Unwritten Golf Rule #2385 – It’s All About Sticks and Shadows

Unwritten Golf Rules You Learn As You Play

In golf as in all of life, there are rules—written and unwritten. Most of us can understand the written rules, i.e. the laws of the land, the laws of the road for driving. They are clear, they are precise and our parents and teachers make sure we know them as we grow and mature into adults. The unwritten rules are more subtle and they vary from situation to situation. The “rules” of your family might be different from mine, so I wouldn’t be familiar with them but if I were to join your family—say as a daughter-in-law—those unwritten rules would be learned pretty quickly.

It’s the unwritten rules of golf I want to talk about here. I know many of the written rules, the USGA has a rule book and a web site and I play with enough people who know the rules backwards and forwards that I don’t have to worry much about screwing up my game. But it’s those  nasty unwritten rules of a certain golf association or golf league that can bite you in the back. Here’s my story:

I was playing with a group of women at a nearby golf course a few weeks ago. Nice people, but I had never met them before. We were playing as a team in a local tournament for some charitable cause. (I don’t even remember, but it was a good cause, I’m sure.) As usual, I was assigned the “D” player position. That means I had the highest handicap of the four golfers. It also meant I was subject to the unwritten rule of the “A” player, the “Captain,” to always play fourth off the tee. It’s a courtesy thing, I guess. Captain first, then “B,” “C,” and finally “D.”

The disadvantage of being “D,” is to always watch everyone else tee off before you. At every tee you are reminded by the hitting sequence that you are the worst player out there. It grinds on you after a while. The one advantage is that if you play well with a high handicap, you can really help your team, as the score for each hole is determined by the number of “strokes” you are given for each hole. It’s a complicated system I will write about in a later post. Suffice it to say that if you play well, your teammates love you. And if you don’t, well then you feel like you’re just taking up their time. They’d be better off with you out of the way. Of course, no matter how badly you are playing you can’t quit or run into the woods because in a tournament the whole team must finish the game together or the team is disqualified. Not something you want to even contemplate.

So back to my story: It was not my best day of golf, to put it bluntly. Balls into the woods, into the sand, but my putting was ok. And once I got to the green I was making one putts on most holes. Of course this was really annoying to the “Captain” who was driving well, staying out of the sand but ending up two and three putting no matter how hard she tried. I was beginning to get under her skin.

Golf FlagstickOn the third hole I learned the Captain’s first “unwritten” rule of the day. If you are first to putt into the hole, it’s your job to go and stand by the flagstick that is resting somewhere on the green, and wait till everyone has putted out. You are then to pick up the flagstick and replace it in the hole before you leave the green. It’s your job, and you just better do it. If, on the other hand, you are second in the hole and move away from the hole so others can putt and you just happen to stand near the flag stick resting on the green, you are NOT to pick up the flagstick. That’s NOT your job. And if you do, you will be sorry. Nasty looks all around. Keep your hands off the stick.

On the fourth hole I learned the Captain’s second “unwritten” rule of the day. If you are the one tending the flagstick in the hole so your Captain, who has a forty foot putt can see where to aim, NEVER let your shadow fall across the hole. It’s distressing to your Captain. Check where the sun is in the sky and where your shadow falls and move one way or the other or get out of the way. Again, nasty looks.

I am not one to be easily cowed on the golf course. I try my best, in spite of my handicap to always have high hopes and great expectations. And if I mess up one hole, well, there are still a few left where redemption is possible. But these unwritten rules are a bit of a learning curve. And with some people it’s a roller coaster.

What do you think? Comments welcome.

  3 comments for “Unwritten Golf Rule #2385 – It’s All About Sticks and Shadows

  1. Kathy
    June 28, 2010 at 3:38 pm

    I think it’s more of an etiquette/speed of play issue, but it is silly to require only the first in to pick up the flag. In my group, the first in will tend to do it, but common sense comes into play. If her push cart is in front of the green (from chipping on from close & then putting), she’ll go move her cart & let the next person tend the flag. Also, as a matter of courtesy, if someone hasn’t replaced the flag in awhile, they will make a point of it, no matter who was in first. Sounds like you played with someone that had a lot of issues. Too bad, golf is supposed to be fun.

  2. Pat Mullaly
    March 27, 2010 at 11:53 am

    Thanks for your comment Dee Dee… I find that every new tournament or league I play in, especially with strangers who come from other clubs— those unwritten rules are all different. Can confuse a person! I find it’s always good to ask.

  3. Dee Dee Grevelis
    March 27, 2010 at 11:31 am

    Yes, Pat, the “rule” about first in the hole must pick up and replace the flagstick is true. However, there are MANY ladies who are not aware of it it and who simply walk off the green leaving others to pick up the stick. Some never pick up a stick in their entire round, have you noticed that? Others offer to pick it up for me sometimes — giving the “old” lady a break.

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