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golf etiquette playing through

It’s one of golf’s most awkward situations – so what’s the right way to let people play through?

Steve Carroll couldn't believe what happened when a group gave way during a recent round. We'll let him tell the story
 

It was two-ball versus fourball. The course was packed. We were the visitors and we’d been like Max Verstappen on a backmarker from about the second hole.

Let me point out that we had really tried not to be. We saw the slow-moving groups in front, knew we were in for the long haul, and thought it unlikely that even if we got through one we’d manage to snake through any of the others in front.

It was a nice day. There was no rush. We made an effort to keep our distance. We had our own followers behind, but we worked hard to give everyone space.

No-one wants to feel like they’re being rushed around the course, especially when it’s just a question of numbers rather than anyone being pedestrian.

Etiquette experts will always tell you to let the faster group go through, that it’s irrelevant the rest of the course looks like the M25 after a van breakdown.

I sympathise but I also think it can have a negative impact on your own round as you stutter your way stop-start through the madding crowds. Sometimes, I think it’s better to just remain in place and deal with it the best you can.

And so we proceeded with due care and attention but, despite our best efforts, the pressure obviously told because as we got through the turn so came a wave from in front.

Some of my most horrific shots have come in the subsequent rush to get on with it – I think they call it Sod’s Law – but we managed to get club on ball and then set off in that weird half-running motion you do when you’ve been invited past and want to carry out the manoeuvre as quickly as possible.

As we marched off, a strange thing happened. Instead of watching us perform one of Monty Python’s silly walks, the fourball returned to their positions and a couple hit approach shots.

We congregated towards the green almost as a six-ball. Is it just me, or was this really weird?

I putted out faster than Usain Bolt and all but sprinted to the next tee. The delicate space-time continuum, though, was disrupted. We’d barely got to our drives on that hole when the fourball had joined the tee. Now they were the ones waiting.

We’d not just rushed through the previous hole, we were now accelerating through this one as well – even though we know it’s just bringing us ever closer to the group in front and a new queue.

There’s plenty of etiquette set down for when a faster group should be given rite of passage but are there any guidelines for how you should let them pass?

Should you just step to one side and then wait until they’ve cleared the green or is it acceptable to carry on and then put on the brakes only when it becomes inconvenient to play on?

I prefer the former. I think if you’ve given someone the courtesy of playing through you should just stay where you are until they have, you know, ‘played through’.

My worst kerfuffle on a golf course came in a very similar circumstance when the trio in front, having waved us on, eventually found the ball they’d been looking for and unilaterally rescinded the offer. As we were practically passing them on the fairway, they just started hitting their shots again and swept back in front. I was incandescent.

It’s exactly these kinds of half measures that can lead to disagreements. And who wants to cloud their day with a silly, and entirely avoidable, head-to-head?

So if you look back, see me, and are courteous enough to ever let me go past, can you do me a favour and stay where you are?

Our rounds will be all the better for it.

Is Steve right about golf etiquette playing through, or is there nothing amiss about playing through becoming a six-person free-for-all? Why not let him know with a tweet.

Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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