9 keys for playing golf with your dog

Last year was refreshingly positive for golf, wasn’t it? We embraced How to Play Golf Alone, planned road trips longer than ever, elevated 9-hole rounds by 15% and came to an agreement that keeping the pin inis totally fine. Golf, collectively, has adjusted. 

Before things really get going in the new year, I’d like to push one more bill onto the floor of golf congress: more dogs. Now, before you cat people get to dismissing, look around. This is a natural move! Golf as a sport has learned, out of necessity, that it needs to be more welcoming, less private, more environmentally friendly, etc. And if corners of the golf world aren’t okay with that, well, supply and demand economics have had their way with the game in the last 15 years. Now, back to dogs. 

After careful consideration, and one tremendous morning with a purebred golden retriever named Jersey, I’ve learned that playing golf with your dog is indeed one of the most fulfilling ways to experience this game. Below are a handful of keys to help you do it yourself. Things you must know and keep in mind as you prep for your canine caddie’s debut.

1. Is your dog a morning caddie, or an evening caddie?

Yes, this is impossible to know for sure, but with a dog by your side, it is most likely you’ll be playing in the early morning or late evening, when the fewest number of people will be crowding a course. (Unfortunately, not everyone is a dog person.) Morning golf is going to be best for singles, but likely the sloppiest with dew on the turf. Evening golf could find you stuck behind a foursome, but by then your pup might not have such frolicking energy. You might have to try both. Darn!

2. Permission might be easier than you think

This may seem obvious, but permission is the main reason this article exists. You won’t find many courses that are outwardly dog-friendly. But are they anti-dog? Pick up the phone and find out. You’ll probably be surprised what you hear. I sure was when the GM at Cherry Hills in Sturgeon Bay, Wis. said “Bring her out!” 

So think about point No. 1 (morning or evening) and make the call. Raise the stakes! Say you don’t have time to play golf and then walk the dog. Offer to pay $5 extra. Promise to stay out of the way. Remind them that St. Andrews has dogs walking on it from time to time. Whatever it takes.

3. Leash up! 

The most important item in your golf bag is no longer the putter or the driver or whatever club you hit best. It’s the leash. The leash is your saving grace and can save you a lot of headaches. It is as simple as tying the opposite end of the leash up to your golf bag. Where the bag goes, the dog goes.

Keeping your pup attached to your bag is the simplest way to demonstrate control, both to your dog and the superintendent.

If your dog weighs 100 lbs. and doesn’t listen, I’d maybe suggest a different hobby for you two to share. But generally, you can control for any issues simply by keeping your dog tied up to your bag. By the time you reach hole no. 4 or 5, is the leash necessary anymore? Probably not. But for optics at the very least, it’s probably wise to keep it looking like your dog is affixed to something. They can run around at their leisure, but there’s something about the leash being dragged along the ground that means something, even if just symbolically. Bend the rules when the coast is clear if you’d like. I won’t tell anyone. 

4. Is your dog interested in golf? 

Believe it or not, it’s an important question. If your dog has no interest in your swing, your shots, etc., great! That makes things easy. But if your pup is anything like Jersey, they’ll consider this weird stick and ball game to be some gigantic form of fetch on the biggest playing field they’ve ever seen. Suddenly, hitting greens is not such a good thing. Jersey tore after a chip shot of mine, straight through the green, leaving some marks in her path. Lesson learned! It shouldn’t take long to figure out if they want to chase after that little white, dimpled ball. (Jersey shares a birthday with Tiger Woods, but I doubt she knows that.)

5. The tennis ball is your lifeline 

Or the frisbee, or the sling toy, whatever. Don’t show up to the course without some form of distraction for your pup, especially if you answered Yes to question No. 4. A simple tennis ball toss is all you’ll need to earn the 10 seconds it takes to hit a shot. Seriously, your pre-shot routine should change to something like this:

Reach golf ball —> analyze shot —> grab club —> toss tennis ball —> hit golf shot —> toss tennis ball again

Just make sure to exert some patience and keep the toy holstered until the 4th or 5th hole. Once you bust it out, it’s difficult to tuck it away, and three holes worth of fetch is going to tire any dog out real quick. Walk before you run, literally.

6. The water limit does not exist (and here’s a pro-tip)

With No. 5 in mind, bring as much water as you can carry. Ten minutes of golf course fetch is going to last just one hole. So the more water you can bring, the better, especially during summer months. But don’t waste your time filling up water bottles. Use this pro-tip: Lemonade mix containers are a poor man’s thermos. 

Don’t throw those old containers away! Reuse them easily.

I can only assume that Country Time engineers have perfected their concoction containers with pet-lovers in mind. Tear away the plastic label and you’re left with a significant water jug and a bowl to drink it from! These things stack nicely on top of each other and tuck away easily into any pocket. Just be sure to pack multiple. Jersey slurped her way through three cartons in the first five holes. 

7. Endless treats don’t hurt either

On every course, there are places where your dog can and cannot go — greens, bunkers, hazards — and those spots are not as obvious to them as they are to you. So do what all dog owners do and entice them with treats. For Jersey, it was Cheerios. She loves ‘em! I loved them, too, as she was much better at staying off the green when she knew that cereal was at stake.

8. Doggy waste is different 

There is nothing good about the smell of a golf course waste bin filled with mostly-empty beer cans, tobacco tins, and whatever is left of that club sandwich. But adding to it with foreign waste isn’t going to help the cause.

Bring another one of those old lemonade mix cartons and keep it empty. Pick up your dog’s poo with a plastic bag, the same way you always would, and deposit the bag in that extra, empty tin and seal it up tight. Then you can discard it in any bin you’d like. (Yes, I realize we’ve tasked you with drinking a lot of lemonade. Get to it!) We’re just trying to keep things as clean as possible for the golf course staff.

9. Start ‘em young 

Playing at Goat Hill in Oceanside, Calif. a year ago, I was stunned at how casual dogs can be as golf viewers. When I arrived on a Wednesday afternoon, a pug had just teed off on the 1st, strolling up the fairway, and was out of sight, out of mind in a matter of minutes. Over on the driving range, a much older golden retriever was sprawled out next to her owner as he worked on his game. I felt like I had died and gone to Golf Heaven, where dogs roam free. Really, it was just Goat Hill, a course where dogs are very welcome, any day of the week.

Even Goat Hill has rules, though, as you can see above. But the pups I witnessed didn’t even need them. They had long been groomed to handle this gorgeous, open and green play area. So, start your dog young! Help them get comfortable with that little white ball. Teach them that sand at the beach is different than sand in a bunker. Make them realize that, until you pull out the tennis ball, near the bag is the place to be. Soon enough, Golf With Your Dog might be the only golf you want to play.

Sean Zak

Golf.com Editor

Sean Zak is a writer at GOLF Magazine and just published his first book, which follows his travels in Scotland during the most pivotal summer in the game’s history.