How to Introduce Dog Golfing to Your Club

Dogs for Good charity event

If you are a dog-lover and your club does not allow them, what is the best way to introduce them? Despite the popularity of our canine friends who we love having at our side at all times, one time they are regularly unwelcome is playing a round. Which is ironic because as much as we love the game, one could argue that most dogs would love a 4 hour walk with their human even more.

Playing a round with your dog in tow is an ancient and hallowed tradition in the sport of golf.  Golf was originally a sport of gentlemen who shot birds in the winter and “birdies” in the summer…and they were accompanied by their trusty hounds during both.  Britain (especially the home of golf, Scotland) is the most dog friendly golfing nation in the world with over 500 courses that welcome dogs, including some of the most prestigious ones like St. Andrews, Muirfield, Sunningdale and Wentworth.  And yet, despite all of the heritage and popularity, the vast majority of courses still prohibit dogs. Only about 25% in the UK are dog-friendly and golfing with dogs in the USA is rarer than a par 3 albatross). 

Here are three progressive steps that you and your club can take to breakdown the barriers to dogs on the fairways:

  1. Charity Event – The best place to start is to propose a charity event (ideally benefitting a dog related organization like Battersea Dog’s Home, Hounds for Heroes or RSPCA).  The event would require all competitors to bring a dog along.  Extra fun with forfeits for misbehaving dogs (e.g. barking at inappropriate times, stepping on the greens, etc).
  2. Special Time Slot – Assuming everyone has a delightful time at the event and the dogs are better behaved than expected, the next step is to propose a special time slot (probably the period with lowest usage) when dogs could be allowed.  Of course, the period should be accompanied by strict rules (no dogs on greens, all waste picked up, dogs on leads and under control, courtesy to other members).
  3. Restricted Access – If the restricted time slots goes well, then you are in a position to propose expanding the hours that dogs are allowed while maintaining a number of provisos to keep everyone happy.
  4. One critical negotiation tactic is to propose that any venture into dog friendliness be “trialed” for a set period.  This approach is the best way to overcome imagined and speculative trepidations (e.g.  My experience is that once properly experienced, the dog lovers appreciate it even more than they thought they would and the non-dog lovers are less bothered than they anticipated (or at least the objections that they raised are less substantiated by actual practice).

Dog ownership has grown by over 10% during the pandemic, with 34% of households now having a dog.  The “Dog Whisperer” Caesar Millan preaches that the most important aspect to a dog’s happiness and good behaviour is adequate exercise.  And a 4-hour walk is most dogs’ dream.  Then, even if you have a terrible round, at least you have the silver lining of having given the dog a great walk.

Lorne Smith (Fine Golf) Interview

Fine Golf Lone Smith

I’ve featured the superlative golfing site Fine Golf (which was both inspirational and helpful in my starting Dog Golf UK), and recently honoured its distinguished canine pioneer, Dexter, but I had not yet had a chance to sit down with Finbe Golf’s founder and leading contributor Lorne Smith. Lorne kindly agreed to an exclusive Dog Golf UK interview where he provided an authoritative and inspiring insight in the joy of golfing with dogs:

  • What was the first course you golfed with a dog?Northamptonshire County GC, my home club, was where I trialed Dexter on a golf course. Initially, this was on a lead and then, as he became trained not to ‘run-in’, to save the secretary embarrassment when out of sight of the clubhouse I would wind his lead around his neck so he was still ‘on the lead’ to keep within the Club’s regulations while being free to roam as I allowed. This worked well for ten years as the golfers who I played with all appreciated having Dexter around. He, being so well behaved, never distracted anybody and indeed added to the relaxed social occasion.
  • What gave you the idea to bring along your dog?My wife acquired Dexter as a puppy and quickly I saw that he was biddable and wanted to please. I then went to gundog training sessions and competed with him for four years in gundog tests around the UK. As part of that he needed to become ‘steady’ on game and not run-in on them, so coming on the golf course where there are squirrels, pheasants, and hares he learnt to leave them alone. This of course helps instill steadiness when in a sheep field and makes walking in the countryside so much more enjoyable, allowing the dog off the lead knowing he will return when called by the whistle.
  • What were your biggest challenges at first?Steadiness and coming back on the whistle. Labradors require a leader figure and want to please them. Even if your children, without knowing and just for fun, ‘spoil’ them by throwing sticks for chasing etc, he knew that when he was with me on a golf course he is working with me and there is an invisible bond between us. Between the tee, where he would sit to my front side (not behind, in case he moved and was caught by my backswing, as I have seen happen with another dog that incurred a severe headache) and the green, where he would sit to one side, waiting for everybody to putt out, he would often walk down the outside of the rough, if not walking with me. He appreciated that freedom so when I whistled him back in he would obey. The best trained dogs are not automatons, their natural instincts that have been bred in over the years supply their confidence.
  • What do you observe as the most common mistake dog golfers make?Dogs should not be allowed on a green, not that they will harm it, it is simply a matter of discipline. Actually, that is not totally true as Dexter without any encouragement used to always come in among the golfers when they were shaking hands at the end of a game whether that was a green out in the country or on the eighteenth. It was as though he was saying ‘I have been part of this social occasion and I also want to thank you for having me’. Unfortunately, on one occasion in front of the clubhouse it gave an opportunity to a dog hater to come outside and try to admonish me for allowing my dog on the green. The fellow received a sensible telling-off from my three golfing partners.
  • What was Dexter’s favourite course that he walked?I do not think it made much difference as he was not really interested in the game. On courses where dogs were off the lead he enjoyed going over and saying hello to other dogs but again he always returned when called.
  • Did Dexter have any special tricks he could do on the course?To show his skills off to golfing partners I would sometimes drop a tennis ball in the rough without Dexter seeing it and after walking on would send him for it, giving hand signals to guide him to the place, before he successfully retrieved it to me. If I asked him to hunt for a golf ball during a social game to help another player he would invariably find it though I did not ask him often as he might then get the idea it was OK to generally pick balls. There was an occasion, mentioned in his obituary, when on the Struie at Dornoch a player’s ball was hit on to an island and we could not get it. I sent Dexter over the pond and asked him to look for it. When standing over the ball he looked at me for instruction and then came back with it. Most summers after that he would go for a swim on that hole to cool off. One strange activity that Dexter did towards the second half of his life was pull prickly burrs from plants and then spit them out as he shook his head before pulling another until they all were on the ground in front of him. I have never heard of any other dog doing this. I don’t think using human psychology will ever determine the reason (see video below).
  • What is the biggest misconception about golfing with your dog?They must be under your control; it is not just a dog walk. As the handler, one must always remember the others one is playing with and not allow the dog to in any way interfere. This is actually a quite stressful aspect and one day when somebody asked me on the first tee how many extra stokes I would give them for my dog putting them off, I replied that that it was he who should be giving me strokes for the time I would spend concentrating on Dexter! A relationship with a dog has to have respect on both sides. I suppose this is easier to appreciate in a working dog, as Dexter was. On the shooting field when rough shooting, the ultimate type of shooting, the handler, depending on the intelligence of the dog, its level of training and its experience, will rely on the dog’s incredibly sensitive nose and allow it to hunt with all of the out of control possibilities that permits. However, the dog relies on the handler to take account of the direction of the wind to come up on where the game are likely to be, from downwind. The dual skill is to put up game within shooting distance and then retrieve, even from across a river.

After the interview, Lorne shared these added kind words about Dexter and Dog Golf UK:

  • “Dexter was quite a dog in his beauty, his long legs, his temperament, and his achievements in both shooting and golf and four years on a lump still catches when I am reminded of him. I hope others who knew him will be enriched also by reading this interview and I thank you Bruce for your love of golfing dogs and the work you have done to help increase the knowledge of which courses will welcome golfers with their dogs.”

Dexter picture

How To Play A Round With Your Dog

I was at first delighted to find this video posted by the prominent golfing website, – “How to Play a Round with Your Dog”. The tone was enthusiastically supportive of dog golf and it hailed from the USA where allowing dogs on the course is very rare. Unfortunately, the well-intended piece to camera was just filled with lots of misinformation that I had to correct so that misunderstandings would not put people off dogs joining their persons for a round. I thought the most effective format to do this in was a “reaction” video (posted above), but I’ve also included a crib notes below:

  • ”This is everything you should know about playing golf with your dog.” – Well, not really. Lots of important stuff missing (like keeping them off the greens), but hey, still a good start.
  • “The first thing you must do is determine if you are playing in the morning or the evening…” – Ahem…not quite. But you do put on the screen the REAL thing that you must do which is…
  • Find a course that allows K-9 Caddies.” – In the USA, this is the hardest part. And while it gets mentioned on the screen, the narrator never actually mentions it (in the UK, no problem at all with !). Unfortunately, he seems to have messed up here because when I contacted Cherry Hills Golf and Lodge to confirm if they allowed dogs, they informed me that dogs were not allowed on the course. <facepalm> But let’s carry on with looking at this well intentioned video…
  • “You’re going to want to keep a leash on your dog for optics reasons at the very least.” – Actually, this is incorrect. Golf courses are very clear about their dog policy which is either (a) “lead required” – which means on the lead attached to the golfer or the trolley at all time, or (b) “under control” – which means that the pretence of dragging a lead on the ground is not required and the dog can move freely as long as the master keeps them behaving according to the strict guidelines.
  • “Start leaving your dog bag in the same spot at the tee box. It will be a bit of a lesson for where your dog can and cannot roam.” – I liked this tip. It is an especially good tip for dog golfers who play the same course all the time.
  • “Perhaps the most important question is ‘Is your dog a chaser?’…Nothing is more important than a tennis ball or a frisbee or anything that can get you a 10 second distraction” – Ignore this advice. It is terrible. The advice is essentially saying, “If your dog can’t control themselves from chasing your golf ball, then pander to them by distracting them with thrown items.” For starters, the players behind you or next to you are not going to be thrilled with you throwing objects around them just to distract your dog while you take even more time to tee off. This advice about “chasers” should read, “If you dog can’t control themselves from chasing the ball, then they should be kept on a secure lead during the entire round to prevent them from doing so.” Period.
  • “She even left her [tennis] ball by a tee box one time.” – Aggh…no! No dogs on any greens. That includes BOTH the hole greens and the tee greens (later at minute 3:00, the video shows the narrator throwing the ball across the tee green so that Jersey tears across it. Bad owner!)
  • You can never pack enough water or treats.” – While our Grace would endorse the latter part of that assertion, the water bit is probably a bit over-stated. Better advice would be something like, “Always make sure you have plenty of water for your dog either from water faucets on the course, accessible water bodies (like water hazards or streams) or bottles carries with you.”
  • “[For water] re-use these lemonade mix cartons. They work pretty well as a water bottle and a dish to drink out of.” – Handy tip for the USA (lemonade mix isn’t a commonly found item in the UK). Not sure that the portion amount for drinking would satisfy Grace.
  • “[Figure out] how to not get to excited about the bunkers.” – Let’s be more explicit here. No dogs in the bunkers ever.

[POSTCRIPT] A few days after this video was released, a follow up written piece was posted to accompany it, “9 Key For Playing Golf With You Dog”

  1. Is your dog a morning caddie, or an evening caddie? – This is a silly, misguided tip. The key tip is “If you concerned about how well your dog might fare, then choose an off-peak playing time.”</style=”color:>
  2. Permission might be easier than you think – Again, the author totally bollixed the permission issue. Frankly, in the USA especially, permission is difficult period. Also, his info on St. Andrew is wrong. St. Andrews has dogs on it *ALL* the time (except competitions).
  3. Leash up! – Per the video commentary, this advice is too simplistic. Either (a) respect the club rules (which may require a leash), or (b) keep your dog under control at all times (and a leash might be needed for some dogs).
  4. Is your dog interested in golf? – Strange tip. Nearly all dogs will relish a long walk with their persons (which is what “golf” is to them). The only real question is whether they can (or want) to behave well enough to do so.
  5. The tennis ball is your lifeline – Worst tip ever. Don’t ever bring a tennis ball (much less throw one) on a a golf course.
  6. The water limit does not exist (and here’s a pro-tip) – Having water is indeed important and the lemonade mix container is cute (for Americans).
  7. Endless treats don’t hurt either – Ok, Grace will not be happy with me if I don’t endorse this one.
  8. Doggy waste is different – Bit of an over-kill tip. The basic tip here is “Pick up after you dog and dispose appropriately”. Period.
  9. Start ‘em young – Yeah, ok. As long and people don’t think that old dogs can’t be taught new fairway tricks. Because they are often more chilled, we find that older dogs actually make better golfing companions.

Good Dog Policy

Good dog policy golf

The primary motivation for created DogGolfUK was the inability for Google to identify which clubs allowed dogs and which didn’t. Most clubs simply don’t have dog protocols noted on their websites.

Actually, many courses don’t have a policy at all! A few times, my enquiries have led to questions being tabled at the subsequent course/club Board meetings in which they decided to allow dogs (often aided by the information on the website).

One club which did post their policy prominently is Niddry Castle (see above).I thought I would share it in the post as a model for any other clubs considering adopting similar dog-friendly stances.

[ADDENDUM] Here is another policy published by the Montecchia golf course in Italy which is quite comprehensive.

Best in Tow

Vintage dog golf

Who’s a good golf dog?

A common reaction we get to Grace on the golf course is, “I would love to take my own dog out on the course, but I know that he/she just wouldn’t behave.” After our last round, as we noted, we went to go see our son’s new pup, a retired greyhound named Bonbon. She was so calm and quiet, but obviously enjoys a bit of exercise, so we thought that she would make an exemplary golfing dog (and we hope to get her on the course some day). It made us a reflect on the question of “what are the key qualities to being a ‘good dog’ on the golf course?”

Many people ask about Grace’s breed thinking since she is such a fine golf partner that others of her type will be the same. Temperaments vary hugely even among dogs of the same breed. And temperament is paramount for being on your best canine behaviour on the course.

That said, Vizslas are great – clean (short-hair), intelligent, affectionate (they will often leave their food to get affection). Their biggest downside is that they require LOTS of exercise. A minimum of an hour off-lead running around and sniffing every day. It is their gluttony for particular desire which led us to dog golfing in the first place. The 7k+ walk just about starts to tire a Vizsla out.

If you are looking for a dog that you might consider taking out on the fairways with you, consider these qualities:

  • Volubility: Quiet Please! Probably the most important aspect of good behaviour is quiet. Golf courses are second only to libraries for their sensitivity to auditory distraction. So dog barking is definitely bang out of order. A few good-natured woofs to great someone, for example, are fine. But a dog who does not control their barking will be as unwelcome as a chatterbox at the tee-off. Frustratingly, how vocal a particular dog is seems to be very intrinsic to their individual nature and is very hard to train (you can train a dog to bark on command, but much hard to get them to *not* bark on command).
  • Energy: The more docile ambler is going to be easier than someone who likes to tear around (Grace definitely channels her inner Labrador in her more placid demeanour, but Rusty was a bit of a speed demon who liked to tear around). But a quite older or heavier dog, might not be up to managing an entire 18 holes.
  • Gregariousness: Golf is a social sport and even outside your playing foursome, golfers are generally congenial and cross paths on the course as balls stray near (or even into) each other’s fairway. A dog that is generally comfortable with strangers will be a much more content companion and also make such serendipitous encounters more enjoyable.
  • Biddability: It’s hard enough to get humans to behave according to the exacting protocol of the golf course, especially around minimising distractions with noise and eye line. Dogs need to follow all of these human rules. Even on a lead, the dog needs to be able to control all barking which would be a real course faux paw. And if you intend going around the “under control” courses without lead, exacting biddability is an imperative.
  • Scent: Of course, bonus fun for you and your pup is finding the ball in the rough. This will require (a) a good scent dog (like a Hunt/Point/Retrieve breed), and (b) extra training to find the scent and to point to it (don’t pick it up!).

You can see why Grace is the “face” of Dog Golf. But Rusty was just as central to our outings (when she was still with us) as she loved the outdoor adventure much more than Grace so she exemplifies the very spirit of dog golf.

Dog Legging It: Dog Friendly Golf Courses in the UK

Rusty and Grace on the fairway

Golf is a good walk spoiled” – H S Scrivener

If aliens saw us walking our dogs and picking up their poop, who would they think is in charge? ” – Anonymous

Why would one want to spoil a walk further by having to cater to a barking, fouling, rampaging mutt? along for the round?

  • TIME – One of the biggest obstacles to golf is time commitment. Absconding from home for 4 hours often doesn’t ingratiate you to the rest of the family. If it means that you can’t help with the dog walking that day, then you are being even more delinquent. A decent dog walk takes an hour for most medium to large breeds. Instead of shirking this chore on golf days, you can actually give Fido a bonus walk. If the family pressures you about another morning on the greens, you have a family ally where you can plead “But Fido loves it so much!”
  • COMPANIONSHIP – We love our dogs. Especially when we are away at work and other commitments, spending time with them outdoors and in the sunshine is one of the very reasons we have them in the first place.
  • DOG CARE – It’s not nice leaving dogs alone in the house for extended periods of time. They have to cross their legs increasingly tighter, get hungrier past dinnertime and tempted into mischief. When we bring our dogs, we can travel further and stay longer (eg. for a drink, dinner, overnight) if we don’t have to worry about the dogs cooped up all day.
  • RETRIEVAL – Many dogs can and have been trained to locate balls in the rough. This saves the golfer time and lost balls. It also speeds the play to everyone’s benefit (searching for lost balls is one of the biggest causes of slow play).

There are about 2,630 golf courses in the UK (according to Wikipedia), but so far I’ve only uncovered just under a hundred that welcome dogs. I suspect there a quite a number that I haven’t ferreted out, but judging on my initial investigation it looks like the total proportion is about a few percent of the total. It does vary by region. Scotland, Cornwall and the Home Counties seem to have a higher proportion (one golf pro friend reckoned as many as 70% of Scottish courses are dog-friendly), but there are virtually none in Ireland.

Not everyone will be thrilled by the inclusion of your pooch in your group. It’s not just fussy conventionalists who don’t like any innovation or change, but many people with very legitimate concerns…

  • FEAR – More people than you would think have a downright phobia of dogs. Even the smaller “cute” ones.
  • ALLERGY – Many people are allergic to dogs and a links encounter could stir a sneezing attack or rash that they would certainly not appreciate during their round.
  • RELIGION – For Muslims, dogs are “unclean” which means if they come into contact with them, they have to go through a rather tedious and inconvenient cleansing.

Nonetheless, a wide range of golf clubs from public courses to the finest in the world embrace dogs with open arms. Sunningdale claims to be the “most dog friendly golf club in the UK” (see video link below). One course, Goodwood, has gone so far as to create a special membership, the “Kennels Dog Membership” just for dogs, with the proceeds going Battersea Dog Home. And the New Zealand Golf Club (in Surrey, not the South Pacific) tells me that “dogs are ‘mandatory’” with only a touch of kidding around (they go on to add “if you don’t have a dog, there are members who will be happy to rent you theirs for the day.”)

Some of the big golf magazines and websites have done articles on the topic of dogs on the course. Here are a few of the better ones I came across which highlight the UK as being a bit more dog-friendly in the golfing world:

  • GOLF DIGEST– “We Double Dog Dare You – Bringing your best friend to the course is the most fun you’ll ever have”: “In the United Kingdom, dogs are more likely to be allowed at old links courses with lots of common walking ground than at newer, inland operations. And not to delve into a subject as thorny as the British class system, but golf dogs tend to have a stronger tradition at clubs established by land-owning families for whom fox hunting was an important pastime. Golf was just something else to do in clever tweed when not busy training champions bred from royal bloodlines.”
  • GOLF ADVISOR– “Let the dogs out, already!”: “Very few public courses in the U.S. allow golfers to bring their dogs along, most likely a result of liability fears and the fact many courses aren’t all that walkable. Golf course superintendents, of course, have energetic sidekicks who chase geese and perform other duties. Courses in the U.K. are generally more welcoming to dogs, especially those historic links courses that double as public park space.”
  • ESPN – “Dogs welcome at Sunningdale

    The dogs get so much pleasure from an 18 hole walkIt’s so much fun playing golf with the dogs.” (thanks Nick Saunders).

Here are a few tips for being a responsible and considerate dog companion player.

  • UNDER CONTROL – Rule #1 is that the dog must be under control at all times. No yelling “Fenton, Fenton…<jc>, Fenton…” if a water fowl, rabbit or squirrel appears. If you are not completely sure about your dog’s biddability in the most tempting situations, then definitely keep them on leads. That said, half the courses require them on leads at all time anyway.
  • GREENS – Dogs are like trolleys…no dogs on the greens.
  • BUNKERS – No dogs in bunkers either.  If they do wander in, be sure to rake out their prints.
  • CLEAN UP – Sort of goes without saying, though some might be tempted by the outdoors context to let some “business” off to the side or out of bounds just remain there. But all it takes is someone seeing you not picking up after your dog from a distance to create the appearance of impropriety for the complaints to come in. Or worse, someone traipsing about looking for their ball to step in a mess to get the complaints to really flooding in.

This post is only talking about the courses. There are also specific rules for dogs in the club houses as well as in the lodging which is sometimes affiliated with the course. The club house restrictions are more manageable (if dogs can’t go in, you can eat at pub down the road), and frankly the lodging tends to be dog friendly anyway.

In the coming weeks, Dog Golf will explore the world of canine clubbing with tips direct from our own two links lassies (Rusty and Grace – see photo at top) as well as helpful interactive information to assist your next outing.

Rory McIlroy with dogs

A few Rory McIlroy fans on the fairway.