Golf course protocols and codes of conduct in Scotland
Speed of Play
One thing that sets golf in Scotland apart is speed of play. Seldom you will play a round of golf in Scotland that take more than 4 hours, most take about 3 1/2 hour – and that’s walking. It’s not as if you feel rushed.
The Scottish golfer knows how to keep things moving. Since everyone is walking, they are at their ball and ready to hit as soon as it’s their turn. There’s plenty of camaraderie but when it’s time for you to hit, be ready.
Scottish golfers are extremely courteous. It’s customary to say to your playing partners “have a good game” or “play well” at the first tee. After the last putt is sunk on the 18th, it’s also customary to take off your hat before shaking hands all around.
And be conscious of what’s going on around you. Many of the golf courses are tight, there are holes that share the same green (St. Andrews Old Course has 14 holes that share greens), so there will be times when 2 foursomes are putting in close proximity. Watch you’re not disturbing the other golfers by being too boisterous. There will also be times when you are teeing off right next to a green. Be aware of not hitting your ball while someone is putting.
These little courtesies may seem self-evident, but I mention them because I’ve seen visiting golfers time and again yelling out loudly on the golf course as if it were their private domain.
Another thing; know your terminology. There is a difference between a “foursome” and a “fourball.”
A foursome match:
is a competition between two teams of two golfers each with each team member playing alternate shots on each hole with the same ball.
Means each player plays his own ball.
I mention this because golf clubs like Muirfield play foursomes during certain times of the day and if you are playing there you are expected to play that type of match.
One last thing:
Please be sure to fix your ball marks and replace your divots.
No jeans or cut-offs or denim, not even denim shirts. Bermuda shorts are acceptable at most clubs if they are true Bermuda shorts, in other words, no short shorts. It’s best to ask beforehand if you are planning to wear them because a few courses require knee sox if you wear shorts.
All clubs require a shirt with a collar. They also require golf shoes not “trainers” (sneakers). A few clubs require a jacket and tie in the clubhouse but this is the rare exception.
At most clubs, when you pay your golf fee you are considered a temporary member of the club and you can use the showers and changing room. Of course you can just change into your golfing shoes in the car park if you wish.
Virtually all golf clubs have very nice bar/restaurant facilities where you can get a plain but quite decent meal at a very reasonable price.
Dress appropriately for the weather, too.
In Scotland you can experience rain, wind and cold and maybe all three at the same time. Waterproof (NOT water resistant) clothes are a must. A good waterproof windbreaker is the best choice. Often on a cold day with strong wind, a wind breaker (called a wind cheater in Scotland) and sweater is all you need to keep warm, particularly when you are walking (which, because there are few golf carts, is almost all the time). Dress in layers because it may start out chilly but warm up later.
Cell phones: Not welcome
Unlike dogs (see below), mobile phones are not permitted on most golf course or in clubhouses.
Few courses have driving ranges. Some have small cages you can hit balls into.
So you’ll have to do your warming up in another way.
Most of the time you’ll see members arrive, check in at the Pro shop and then just go and tee off.
Since they are walking I guess they figure they’ll get warmed up soon enough. There is almost always a putting green, so you can practice that aspect of your game.
Speaking of putting
Both St. Andrews and North Berwick have very extensive miniature putting courses. They are not part of any golf course but are “stand alone” facilities. St. Andrews’ course is next to the Links Clubhouse, it’s called “The Himalayas“, and is really fun to play. Even if you don’t play it, you must at least look at it. People of all ages play. You’ll see women putting with their pocketbooks hanging from one arm, young children playing with their parents and teen-aged couples concentrating more on each other than on where their putts are going.
Dogs go golfing in Scotland
And speaking of friendly, dogs are allowed on many of the courses.
We were at the tee at the Jubilee Course at St. Andrews late one day and a man was teeing off with his dog sitting next to his golf bag. We asked him about this and he said every evening at this time his dog comes over and nudges him. It’s a signal that it’s time for them to go play some golf.
Needless to say, they are well behaved.
Golf courses in Scotland are public walking areas
If you are traveling with a non-golfer, he or she is free to walk along with you as you golf or walk anywhere on the golf course except the greens.
Golf courses are pleasant to walk, the scenery stunning.
Just be sure to keep an eye out for the golfers, give them the right of way, and watch out for those unexpected golf balls !!!
Golf in Scotland is more of a “working man’s” game
More than it is in the States, where so many fine golf courses are private and are the purview of the rich – hidden behind high walls and guarded gates.
Not so in Scotland.
As an example, the most famous golf course in the world, The Old Course at St. Andrews, is right out in the open, in the middle of town. In fact there is a road bisecting the 1st and 18th fairways and, from time to time the starter has to wait for a passing vehicle or ask walkers to move it along over his loudspeakers. Many are surprised to find out that it’s actually a public golf course and belongs to the residents of St. Andrews.
Inhabitants can play it for a very small yearly fee (less than the price of a single round!).
Sunday is “not a good walk spoiled” at the Old Course at St. Andrews because the course is closed on Sundays and is filled with families, couples just enjoying the day, and awe-struck golfers ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the monster pot bunkers.
And there are cameras – lots and lots of cameras – and lots of dogs enjoying their Sunday outings with their owners. Try that at Cypress Point or Pine Valley!
Special hints for playing Scottish links courses
At St. Andrews each wind brings out different, but not necessarily better, characteristics and challenges in each hole.
There are only two rules for getting out of pot bunkers, broom, or gorse. Memorize these two rules:
Rule #1: Get the ball back in play.
Rule #2: If you think you can hit a great shot and get the ball on the green, see rule #1.
Remember, according to Rule 28 At any place on the course except in a water hazard a player may declare his ball unplayable.
The player is the sole judge as to whether his ball is unplayable.
It will cost you a stroke but you can play the next stroke as nearly as possible from the spot where the last ball was played or you can drop a ball within 2 club lengths of the spot where the ball lay (not nearer to the hole) or you can drop behind where the ball lay as far back as you want. (If you’re in a bunker you must drop in the same bunker.)
Take advantage of this rule if you are in gorse or any of the other hazards and you feel you can’t get out.
Don’t wait until you get into more trouble and then take a drop. I’ve seen players take 8s and 9s on holes because they tried to blast their way out of impossible situations.
Nothing can get you into more trouble in Scotland than trying to do too much when you are in the rough or in trouble.
There are times when the best play in a bunker is to hit it backwards rather than forward.
(As David Duval should have done at the 17th at St. Andrews in the 2000 Open Championship.)
If you are in trouble, don’t get fancy, JUST GET THE BALL BACK IN PLAY.
Depending on where your ball ends up, you may be better off hitting out backwards. Sometimes it’s better to take your bogie medicine than to end up with a triple.
Golfers from every country are familiar with sand bunkers.
Few outside of the British Isles have had to deal with gorse.
Gorse is a bush with yellow flowers that lines many fairways. It’s thick and unyielding and if your ball gets in it Rule #1 is doubly important. Most of the time you’ll just have to lift it out and take a penalty.
Use Your Putter
At links courses, the grass around the greens is cut very short. In fact, sometimes it’s difficult to see where the fairway ends and the green begins. This coupled with the fact that many of the greens are hard and shaped like an inverted saucer and wind is often a factor makes the use of the putter a viable choice. You’ll use it much more than you may be used to. Watching a Scottish Professional tournament at one of the links courses I noted that virtually every golfer within 50 yards of the green was putting rather than using a wedge!
Don’t automatically reach for the wedge when you are off the green,
it’s almost never the right choice. If the grass is short, try your putter.
Try a few practice strokes to get the feel for distance and fire away.
You’ll almost always get closer to the pin.
It rains in Scotland
… and, depending on which area you’re in, it could be a lot. (Generally drier in the east, wetter in the west.)
You should always assume it is going to rain even though the weather looks sunny and mild.
If you’ve made reservations at a special course and it rains and you’re on a tight schedule, what do you do?
You play, that’s what you do!
So carry a good rain jacket and rain trousers.
Be sure they are water-proof not just water-resistant.
Same with shoes. If you get caught in a downpour and there’s lots of wind you’ll be glad you are protected by more than your umbrella.
Most Scottish golfers play in rain that people from other parts of the world might not play in.
Often a downpour will start and if you play a hole or two things will clear up for the rest of the round.
If you have good rain gear that gives you enough freedom for a full swing, the weather won’t bother you and you’ll be a happy golfer.
Don’t forget good non-slip rain gloves!
The kind whose grip improves the wetter they get.
Toilets & Drinking Water
Two things rarely found on UK golf courses are toilets and drinking water so be sure to bring along a bottle of water.
I want to address this next item as delicately as possible. All of us have had the urge during a round of golf when we were not near a toilet. Usually, we just find a hidden spot behind a tree or in a bush and relieve ourselves.
Let’s face it, we’ve all done it. The problem is that it’s not that easy to do in Scotland – especially on the flat (and windy!) links courses.
In addition, many of the links courses are “out and back” meaning the 9th hole is furthest from the clubhouse. So take care of business before you tee off.
The drive is critically important in Scottish links golf.
Many of the greens on links golf courses are the inverted saucer shape protected by fierce bunkers.
Usually there is an “alley” thru the bunkers on your second shot if your drive landed in the right spot. If not, you’ll have to hit over bunkers to greens that are not that receptive to being held – especially if you are coming in low. You’ll have to hit a high shot that flops down on the green and holds. Trouble is, the greens are often hard and the wind may be blowing sideways. One solution is to use a high-spin ball – one that will stand a better chance of hitting and holding. You may not get as much distance but you’ll be happier around the green.
Use the correct tee area
Ask which tees you are to play off of.
Seldom are you allowed to play off the championship tees and often even the medal tees are off limits. They are very strict about this so be sure to ask which tees are being used that day and don’t deviate from them.
The 19th Hole
Most of the golf clubs serve good food. In fact, we often eat at clubhouses even if we may not have played golf that day.
Don’t look for fancy cooking. We eat at clubhouses because the food is simple food but it’s well prepared and inexpensive. (One of our favorite eating spots is the St Andrews Links Clubhouse.) Clubhouses are a great place to meet people.
Scottish people are friendly and Scottish golfers are the friendliest of all – at least that’s how it seems!