Kevin from Florida writes:
I live near a private club and am friends with several of its members, so I end up being invited often. Is there a limit to the number of guest rounds I can play? At some point, it must turn into a bad form, right?
You’ve probably heard of the Jordan Rules, the gruff style of defense the Detroit Pistons employed against Michael Jordan at the height of his basketball prowess. What you may not know is that there was also a Jordan rule in golf. It was established by a private club in Chicago, where Jordan played as a frequent guest, reportedly several times a week.
Because he was Michael Jordan, the members didn’t mind having him around. In fact, they enjoyed it so much that they invited MJ to join. When Jordan turned down the offer and ended up joining another private holdout in the area, the club became less welcoming of him. Its members instituted a Jordan Rule, which limited how often he could play as a guest. Five times a year at most, according to a widely circulated account.
When it comes to Jordan stories, details are known to be embellished. But the broader point is this: some clubs impose an official limit on the number of times you are allowed to play as a guest. What is that limit? Four times a year? Six? Twelve o’clock? It varies.
But even when there is no explicit limit, there is the question of etiquette. And, as you suspect, Kevin, unwritten codes of conduct put a limit on how often you have to show your face.
What is that limit?
It also varies.
Here the etiquette expert must confess that he has faced this very question in his own golfing life, residing as he does near a beautiful private course where he is friends with a handful of members, who often invite him kindly. Being a conscientious fellow, the Tagger politely declines such offers more often than he accepts them. But he still wonders if he’s said “yes” more often than he should.
Where to draw the line?
The best way to start is through an honest conversation with the person who invites you. The Tagger has had this talk with his member friends and they’ve told him everything from, “Don’t worry about it. If it was a problem, I’d let you know” to “As long as you don’t show up more than once a month, that’s fine.” But for the etiquette specialist, that kind of reassurance only goes so far. Then, not long ago, after receiving more than one invite in a span of three months, the Etiquetteist went straight to the club’s professional boss to make sure that if he accepted the offer, he wouldn’t cross the line.
Was getting to the top bad behavior in and of itself? Some might argue that it was. But the Tagger doesn’t think so. He believes that it is better to err on the side of clarity and open communication.
Other basic people skills are also important. How you conduct yourself as a guest will undoubtedly influence how people feel about your presence. It also helps to know how to read a room. Is there someone in the club giving you a dirty look when you arrive? Is the locker room attendant shaking his head and muttering to himself, “Not this guy again!” Ultimately, it is your host’s responsibility to be aware of the club’s guest policies; they are the ones who will get their hands slapped for rape.
Playing golf where you are not entirely welcome is not a way to experience the game. Therefore, pay attention to social cues. If you’re feeling a bad vibe, book a tee time at a local public course. The greens may not be as great, but your round will be stress free.