The Etiquetteist: 6 ways to apologize when you accidentally hit into the group in front of you

Golfer yelling fore

Swedish golfer Niklas Fasth shouts "Fore" as he misses a drive.

Getty Images

First, do no harm. The physician’s oath is also the golfer’s foremost obligation. But you know what they say: mishits happen.

You slice a drive into the water, causing self-inflicted damage. Or, worse still, you smother-hook a tee shot through a stand of trees and watch it part the hair of a guy coming up the adjacent fairway. What to do?

Aside from yelling fore, what’s the requisite response when you whack your ball into another golfer, or group of golfers? Do you owe them a million mea culpas? Should you flagellate yourself with the Orange Whip?

Apologizing on the golf course can be a muddy matter, and different circumstances call for different conduct. But there are some ground rules. Here’s a look at six common scenarios, along with guidelines for how to make things right.

1. The Harmless Dribbler

Let’s say the stars align and you somehow catch a drive in the center of the club face. The ball flies furlongs farther than your average tee shot, then hits a sprinkler head and bounds a few yards more, rolling to a stop beside a golfer in the fairway, just as he’s waggling over his approach. The guy glances back, but not in obvious anger. Maybe he’s surprised, or better yet, impressed. No harm. No foul. You owe him nothing more than an apologetic wave, simply to acknowledge that you didn’t mean it. Feel free to tack on a “Sorry about that tee shot,” if you happen to meet on the next tee.

2. The Head Hunter

On a long par-3, you unleash a low screamer on a beeline for the group on the next tee. Don’t just belt out a standard ‘fore!’ The word should issue forth as a blood-curdling cry. Even if your ball whistles past them without impact, that doesn’t mean you’re fully off the hook. In this case, the degree of your remorse should be directly proportional to the amount of pain you could have inflicted, and it should come quickly. Hustle up ahead and offer your most heartfelt regrets.

A raised cup on a golf course.
The Etiquetteist: 3 rules to consider when putting to a raised cup
By: Josh Sens

3. Friendly Fire

From a greenside bunker, you blade one badly and nearly nail your buddy, who’s picking his nose on the far side of the green. As dangerous situations go, this one almost qualifies as funny. Apologizing would be a generous gesture. But it’s not required. You might use the instance instead as a teachable moment and remind your pal that it’s his job to pay attention, especially when a hack is playing from the sand.

4. The Warning Shot

We’ve all been there. The group ahead of you is playing at a glacial pace, dooming everyone behind them to a five-hour round. Finally, your frustration boils over and you decide to, you know, “send them a message,” just as they’re moving out of range. Problem is, your ball comes closer to the slowpokes than you intended. They wheel around, peeved, and they’re not wrong. True, they stink, and someone should compel them to put a move on. But that someone isn’t you. It’s the marshal. With your dangerous shot, you’ve stirred up tension, and now it’s your job to diffuse it.  Wave both arms over your head, like a runway worker guiding an airplane toward the gate. Call out an apology. Concoct an excuse (You hit it better than you thought. You swear, you didn’t see them). Don’t admit that you lost your cool, as there’s no justification for your actions. If all goes well, they’ll cool down, too. Who knows? Maybe they’ll even pick up their pace.

men carrying golf bags
The Etiquetteist: An infectious disease expert’s 5 rules for playing golf safely

5. The Roof Rattler

Just as the group ahead is clearing the green, you hit a high hook that clanks against their carts and lands in a cupholder. You didn’t mean it. But you also should have waited. That’s your bad. And you need to shuttle up ahead and say so. Confess to a brain cramp. You’re not sure what you were thinking. Ask for their forgiveness, which they’ll likely offer. Most golfers are reasonable people. Whatever you do, don’t let it happen again.

6. The Flesh Wound

Not all errant shots are created equal, or struck with the same intent. An accidental slice that scatters a foursome in another fairway is nowhere near as ugly as a misguided rocket launched when the group ahead of you is within range. But in every case, a ball that hits another golfer is serious business. If everyone gets lucky, the worst result will be a nasty welt. Your most profound apologies are in order. And at the very least, you should also plan on buying a few rounds of beer.

generic profile image
Golf.com

A golf, food and travel writer, Josh Sens has been a GOLF Magazine contributor since 2004 and now contributes across all of GOLF’s platforms. His work has been anthologized in The Best American Sportswriting. He is also the co-author, with Sammy Hagar, of Are We Having Any Fun Yet: the Cooking and Partying Handbook.