Is it legal to scatter a loved one’s ashes on a golf course? | The Etiquetteist

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The Rules of Golf do not cover the disposal of cremains. But local laws and golf etiquette do.

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Hank from Michigan writes:

My uncle, a lifelong golf junky, passed away recently and I’d like to honor him by spreading some of his ashes on his favorite local course. It’s okay to do that, right?

Dear Hank:

Upon his own demise, the Etiquetteist has requested that his two non-golfer children have his clubs melted down at the local foundry and refashioned into kitchen utensils and surgical tools, so that the metals and alloys might finally be put to productive use. As for his cremains, those are to be deposited far into the rough and buried deep into steep-faced bunkers to best reflect the way the Etiquetteist played the game.

But that’s not what you asked.

The answer to your question lies more with law than it does with etiquette. No matter where you live in this vast, golf-loving land, odds are there are local ordinances governing the where’s and how’s of cremains disposal. In you home state of Michigan, for example, those regulations vary by city and county, but they generally follow the rule of common sense. That is, if you’re not scattering on your own land, you need written permission.

Scattering in water can be okay, but the Federal Clean Water Act mandates that this be done at least three nautical miles from land, so any creeks, ponds or other water hazards on your local course are a no-no for your uncle’s ashes. 

Another consideration is not governed by any local, state or federal regulations. It is agronomic. A superintendent of the Etiquetteist’s acquaintance reported that cremains dumped onto one of his greens caused lingering turf problems; a soil test later found an excess of phosphorous, which happens to be a major component of ash. 

“I’m all for paying tribute to a loved one,” the superintendent said. “But please, not on my most manicured turf.”

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The lesson: best to stick to the hardier grasses of the rough and fairways. Raking into the sand is not a bad way to go, either.

Then there is the matter of getting permission from the course.

You could, of course, probably get away with scattering ashes without getting official written sign off. But that’s like cheating in golf. Why would you want to? Especially when there’s no need to be sneaky. If you go through the proper channels, your request is almost certain to be granted.

As a prominent course operator told the Etiquetteist, “Most of us consider it an honor, not an irritation.”

Josh Sens Contributor

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.