Should New Golfers Play By The Rules?

I get a lot of emails from golfers who are sick and tired of playing a round of golf behind a group of new golfers who play as slow as “molasses running uphill in winter.”

Should new golfers be banned from the golf course if they are slow? And why are new golfers slow? Is it because they are playing by the rules? And if they are, do the rules slow them down?

Which begs the original question of this post: Should new golfers play by the rules?

Let’s get one thing clear. I am not against rules and I am not against new golfers. I was a new golfer once! and I know what it’s like to be the one searching in the tall grass for my golf ball on almost every hole. But I was lucky enough when I was learning to play the game of golf, to be playing with good players who were patient with me and told me when to pick up the ball and move on! While I was learning to play, I pretty much ignored the rules. My scores were terrible, but I always had fun and I learned a lot. Only after two or three years did I register with to begin building my golf handicap.

When you are first learning to play golf it’s more important that you enjoy the game than it is that you adhere strictly to a set of rules. Certainly, the rules are important but they are complicated, and they are meant to be followed by experienced players who are serious about submitting scores for handicap purposes. But most first year golfers are not going to be playing well enough to even think about building a handicap. They just want to get out there and swing the club, hit the ball straight and get into the hole without hitting fifteen strokes to do it. It just makes sense to forget the rules. If someone is playing golf just for the sheer fun of it, should I get all bent out of shape because they give themselves a free drop or kick the ball out of a hole so they have a better lie?

I was reading one golf pro’s idea on this subject at Linked In:

I have a 78 year old student who wanted to learn to play. I could never get him to hold the club properly. As a result he would hit a ground hook every time. So I put a training grip on one of his clubs and he started hitting the ball straight with nice carry. I replaced all his clubs with training grips. He is happy a s a clam and can’t get enough of the game. He absolutely loves it. Does he care that he is not playing by the rules? Not a wit. But he is out there almost daily hitting balls or playing.

Here’s another idea for nixing the rules: Many new golfers have a hard time hitting long straight drives. Should they be forced to play from the regulation tee boxes? On a par 5, 560 yard hole, a golfer who can barely hit 150 yards will need at least 4 strokes just to get near to the green, and that is if he or she doesn’t get into any trouble. Talk about discouraging. Wouldn’t it be smart to let that golfer drop a ball around the 300 yard mark, tee up and hit from there? Scott Seifferlein, head pro from Greater Grand Rapids, MI, who I’ve interviewed on (click for podcast), has developed a program for beginning golfers… Playing From the Green, which encourages those who are new to the game to play from the fairway to the green, rather than from the tees to the green. This method, although it breaks all the rules, encourages confidence in his students and allows them some measure of success. And as they improve, they drop their ball a little further back from the green each time they play. Eventually, the plan is that they are actually playing from the regulation tees.

The beauty of following a program like this is that the game moves more quickly. Happy golfers hit and go. They don’t hold people up trying to figure out how the heck to hit out of a muddy ditch, or spend ten minutes trying to find that lost ball. Instead, drop a ball, kick a ball out of the rough, throw the ball up and out of the sand if you have to. Ignore the rules for the most part and move on. And for heaven’s sake, pick up after 10 strokes!


For some golfers, the question of playing by the rules is not even debatable. And I agree. If you are serious about the game, if you play in leagues and tournaments, and continue to work to lower your handicap, then the rules are a must. They create a fair playing field. Everyone plays fair and square.

But for the golfing newbie? I say ignore the rules for the most part. Just get out there and enjoy the game. Find yourself a small executive par 3 course and play your heart out. When you have finally fallen in love with the game, start playing with more experienced golfers, learn the rules and join the rest of us on the “big golf course.”

What do you think? Should new golfers play by the rules?

  24 comments for “Should New Golfers Play By The Rules?

  1. outsourcing Romania
    June 9, 2012 at 8:40 am

    Thanks and good blog.

  2. Carmen
    September 6, 2011 at 4:23 pm

    Great article.
    I think there is definitely a place for the rules in the game. Although as a beginner, it can not only be challenging to just get it airborn when people are waiting, but overwhelming to then know all the rules that should be applied.
    Something we get at our club, and its free are weekly videos that help us understand the game.
    Etiquette Moments. They cover rules, pace of play and etiquette…short too.
    Keep up the great posts

    • Pat
      September 6, 2011 at 5:15 pm

      Carmen- I’ve seen those Etiquette Moments and they are really quite valuable. I should write a post and direct readers to them. Thanks for the idea.

  3. Karen
    July 7, 2011 at 2:35 pm

    I am a “newbie” and was at the local course with my husband so I could check out the scene and buy a driver. I overheard an older gentleman complaining about another “newbie” who was a young man in his 20’s who was coming in off of the course. The older gentleman was rude, and quite offensive in his description of how the “newbie” behaved on the course. I was shocked and ready to never start playing at all. BUT… then the course manager stepped in and defended the new guy. It was his first time out, and he was playing with a coach, and was being taught the course rules. When he started the game, nobody was on the entire grounds. thank goodness someone spoke up, or else I would never have come back. the older gentleman was speechless and didn’t even apologize. so sad. please be patient with us newbies… we want to learn. thank you for your site – it helps.

    • Pat
      July 12, 2011 at 11:55 am

      Karen… definitely do not be discouraged by the rude, offensive behavior of golfers like the one you described. Too often people who have been playing golf for years forget what it is like to be a beginner! And how important beginners are to the game’s future. We all have to learn a little patience on the course. It’s supposed to be a GAME. And unless you are a pro, you are playing for FUN, not for your life’s earnings! So RELAX!

  4. March 20, 2011 at 5:45 pm

    I believe that you can play by the rules and in a timely manor. Mainly, don’t spend forever looking for your lost balls and hit when you are ready. There are easy ways for newbies to speed things up.

    • Pat
      March 21, 2011 at 9:41 am

      Mike… I agree, but to make things easy for a newbie it is best to establish those “rules” before they begin play. If it is understood ahead of time, that there is a certain max number of strokes they can play before picking up it helps with potential arguments later on. Help them to understand they are learning the game (emphasis on the learning) and it takes time to learn. It’s not about winning or building scores for a GHIN while you are a newbie. You are playing to learn, enjoy and have fun. As long as they understand they are practicing on the course and being allowed some latitude with the rules while they learn, I think things should go pretty well. Of course they also have to learn the real rules of golf and know that sometime once they get the hang of the game, they will have to abide by them. A lot depends on the attitude of their golf partners.

  5. January 19, 2011 at 7:30 am

    My 9 year old daughter started golfing last summer after taking a week of golf camp. She was so eager to play with us, but there is no way she could get from the tee box to the hole in under 10 strokes, so we adapted a different style for her.

    Each hole she would hit off the tee box then we would pick up her ball and drop it near the edge of the green when the rest of the group got to that point. She really enjoyed the game – got to experience golf on the course – and we didn’t end up holding up the group behind us.

    I think with everything, there is a time and place for rules.

    • Pat
      January 19, 2011 at 8:21 am

      Great solution. Sounds like a fun way to introduce a young person to the game. The idea is to have them love the game first, and with each experience, begin to learn and implement the rules. Kids are very quick to pick these up and pretty soon, they’ll be reminding you of the rules!

  6. Cathy
    January 14, 2011 at 1:18 pm

    Lots of interesting comments… from my experience, slow play is often the result of ladies (and men) not being aware of where they are in the flow of things and spending too much time talking and not playing “ready golf”. I have played with golfers who can keep up with pace of play and will hit 8 or 10 times to my 2 or 3 times because they are ready to hit the ball and know to keep moving. It drives me up a tree to watch ladies take 2 or 3 practice swings and then hit the ball 20 yards…on just about every shot. To me, pace of play gets killed by all the things people do when they are not hitting the ball or having to be concerned about the rules.
    The only thing I find challenging about disregarding the rules is that it will become a habit. We have a social ladies league that has games each week, with most dependent on score in some way. The playing field isn’t the same if you have ladies picking up, dropping incorrectly, or “giving putts” because that’s what they do other times…and other ladies who play by the rules. I agree that if you are not playing for score that anyone should feel free to pick up, or take 2 putts and go if there is a gap forming on the course, but the basic rules of golf are too important to be disregarded even if the course is packed.

  7. January 11, 2011 at 8:05 pm

    Great post!

    This is a topic that NEEDS to be discussed… frequently and openly… and one it would behoove the USGA to address.

    If we want golf to grow… if we want the golf industry to continue to be viable and able to sustain the many people (of all backgrounds) who are employed and/or engaged in it, we need to work to create a universal golf culture where beginners are encouraged, empowered and if necessary, obliged to “not follow the rules” when they’re playing with others behind them.

    It funny, because playing golf should be intuitive. It was for me. When I started playing… after just a few lessons… I was never a nuisance to anyone, and I always had fun because I’d assess the crowd/rhythm of the play when I got to the course, and act accordingly; If rounds were back-to-back, I’d pick my ball up anytime I risked slowing things down, and limit my putts to two (when I probably would have needed twice that). Then there were the times I’d have the course almost to myself… and I’d grab those opportunities to play by the rules, keep score, an work towards my handicap. If that could be the culture, we’d have a much easier time growing the game. I do agree with Glenna though, the etiquette should be taught from the get-go… right along with the first elements of technique ! The basic etiquette of course management and behavior is also key in keeping the pace of play up to par… if you’ll pardon the pun. Anyway, many thanks again for the great post.

    • Pat Mullaly
      January 12, 2011 at 10:42 am

      Golf Girl – I think your idea of playing intuitively is a great one. There is something to be said about being aware of the energy of the course you are playing. Whether it is direct signals from the starter, of just the way golfers are gathering around the club house, I can pick up on what kind of day it’s going to be… casual and laid back or aggressive and determined… there are days when if play is slow, I can feel the angst of the players behind me, eager to keep the game moving quickly. If I let that energy get to me it can really screw up my game. I rush through my routine just to keep things going, and that more often leads to bad shots, lost balls, etc.
      Best to focus on keeping up with the players in front of you rather than worry about the guys behind.

  8. Glenna
    January 10, 2011 at 5:07 pm

    Pat, I agree that beginners should have fun and by picking up and maybe just hitting a few shots each hole is a good idea. In fact, that is what I did when I was first learning the game. The rules, however, are a different matter in my opinion. Rules and etiquette on the golf course are of most importance and should be learned by beginners as part of the entire game.

    • Pat Mullaly
      January 12, 2011 at 8:59 am

      I agree Glenna, if you are going to play at a public course where there are other players, you have to have a basic understanding of the golf rules and some course management. Otherwise, practice your game at dusk when you’re the last golfer going out!

  9. Letta Meinen
    January 10, 2011 at 8:54 am

    Oh Thank You for this article on slow play and new golfers. I get so upset when new players are harassed by experienced players always bringing up the rules until these new golfers give it all up. We lose too many golfers that way and women are some of the worse about rules. This game is challenging but to abuse a new players is one of my biggest beefs. Take some time to play with these newbies and relax and just play the game no rules to think about you will get more results with honey than bee stings from the so called Pro’s of the game.

    • Pat
      January 10, 2011 at 9:16 am

      Letta… I agree. When playing with a new golfer, forgiveness and patience are the rules to live by!!! Encouragement when a new player hits the ball well, and wisdom to know when to tell them to pick up and move on! Make the game fun for their level of play and if that means you hit from the regulation tees and then walk with them to 100 yards short of the green and have them hit on from there… it’s all part of the learning curve. The idea is to grow the number of people who play golf, not kick them off the course because they are not “up to our level!”

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  13. mkmaffet
    January 9, 2011 at 7:25 pm

    I have been playing golf for quite awhile now. I remember learning to play and what helped me the most was having a husband who let me play with him and was very patient with me. I realize that is not going to happen with everyone so my next suggestion is to play with a decent golfer as much as you can. You’d be surprised how much you can learn from someone better than yourself. I still feel my game is a learning experience in progress. No matter how good you get, it’s never good enough. You keep striving to be better, longer and have a lower hdcp. Good luck to all you beginners out there!

    • Pat
      January 10, 2011 at 9:11 am

      Finding a patient mentor or group of better golfers who can encourage you is key to learning and enjoying the game. If you only play with beginners, it’s likely you will play slow and learn very little – and you will drive the golfers behind you to distraction!!!
      Best advice: find a clinic with a good instructor who will teach you the fundamentals and play a few holes with you. That’s how I first learned. The public course had a special clinic for beginning golfers and the course was blocked off for a few hours just for us to learn. It solved a lot of problems. We learned, members knew to play another day and the course actually benefited because so many of us in the clinic learned to love the game and joined the club! A win, win, win!!!

  14. Jean
    January 9, 2011 at 5:09 pm

    2010 was my first year golfing. I’m eager to play by the “rules” and improve my game….BUT, and it’s a big one, as a new golfer shot after shot can get discouraging. I started golf because I like it, and I want to continue liking it. That means, sometimes, my ball miraculously floats into the fairway. Will I do that in a couple more years? Hopefully, no. Would I do it in a tournament? No.

  15. Jane Berg
    January 9, 2011 at 3:19 pm

    Like any sport, learning the rules and etiquette of the game is as essential as learning the mechanics of the sport and what to wear. You wouldn’t play basketball in golf spikes, would you? High handicappers are not always the cause of slow play, but they certainly contribute to it. Not playing from the correct tee box (or the box most appropriate for your skill level) is also a major contributor to slow play. I’ve played many a course where I have been paired up with 20-30 somethings who are hitting from the tips only to have a 100 yd drive and take a double take when I personally hit from the middle tees and pump the drive 250+ yds down the middle.

    • Pat
      January 9, 2011 at 4:07 pm

      Jane. All good points. And congrats on those 250 yard drives. Inspiring!

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