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Article: British vs American Golf Etiquette

Golf guide for etiqutte differences in golf across UK and USA.

British vs American Golf Etiquette

UK vs USA Golf Etiquette 


After just arriving from a wonderful trip in the UK and playing some great golf courses.  Most notably, Dulwich and Sydenham Golf Club and The Addington.  Two completely different, but both equally beautiful golf courses.  What we quickly realized and you might not be aware of is the considerable variance in the golfing experience from the UK to the US, especially in terms of cultural nuances. While the fundamental rules remain consistent—adhering to clothing etiquette, avoiding distractions to others, maintaining accurate scoring, and playing your ball where it lies, to name a few—the golfing culture can differ significantly between the US and the UK. Following our recent golfing venture in the UK, we noticed several striking differences compared to the US. In this piece, we will shed light on the most prominent distinctions to help you gear up for your next golfing excursion, whether you're heading to the UK or visiting the US from the UK.

Walking vs Riding 

The most noticeable difference was the preference for walking the course in the UK as opposed to riding in a golf cart (or "buggies for hire" as they are referred to in Britain). Most courses have only a handful of golf carts, if any, and it won't be long before you realize that you might be the only person using one if they are available. The UK embraces a walking culture when it comes to golf courses. If you insist on using a "buggy", make sure to call ahead to verify their availability for rent or even to confirm if the course offers this option. Similarly to America, it's crucial to adhere to signage indicating where golf carts are permitted. However, be prepared for more walking than you might be accustomed to in the US, as the UK tends to have stricter limitations on fairway access for carts.

In the USA, golf carts have become somewhat synonymous with the game, with approximately 66% of golf rounds involving a cart (2016 statistics). This is a stark contrast to the UK, where about majority of rounds are walked, emphasizing a more traditional and perhaps purist approach to the game (2022 article from PGA discussing differences). If you prefer riding a "buggy" in the UK, ensure to confirm their availability beforehand, as many courses offer limited options.

Drinking Culture

This is a big one, but the drinking culture on the course is certainly a different experience.  Drinking carts or ordering on the fairway certainly is not a common ocurrence, more often than not, courses will not have cart girls, or a cart for ordering drinks of any kind.  Plastic in general is not widely accepted in the UK, but if you do get a beer of any kind, it will more than likely come in a glass bottle.  When surveying golfers from the UK and USA, the results found that drinking and golfing is frowned upon in the UK golf culture.  With the average golfer in the UK consuming less than a beer a round, where in some regions of America, an average of 5 beers a round is consumed.  Of course America has a vast and large diverse population with each state offering it's own unique perspective.  This obviously can vary, but more often than not, drinking is part of golf culture in America.  Where our allies across the pond, are certainly more keen on a sober golf round.  

Competition Tees

Navigating the golf courses in the UK involves being aware of the competition tees, which are typically reserved for club members during tournaments. It is essential to confirm with the pro shop before your game to avoid any breach of golfing etiquette. Respecting these boundaries showcases a golfer's adherence to the traditions and rules that govern this revered sport.  Certainly something that isn't common practice in the USA and can often throw tourists for a loop when approached about playing on the forbidden tee boxes.

Dress Code

Dress codes exhibit marked differences between the two regions. In the UK, golf clubs often uphold a formal dress code, insisting on collared shirts and tailored trousers. In contrast, US courses may allow a more relaxed attire, with a considerable number of courses permitting jeans and t-shirts, promoting a casual and inclusive atmosphere.  While some may not be going full jeans in the USA, it is becoming more common that the dress code isn't as strict in many clubs.  This of course will vary based on the course, but a higher percent of looser restricted golf courses are available to golfers in the USA vs UK.  Some courses in NYC have had players playing in tank tops, we are not far from a more modern golfing experience when it comes to dress codes.

The UK however, is the opposite.  You will find more courses that strictly adhere to more traditional golf dress regulations.  Tucked in shirts, collared shirts, and certainly no tank tops.  This adds to the culture of being more traditionalist as a country overall.  

Course Design

In the realm of course design, the United Kingdom boasts a prestigious reputation for its quintessential links courses and tough course designs (GolfPass blog about stark differences in course design).  Which are prominently characterized by their organic, rugged landscapes that blend seamlessly with the natural elements that surround them. Approximately 40% of golf courses in the UK adhere to this links or coastal style, promising an unparalleled golfing experience that celebrates the raw beauty of nature. Contrarily, the United States holds a distinctive prestige in its painstakingly curated courses. A staggering 75% of these courses, according to 2020 data, fall under the category of parkland courses, meticulously crafted to offer a controlled and well-groomed playing environment. These courses not only present a lush and visually pleasing backdrop but also provide golfers with a highly regulated and manicured terrain, making each game a unique encounter with luxury and precision.  It is well known within the pros that European courses tend to be far harder than American courses.  The UK likes to make sure they mentally challenge you on the golf course!  It won't come easy shooting your best round in the UK.  

Golf Handicap 

The primary discrepancy between the UK and US golf handicap systems lies in the adoption of the Slope System. While widely embraced in the US to adjust player differentials across varying course difficulties, it has not been implemented in the UK due to resistance from the English Golf Union. This lack of adoption means that UK golfers playing on more challenging courses have a significant advantage as their handicaps are not adjusted to the level of the course's difficulty, giving them an upper hand in competitions against players from the US or those playing on average UK courses.

Furthermore, the UK's Course Rating system, especially for England's links-type courses, might not offer an objective evaluation, potentially underrating them due to a lack of consideration for distinct challenges they present. The USGA Course Rating system, mainly modelled on parkland-type courses, may not adequately assess the unique characteristics of links courses that have pronounced obstacles but lack other elements like trees and water hazards.

Meanwhile, the CONGU handicap system prevalent in the UK operates on a moving average model, altering a player's "Exact Handicap" based on each game's performance, offering a nuanced, albeit more complex, method of handicap management compared to the US system.  Article describing in detail the varying differences in UK vs US handicap system.


As you prepare to traverse the lush greens and undulating fairways in the UK or the USA, embracing the cultural differences can transform your golfing expedition into a memorable adventure. From understanding the subtleties of dress code to indulging in post-game camaraderie, these nuances offer a rich and diversified golfing narrative. Gear up to immerse yourself in the unparalleled golf cultures that the UK and the USA present, promising not just a game, but an experience to cherish. Happy golfing!

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