Dear Molly

Can I tee off when a player comes into my fairway?

Dear Molly: This happens all the time. The guys tee off, then by the time we ladies get to our tee, players from another hole have come into our fairway. We hate to hold up the show. What should we do?

Someday maybe women will conquer their inferiority complex about golf. We all think we’re too terrible, too slow, too dumb to be entitled to a place on the golf course. Yes, we can blame civilization, men and hundreds of years of the culture of golf for making us feel that way. But I’d rather we just get over it and, at least in this case, recognize: We are not holding up the show! The players who belong in another fairway, not ours, are holding up the show!

When I asked male players your question, they told me that if they’re ready to tee off and a player from another hole enters the fairway, they see it as a waiver of liability. They said if a player encroaches on their space, that’s on the player, not on them, and they are free to swing away with abandon.

Sound harsh? I thought so. After all, especially on crowded golf courses, doesn’t safety matter above score and pace of play?

So I checked in with Ben Pennymon, the Director of Golf Operations at the CGA’s CommonGround Golf Course. CommonGround has the kind of design that’s rare among public courses. “Our golf course is laid out in a way that keeps players separated,” he said. “You get the occasional tee ball struck into the group ahead, not with crossover shots.”

But Ben noted that your example shows how women generally are “more conscious and aware” of pace of play. “An attitude of ‘let me do my part to help the situation get better’ I think is natural for women,” he said. “But it creates a little bit of an inferiority complex. Women have the same ability and skill and right to be in the same space as everybody else. And particularly at CommonGround, we want them here.”

Clearly, he said, “If someone’s crossing into a fairway, the right of way should be to the person on the tee. If you hit an errant shot to a fairway that you’re not supposed to be in, plain and simple, you’re not supposed to be there. You’re supposed to be on your own fairway. So whatever you can do to be out of the way of the person teeing off, that’s ideal.”

Once that person is in your way, though, safety has the honor. If they’re starting into your fairway when you’re ready to tee off, give them a wave, or, Ben suggested, “a wave with your driver in your hand, so it’s an even bigger wave.” If the guys in your group seem impatient, they could yell a big “Fore!” on your behalf.

Otherwise, he said, “Think about it like a stop sign. Whoever gets there first should go ahead and proceed. If you’re there first, you play.” If they’re there first, they play – hopefully without three practice swings and a mulligan – and you wait.

Finally, golfers who tend to explore fairways not their own might benefit from these two suggestions from Ben Pennymon:

  1. If it’s not a tournament or big-money match, play your shot from a safe area closer to your own fairway instead of where it lies. “I’m not saying don’t play by the rules, but I am saying, this is not the PGA Tour, this is a recreational game,” said Ben.
  2. “We hope those people hitting those errant tee shots find themselves a PGA Professional and get some instruction so they can stop doing that,” he said. “I know a really good coach, his name is Ben Pennymon and he can help you straighten out your tee ball.”

Do you have a question about golf etiquette, golf relationships or the culture of golf in Colorado? Email it to Molly McMulligan, the CGA’s on-the-course advisor on how to have more fun on the golf course. Her creator, researcher and writer is golf journalist and CGA member Susan Fornoff.


How can I help my significant other at golf?

How can I volunteer in Colorado golf?

How do I get them to stop talking?