Golf-etiquette survey results: Sounding off on slow play, cheating, dress codes

A golfer flicking a ball into the hole with his hand.

Among the revelations in our etiquette survey is that not all golfers play by the same rules.

Getty Images

We had questions. You had answers. 

Two weeks ago, in a column ordinarily given over to our own views on golf etiquette, we turned the tables and asked for yours. Our goal was to take your temperature on everything from dress-code violations and rules breaches to club-throwing and slow play. The questions we posed in our reader survey were mostly multiple-choice, but because that format can be limiting, we also invited you to share stories about the worst on-course conduct you have witnessed.

You did not disappoint. More than 3,800 of you answered our questions and/or submitted anecdotes. The least we could do was compile your feedback into an easy-to-digest form. 

In the coming weeks, we’ll be diving deeper into your answers and what they tell us about the game. Meantime, you can check out the survey results here. (Percentages have been rounded off.)  

Your biggest golf etiquette pet peeve is:

Slow play: 65.1%

Poor course maintenance (unraked bunkers, un-repaired ball marks, etc.): 17.5%

Music on the course: 7.9%

Club throwing: 6.4%

Untucked shirts and other dress-code violations: 1.3%

Other: 1.5%

No peeves!: 0.3%

Which best describes your feelings about music on the course? 

Fine with it if kept at low volume: 60%

No place for it: 30%

Love it. Let it rip: 9.7%

You’ve been appointed golf czar for the day. Which dress code would you ban first?

No denim: 14.1%

No t-shirts: 9.7%

No backward caps: 7.6%

No cargo shorts: 4%

All of them: 38.7%

None of them: 25.8%

When playing as a guest at a private club, you should always:

Offer to cover all costs, including lunch: 30.2%

Offer to cover only your host’s caddie fee and your guest fee: 28%

Offer to cover only your host’s caddie fee: 12%

Enjoy the day as a guest without worrying about fees: 29.4%

Glove and money
Your opinions vary on how much to offer up when you’re a guest. getty images

A reasonable pace for a foursome playing 18 holes is:

3:30-4 hours: 55.1%

4-4:30 hours: 37.6%

3-3:30 hours: 5.2%

4:30-5 hours: 1.5%

Whatever time it takes: 0.6%

You consider yourself a:

Fast player: 63.1%

Slow player: 0.7%

Somewhere in between: 36.1%

If you think your opponent just cheated, the best response is to:

Ask them if they are aware that they have just violated the rules: 58.4%

Ignore it: 29.9%

Call them out immediately: 11.6%

Storm off the course and vow never to play with them again: 0.1%

What is your own approach to the rules?

Take small liberties (first-tee mulligan, roll ball over in bad lies, etc.): 57.8%

Follow the rules to a tee: 34.7%

Anything goes. I’m just playing for fun: 7.5%

If a player from another group hits into yours, your response is to:

Raise your hands in frustration: 52.2%

Ignore it: 35.3%

Tee the ball up to send a message: 6.2%

Step on the ball: 4.25%

Hit the ball back to them: 2.1%

How often do you throw clubs in frustration?

Never: 73.4%

Once in my life. I was so embarrassed, I never did it again: 20.6%

Once per round: 5.9%

Multiple times per round: 0.2%

Which best describes your feeling about phone usage on the course?

Emails and calls are fine. Just be discreet: 51.9%

Leave it in your bag. Golf is supposed to be an escape: 41%

C’mon, it’s 2024. You should be able to use your phone how and when you please: 7.1%

What’s the worst etiquette breach you’ve ever witnessed?

I saw a guy throw his putter after missing a putt and nearly hitting a playing partner. That really strained the relationship, and he never played with us again.

Spitting sunflower seeds on the greens around the hole.

A player ahead took 5-6 practice swings, taking a divot after each one, and didn’t replace any of them, nor did he replace the divot when he hit the shot. Couldn’t let that go without calling him on it.

Raking in 3-footers as gimmes.

Six players in six separate carts.

A guy driving a golf cart on the green. Like, he did not know you couldn’t do it. Lots of money and time goes into green maintenance, and I can only imagine if the super had witnessed it. Dude got an earful from us after.

Waiting for green to clear 300 yards out.

Cigar ashes on green.

Group in front of us playing really slow. When we approached par-3 9th hole tee box next to clubhouse, one player sat on tee box to “hold” their place while the other three went into clubhouse to get hot dogs.

Member filling her bag with range balls.

Much more to come in future installments of The Etiquetteist!

Josh Sens Editor

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.