The Complete Guide To Golf Course Rules


The rules of modern golf courses can change depending on the type of golf course you’re playing and where you’re playing. According to USGA and R& rules, American golf courses may have different standards to British or European golf courses. But if you’re going to be playing or even just walking around a course, it’s wise to know the key principles and rules of golf. 

As a general rule, golfers must have paid and had a tee-off time booked to play most golf courses. When playing, you must avoid slow play and stick to the local club rules. When on the course, golfers should play their ball as it lies and be mindful of other people on the course when hitting. 

In this article, we’ll be walking you through a complete guide to the rules and etiquette of modern golf courses. It’s important players, pedestrians, and those just visiting the golf club are aware of these rules to ensure everyone stays safe when on the club grounds and, importantly, enjoys the sport.

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Can You Go For A Run On A Golf Course 

You can run on a golf course that is accessible to members of the public as long as you don’t impede or distract any golfers on the course. You cannot run on a private golf course that restricts access to members of the public.

Joggers run at their discretion and risk when running across golf courses. Golf can be a dangerous game, and depending on the course you’re choosing to run across, you might have to be careful to avoid getting hit by a golf ball or being kicked off the course for trespassing. 

Privately owned golf clubs will not allow anyone to enter their grounds unless you play golf and pay for your round. Typically, privately owned golf courses are the creme-de-la-creme of the golfing world. It’s hard enough to get onto them even if you are a golfer! 

Clubs only allow people who will use the grounds to play golf onto their courses. That’s because they have many members and scratch golfers looking to play at the course who don’t want to be held up by runners jogging directly in front of their next approach shot. 

It’s also a matter of course maintenance. Runners can trample down grass around the fairways, and some may even run across the greens, which can be very damaging for the golf course. The fines and penalties you can incur from running across private land are not worth the hassle, so avoid jogging around privately owned golf courses. 

The only exception comes for runners who are jogging across publicly owned golf courses, but when jogging around public courses, I urge much caution to runners. There is a huge risk of getting hit by a stray golf ball on a public course, particularly as the golfers playing on these courses won’t be as good as some scratch golfers and low handicappers on the privately-owned courses. 

For safety reasons, golfers will also need to pay attention to their surroundings and play safe golf. I wrote a golfing etiquette guide that I recommend you read which hash a few safety tips golfers should be aware of to help you avoid dangerous play and keep in mind other people who perhaps aren’t golfers that might be using the course. 

Is It Legal To Walk On A Golf Course 

Walking on a public golf course without paying is legal, but it is not legal to walk on a privately owned golf course. On public golf courses, you will also need to avoid walking close to tee boxes, greens, or along any of the course’s fairways. 

You can see in this article about golf course access in Scotland the following rules might be followed.

  • allow players to play their shot before crossing a fairway
  • be still when close to a player about to play
  • follow paths where they exist; and
  • keep your dog on a short lead.

It is legal for members of the public to walk around publicly-owned golf courses via any public bridleways that surround the course. Although, it is not great etiquette to walk up and down on the course’s fairways or even sit on the fairway and have a picnic. 

I have played many public courses before and have seen members of the public walk slowly down the fairway holding up groups of golfers from teeing off. I have also seen families let their children play and build sandcastles in bunkers around the greens. I can’t stress enough how dangerous golf can be when pedestrians don’t respect the course. 

Even if you are playing the course, you must respect the grounds and other golfers around the course. If you’re not used to the etiquette of golf, you should read my guide on how to conduct yourself on and around the course which has tons of tips on staying safe on the course and avoid getting in trouble for trespassing. 

But it is not legal to walk around privately owned golf courses. It can be classed as trespassing. Golf clubs can fine you or even call the police and have you arrested if you are caught walking on their land without permission. It is wise to check the course you’re planning on walking around before walking the course. 

Can You Walk On A Golf Course Without Playing 

You can walk on a golf course without playing, but you will need to check the local club rules before doing so if you are accompanying someone who is playing. Private golf courses will generally not allow public members to walk on a golf course at all.

This question can sometimes be a bit of a grey area when playing golf. If you’re accompanying someone around but aren’t going to be playing golf yourself, you’ll need to check with the golf club before you tee-off on the first. 

Most golf courses are happy to allow people to accompany paying golfers on their round but do not disrespect the course and start hitting shots after a couple of holes. Many courses have staff walking the course to ensure people are keeping up the pace of play, and if you are spotted, you can be ejected from the course and even face criminal prosecutions. 

Likewise, you can walk around a public golf course if you as a member of the public, but if you start playing without paying, you can get into serious trouble with the course management, other players on the course, and even the police. 

Do You Have To Pay To Go On The Golf Course 

If you accompany someone on their round and aren’t playing golf, you don’t have to pay to go on the course. Golf courses have a right to turn you away if you aren’t paying to use their facilities. High-quality golf courses will sometimes frown on pedestrians walking around the course. 

It costs a lot of money to maintain and keep a golf course, and for that reason, it’s understandable why golf courses may not want people continually walking their land. Sometimes they can’t help that as many golf courses surround residential areas, while others have public bridleways running through them. 

You shouldn’t have to pay to go on a public golf course or even walk around the course with a group who are playing but be warned; golf courses are entitled to refuse you access as it is their land you’re walking on. If you have been permitted to walk the land without paying, make sure to respect the course and do not ruin other golfer’s rounds. 

If you’re booking a coaching session with a golf coach, part of your fees will go towards the coaches’ green fees, as even though they aren’t playing with you, they generally like to respect the course and pay back to the management for allowing them access to the course. For more information on how to book a playing lesson with your coach and what to expect from one, take a look at my guide on how golf lessons can help you!

Can You Go To A Golf Course At Night 

You can go to a public golf course at night, but you should never play golf at night. You cannot go to a private golf course at night, as that can constitute breaking and entering, and you can face serious sanctions if caught. 

Many people like to go for walks at night, particularly if they have dogs, and walking across publicly owned golf courses can be a great way to get out and experience the fresh countryside. It must be noted that you should avoid playing golf at night, and if you see anyone playing golf late in the dark, avoid them as much as possible. 

Golf is hazardous even in twilight hours, as without light, players and pedestrians will struggle to see golf balls flying towards them, which can be very dangerous. For that reason, it may be wise to avoid walking on any golf course at night.

Privately owned golf courses can have a lot of CCTV to catch members of the public breaking into their grounds at night. If you don’t want to pay a heavy fine for breaking onto a course at night, I will avoid walking around a golf course at night. 

Want to know more about range balls? See my complete guide on range balls and how they work in my article.

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