Does this round-capping golf custom need to be done away with?

High angle view of men shaking hands on golf course

Jack from Philadelphia writes: 

I can’t count the number of times I’ve stood waiting in the 18th fairway while the group ahead of me removes their hats, shakes hands and chitchats on the 18th green. Can we agree that this practice needs to end? If there are people behind you, move off the 18th green before all the niceties so you don’t hold up play. Right…?

Dear Jack: 

The fight against slow play is a never-ending struggle, waged on many fronts. As someone who believes that 3 hours and 45 minutes on the course is more than enough, the Etiquetteist has little patience for the many ways that golfers dilly-dally on the greens — whether it’s reading putts from multiple directions; marking their ball when it’s inches from the cup instead of knocking it in or sweeping it way; leaving their bag on the wrong side of the green so they have to walk back to grab their sticks before moving on to the next tee; or…

The list of sluggish habits goes on and on, and each item on it drives yours truly batty.

But what makes such behavior unacceptable isn’t just the time it takes. It’s also mostly pointless, counterproductive, even. As far as the Etiquettiest knows, there is no evidence that any of those dawdling extras lead to lower scores for the average Joe or Jane. If anything, most golfers would probably play better if they streamlined their movements, quit the overthinking and picked up the pace.

But shaking hands on the 18th green? That’s a different story. It isn’t pointless or counterproductive. It serves a purpose, a polite tradition that puts a pleasant punctuation on the round. And in the grand scheme, the Etiquetteist would argue that it’s not what should concern you.

Think of it this way. If you find yourself standing in the 18th fairway, watching the group in front wrap up its business, odds are you have been waiting behind those same players for hours, watching all kinds of frustrating conduct, from unnecessary plumb-bobs to extraneous practice swings. By the time you reach the 18th fairway, that handshake up ahead feels like the last straw, the annoying tipping point in a day filled with irrigations. And so you rail against it. 

That’s understandable. But also irrational.

Of all the problems that cause slow play, a handshake on the 18th is about the least of them. The Etiquetteist suggests that you pick your pace-of-play battles. If you want the group ahead to pick it up, beg them not to grind over gimmes. Ask them to be more mindful about where they leave their bags. But let them linger on the last green for a post-round handshake, provided they don’t stay there for a post-round beer. 

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.