If you ask any one that’s played golf for a few years, they’re sure to tell you that they have a love-hate relationship with the game. When you’re having a good game - there’s nothing better and you’re on top of the world. When you’re having a challenging round - you quickly become irritable and at times can even lose your temper.
And this roller coaster of ups and downs is usually experienced several times throughout the course of an 18 hole round - but therein lies the beauty of the game. Golf is a game that will forever test you for as long as you play and each round you play, will leave you with a craving to get back out on the course and prove to yourself that you can (and will) do better.
If you’re new to golf, some of this may sound vaguely familiar, but here are a few tips that hopefully ensure your positive attitude stays high and only your score stays low:
1 - What to Wear & Why
Gone are the days of flashy sweater vests, pom-pom adorned berets, plaid pants and skin-tight knee-high socks. Whatever classic golf attire you’re picturing in your mind, odds are that it’s a far cry from the athletic, functional and stylish attire of the modern day.
Heavy cotton pants and baggy knitted sweaters have been replaced by light-weight, flexible, slim-fitting pants and breathable, sweat-wicking athletic tee and long sleeve shirts that are as functional as they are fashionable. They allow for a full range of motion in your upper and lower body, as well as keep sweat off of your skin, while quickly drying out any moisture that does accumulate either from sweat or rain.
You’ll also want to make sure that you bring layers to accommodate the variance of weather that can occur over a 5-hour round. A rain jacket, hat, sunscreen, extra pair of socks, sunglasses and a pair of sandals for after your done your round may seem excessive, but we promise you, you’ll be thankful you brought everything on that list!
Last but not least, make sure that you’re either wearing a good pair of golf cleats or at minimum, a comfy pair of running shoes. You want to be focusing on your swing, not the blisters you have growing on your heel and big toe.
2 - How to Prepare For a Round
Before you tee off on the first hole, there are many things you can do to give yourself the best chance at a strong start in golf. To begin, you may want to consider going to a driving range one or two times before you actually play a full round with other people.
Going to the range allows you to practice with all of your clubs, try out a some different approaches to your grip and swing, determine what clubs you feel strongest (and least strongest) using, develop some good habits early via consistent repetition - and do this all without the pressures of teeing off in front of your friends, the starter marshall and other players waiting around at the club house.
You’ll also want to make sure you try to arrive at least 30 mins before your tee time, so you have a chance to check-in, change into your cleats, get your cart if you need to, find the first tee and stretch. The more time you can give yourself to get comfortable on-site at the course, the better you’ll feel as you tee up your first drive.
3 - Rules & Etiquette
Commonly referred to as a gentleman’s (or woman’s) game, etiquette in golf is almost as important as the rules themselves (perhaps more so for a beginner!). While the rules ensure that you keep accurate score and ensure no one has an unfair advantage, golf etiquette is what you’ll find yourself learning early and often - here are few quick tips that will keep you in good graces out on the course:
- First shooter - whoever had the lowest score on the previous hole, tees off first
- Quiet on the tee - no speaking when other players are teeing off
- Furthest shoots first - let whoever is furthest from the whole play their ball first
- Watch the line - don’t step on the area of the green between a players ball and the hole
- Flag maintenance - if you hole your ball first, grab the flag and replace it once everyone’s done
Here are a few common rules that will get you started as well:
- Behind the blocks - you must tee off behind the designated tee blocks or it’s two strokes
- Lost Ball - if you lose your ball, you take a 1-stroke penalty and play a new ball from approximately where the ball was lost
- Cart path - if your ball lands on the cart path, you can move it without a penalty stroke
4 - What clubs should you have in your bag
While there’s no exact answer to this question, a typical set of beginner golf clubs should usually consist of 1-2 woods (usually a driver and 3 or 5 wood), 4-6 irons (usually 6,7,8,9 + wedge and sand wedge) and a putter. You can customize your club set ‘makeup’ from there.
Players will sometimes add hybrid clubs into the mix as well, to bridge the gap between your woods and irons, but until you get more familiar with your own game, they likely won’t add much to your game.
5 - Club Selection & Ball Positioning
Similar to what clubs you should have in your bag, club selection - that is, what club you should choose to hit a particular distance - is relative and depends on each individual player. However, a good baseline for beginner club distance is below (with the caveat that this will vary greatly between every player) and will become increasingly easier to gauge with every round you play:
- Under 75 yds - wedge
- 75-135 yds - 8 or 9 iron
- 135-160 yds - 6 or 7 iron
- 160+ yds - 5 iron, hybrid clubs, 3 or 5 wood
With regards to ball positioning (i.e. where you line the ball up in your stance), the general rule of thumb is, start with the ball inside your front foot when you’re driving and then slowly move the ball back in your stance as you go down in your club length. Again, this will depend on individual preference and comfort.
6 - Basics of the Correct Stance & Grip
Your stance is arguably the most important part of your game, more so than any club or piece of attire could ever be. As with many other aspects of golf, each person's swing will be unique, but there are a few fundamentals that every beginner should follow:
- Start with your feet shoulder-width apart and in a perpendicular line to the target
- Bend your knees at an approximately 45 degree angle
- Keep your front arm as straight as possible
- Keep a slow and controlled backswing (not too slow, more controlled)
- Keep your head down throughout your entire swing
In terms of your grip, (for righties, opposite for lefties) grab the top of the club with your left hand and your left thumb pointed down, interlock your left pointer-finger with your right pinky finger and then grip the club with your right and, also keeping your thumb down. From here, figure out what feels best for you!
7 - Basics of a Full Swing
Your swing is the full back to front motion that you enact once you have settled into your stance and are feeling comfortable with your grip. You should always consider taking a couple of practice swings before the real thing, just to get any cobwebs out (not too many though, you’ll rattle yourself!).
Once you’ve completed your practice swings, settle back into your stance, settle your mind, perhaps do a quick checklist of some of the key things to remember during your swing (i.e. head down, knees bent, etc.), take a deep breath and begin.
Take a slow backswing and shift weight slowly from your front to back foot, which loads up your power. Lift the club to where it feels natural and you’re still able to keep your front arm straight. Then begin the downswing, shift your weight from back to front foot and follow all the way through.
8 - Chipping & Putting 101
As the saying goes ‘drive for show, putt (and chip) for dough!’ - and the reason it’s not the other way around is that your short game has the potential to make or break your scorecard.
When you’re chipping, it’s all about feel and follow-through. The shorter the distance your chipping, the more you’ll likely want to choke up on your club to get a better feel for the club. You’ll also want to make sure you do a few practice swings to get the right weight and then ensure you follow through, so you don’t duff your chip.
When putting, you’ll want to first try and determine any breaks (slopes) in the green caused by hills and depressions. You’ll then want to plant your feet shoulder-width apart, line the ball up in the middle of your stance, hang over the ball and create a pendulum-like back to front motion with your arms to ensure you keep your ball on target.
9 - A Good Post-Game Routine
After you’ve putted out on the last hole, shake hands with the other players and tally up your score, it’s good to get into the habit of doing some low-impact stretches to wind down some of the obscure muscle groups you’ve been using. This will ensure less stiffness in the short-term, as well as less injury in the long-term.
You’ll also want to get into the habit of washing your clubs (club heads and grips) every few rounds to ensure you keep your tools sharp for your next surgical round of shots out on the course!
10 - How to play the mental game
Perhaps more so than most sports out there, golf is as much a mental game as it is a physical one. The best players in golf are able to calm their minds before they shoot, block out any distractions around them, remember to go through a mental shot checklist in preparation for every swing and forget about the last bad shot they had.
This might seem easy to do, but even some of the best golfers in the world are routinely foiled by a soft mental game - so make sure you try and stay positive and remain indifferent to the ups and downs out on the course and you’ll be off to a great start!