The Etiquetteist: Here’s what to do (and not do) when the group behind hits into you

January 24, 2020

We golfers spend a lot of time griping about the group ahead.

They’re playing too slowly.
They’re not repairing pitch marks.
They’re spoiling all the fun.

But every now and then, we wind up having issues with the group behind. Like when they hit into us, which can be both dangerous and disrespectful. But what’s the appropriate response? Here’s a guide to handling incoming fire.

1. Measure the Degree of Malice

As with the Rules of Golf, the rules of etiquette often hinge on intent. Was the shot a freak occurrence, such as a surprisingly flush drive from a weak hitter who screamed “fore” repeatedly as the ball was bounding toward you? Or was it a four-iron whistled at the green without a warning cry as you and your partners were busy putting? You can never know for sure what someone else was thinking, but you can get a pretty good idea. The hostility of the shot — along with the hazard it presented — is a vital factor in your response.

2. Think Before You Act

Golf course arguments are like traffic altercations: they can escalate quickly. Do you want to wind up like these hapless pugilists in Colorado? No, you don’t. In almost every instance, it’s better to defuse than it is to incite. If the shot was clearly an innocent mistake, and the offender comes up quickly to apologize, wave off the transgression with a forgiving word or gesture. On a short par-4, where their ball has rolled up harmlessly onto the green as you are putting, you might even offer compliments on a fine shot.

3. For a Second Offense

One innocent misfire? That can be forgiven. But not if the problem rears its head again. What to do? Internet chat rooms devoted to this topic offer a wide assortment of suggestions, (thwack the ball into the woods, write an expletive on it, relieve yourself on it) that range from the juvenile to the sociopathic. The Etiquettist does not recommend them. An angry or emphatic wave could work to get your point across. Or a march back down the fairway for a conversation. Just be mindful: the guy waiting there with a golf club in his hands might be one of those online sociopaths, so adjust your words and tone accordingly. If the shot that nearly hit you was a blind drive or approach and the group behind you can’t see your reaction, you can still send them a message. One common practice is to stomp the ball into the turf, a blunt-edged response without much personality. Better to take the more playfully aggressive tactic of teeing up the ball where it came to rest. The Etiquetteist recognizes that the more combative of you might see this as wimpy and less productive than a physical confrontation. The Etiquetteist encourages you to grow up.

4. Don’t Go Sideways

In a memorable golf scene from the movie Sideways, Paul Giamatti’s character, Miles, responds to a group hitting into him by whacking the ball right back at them.

This makes for a fine cinematic moment. But it’s also hypocritical, a copycat crime, and a poor strategy in real life (see notes above on escalation and golf club-wielding sociopaths). If it’s gotten to this point, and your round has devolved into an artillery battle, things have gotten out of hand. It’s time to bring in reinforcements. Call the ranger. Call the clubhouse. You need a third party to intervene before someone has to call the cops.

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