PGA pro Mark Blakemore defines honor, with respect to golf, as “the privilege of playing first from the tee.” In casual play golfers may choose their own method to determine who tees off first. It may be as simple as allowing the player who is ready first to tee off first. Or a mixed group may permit women to play before the men. In competitive golf, however, the Rules of Golf employs a simple method to determine the order of play off the tee.
The honor on the first tee is determined by the tournament’s draw, pursuant to Rule 10-1a for match play, or 10-2a for stroke play. If there is no draw, the honor is determined by lot. If there are two players, for example, they may flip a coin to decide who tees off first. In a larger group, the players may draw lots, or they may stand in a circle while one player flips a tee in the air, aiming for the middle of the circle. The player nearest to the tee’s pointed end after it lands plays first. The process is repeated until all places have been determined.
Beginning on the second tee, the players’ scores on the previous hole determine the honor for the next hole, with the lower-scoring player hitting first, according to rules 10-1a and 10-2a. Players who shoot the same score on one hole continue to tee off in the same order on the next hole. In match play, the order remains the same when the hole is halved. For example, if the third player to tee off in a foursome birdies the first hole, while the other three players score par, the player who birdied gains the honor for hole No. 2. The other three follow in the same order in which they teed off on the first hole. But the players are permitted to change the order by agreement. USGA Decision 10-1a/3 offers the example of a golfer who wins a hole in match play, but returns to the green to retrieve a club. He offers his opponent the chance to tee off first, to save time. If both players agree, the previous hole’s loser may have the honor.
In match play the hole’s winner always receives the honor on the next tee, even if she won the hole with the aid of a handicap stroke, according to USGA Decision 10-1a/1. In stroke play, if handicap strokes are computed at the end of the match, the players’ actual scores for each hole determine the honor on the next teeing ground, pursuant to Decision 10-2a/1.
After all players have teed off, the golfer whose ball is farthest from the hole plays first. Rule 10-1b for match play and 10-2b for stroke play both add that if two balls are equally far from the hole, or if the players can’t determine which ball is farther, the order of play is determined by lot.