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The Etiquetteist: Is it poor form to walk across a green with a golf bag on your back?

November 7, 2018

Perhaps more than any other sport golf is mired with etiquette quandaries, from where to leave the bunker rake, to when to pay off a bet, to how to mark your ball. But fear not! Our resident Etiquetteist is here to help you negotiate tricky dilemmas at the club and on the course. (Looking for swing tips? Sorry, bud, you’re on your own there.) In the first installment of our new series, our Etiquetteist tackles proper bag management. 

Here’s a weighty question: A friend tells me that he was recently rebuked by the member of a high-end country club for walking with his golf bag across a green, the complaint being that the extra cargo he was carrying risked inflicting damage on the putting surface.

My friend was taken aback. We know that airlines impose baggage limits. But golf courses? Is the violation my pal was accused of actually… a thing?

“Definitely not a thing!” says course architect David McLay-Kidd, whose credits include Bandon Dunes and Wisconsin newcomer Mammoth Dunes. “Unless you are already 300 pounds and walk heels first in football spikes, and the superintendent has the greens so soft and mushy that a ballet dancer would leave footprints.”

We’ll let that image linger, just for fun: a soggy layout being trampled by the love-child of Baryshnikov and Beef. Okay. Moving on. McLay-Kidd is from Scotland and the son of a course superintendent himself, so we’re tempted to trust his take on this. We’re also tempted to trust our own experience, which tells us that ever since the dawn of soft spikes, footmarks on the greens have grown so scarce that they’re now practically a non-issue. Nowadays, when you walk in someone’s line, the offense is less physical than it is metaphysical. It’s not so much that you’re apt to leave a footprint; it’s that you shouldn’t be so spacey, or so self-involved.

Two golfers walk across the green.
Is walking across the green with your clubs an etiquette birdie or bogey?

But back to McLay-Kidd’s point. Golf bags do indeed amount to extra weight. But so do beer-bellies. And last we checked, not even the most uptight of clubs discriminate on the basis of body-type. Craig Stadler won the Masters and returned for many years to ply those pristine grounds. No one at Augusta made him go on Slim-Fast.

And don’t even get us started on Bandon Dunes, a resort that offers “golf as it was meant to be.” At Bandon, they allow you — check that, encourage you — to wheel your pull cart across the greens. Turf grass these days is hardy; it can take it.

So, that tutting-member? He was off-base for calling out my buddy, at least for the reason he expressed. Was there any justification for his outrage? We put the query out to social media, and one interesting reply came from Ryan Reynolds (no, not the actor; another Ryan Reynolds) who suggested that the only risk of humping your bag across a green was that something might fall out and damage the putting surface.

We could buy that argument, but not the other. Bottom line: If someone harangues you on the course for carrying extra weight, tell them that they need to lighten up.