13 egregious golf-etiquette violations our readers witnessed on the course

In golf, we learn to take the good with the bad. But sometimes the bad becomes more than we can bear. Not the wretched shots. The execrable behavior.

In a recent survey, we asked our audience to share memories of the most egregious on-course conduct they have ever witnessed. Thousands responded. 

Because the replies are too numerous to reprint in full, we’ve sorted them into categories and offered examples that represent the worst of the worst. Here they are, our 14 inductees into the Golf Etiquette Hall of Shame. 

CHECK OUT THE FULL RESULTS OF OUR GOLF-ETIQUETTE SURVEY HERE

1. Poor course maintenance

Failing to fix ball marks and fill divots is bad enough. But next-level negligence also seems common. One respondent described “a dude” who climbed “out of the steepest side of a bunker, leaving cavernous gouges in the side of the bunker and never even glanced at the rake.” Another told of a player “tomahawking a putter into a green in frustration, imbedding it several inches down.” And then there was the guy who, after missing a putt, “swung at his ball to knock it away but missed and took a six-inch divot on the green, right next to the hole. It was unrepairable.”

2. Reckless driving

Anyone who calls golf a good walk spoiled hasn’t paid attention to what people do in buggies. Flipping them, for instance. Four-wheeling them through bunkers. Also: Doing donuts in the fairways. Bashing into other carts. Riding roughshod over greens.  And no, one reader wrote, “I wasn’t with Trump.”

3. Fisticuffs 

Joe Louis was a golfer. So is Sugar Ray Leonard. Oscar de la Hoya is big on the game. A lot of other players seem to think they’re pugilists, based on the number of stories we heard of fights breaking out (“right there on the green,” one reader wrote), often in the aftermath of one group hitting into another.

4. Music on the course

Music is okay, most respondents said. But not when it’s played at Metallica concert-level decibels. And not when it’s pumped from multiple sources that aren’t playing the same tune. “We had three speakers in one foursome,” one respondent wrote, “all set to different hip-hop music loudly.”

5. Dress-code violations

The rules around attire are getting looser all the time. Hoodies are in. Shorts are allowed where they used to be forbidden. But some of our respondents are still trying to hold the line. One reported being miffed at the sight of someone playing in a V-neck undershirt. At least they weren’t playing in the raw. “Naked swings on a golf trip,” one respondent wrote before acknowledging that the offending golfer was, in fact, “me.”

6. Taking, um, relief

And not just behind trees or deep in the woods. In our survey, anecdotes abounded of golfers letting fly on tee boxes, cart paths, fairways and greens. One reader reported seeing a fellow player going — how to put this? — number two directly in the cup. Another told this story: “Club championship. Second hole. A member of our threesome has a raging hangover and IBS. In terrible discomfort, he grabs his golf towel and bolts for the deep fescue. Disgusting.”

7. Cheating

Foot wedges. Hand wedges. Un-granted gimmes. The list goes on. “My opponent hit five provisional balls off of a tee and didn’t declare what ball was what number and how it was marked,” one respondent wrote. “He then said he found his first ball.” And: “A player in one of my buddy trips would hit tee shots way into the woods but somehow it was always in the clear. He was never invited back to subsequent trips.” Dubious recoveries were a recurring theme. “A player suddenly ‘finding’ their ball in the rough and it’s sitting up so well it can be seen from 20 yards away aft real members of the foursome tramped all through the area where the ball now sits and not one saw the ball.”

A golfer flicking a ball into the hole with his hand.
Golf-etiquette survey results: Sounding off on slow play, cheating, dress codes
By: Josh Sens

8. Public endangerment

Bad shots happen. But no point adding injury to insult. “No fore call,” one respondent wrote. “Hit me with a drive from about 100 yards away and broke a bone in my foot.”

9. Drunk and disorderly

Nothing wrong with a cocktail or two. But “getting so wasted you fall over getting out of the cart is beyond the realm of acceptable,” one reader wrote. So is the conduct another respondent reported of a boozy golfer “driving a cart in circles on the green.”

10. Slow play

If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, no wonder slow play drives so many people batty. Most irritating of all, one respondent wrote, was the golfer with the habit of “taking 20 practice swing and hitting it two feet and then doing it again.”

11. Excessive phone use

Discreet texting? Fine. But many readers told of fellow golfers yacking like traders on the stock-market floor. “Standing on the tee talking on the phone for several minutes,” one wrote. “When called on it, the person swung with the phone tucked under their chin. Hit about five feet.”

12. Gum chewing

Tiger Woods chewed gum at Augusta National en route to winning the 2019 Masters. Other Tour pros have embraced the practice. If you’re going to copy them, though, please, keep it quiet. “Played Pinehurst No. 2 with my dad years ago and we were paired with another older gent,” one respondent wrote. “His wife was allowed to walk the course with us and was constantly snapping a piece of gum in her mouth the whole round.” And a green jacket wasn’t even at stake.

13. Temper tantrums

Snapped putters. Splintered drivers. Broken axels on carts. To hear our respondents tell it, you’d swear that the game is wildly popular among toddlers. To wit: “A person I was playing with was playing awful. On about the 5th hole he took his entire bag and threw it into a pond and stomped off the course. Thinking he had come to his senses when I saw him coming back down the fairway, I had to laugh when he walked into he pond, picked up his bag, retrieved his car keys and then drop his bag back in the water.” 

That’s the upside of bad etiquette: Now and then, it offers comic relief. 

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