say that you are outside and therefore do not need a flash to take a decent photograph. However, most modern cameras have automatic built-in flashes, so if it becomes too overcast or it is raining heavily these will kick in. If you can turn these off, do so. If you can't, refrain from taking any photographs while a player is taking a shot.

Also, if your camera automatically rewinds at the end of the film, be aware of how many shots you have left before you snap away. This Researcher's father once had Gary Player give him a fierce look because his camera was rewinding as he stood three metres behind him as he teed off.

You will, however, at all big tournament see loads of guys weighed down with photographic equipment lining up their shots inside the rope. You may be unable to see the official bibs and passes that they carry to have this privilege behind their extremely large telephoto lenses. Do not try and sit beside them and take a shot; these are the press photographers and, unlike you, will not be shunted on by the stewards mentioned above.

Golfing Statues

For some unknown reason golfers seem to have an extraordinary range of vision. So even if you think that they cannot see you scratching your nose as you stand 25 metres away over their shoulder farthest from the line to the hole they will turn around and glare at you until you stop. In the meantime all the rest of the crowd will also turn on you and make comments to you every time they see you through out the remainder of the day's play. The best thing to do in this situation if at all possible is to change your appearance significantly so you avoid all the know-it-all comments from golf spectating veterans from years ago. To avoid becoming such a figure of ridicule it is best to play that favourite childhood game of 'musical statues' from every time the ball is approached by a golfer until it is well on its way to the hole. Once this has been achieved by all the players then you can proceed up the course.

Don't Stand in Front of Sitters

There are two ways to view a round of golf. One is to follow around a group for their whole round, or you can follow a number of groups of players getting to see a number of them play key holes. Or you can even just sit and watch at one of the more exciting holes for a long period of time. A number of people, especially older or infirm spectators, will take this last option. They still want to get out and savour the atmosphere of watching the golf but are not able, or don't wish to, go around the whole course. They will pitch up on a greenside with collapsible chairs, picnic basket and field glasses to watch the whole day's play pass them by.

If you are part of a large gallery2 the last thing they want is for you to come in front of them and obstruct their view of proceedings. As they are sitting on chairs you may be able to sit on the ground in front of them, if there is room, or stand behind them. Do not stand in front of them, as this is rude and they may end up missing the player that they have been sitting patiently all day to see because of you, simply because they are unable to get up in time to look over you.

Stay Behind the Ropes

Around the course there are ropes along the edges of the fairways and greens. These are positioned so as to give the players the maximum room to be allowed to play their shots. Occasionally, even top golfers will find they have played a wayward shot outside these ropes and so they have to move spectators away from the path they wish to take. The reason these ropes exist is to protect, as far as possible, the surface of the course to give the players the best chance of playing their shots. Stay behind these ropes as there is nothing worse that finding a ball almost unplayable because some fan has trampled the ground down too much where it has come to rest, inside the roped-off area.

Crossing Points - At various points of the course there will be crossing points on certain fairways. These are manned by stewards who know when it is safe to cross. When it is not safe to cross they will block your path by a rope. Do not sneak under the rope; you may end up getting hit on the head by a golf ball. When the rope has been lifted, cross over within the painted crossing area - again this is to minimise wear and tear to the fairway.

The Last Hole - When the last hole is being played for the last group every spectator on the course is naturally congregated at the one place. However, the players still have to get to the green safely. All the stewards will try and allow you to advance up the fairway to give you a view of the final green. They may use one of the ropes or form a human chain. Whichever they use do not push ahead of them. The players will still have to line up their shots and as they are important, they will take their time, so you will have time to gain a viewing point.

Also, move in an orderly fashion. After all, there are likely to be young children in the crowd and they might easily be crushed in a mad rush.

Don't Abuse the Players

During the 1999 Ryder Cup3 the home fans became so partisan that they started to abuse the players of the visiting team the whole way around the course. Remember, this is only a sport and sportsmanship is still a very worthwhile quality. You are in close proximity to the players who are all trying to give their best to all the visiting fans, so show a little respect to all the players.

As a member of the crowd you may very well have a favourite player. Yes, you can support him. However, also applaud good shots from those he is playing with and don't applaud their mistakes simply because it makes your favourite's task of winning easier. Your favourite isn't always going to win, but you can be assured that you will be watching good golf from whoever is doing well.

Leaving the Course

Everyone will be trying to leave for the car parks etc around the course at the same time. You have all had a long day trudging around the course. If it has been raining you'll be all wet and miserable. Bear this in mind when you find yourself in long traffic queues getting out of the car park and even getting back on to the road. There may even be different entrances to different car parking areas. Don't panic; you will get home eventually. And try and let other cars out of side entrances if you can, because stewards may not be at every junction directing traffic. Also, show respect to any locals who live in the area who are trying to get in and out of their driveways and streets; they are being inconvenienced by you and other golf fans for the four days4 of the tournament.

Also, if you stay behind in the hospitality areas and imbibe in a little drink, leave the area quietly as the local residents will have children in bed or be trying to get sleep for work in the morning. So don't upset them or your tournament may never be allowed to take place at that venue again because they will petition the council to bar it.

1These are called bunkers and are actually part of the playing area, but not for the spectators.2A group of fans following one match.3A biennial event between the USA and Europe.4Maybe five if there is an 18 hole play-off.

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