It’s not uncommon to be on the tee or on a golf course and have someone ask who goes first?
From the first tee, it’s card order or lots are drawn. On the fairway, it’s the golfer furthest away from the hole. On the green, it’s the golfer furthest away from the hole.
But as always, there are variations:
On the Tee
On the first tee in a social round, we’ll usually throw one of each players golf balls in the air and the furthest away from the others goes first, followed by the next furthest away. For the final positions, one of us will hold a ball in one hand, hold both hands out and ask one of the two remaining players which hand?
IF it’s a four ball and we’re picking teams of two, the two closest balls form a team. One of each teams balls are then thrown in the air to decide playing order.
Once we’ve hit our drives – hole one is usually a par 4, and we’ve walked to our balls and found them; the next shot is played by the person furthest away from the hole.
On the fairway
Typically, the remaining three golfers will stand behind or to one side of the player taking his shot. Standing in front of a golfer hitting an approach to a green isn’t recommended. For one thing, you’d be in the shot players eye line and could distract him. For another, the ball doesn’t always go where it’s intended and a golf ball hitting your body hurts.
Sometimes it’s not obvious who’s furthest away. Some golfers will even argue that they are not furthest away when they are. That’s a vanity thing with length off the tee. If it’s not obvious, common sense helps.
For example, player a) lets call him Mike, has pushed it off the tee and is in the semi rough on the right hand side of the fairway. Player b), lets call him Tony has pulled his tee shot and is in the semi rough on the left hand side of the fairway.
The fairway is 50 yards wide and the golfers are 90 yards apart and somewhat level. In this case, whoever is ready first should play, and indicate that they are going to do so; unless it’s been agreed verbally or with say a wave of the arm.
Who Putts first?
This sequence progresses to the green with the golfers either hitting the green with their approach shots, or chipping to the green is they’ve missed it. There are often bunkers around greens too so they come into play.
Strictly as per the rules of golf, if one player has a 50 foot putt but another has a 20ft chip to land on the green, the putter goes first.
There is however a convention for this scenario
Under current rules, if a player is putting, the flag needs to be removed, or if requested, attended by another golfer.
If the ball drops in the hole with the flag still in it, the golfer playing the shot (putt) is penalised.
But a golfer who’s chipping onto the green usually wants the flag to be left in, even if they are close to the pin. The idea being that if they play the shot too firmly, but it is on line, it may hit the flag.
So the player on the green wants the flag out and the player off the green wants the flag in and that just wastes time.
So the convention is to ask they player who is off the green if they’d like to come on or play first.
The player doesn’t have to accept, but usually will.
If you’re playing a par 3 and all players hit the green, then the player who goes first is the person furthest from the hole.
Once again this can be subjective, just be sensible and agree who goes first.
Who plays first on the next hole?
The player or team who had the lowest score on the hole takes “the honour” and play first on the next hole. If two or more players have the same score, then the order from the previous hole just is retained.
There’s one area where there is often confusion. The honour on the next hole is as described previously, but that only applies to stroke play where the handicap is not applied until the round is finished.
However in bogey, par and Stapleford competitions, the handicap is applied on each hole. So the player with the lowest net score from the previous hole takes the honour at the next tee.
I’ve seen arguments ensue on course about this issue. The argument was eventually settled and all parties agreed that the player with the lowest gross score took the honour. They were all wrong.
When can you play a provisional ball?
One final scenario that sometimes arises is this: The first player in a four ball group slices his ball into the woods off the tee, so then wants to play a provisional ball. When does he do so?
The answer is that he plays his provisional, after his fellow golfers have all played their tee shots.
I’ve seen beginners, eager to eradicate a bad tee shot from their minds, rush to play their provisional out of order. A gentle reminder of the rules is then required.
A note on provisional balls. It’s your choice as to whether you play one or not. You must announce that it is a provisional ball and identify it prior to playing your shot.
Sometimes, you’ll be in a group of players and on announcing that you’re playing a provisional, they say “that will be fine, no need, you’ll find that”. And maybe you will, but it’s your right to play a provisional if you want to.
For one thing, you get to effectively play a practice shot and correct your swing before moving on.
From January 2019, the rules are changing and you’ll be allowed to drop a putt with the flag in, without penalty.
In fact a number of rules take effect at the same time, with the main emphasis being on rule changes that help up the speed of play.
Slow play, and just the sheer amount of time that it takes to play a round of golf has been cited as one of the reasons that golf club memberships are falling worldwide.
If we were inventing the game of golf today, when despite the march of technology, we seem to have less leisure time, not more; a round of golf would be 10 holes, not 18.
Strategy in Match play or Better Ball
When you’re playing as a pair, you have the option to play “out of turn” if you wish. That can be particularly advantageous when you are both on the green and about to putt.
So in your pairing, the player furthest from the hole doesn’t have to go first. You can choose the player nearest the hole if it gives you an advantage.
Here’s how that might work.
I’m partnered with Gez. He’s on the green in three shots and has a 6 foot putt for par. I’m on the green in 2 shots and have a 12 foot putt for par.
Normally, I’d putt first, but we decide that Gez will instead.
Here’s the logic for this and He might say “shall I get the four?”
Assuming he makes his putt and secures the four, I can now confidently play my 12 foot putt and attempt to sink it for a birdie three. If I miss, say it’s a downhill putt and the ball rolls 12 feet past the hole, it doesn’t matter, because my partner, our team, already have a four.
But if Gez misses his putt for a four and taps in for a bogey five, I’ll now approach my putt differently. It’s quick and downhill, so if I miss, I’ll want to leave the ball just below the hole for a tap in par.
That’s where teamwork in these types of competitions can really pay off, instead of just sticking to furthest from the hole plays first.
Is there a penalty for playing out of turn in golf?
In stroke play, there is no penalty for playing out of turn. There is a caveat though, which is unlikely, but possible. If the committee subsequently decides that an agreement to play out of turn was made to benefit a golfer, they can both be disqualified.
It’s the same for match play with one important difference. If you play out of turn in match play, your opponent may insist that your shot is cancelled. You would then have to wait until they had played their shot and then play your shot again.
This can be useful to you if you know the rule.
If your opponent does play out of turn and hits a great shot, say pin high within a few feet, then you’d invoke the rule.
If however they play out of turn and shank it into the woods, you wouldn’t.
So there you have it. Who goes first in golf is laid down in the rules in all scenarios. Providing all golfers know the rules, this helps stop disagreements on the course and helps speed up play.