You can play through, and here’s how

Image of a crowd to play throughGREAT GOLFERS play through wind, rain and snow. They play through mowers and blowers. They play through the annoyance of an opponent jangling change or crackling wrappers. But in golf, just to “play through” needs no subsequent noun; it is an important part of recreational golf all by itself.

And “playing through” is one of the most important golf etiquette terms a golf newbie can learn.

Generally, it involves two foursomes. The first foursome has fallen behind the golf course pace and there’s a hole open now in front of it. The second foursome has been waiting (patiently, we hope) to play its shots on the last couple of holes or two. Now it’s time for the second foursome to leapfrog the first foursome.

That’s playing through.

But, when should it happen? How should it happen? Here’s are guidelines for good sportswomanship by all, from our own experience and with input from Guidance Editor Gail Rogers. Note: These guidelines are for recreational golf, not tournaments, which have their own pace-of-play policies and procedures. And they do not apply to players sent onto the course as singles.


Unless a marshal is on the scene to preside over the operation, the group in front is in charge. One way to guarantee you will not be invited to play through is to hit into that group or otherwise treat the group rudely. Better: Call the pro shop and let them know players are beginning to pile up behind you, so that they can send someone out without you looking like a b—h.

“When I played at St. Andrews for the first time in 1987, the group in front of us got behind,” Gail remembered. “The course marshal told them to pick up their balls and move to the next tee. The policy was if they were behind again, they would be escorted off the course.  No one plays slowly in Scotland for very long.”

It must be pointed out that St. Andrews has more business than it can handle. Visitors must win a lottery to get a tee time. Here in the U.S., golf is just beginning to recover from the recession. “No course wants to offend players,” Gail said. “But with the help of a course marshal, players can be given help speeding up or they can be asked if they would mind letting a faster group behind them play through.”


In the best of all worlds, the group in front recognizes that it has fallen behind. However, said Gail, “A friend said it is easier to accuse someone of being a child molester than it is telling him he is a slow player. No one ever thinks they are slow, but many of us are.” This is especially true when the slow group is made up of men and the waiting group is made up of women. A foursome of women simply cannot play faster than a foursome of men…right?

Anyone should be able to keep up if she follows basic pace-of-play principles like Emily Kay’s “Lessons from my father” and Gail’s advanced tips. But if your group has a hole open in front of it and the group behind yours is on your tail, you could just say to your friends, “Why don’t we let the gals behind us play through? Then we can relax a little bit.”

If there’s no group in front of yours, your watch can gauge your pace. Have you averaged 15 minutes or more per hole? Then take a minute to step aside and ask, “Would you like to play through?”

“Consideration is the element that gets missed,” said Gail, who admits to frustration when playing behind a slow group. “What about those behind who are waiting for you to play?  Players never seem to look back”


Here’s how it works: Your group tees off on a par-3. And right about now, the players behind you should be finishing up on the previous green. If you are in carts, you can wait for them to approach and invite them to play through. If you are walking, it is OK to head for the green and mark your ball, perhaps even taking a putt or two, or find a safe position and then wave them through.

If yours is the group playing through, you should dispense with your preshot routine and hurry on by. Yes, you should, in effect, give up this hole. Go ahead and write down your par-plus-strokes as your posting score if you run into trouble, because you’re not playing this hole strictly by the rules of golf. (For example, you are not going to ask someone in the other foursome to move her marker if it is on your putting line. Your tee shot may even roll into an unmarked ball belonging to the first group. And if you have a short putt, you’re going to just pick up.)

Another good time to invite a group to play through: when your group is searching for a lost ball on a par-4 or par-5. Just be sure to take cover.


Now is the time for everyone to express good feelings about playing through. The players in the first group should compliment shots by those in the second, say things like, “We’re sorry we held you up,” and “Have a great day.” The players in the second group should move quickly through the green and on to the next tee as each finishes, with profuse thank-yous and best wishes.

Now, said Gail, “The goal of those playing through is that the slow group will never have to wait for them for the remainder of the round.”

And the goal for the slow group can be to keep up with the group that played through.

Simple, yes?

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