Go back in time, and you’ll find that the Old English translation for “gentleman” is “well-born” or “noble”—once a prerequisite characteristic for early golfers. Nowadays, it continues to prevail as the ultimate “gentleman’s sport.”
While typically dubbed an elitist pastime, golf is more than business deals and Ralph Lauren polos—instead, it is an art form that requires precision, thoughtful etiquette, and respect for peers. To better understand the concept of golf as a gentleman’s game, let’s take a deep dive into its origins.
What Exactly is A Gentleman’s Game?
Loosely defined, a gentleman’s game is an indoor or outdoor activity that adheres to a stringent set of rules and etiquette. If we were to assign additional characteristics to a gentleman’s game, they might include:
- Non-contact protocols
- A long tradition of manners and etiquette
- Origins in private clubs or organizations
- Consideration for the game and other players
A Quick History Lesson in Golf
The origins of modern golf traced back to the 15th century and were built upon the fundamentals of poised play. Imperative to the sport’s being considered a “gentleman’s game” was golf champion Bobby Jones, who called a penalty on himself during the 1925 U.S. Open.
During his 11th hole round, Jones accidentally brushed the head of his club against the grass, insisting that he’d violated Rule 18, which eventually cost him the win. Despite copious amounts of praise from fans and critics, Jones humbly claimed, “You might as well praise me for not robbing banks.”
Since then, the USGA named its sportsmanship title the Bob Jones Award in honor of his integrity. Thus, the incident has become a turning point in golf’s status as a gentleman’s game.
A Bit About Golf Etiquette
While the gentlemanly state of the game is responsible for it’s reputation amongst players, it also serves many practical purposes.
Golf can pose multiple risks despite its seemingly gentle nature if you aren’t well aware of your surroundings. A few rules players should take note of include:
- Swing your club only when the surrounding area is clear of fellow golfers.
- Yell “Fore!” to signal fellow players if your ball is flying in their direction—this will allow them to step out of the way of your incoming ball.
- Never throw your golf clubs in frustration.
- Do not proceed with your swing until the group or player ahead of you is entirely out of range.
Simply put, golf requires good timing. So, to keep the flow of the game going, keep these rules in mind:
- Always be ready to take your shot when your turn is up. You’ll save time walking and positioning your equipment.
- Wave ahead to the next group if you are looking for a lost golf ball. Want in on a pro tip? Choosing the right golf ball can make a difference in how well it travels!
- The player whose ball is farthest away from the green should always swing first. Doing so prevents time wasted debating who should go next.
- When you’ve finished putting, leave the green immediately to allow time for the next group to set up.
- Players can only have a maximum of 14 clubs at any given time—so if you’re traveling cross-country, be sure to pack your best clubs. Sifting through more than that can become a significant waste of time.
A game is only as good as how well its course is maintained. While clubs employ dedicated maintenance staff, you can do your part by being mindful of your surroundings.
- As much as possible, keep your cart off the greens. Follow the path as closely as possible to prevent costly damage.
- If you leave any ball marks or divots, repair them. Fast-flying golf balls can do more damage to delicate greens than you might anticipate.
- Rake sand traps to erase footprints and ball marks.
Violations You Should Know
Naturally, you should avoid all golf infractions. However, some hold more significant weight than others.
- While breaches of etiquette are penalized on a case-by-case basis, you should never slam your club, violently confront another player, or do intentional damage to the greens.
- Though often an honest mistake, some players intentionally hit the wrong ball to their advantage. Do this, and you’ll lose your dignity!
- Do not incorrectly score your play. While you can sign for a higher score, signing lower will result in disqualification. Don’t lie about your score either—there’s no recovering your reputation from that.
- At all costs, do not skirt around the game to improve your lie. Of course, everyone wants to hit an impressive stinger and be remembered for it. But rolling your ball out of a divot or tree root can have severe consequences—and you could lose the respect of fellow players. So instead, practice avoiding incidents like pulled golf shots to prevent having to adjust your lie.
Is Golf Still a Gentleman’s Game in 2021?
Despite the intentions behind labeling golf a “gentleman’s game,” many people associate the term with elites and business. Yet, the game has transcended what it originally was, welcoming players from all backgrounds and walks of life over the years.
Instead of its “gentlemanly” principle holding it back, the game is now marketing its most relatable players—male, female, or other—while upholding the same standards it did hundreds of years ago.
In 2021, you can expect to see the most diverse playing field the sport has ever accommodated while still staying true to its roots.
The Bottom Line
While the fundamentals of golf have remained mostly unchanged over the years, it is evolving to become a more diverse sport for players of all kinds.
Ultimately, if you have to choose between winning and a clean reputation, you should always opt for the latter. As any professional golfer will confirm, the point of the game isn’t to win—but to play like a gentleman.
About the Author
Jordan Fuller is a retired golf professional and mentor but continues to share his knowledge through Golf Influence. He is passionate about inspiring young players and launching them into success.