The progression of golfers around a course is similar to traffic on city streets, replete with slowpokes, speedsters, bottlenecks and breakdowns.
The difference is that traffic on a course is mostly self-policed.
In the absence of strict laws and rigid enforcement, we’re left to follow the unwritten rules of etiquette, which brings us to this week’s comportment dilemma: When should you let another group play through?
The first commandment is as simple as a tap-in: If you’re holding up traffic, let the folks behind you pass, just as you should if you’re puttering along the freeway at 40 miles per hour.
Faster travelers always deserve the right of way. Unless, of course, they’ve got nowhere to go. On jam-packed tracks, there’s no point playing leap frog. Doing so helps no one. It can even make things worse.
But let’s assume congestion isn’t an issue (and if there’s a hole open ahead of you, it’s not), and your group is on the green, with golfers standing, arms-crossed, in the fairway behind you — the golf equivalent of flashing the high beams. If this happens once, it might be an aberration. If it happens a second time, guess what? You’re the problem. Proper etiquette requires you to step aside.
There’s a good chance this will happen on a par-3, where slowdowns are most common. The process here is easy, says Lou Riccio, author of Golf’s Pace of Play Bible: “Wave them up while you are near the green, let them putt while you are planning your putts, then let them go to the next tee first.”
If they catch you on the tee box of a par-4 or par-5, Riccio says, “Let them tee off right after you have hit, then let them move down the hole with you but at some point let them go ahead.”
Riccio’s emphasis is pace of play. But pace and etiquette are interrelated. Most golfers understand this. Sadly, a myopic few do not. They refuse to let folks through, or they piss and moan about it. Why is sometimes hard to say, though it often boils down to ego or entitlement, or, most likely, a little bit of both. It’s never too early in a round to do the right thing (if your foursome’s on the 1st tee, and a single ambles up, let the single go). But is it ever too late? The 16th tee is a reasonable cutoff, unless the group behind you is shattering a land-speed record. Though the rules of etiquette do not require it, you’re wise to let them through whenever they catch you, even as late as the 18th tee.
That’s a rare occurrence. But golf’s a funny game; odd things happen. Good thing is, when it comes to waving through, two fundamental rules should cover all scenarios: apply common courtesy and common sense.