'Honors' in Golf: What 'Having the Honor' Means

In golf, the honor, or "having the honor," refers to who tees off first on a hole. If you are the golfer in a match, in a competition or just among your group of buddies who, on a given hole, gets to hit the first drive, you "have the honor" or "have the honors" on that hole. That is the gist of it — the golfer who has the right to tee off first has the honor — but we'll go a little more in-depth, including into how it is determined to whom "the honor" belongs.

First, note that the term can be singular (the honor) or plural (having the honors); both are fine, and interchangeable. Also not that the term originated in the U.K., where it is spelled "honour."

'Honor' in the Rule Book, and Determining Who Has It

In the official Rules of Golf, "honor" is defined very simply as "the right of a player to play first from the teeing area."

So honor is about the order of play on a golf hole — the order in which golfers take turns playing strokes. Honors are addressed in Rule 6, which is titled "Playing a Hole," and, more specifically, under Rule 6.4, titled "Order of Play When Playing a Hole." That rule begins by stating "The order of play from the teeing area depends on who has the honour." (Our citations, in order keep things simpler, are all from the condensed Players Edition of the Official Rules of Golf.)

In both match play and stroke play, the honor on the first tee is determined either randomly (e.g., drawing lots, flipping a coin) or by mutual agreement among players ("go ahead, if you're ready you can tee off first").

But from the second through the 18th holes, honor is based on the outcome of the previous hole. And this is the way it works: The golfer who had the lowest score on the preceding hole tees off first. The golfer with the second-lowest score on the preceding holes tees off second. And so on.

What about ties? In match play, the rule book states, "If the hole was tied, the player with the honour at the previous teeing area keeps it."

In the event of ties in stroke play, the rule book says, "If two or more players have the same score at a hole, they should play in the same order as at the previous teeing area."

Let's say on Hole 2, Golfer A makes 3, Golfer B scores 4 and Golfer C scores 5. Therefore, on the third hole, A tees off first, B second and C third. On the third hole, A makes 5, B scores 4 and C scores 4. Who tees off first on the fourth hole? In this example, Golfer B does. B and C tied for low score on the third hole with a four, but B had a lower score than C on the second hole, which gives B the honor in the case of their tie on Hole 3.

Also note that in stroke play, honor is based on gross scores even if handicaps are being used. In a handicap competition, net scores would determine the overall outcome, but gross scores still determine who has the honor on each tee.

In stroke play, golfers in a group can agree to play "ready golf." As it relates to having the honor on the tee, that means that golfers can tee off in order of readiness to play, rather than strictly adhering to honors, if all agree to do so.

Consult Rule 6.4 in the Official Rules of Golf for full details about the regulations around "having the honor."

How Old is 'Honor' as a Golf Term?

Very old. The Historical Dictionary of Golfing Terms (affiliate link) defines "honor" as "the privilege of driving off first from the tee, usually assigned at the first hole by lot, and thereafter belonging to the winner of each previous hole."

The earliest citation that reference books includes for "honor" is from an 1862 book. But the use of honor in its golf sense goes back much earlier than that. Just how far back is uncertain, but decades, at least — probably into the 1700s.

It's easy to understand why "having the honor" would develop very early in the game's history as a golf expression. Just picture four early, Scottish golfers out on the links with a little money riding on the game, and getting into an argument over which one of them gets to tee off first on the next hole.

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