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The Etiquetteist: 14 rules of thumb for every American playing golf in Europe

July 17, 2019

The British Open is upon us. But out of respect for our comrades across the Atlantic, let’s agree to call it the Open Championship. And if we plan to peg it in their part of the world, let’s embrace their customs and rules of comportment. Here’s a 14-point primer for playing golf in the UK.

Enlist a Looper

Caddies are crucial, not only to help you navigate unfamiliar courses but to expose you to a different culture, seasoned with dry, fatalistic humor, and communicated in a brogue that may require a translator in your group.

Ixnay on the Ulligan-Mays

There are many ways to play the part of the ugly American. You can TALK LOUDLY. Demand instantaneous service. Ask for the location of the nearest McDonald’s. Or smack a second shot on the first tee. Over there, they don’t call a free do-over a Mulligan. They call it “3.”

Yes, we know what was a terrible shot. Now hurry up and finish the hole.
Yes, we know what was a terrible shot. Now hurry up and finish the hole.
Getty Images

Lighten Your Looper’s Load

Do you own a Tour bag? Good for you. But bad for your caddie, who is a person and not a pack mule. Swap that big, bulking thing for something that won’t incur your caddie’s wrath, or an airport handling fee.

Hats off in the Clubhouse

Ever wonder where golf acquired its many strange and stodgy customs? Oh, that’s right. It all started here.

Easy on the Practice Swings

If you must, take one right before you hit. But not while you’re waiting on the tee. Tearing up a gratuitous divot is as egregious as leaving whisky in the glass.

Obey Your Marching Orders

For a gauge of the local attitudes toward golf carts, we refer you to the R&A’s recent decision on John Daly’s request to ride around Royal Portrush. Hint: You’ll be walking.

Should you always let a single player go through? In some places you don't need to.
Should you always let a single player go through? In some places you don't need to.
Getty Images

Four Hours is More than Enough

Golf doesn’t have to be a sprint. But it’s never, ever meant to be a marathon. If five hours on the links is your idea of a grand old time, consider staying State-side. At a British course, the only place where you might linger for that long is the bar.

Practice Not Practicing

In other words, don’t ask where the driving range is. There probably isn’t one.

Make a Fashion Non-Statement

With all due respect to Ian Poulter, the average British golfer is not inclined toward peacocking in flashy colors. Their sartorial aesthetic is more directly inspired by best-selling British erotic fiction. As you’re packing for your trip, think: 50 Shades of Grey.

Rickie Fowler can pull off the orange. You? Not so much.
Rickie Fowler can pull off the orange. You? Not so much.
Getty Images

Bag the Bag Drop

You know that strange and plodding ritual in which you pull up to the clubhouse, engine idling, and pop the trunk so that a working-for-tips attendant can unpack your sticks and either strap them on a cart or plop them on a range. Yeah, well, that’s an American thing.

BYO Flask

The unseemly sight of sloppy golfer flirting with a beverage cart attendant is less common in the United Kingdom. Not because the golfers are any more upstanding but because those carts barely exist.

Understand Stableford

The Stableford system is a scoring system that tallies points earned, as opposed to strokes taken. It was developed by Dr. Frank Barney Gorton Stableford at the turn of the last century, and one of its effects is to speed up play. You don’t need to know that background, but you should know the system, because you might be playing it.

No Grinding

This is not a filibuster on the floor of Congress. This is a two-footer in the United Kingdom, so don’t dilly-dally. Do everyone a favor and wrap it up.

Grab a Post-Round Drink

Granted, this is also commonplace in American golf. But in the UK, it’s pretty much required. All the better if you get to raise a glass in the company of your caddie, who might well be a member of the course that you just played.

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