The gesture known as a "golf clap" fits in with a number of other rude or sarcastic expressions, such as the slow clap, Bronx cheer, raspberry or cat call. It is performed by lightly tapping the fingertips of one hand against the palm of the other hand, thereby creating the effect of spectators clapping silently during a golf game. This gesture is usually considered a form of sarcasm, delivered after a disastrous moment or embarrassing incident has just occurred.
The golf clap really did originate in the golfing world. Spectators were frequently warned not to make loud clapping noises while standing near the players. Loud claps and whistles could also distract players on nearby holes. The original golf clap was developed to give fans a way to express themselves without causing a major disturbance. It is not unusual to hear people clapping this way during television broadcasts of major tournaments.
The use of this gesture away from a golf course, however, is a different story. Some people do use it as a sincere form of quiet appreciation, especially at times when loud clapping is not appropriate, but more often than not it is meant to express sarcasm. After a person slips on the floor and spills his or her entire tray of food, the next thing he or she might see is a group of bystanders offering a golf clap. Essentially, a sarcastic clap is used to provide artificial applause when no such applause is warranted.
Receiving a sarcastic golf clap often adds insult to injury, but sometimes it can help to put the original incident into perspective. The sarcasm can occasionally be skin deep when delivering a golf clap, especially when there is a legitimate need for applause or recognition. A supportive golf clap from a friend might help to take some of the nervous tension out of a solemn or formal ceremony.