The ABCs of Golf Etiquette and Play

By: Dan Merfeld So you've decided to take the plunge. Curiosity finally got the better of you and you're trying out the great game known as golf. Congratulations and welcome.

If you're concerned about not knowing the rules, proper etiquette, or what to wear on the golf course, please read on. We've got you covered.

Gameplay First, you should know, we'll be playing a particular style of tournament golf called a "scramble" - which is typically played for such outings as ours. The rules are designed to make gameplay fun and enjoyable for players of all skill levels - especially beginners - so you've chosen the right place to start! Here's how we play this particular style of golf.

You'll be playing on a team of four golfers. At each hole every player in your team takes a turn at teeing off. After everyone in your team has had a turn, the team collectively decides which ball has the best position and all the other players pick up their ball and play their second shots from that spot. That counts as one stroke for the team. This process repeats itself until the ball is holed (or as Happy Gilmore might say "finds its home,") a player dies, or someone gets frustrated and throws their club (bad form - never throw your club.) At that time, the total number of strokes taken counts as your score for the hole. The lower the score, the better.

Each hole is rated with a number based on its overall difficulty to play. That rating represents the "average" number of strokes to get the ball in the hole and is referred to as "par." As you score your team will either be "under" - which means you're doing really well and have a negative score - congratulations, you must be a pro; "even" - which means you're exactly average - congratulations are still very much in order, or "over" - which means you're playing at a level most golfers (even experienced ones) play at. How much you're over par is really the question you'll be asking yourself, so don’t be discouraged if your score doesn’t land in one of the other two categories.

Dress Code You might be wondering what to wear. The golf course we will be playing at does not have an official dress code (some do) - it's recommended that you wear a shirt with a collar, and pants (not jeans,) shorts (not jean shorts), or a skirt (not a jean skirt.) For that matter, leave out jean jackets, and, well, anything made of jeans. You're going to see a lot of Khaki and plaid out there, I suggest you just roll with it.

For footwear, avoid open-toed shoes, sandals, or bear feet (for your own safety.) If you have a pair of tennis or soccer shoes they will work just fine. If you're thinking of using grandpa's golf shoes, be sure to check with someone at the course to see if the shoe spike type is allowed (some older golf shoes have metal spikes that can hurt the greens and are not allowed to wear.) All modern golf shoes (the ones with plastic spikes) should be okay to wear.

One final point about dress, remember you're going to be out in the direct sun, bring sunglasses and sunscreen.

Three Tips To Hit The Ball Like a Pro  Well, you've made it this far. You're dressed, at the golf course and ready to play. But how exactly does one go about hitting a golf ball you may ask?

First, let's get your head straight. Keep in mind that some people spend a lifetime perfecting this game and only scratch the surface of what could be their true possible potential. It's important to make sure your expectations are inline with reality. If you're a new golfer, you should expect to hit the ball in the general direction of your target and not much else. That's okay, remember, your team can always use one of the other player's shot if you don't do well. If you play other sports, particularly baseball or softball - you might find it shocking how different the swing is and how that might actually add to the challenge of hitting a golf ball. Be patient with yourself as you work out the differences.

1. Go for accuracy - not distance. Everyone wants to hit the ball far, and while that does give you a competitive advantage on the tees and on the longer holes, it can be disastrous for new golfers to attempt to go for distance. Instead, focus on hitting the ball well, and in the general direction of your target.

2. Don't swing your club too hard. Again with the distance. Hitting the ball far means swinging the club hard and fast - or so it would seem. When you're swinging the club, let the club head do the work. The less you try to force it, the more accuracy you'll get out of your shot.

You'll know you're forcing it if, when you swing, you completely miss the ball. When that happens it's a sure sign you're trying to swing way too hard. Take it down a notch or two and try to make it more of a natural and even swing then a blast of power. You'll give up some distance, but you'll enjoy the game much more if you're not always fishing your ball out of the woods or a hazard.

Club Selection Another aspect of golf that can be confusing to the outsider is which club to use. It's really quite simple though, if you keep the following in mind.

Golf clubs are broken into four main categories: Woods, Irons Wedges and Putters. The Woods and Irons have numbers on them. An easy way to remember what the numbers mean is to keep in mind that the lower the number, the farther the ball will travel and the higher the number the higher the ball will fly through the sky (referred to as 'loft.')

Let's talk about the main kinds of clubs.

Woods Woods are not actually made of wood any more, but that's how they originally got their name. They propel the ball the farthest (from 200-250 yards when in the hands of an experienced golfer.) They are only really used once, at the beginning of the hole. They work best when the ball is teed up and they have two defining characteristics - they are the longest of the clubs and they have a larger area to strike the ball on the club head. This is good and bad. You can get into a lot of trouble with your woods, so be careful.

Another thing worth noting, the 1 wood is the only one referred as the "Driver." It's the club that should, when hit properly, go the farthest and have the least amount of loft.

A standard golf club set might have a 1, 3 and 5 wood. Being new to golf, it's recommended you pick one of the woods (doesn't matter which one) and stick with it for your first rounds. You're not going to notice much of a difference between the clubs until you mature your swing a bit more with practice.

Irons Irons, like their woods counterparts, are no longer made from their namesake metal, iron. They are made of a metal mix. They're meant to be somewhat heavy to help strike the ball better. The club head is angled, and they will have much more loft than the woods.

Irons are numbered 1-9 - but it's likely you won't have all of them in a standard golf club set, so don't worry if you're missing a few. The "long irons"; irons 1,2, and 3 will get you the distance, while the short irons; 7,8, and 9 will get the ball up higher in the air and more quickly. What about 4,5, and 6 you say? Well, you guessed it, they're called the "middle irons" and they're for the in-between moments.

You should make friends with your irons before you make friends with any other club type - after all you'll be using them the most. It's recommended to pick one long-iron, one middle-iron and one short-iron and play exclusively with those clubs.

Wedges Wedges comes in all shapes and sizes too, and they don’t have numbers, they typically have letters (I know it’s like they’re trying to confuse us right?) There are really only two that you need concern yourself with - the Pitching Wedge (PW) is the highest lofted club of the bunch and the Sand Wedge (SW) which - you guessed it - comes in handy if you happen to be caught in the sand.

Putters If you’ve ever been mini-golfing, you’re probably already familiar with what a putter is, what it can do and how to use it. There is some discussion about how close to the hole you need to be before using a putter, but if you’re new to golf, it’s probably a bit unnecessary for us to get into such level of detail. Suffocate to say, if it looks like the putter might be a good club for the job, do it.

Etiquette rules to know Much has been written about the etiquette of golf and in some ways can be quite intimidating for new golfers. Here's a few tips to keep in mind.

1. Don't be loud - golf requires concentration and, at times, it can be frustrating to other golfers if they hear a lot of noise. It's considered particularly bad form to speak or make noise while a golfer is about to hit the ball. You might hear the warning "don't talk in my backswing!" which is golfer code for "please be quite while I'm attempting to hit the ball."

2. Position yourself - another consideration is where you stand while someone else is playing. It makes golfers nervous to see people standing in their field of vision or near them when they're about to hit the ball. Try to stand behind or off to the side of a golfer when it's their turn, and with quite a bit of distance between you and them. Avoid moving and remain quite, as not to distract them when they attempt to hit the ball.

3. Never Walk the Line - when putting it's generally considered bad practice to walk in-between the ball of a player and the hole, referred to as the "line." Why? Well, by walking in this area you may unknowingly affect the way the ball would travel over the grass on its way to the hole. Sometimes this is unavoidable, and if you have to walk over another player's line, try to minimize your disruption of the green you might create with your steps.

Well that’s it in a nutshell, you should be fully prepared to go forth and take on the sport of golf.

And last, have fun and enjoy!