How do you get started with golf? If you’ve never picked up a golf club in your life, the game seems complex and confusing.
It’s not. Like any sport, you need to buy appropriate equipment, learn the moves from a pro, and practice. Do all these, and you’ll soon become proficient.
Today, 1 in 3 Americans participate in golf. Isn’t it time you joined in the fun? Let’s begin with the basics.
Golf courses 101
Knowing the layout of a golf course is fundamental to understanding the game. The basic aim of the game is to hit your golf ball using golf clubs from the teeing ground to the hole (cup) in as few strokes as possible.
Layout of a hole
A standard course has 18 holes. Each hole begins with a teeing ground and ends with the cup. Between the teeing ground and the cup are found the fairway, some rough, and hazards to make the game more difficult, such as bunkers and water features.
The holes are graded into different levels of difficulty based on how many strokes a proficient player should need to get their ball past all the hazards from the teeing ground to the cup. Most golf courses consist of a variety of par-3, par-4, and par-5 holes to provide variety to the game.
The lowest number of strokes required for a hole is 3, and such a hole is referred to as a par-3 hole. The highest is 7 strokes for a par-7 hole. 7-par holes are so rare that they’re only found at 2 courses in the world. The highest number of strokes on most courses is 5 for a par-5 hole.
The layout of a golf course
A well-designed course will have the holes arranged in a loop. The first 9 holes will flow from the clubhouse and return back again. The second 9 holes will flow in a different direction from the clubhouse and back again.
Such looped courses allow players to begin and end their games at a set starting point for convenience. They also allow players to play a quick ½-sized game if they don’t have time for a full game.
Your first golf course
As a beginner, you don’t have to start with a full-sized 18-hole golf course. You will benefit more from starting small. There are beginners’ courses called par-3 courses where every hole is a par-3 hole.
Another choice is an executive course. On an executive course, there are more par-3 holes than on a standard course. The par-4 holes and par-5 holes on an executive course are shorter and easier than on a standard course.
When you first take to a golf course, you don’t have to play full 18-hole games. To start with, just practice playing 3 holes with a friend. As you gain confidence and skill, increase the number of holes you play.
Don’t play your first few games on a complex championship course. Begin on courses that are relatively short, flat, and with relatively few hazards. Once you’ve gained some experience, you can move onto bigger and better things.
If the only course near you is a complex, 18-hole championship course, don’t worry. Many larger courses now offer forward tees. These are teeing grounds better positioned and closer to the cup than the ones golf professionals use. If you use the forward tees on a standard course, it becomes more like a beginners’ course.
Choosing the right golf equipment
Buying the right equipment for you isn’t a simple matter of walking into a golf equipment store and buying the most expensive set of clubs. In fact, those expensive clubs might make it more difficult for you to improve.
Because choosing the right equipment is so important, I’ve written a separate article to cover golf equipment for beginners in detail. But, in brief, you’ll need to buy good quality golf clubs, golf clothes, and a golf bag.
When starting out in golf, the best clubs to buy are those designed for beginners. These have shorter shafts and heads with a larger sole than regular golf clubs. They are designed to make it easier for you to hit the ball in the right direction and with the appropriate amount of power and loft.
Although you’re allowed 14 clubs, to start you only need a driver, a fairway wood, a sand wedge, a pitching wedge, and a putter. These can be supplemented with a 6-iron and an 8-iron.
Older players can also buy clubs specially designed for seniors. It’s important to ensure the clubs you buy are those most likely to help you improve your game.
When choosing clothes to play golf, the first thing you should check is the dress code at your local golf club. You won’t be allowed on the course without appropriate attire.
Traditionally, people wear cotton polo shirts with collars, though sportswear manufacturers now make polo shirts using synthetic fabrics that wick moisture better. Khaki pants are great for playing golf.
When it gets sunny, you’ll need a baseball cap and golf sunglasses to shade your eyes while you play. Fair-skinned folks should apply liberal amounts of sunblock to prevent burns.
If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t disappear when the rain clouds come out, get some waterproof golf clothes, a cloth to wipe your clubs, and maybe an umbrella.
Though you can buy special golf shoes with molded grips or spikes for added traction during a swing, as a beginner you’ll benefit most from a comfortable pair of men’s walking shoes.
Your golf bag should feature dual padded straps for carrying and 5 or 6 pockets for your balls, water bottle, and cell phone. A golf push cart will help you move your bag around the course. And for transportation in your car, consider buying a golf travel case.
Learn how to play
How you learn to play depends on what you want out of the game. If you just want to have fun with friends, there’s no need to go to the time and expense of hiring a pro for top-level coaching. But if you’re serious about golf, you’ll need to spend time and money to get to where you want to be.
Get a teacher
When you first start out, it’s easy to develop bad habits. For that reason, it’s a great idea to get a few introductory lessons from a PGA professional (Professional Golfers’ Association of America).
While it’s important to find an instructor who is experienced and knowledgeable, it’s also essential they’re a good personality fit with you. If you’re ambitious and competitive, you’ll do best with somebody who shares your aims. If you’re more interested in having fun on the fairway, you’d be happier with an instructor who’s more laid back.
The important thing is to feel comfortable with your instructor. That will enable you to enjoy the experience, gain confidence, and improve quicker.
And if you want to hear advice from a wider range of pros, check out Golf Digest online. There you can access videos and articles written by golf professionals that offer advice on the fundamentals of playing the game.
Know your basic shots
When playing golf, you’ll come across many unique situations. However, there are certain shots you’ll play almost every single round. You’ll always have to tee off. You’ll frequently have to get out of a bunker. And you’ll almost always have to take short shots around the green.
The first shot you take with your driver (the tee shot or drive) is arguably the most important shot. Experienced golfers can send their ball from the tee to the green with a well-played shot. And a hole-in-one is not impossible.
For a successful opening shot:
- ensure you’re properly warmed up before going into action
- Tee your ball as high as possible
- Pull your club back smoothly and completely turn your body so your back faces the target
- Aim to swing through the ball, and
- Follow through on your swing so you finish in balance.
One practical aid you can use to help you achieve the perfect drive is a golf rangefinder. This handy device tells you exactly how far away the pin is so that you can adjust the power of your swing to match.
Getting out of a bunker
This is unarguably the most frustrating shot. The key thing to remember is that you’re not aiming to hit your ball with the sand wedge. Instead, you’re hitting the sand, and the sand pushes the ball out of the bunker.
To escape that bunker:
- Stand so your front foot is level with the ball
- Press your feet into the sand for traction
- Aim for a spot 2” beyond the ball
- Pull your sand wedge back halfway
- Swing through the ball, and
- Twist your body as you swing so you end up facing the target.
When you’re close to the green, you’ll use either pitch shots or chips shots. Pitch shots fly high. This height means your ball lands softer and stops faster. Pitch shots are used to clear obstacles, like bunkers or rough ground.
Chip shots are low, so your ball rolls along the ground. You’ll use these when you’re close to the hole and there are no obstacles in the way.
Before practicing, it’s a good idea to warm up. It’s best to warm up with short shots and half swings with your putter and wedges, then build up to full swings with your woods.
During a game of golf, half your strokes are within 150 feet of the green. While everybody loves to practice powerful, long shots, it’s important not to neglect the short shots that lead to getting your ball into the hole.
Practicing the short shots helps improve your accuracy, and you can practice in your own back yard. If you purchase a suitable golf simulator, you can even practice indoor.
Know the basic rules
Like any sport with a long history, golf has a lot of rules the average player doesn’t even know. In fact, the Official Guide to the Rules of Golf is over 500 pages long!
Fortunately, you don’t need to know all those rules to enjoy a game. Here are 3 rules you must know.
Don’t move your ball
Generally, you should only touch your ball with your club except for placing it on the tee to begin a hole and scooping it out of a cup at the end of a hole.
Don’t dally over lost balls
Only spend 5 minutes maximum looking for a lost ball. After this, take a 1-stroke penalty and play your next shot from the last spot you played from (as close as you can determine).
If your shot goes out of bounds by leaving the course, or it lands in a water hazard, then you must replay the shot. You add a 1-stroke penalty to your score sheet and play your next stroke from the last place you played from.
When your boss’ boss or an important client invites you for a round of golf, you don’t want to embarrass yourself. So, it’s a good idea to understand basic golf etiquette.
A round of 18 holes should take less than 4½ hours. When you’re a novice, it can take longer. For experienced players, it’s tedious to be kept waiting by somebody who takes 10 strokes on the first par-3 hole.
Be honest with your fellow players. Explain you’re new to the game and suggest a maximum number of strokes you’ll attempt on each hole. When you’ve exceeded your maximum, pick up your ball and move onto the next hole.
Of course, this disqualifies you from the game. But it keeps your fellow players happy and stops you from looking bad.
When your shot looks like it could hit somebody, yell, “Fore!” You might be embarrassed shouting, but it’s better than seriously injuring another player.
Usually, the person who completed the previous hole first tees off first at the next hole. After teeing off, it’s the person furthest from the cup who takes the first shot. Traditionally, the person closest to the cup becomes responsible for removing the flag from the hole for the final shots and replacing it before you move on.
Maintain the grounds
If your energetic shot raises a divot (a piece of turf) then carefully place it back and firmly press it into place with your heel. If using a golf cart, try to keep it on the paths. Don’t drive a cart onto the green.
Watch where you’re standing
Use your common sense. If somebody is swinging a metal stick, you don’t want to be too close to the action. Also, you don’t want a ball flying at you at 200 mph, so stay behind the person playing a shot.
And when you’re the one taking a shot, be observant. Don’t swing your club if there’s somebody standing too close to you, and don’t hit the ball forward if there’s somebody standing directly between you and the cup.
Get fit for golf
You might not associate golf with athletics, but it is a physical sport. Professionals who can drive a hole in 1 or 2 strokes can do this because their bodies are trained to do so. They have stable spines, flexible hamstrings, and strong hip muscles.
Train your golfing muscles
The muscles important to your golf swing are located under your chest and above your knees. If you include these muscles in your regular weight-training schedule, you’ll improve your swing.
Dynamic stretches can prepare your muscles for your swing. Just kicking your leg back and forth 10 times can improve your stance.
Unless you have good reason to ride in a golf cart, walk. Walking will help you keep fit.
Staying hydrated is always important, but it’s especially so when you’re walking across exposed grass under the midday sun.
Have fun with your kids
Golf is a fun game to share with your older children. Get them involved at an early age, and they could grow up to become the next Annika Sörenstam or Tiger Woods.
If you want to get your children interested in golf, but they’re too young for the discipline of the game, consider a fun alternative like disc golf.
Over to you
You now know everything you need to about getting started with golf. From here, you need to put this knowledge into practical action.
Golf can be a fulfilling and fun game for all the family. In certain career paths, it can boost your employment opportunities and improve client relationships.
Whatever your reason for taking up golf, I hope you have fun!