Feel confident on your first trips to the golf course 

At First Tee, we believe golf is for everyone, but the sport can feel intimidating, especially for families who are new to it. That’s why it’s important to remember, golf is meant to be fun, according to Ali Miller, senior manager of programs training at First Tee.  

Miller grew up learning the game at First Tee – Quad Cities before playing collegiate golf and joining the staff at First Tee headquarters. She played an important role in developing First Tee’s updated curriculum, which was rolled out in 2023. It uses fun golf activities to teach life skills and help kids uncover their values. 

As someone who’s spent lots of time on golf courses – and even trains First Tee coaches – here is her take on the rules of golf. 

Q: How does understanding the basic rules of golf make the sport safer and more enjoyable? 

A: Knowing the basics makes golf more enjoyable because it’s a little less intimidating when you feel like you know what’s going on. In golf there are written and unwritten rules. The best way to get comfortable is to be around the game, be on the golf course and play with people who are more experienced – like a First Tee coach, or an older participant in the program. Some rules are also important for golf course safety, like out of bounds. It usually indicates areas you don’t want to go, and it’s safer to avoid them.  

It takes exposure to the game to get comfortable with the official rules, however the sport can be enjoyed using intuitive etiquette, like taking turns and not distracting people when they are swinging. At First Tee we believe it’s so important that the rules of golf aren’t a barrier to entry. Remember most people are happy to help guide you or your child, whether it’s a First Tee coach, a PGA or LPGA professional or golf course staff. Most golfers can remember a time they didn’t know a rule, and someone helped them, so they want to pay it forward. 

Interestingly enough, many of the rules are designed to help level the playing field and allow for people with different abilities to still enjoy playing and competing together.  

Q: How do you balance having fun when you’re learning a new game? 

A: Golf is a very social game. The fun part is being outside and walking and talking with your friends – and hopefully hitting some good shots along the way. I would focus on that aspect when your child is starting out. If they’re out there playing with friends, they should be having fun while also learning about the game and understanding the rules as they spend more time with the sport. If they make a mistake on the rules, it’s not a big issue.  

We invite parents to become familiar with scoring basics – like in any sport – as we encourage it for all age groups. Of course, some younger players might not be able to do it on their own and that’s OK too. Additionally, First Tee coaches are trained to coach different ages, and we recommend shorter holes for younger kids. For example, for kids under 9, we suggest 25 yards for a Par 3 or 50 yards for a Par 4, which just means teeing off a little further down the fairway. These kinds of adaptations help kids enjoy the game. 

If you’ve ever played golf, you know it’s tough if you take it or yourself too seriously! It takes lots of work to become a scratch golfer, and new golfers shouldn’t compare themselves to experienced players. That’s where the concept of Personal Par comes in. We encourage kids to focus on achieving their personal best, which helps them stay positive. Golf – like life – is a journey.  

If your child advances or wants to play competitively, there’s always someone around to help. It can feel intimidating to ask, but that’s what rules officials and tournament staff are there for. It’s funny, when I was playing competitively, my dad didn’t know the rules well, and he always thought I scored way better than I did. But I just remember he was out there supporting me, and that was the important thing. 

Q: What should new golfers know? 

A: In a perfect world, you or your child should try to be on time for a tee time. It’s an unwritten rule that you should aim to be 10 minutes early. It helps you calm the nerves on the first tee and obviously is considerate to other golfers. 

Other rules that come up often include out-of-bounds and losing your ball. In these cases, you can typically either take a one-stroke penalty and retry the shot or take a two-stroke penalty and play from the edge of the fairway near where your ball landed. Try not to play someone else’s ball, which is why you’ll see professional players put markings on their golf balls to identify them. First Tee’s app has great, kid-friendly helpful lessons on many of these rules. 

That said, I think new golfers should know we’ve all been in their shoes. So our primary rule at First Tee is have fun and be safe. Be yourself and don’t be afraid to ask questions. We want you to be on the course! 

Q: You just alluded to the fact that golf courses are shared spaces. How does following the rules help ensure everyone enjoys their round? 

A: Most golf courses will indicate the pace at which they expect golfers to finish 9 or 18 holes. Keeping up that pace and following out-of-bounds rules are important to ensure everyone has a fun and safe round. A lot of golf courses have homes on them, so out-of-bounds rules can protect golfers and homeowners.  

For new golfers, it can feel intimidating to have a fast group right behind you. The etiquette here would be to pause and let them play through. 

Q: What should you do if you make a mistake? 

A: First, remember it’s normal and OK. If you’re playing with friends, own up to it and learn from it. If you’re playing in a tournament, there can be other consequences, but in most cases, golfers are given an opportunity to fix their mistakes.  

The USGA is a Founding Partner of First Tee and they publish a rulebook each year and even offers a junior version in comic book form.  

Q: How can learning the rules of golf help a child off the course? 

A: Golf is a lot like life, right? Sometimes you need to ask for help. At First Tee, we believe mentorship is a powerful tool, and we hope our participants have coaches they can turn to on and off the golf course. On the golf course, there are usually officials around, but it’s a big place. Sometimes you might need to call a penalty on yourself, take responsibility and record your score accurately. 

Having to react to unexpected situations or recover their composure after a bad shot on the golf course can prepare kids to do the same in life. Golf is a fun and engaging activity that provides challenges, requires commitment and effort over time, but is so worth it. It’s a lifelong sport available for people with all abilities.  Learn more about how to get involved.