Yesterday we looked at my rudimentary solution to the "crowded gym full of January piss-ants that are either 20 lbs overweight or 20 lbs underweight and don't know what the hell they're doing in any regard" issue. Today we'll apply the same principle to golf. I totally respect why certain upscale courses won't let players above a certain handicap play. Of course that's totally unfair to do everywhere, but some form of education/licensing system would be very beneficial. It wouldn't have to be rocket science, just play a few pitch and putt rounds (with either a knowledgeable friend or family member as your "sponsor" or with a golf equivalent of a personal trainer), learn the nuts and bolts, pass the short written test, and you've got another shiny little card for your wallet.
I'm lucky to have been taught the game at a very early age (6) by my father, and I will say right away that most people are not in that boat - they teach themselves, or pick the game up as a teenager just for shits, or get mildly into it as an adult partially because a lot of their friends play.
However, once you pull into the parking lot of an honest-to-God golf course, the question of where/when/how you began playing is moot. If you do not adhere to the game's written rules of etiquette and do not engage in "Ready Golf" (outlined impeccably by John I here), then you, yes YOU, are harming those who plunked down decent money and chose to invest 3-4 of the precious non-working, non-sleeping hours out of the week on the condition that the game will be played correctly and respectfully.
Since John I explained "Ready Golf" from atop Mt. Sinai already, I need not go too much further into its detail. And since standard golf etiquette can be Google'd (or better, Wikipedia'd), I need not delve extensively into that. But I must point out specific, common-sense type issues that will trim valuable time off of your round, get you into a better rhythm (spelled it right on the first try!), and maybe, just maybe lower your scores.
--The first player in the group to sink the ball on a hole is responsible for replacing the flag stick after all others are done. Grab it quietly after your putt and hold it, waiting for the others to hole out.
--ALWAYS have a spare ball on you. The group behind you will scorn your whole family if they see you searching fruitlessly for a ball in the weeds or trees, and then run 50 yards back to your cart to grab another ball so you can take your drop. Cardinal sin.
--Practice is for between rounds, not during rounds. If you need to take a practice stroke or two on a delicate pitch shot or an awkward putt, fine. But otherwise, no practice swings. I mean it. Try not taking practice swings the next time you play - I guarantee you that you will not throw up a horrid number and that the world will not end either. But you will shave incredible time off your round and may even find it a more effective habit. Too often, people waste their good swings on practice strokes, only to top that 6-iron into the drink anyway. See ball, align with target, center yourself, deep breath, swing. That's it. I know the pros on TV take practice swings, but they also post 67s on championship courses like you or I break wind. Until you're THAT good, no practice swings. At least pretend to be an athlete and have some muscle memory.
--Always be looking behind you. This especially applies on weekends and other busy days. If you shank your tee shot into a brush while a foursome is standing with their arms folded at the tee box behind you, have another ball on you (remember?) and look for your original for about 30 seconds before just taking a drop and moving on. Penalty stroke or no penalty stroke depending on whether or not you would have had to punch back out into the fairway if you ever did find your tee shot.
--On the green, always ask a person with more than a 10 foot putt if they want you to tend the flag. I still remember a guy who once pulled the stick on a par-3 when I was 50 feet out and instead of asking if I wanted it tended, just dropped it on the fringe and ambled over to his own ball. Yeah don't worry pal, this 50-foot snake job just might as well be a gimme anyway. I now have a voodoo doll of this asshat.
--Head on a swivel when about to hit the gas on the cart. You don't want to be gunning it in the golf cart right in the middle of someone else's backswing or putt. If necessary, wait a moment before going if someone within 100 feet or so is about to play a shot.
--Understand that walking renders you a second-class citizen. Most places will only allow walking during off-peak hours anyway, but if you don't want to have to constantly be letting people play through, then pony up the extra cash for a cart.
--And, for the last time, TURN THE DAMN CELL PHONE ON SILENT AND DON'T TAKE IT OUT OF THE BAG. If a call is that important that you need to take it (or worse, make it) on the course, then you shouldn't be playing golf today anyway. It's good to have in case of an emergency and that is it.
That's all for today without making this segment unbearably long. Remember, the less time on the course usually means the better round you've had. You don't have to be a scratch player to get 18 holes in under 4 hours. My old man and I have had plenty of 2.5-3 hour rounds in which neither of us broke 90. And if you need any further motivation, playing smarter gets you to the 19th-hole beers in less time as well.
Tomorrow, we take a look at casino gambling in the final part of the series.