Molly McMulligan’s Fab 5


by Susan Fornoff

On a media visit a few years ago, the course dispatched a stringy 20-year-old golf assistant named Tyler out to the first tee show us three female journalists the ropes. He started walking away from us, toward the back tee box. “Why don’t you play the forward tees with us?” we said. “That way we’ll all get to talk.” Tyler hesitated a moment, no doubt weighing macho pride against potential eagles, and then joined us. None of us remembers our score, but we all remember Tyler. He had back-tee game but any-tee manners and an attitude that would make him welcome in any foursome.

Golf manners go beyond rules and etiquette: They allow you to spend an enjoyable four or five hours with just about any level golfer, from any walk of life. Here are five for the course.

  1. Take the temperature of your foursome. One excellent golfer I spoke to said he is not interested in hearing your life story; he wants to grind and play the course to the best of his ability. I asked him what he does when his companions chatter away. He says, “Look, I don’t want to be rude, but I’m going to my special place now to focus on playing golf.” If you’re ever paired with CGA Executive Director Ed Mate, know that he doesn’t want you to play music. In fact, I don’t want you to either, unless it is the exact music that I would play! If you and your buddy just loaded a 12-pack into the cart and are paired with two single-digits drinking water, consider how you can make that work for all. Golf is a social game, but try to give everyone the space they need to enjoy the round their way.
  2. Play fast. When I asked skilled, experienced golfers what quality they appreciated most in their foursome, most said, “Speed.” And they weren’t talking about clubhead speed! You can be the world’s worst golfer, but if you adhere to basic pace-of-play techniques, like not spending 10 minutes looking for your wayward ball because Nike isn’t making the Mojo anymore, you will be welcome in any group. You can be a terrific golfer, but if you’re spending 5 minutes at your ball testing the wind, pacing off yardage from the sprinkler head, taking practice swings and changing clubs, eyes will roll. Know that your group’s place is just behind the group in front of you and do your best to stay there.
  3. Find something positive to say, without giving unsolicited advice. Our man Tyler could have taught us a thing or two, but he’d taken the temperature of the foursome and recognized we were there to experience the course, not defeat it. He’d give us the lay of the land and compliment our rare good shots. For some of us, that might have just been, “Hey, that got up in the air,” or, “Yay, that went forward.” Reach for it, you’ll find something, even if it’s only “Nice shoes, where’d you get them?”
  4. Pay attention when others are about to play. This way, you’ll know when to raise a hand or finger to pause that conversation about the Broncos’ chances. And please, do not protest, “But I don’t mind if people are talking when I tee off.” It’s not about what you mind, it’s about what the person on the tee or putting expects. A bonus: If you’re paying attention, you’ll be able to see exactly where in the fescue that wayward Mojo landed. Every golfer loves to have a pair of eagle eyes in the foursome.
  5. Show respect for the course, the game and other players. This suggestion came from USGA rules official Karla Harding: “If you make a divot you fill it, if you make a ball mark on the green, you fix it. And then just respect each other and understand that you’re going to be at different levels. You have to be patient with the newer people and respectful of the players that know how to play. And be sure they’re having a good time, too.” Golf is hard, for everyone, and we all have bad shots, bad holes, bad rounds. That doesn’t mean we have to have a bad day. Tyler, playing the par 4s from those forward tees, drove the green or lost his ball. Either way, the smile never left his face.  

Still not sold on moving up a tee or two in certain situations? Check out tips and tricks on doing so confidently!

Veteran journalist Susan Fornoff has written about golf for publications including the San Francisco Chronicle, ColoradoBiz magazine and her own She became a CGA member when she moved from Oakland, CA, to Littleton in 2016, and ghost-writes as “Molly McMulligan,” the CGA’s on-course consultant on golf for fun.