Dr Kitrina Douglas highlights etiquette and how golf’s codes of conduct can affect your game

You don’t have to have been playing golf for too many years to realise that it’s not just playing the game and your score that counts, as important is how you play the game. While it is true ‘codes of conduct’ exist in most sports, most sports also have an umpire or referee to make decisions when disputes arise. In golf, by comparison, we are our own referee and umpire, and perhaps our own worst enemy, as each of us is tasked with self-monitoring and adapting our own behaviour.

In recent years it has probably been the pace of play that has received the most attention, but alongside slow play most of us recognise the need to shout “fore”, rake the bunker, repair pitch marks or call a faster player through - to name but a few of the ways individuals self-regulate.

The important point in all of these courtesies is none of them improve the score of the individual raking the bunker or tapping down a pitch mark. Rather, they are ways we illustrate a duty of care for the safety and benefit of other golfers. The rationale behind these codes of conduct is that they (are supposed to) make the game more enjoyable for everyone.

How are emotions connected to golf etiquette?

The role of etiquette and the adaptive behaviour of individual golfers in meeting (or failing to meet) these accepted cultural norms, were explored by social science researchers Dominic Malcolm and Jan Ove Tangen. They analysed data from interviews with golfers in Norway and England to understand how emotions were connected to etiquette.

Their findings suggested that in both countries you’ll find ‘sticklers for the rules’ who draw attention to every infringement, as well as others who tend to let infringements go.

In both countries golfers often apply different interpretations of what is acceptable behaviour depending on who they are playing with and the particular event. In a friendly match, for example, banter was part of the fun, as is dropping a ball near where a lost ball was assumed to be lost, rather than requiring the golfer to either find the ball or go back to the tee. The knock-on affect being greater enjoyment and speed of play.

The researchers also gave illustrations of golfers who were renowned for purposeful etiquette infringements, the bandits, or players who never called anyone through, never repair pitch marks or put divots back. In general it seems that Norwegians showed more tolerance of deviance for this type of behaviour and less policing of others’.

From a psychological point of view I was interested in their research because when any golfer ‘self-monitors’ it can have a detrimental outcome for their own performance and therefore score.

An etiquette infringement, for example, such as accidentally making a noise when another player is over the ball can make a golfer feel shame and embarrassment and these emotions can lead her to replay their misdemeanour over and over again. Doing so intensifies negative feelings and often ruins a good scorecard and enjoyment.

But so too becoming annoyed when someone doesn’t call you through, or fails to repair a pitch mark or divot and feeling that you should have said something but didn’t can play on your mind for weeks. The following ideas might help you negotiate some of these problems:

Golf Etiquette Dos and Don'ts to Save Your Score

“GOTCHA” Being caught out usually brings intense feelings of shame and embarrassment especially if you are the type of player who tries hard to stick to the rules and encourage and support others. The important thing is to apologise (once), but then move on by purposefully bringing your attention back to the next shot, and the good feel of your swing.

FORGIVE YOURSELF Nice people are often harder on themselves when they do something wrong. Your friends have probably forgotten, but you’ll remember! Again, it’s important to acknowledge we all infringe the rules at times, or miss cues and signs. Be open to learn, become better informed, and in doing so you’ll be less likely to repeat errors.

FRIENDLY AND FIRM While some women seem to relish pointing out everyone else’s etiquette infringements, and this can be annoying, most women hate telling other golfers about breaches. However, for the game to ‘work’ it’s important each of us finds our voice and learns to speak up, without compromising our friendships or becoming a bossy boots.

About Dr. Kitrina Douglas

Kitrina is a qualified NCF Coach and PGA professional. She also has an Honours degree in exercise and sports science and a PhD from Bristol University.

Currently a professor at Leeds Becket University, her golf career saw her win at every level. Her achievements include representing GB&I in the Curtis Cup, 10 professional wins and being part of the first winning European Solheim Cup Team to defeat the USA in 1992.

The above article was taken from the Jan/Feb 2019 issue of Women & Golf magazine.

More from Dr. Kitrina Douglas - Gamesmanship: How might we manage it?