Famed golfer Jack Nicklaus has a theory about the game he loves so much: "A kid grows up a lot faster on the golf course," he once said. "Golf teaches you how to behave."
"Behaving" on the golf course means following the rules, watching out for others, acting responsibly in your play and taking care of the courses, says Brent Kelley, editor of the About.com golf website.
"I think so much of what constitutes good golf etiquette can be summed up this way: First, do no harm -- not to yourself, your fellow golfers or the golf course," he says. "Always be aware of where your golf buddies are, making sure you can't hit them with a club or ball -- and that you can't be hit."
If your shot goes offline, yell out "Fore!" to alert any golfers who may be endangered by your golf ball, Kelley instructs. "As for the course, always observe cart path rules, always repair your ball marks on the green, and so on. Taking care of the golf courses we play is part of a golfer's responsibility."
"We always try to make sure people fix their ball marks; that's a pretty common courtesy," agrees Jesse Noelke, head golf professional at the Rail Golf Course, which was the former home of the LPGA State Farm Classic. "Also, always rake the bunker out if you hit a shot in there."
Another one of the key tenets of good golf etiquette is maintaining a good pace of play, says Kelley. "A round of golf during which you are spending a lot of time standing around waiting is a real drag," he says. "Don't waste time -- keep the round moving for your benefit and the benefit of other golfers."
"Obviously, the pace of play is important," says Noelke. "Keep up with the group ahead of you. If you start with a group and consistently have people waiting on you, ask them if they would like to play through.
"You also want to be mindful of the people around you," he says. "Don't yell too loudly if you do something exciting. One green might be within 20 yards of the next tee box."
"That's right," says Kelley. "Always be respectful of your fellow golfers when they are trying to execute a shot. You don't want someone talking during your swing or walking through your putting line, so make sure you don't do those things to others.
"There are two other things every golfer should avoid," he says. "Don't be that golfer who tees off from the championship tees but can't break 100. And don't be that golfer who insists on telling his golf buddies what they are doing wrong on every shot."
How much a golfer knows his fellow golfers does make a difference, Kelley notes. "Obviously, if you're playing with good friends, with men or women you've played with for a long time, you know what you can and can't get away with in terms of conversation, needling, giving tips, joking around. But even then -- and especially when you're playing with folks you don't know as well -- always be respectful of your fellow golfers and the golf course."
New golfers should consider learning the etiquette to be just as important as learning the game, Noelke concludes. "If someone is a new golfer who maybe hasn't taken any lessons or really doesn't know much about the game, he or she should go online and look up information on golf etiquette," he says. "If nothing else, it's a good idea to ask a more experienced golfer what to do or what not to do."
And finally, always remember what the famed author, humorist -- and golfer -- Mark Twain said about the great game of golf: "It's good sportsmanship not to pick up lost balls while they are still rolling."