Ultimate Guide To Golf For Beginners
Those that have been bitten by the golf bug know that few other hobbies can hold a candle to the tradition, honor, and pure pleasure that the game can offer all those who are willing to give the wee hours of their Saturday mornings to it.
For as great a sport as golf is, the learning curve can be pretty substantial. There are a lot of terms to learn, things to buy, and of course, techniques to master. If you are new to the game and struggling, fear not! We are here to help. Read on to for your ultimate guide to golf for beginners!
Choosing Your Clubs
Before you can do anything else, the first thing you will need to cross off your to do list isto buy a set of clubs. If you ever stepped into a golf shop, you are well aware of the fact that this is easier said than done.
To start, the options for buying new clubs are almost endless. If you aren’t familiar with the sport, you probably aren’t going to know where to start, and once you actually start taking a serious look at clubs, you are sure to notice the price tag. Spoiler alert: It’s usually significantly more substantial than you would like it to be.
To help you begin what can at times be something of a stressful process, we have assembled a few buying considerations that will help you in your journey. Let’s have a look.
First, Do I Really Need A Full Set?
Really good question. A full set encompasses fourteen clubs, which can certainly seem like a lot when you are first starting out. The fourteen clubs are designed to make sure you have the option to hit any shot you might need on the course, but when you are just beginning, and can barely even get the ball up in the air, it makes sense that that would seem a little superfluous.
If you are just starting out, and you aren’t positive that you are serious about the game, you don’t need fourteen clubs. You can save a lot of money by purchasing a partial set, or even just picking up a few irons at a bargain bin, at your local used sporting goods store.
On the other hand, if you know that you are serious about golf, buying a full set right out the gate will save you money in the long run.
Either way, here is a list of a few considerations you should make before purchasing your clubs.
- New or Used: The experienced player might shy away from buying used equipment because used can often mean a reduced capacity for spin. If you are a beginner, however, spin is the least of your concerns. Buying a used set is a good way to get good clubs on the cheap
- Forgiveness: There is a lot of equipment out there but for the most part all of it has been traditionally categorized into two sections: players, or game improvement clubs. Players clubs are mostly what the pros play. Don’t waste time looking at them. You want game improvement clubs. They are more forgiving, and they go long and far.
- Price: While a complete set of clubs can easily cost an aggregate three thousand dollars or more, you can get a good first set for under two hundred. How much you spend is up to you, of course, but until you decide you are serious about the game, I would look for a bargain.
That’s all you should worry about for now. Get a set that is forgiving and affordable. Don’t worry about the rest until your game is a little bit more sophisticated.
Golf is very much a game of rules. So much so that the USGA (the sport’s governing body) produces thick book each year jam packed with the things. Are they exciting? Of course not, but you need to know them.
We can’t possibly go over every single rule in this guide-to do so would require hundreds of pages that we just aren’t able to write, but here are a few basic concepts that will help to get you started.
- 14 Clubs: I mentioned earlier that a regulation bag includes fourteen clubs. That’s not just a standard, it’s a pretty strict rule. Playing with more than fourteen clubs results in two penalty strokes per hole, so be careful as you configure your bag.
I should, however, note that this rule applies mostly to the competitive context. Many golfers will play casual rounds with as many clubs as they want to test out equipment and get a feel for what they want in their bag moving forward. That said if you are playing for a tournament, or any other competitive setting, make sure that you club numbers are consistent with the rules.
- Play the Ball as it Lies: If golf has a main rule it would have to be this one. This rule is so important that you will often even hear non-golfers use it to apply to everyday life. The essence of this rule is simple. Where your ball lands is where you hit your next shot from. The penalty for adjusting a lie is two strokes. If you are playing by yourself do you really need to follow this rule to the T?
It depends on your golf goals. If you want to get really good, and maybe even play competitively, then yes you do. Not only does enhancing your lie violate one of the games core rules, it robs you of the opportunity to play from adverse situations. The game is about creativity, and problem-solving so embrace those elements, and try to put on a smile as you punch out of the trees.
- OB: On the course, red stakes generally signify out of bounds. If you hit your ball out of bounds the rules dictate that you must return to the spot that you hit your original shot, and hit again, while taking one penalty stroke. Does it suck? Yeah, it really, really does, but you have to do it.
- Keep an Honest Score: When it comes to golf you are your own referee. That means keeping an honest score. It’s called the gentleman (or woman)’s game for a reason. Be honest, and record your triple bogies as they happen. Lying doesn’t get you anywhere.
Rules and etiquette are not the same thing. While violating a rule can get you disqualified (no one wants that) violating etiquette is just going to get people mad. That is why I have assembled a few ten pole etiquette cornerstones that will help keep you in good favor with other players.
- Uniform: No, there aren’t jerseys but golf does have its own uniform, at least in a manner of speaking. The general rule is to show up in a collared shirt, but at the very least make sure your outfit falls in lie with the course’s dress code requirements. If you don’t you can at best expect a stern talking to, and at worst, you may be asked to leave. Fortunately, the solution is pretty simple. If you don’t know the dress code, the simple solution is to call ahead. Otherwise, you will never go wrong with a collar.
- Make a Tee Time: Making a tee time is for your own good. Really, it’s no different than making a reservation at a restaurant. Just call ahead and the people working in the pro shop will set you up with a time that is as close to what you want as possible. If you don’t take this simple step, you may not get on the course at all, and if you do, it could very well be at the inconvenience of those working the course. Save everyone a headache and call ahead.
- Be on Time: Once you make your tee time, you need to honor it. The worst people in the world are those that show up late, and get mad that there are groups ahead of them. If you can’t make your tee time, call ahead. They will either attempt to give you a new time, or you may have to find a new place to play. Either way, showing up late is disrespectful to both the people in the pro shop and other golfers, so don’t do it.
Let People Play Through
It isn’t fun letting people play through but if you are playing slow, it’s a necessity. What exactly does allowing people to play through entail? It’s simple, really. If you are playing slow, let quicker players go ahead.
This is also a common courtesy to extend to single players if you are in a three or foursome. That said, if you are playing on a course that is jam packed with golfers, you don’t necessarily have to let people play through. If you do, you may wind up there all day, and that just isn’t fair, is it?
Now that you know how to behave on the course we will briefly explain how to keep score. The process is pretty simple actually, which should be a welcome change, right?
Let’s go over some terms to understand.
- Par: Par is the number of strokes that the course designer has decided you should be able to get the ball in the hole in. The typical card will feature a collection of par 3s, 4s, and 5s. Mostly par 4s. If you are just starting out you will mostly want to focus on the next score.
- Bogey: Bogey is one stroke over par (par being the score that we just mentioned). While you are supposed to strive for pars, bogeys are a little bit more realistic, and in fact still a good number in its own right.
If you score a five on a par four, that’s a bogey. If you score a six on a par four, it’s a double bogey. If you score a seven on a par four, it’s a triple bogey. You don’t want to score a six, and you really don’t want to score a seven, but these things do happen. Record it honestly, and try and rebound on the next hole.
- Birdie: You probably aren’t going to encounter any of these for a while, but a birdie happens when you are able to get the ball in the hole in one stroke under par. In other words, a birdie means getting a three on a par four. Unless you have been playing for a long time (and of course working hard on your game) birdies are going to be pretty rare. They are still awesome of course, so relish them when they happen.
- Eagle: If the birdie is rare the eagle is, well, a word that is even more impactful than rare. Eagle is what you get when you record a score that is two strokes under par. That would be a three on a par five. Eagles are really hard to come by. Even pros only make them very rarely, but if you land one, be thrilled, and don’t question it.
- Albatross: I’m going to be bold enough to say that you will never score, see, or hear about an albatross. The albatross is the rarest score in golf and represents when a player is able to finish a hole in three under par. That would be a two on a par five or a one on a par four. Neither happen, ever really, but nevertheless, the term albatross is at the very least an interesting bit of trivia for you.
- Hole in One: The hole in one is golf’s holy grail. Technically speaking it is actually an eagle, but it is also much rarer and more sacred. The name pretty much says it all. The hole in one occurs when you sink the ball with your tee shot. Few players will ever hit a hole in one. If you get one, enjoy it.
Now that you know a little bit about how to keep score, let’s contextualize that information with an explanation of the course layout.
The course lay out is relatively simple. While every course is unique, they all more or less consist of the same components: par 3s, par 4s, par 5s, and a lot of bunkers, water hazards, and of course, the classic foe, tree lines, to keep the game from getting too easy.
To explain briefly, the par three is any hole that plays at two hundred yards or less, the par 4 typically constitutes anything above two hundred, to anything below five hundred, and the par five describes anything that is five hundred yards or more.
There is also a recent trend of labeling holes par 6s, (which helps keep your score in relation to par lower on particularly long holes) but it hasn’t gained much traction yet.
The course designers decide the par of a hole by considering how many shots it should take you to get to the green. For instance, in the case of the par three, the course designer has decided that you should need one shot to get to the green, and then two putts to get the ball in the hole.
While the logic is sound, few players are able to consistently achieve these results, especially when new to the game.
The sand trap is one of golf’s more notoriously frustrating hazards. While there is no penalty shot attached with hitting your ball in the trap, if you don’t have the technique down right, you are going to lose plenty of strokes to the sand.
To start, there are two different types of sand traps that you will encounter on the course: the fairway bunker, and the greenside trap.
While the fairway bunker may be the most intimidating it actually is a relatively simple shot to hit. The swing is the same as you always do, but there is a much higher premium placed on hitting the ball first. If you are able to pick the ball clean from its lie in the trap, you will be back in business.
The greenside bunker shot requires a little bit more finesse. The problem is that getting a ball out of the sand and having it land softly on the green requires a lot of clubhead speed, but of course given your proximity to the hole, that’s not really appropriate.
That is where the bunker shot technique comes in to play. To perform this shot open both the club face of your wedge, and your stance (by dropping your left foot back a little bit) and try and make contact with the turf about three inches behind your ball.
When you accomplish this, the ball will come you of the trap high and soft, and you will be in good shape, but there is a pretty steep learning curve so be sure to take the time to practice.
It is also important to note that it is against the rules to allow your club head to make contact with the sand before you actually hit the shot. The idea behind the rule is that touching the turf gives players the opportunity to get a feel for how the sad is playing—whether it is firm, or fluffy. Personally, I don’t really see what is wrong with giving us players a little bit of intel, but rules are rules, and this is actually a pretty serious one.
The penalty for grounding your club in a hazard is two strokes, and in fact this rule cost Dustin Johnson the PGA Championship a few years back. In your case, it might just make you lose a bet to your buddies, but either way, don’t risk it.
If you have played any golf at all you are probably well aware of the water hazard. It’s where all your balls end up. When you hit a ball in the water hazard the vast majority of the time it is played as OB, meaning you take your lumps, re-hit from the same spot, and add a penalty stroke to your score.
Sometimes, however, you will see players on tour get a little bit bold, and try and hit their ball out of the hazard. This is only allowed in shallow water, of course, and for amateurs who aren’t playing for millions of dollars, it’s almost never worth it, but just for fun, here’s how it does.
The first thing that you need to do is make sure that there is a safe entry point into the hazard. You can’t go swimming in the golf course’s lake, but if your ball landed in a spot where it is only a couple of inches under water, and you have a natural access point, you may try and take a stance.
Once you determine whether or not it is appropriate to even attempt to address your ball, you should roll up your pant legs (if you are wearing slacks) and take off your shoes and socks. You don’t want to play with wet feet for the rest of your round. After that, you will get into the hazard safely, and set up to your ball the same way you would set up to the bunker shot. The swing is actually the same. Hit behind the ball, and hope that something comes out of it.
Hitting from the water hazard is unpredictable, and not recommended. Still, fans of professional golf may remember Bill Haas’s spectacular shot from the water a few years ago to win the Fed Ex Cup. Others may remember Henrick Stenson stripping down to his underwear to hit from the water. Not recommended.
Just like in the sand, you are not allowed to ground your club when you hit from the water.
How To Swing the Golf Club
Before we get into this next section I should mention that there is no substitution for the helpful eye of a golf professional. That said, I also understand that for reasons of time and money regular golf lessons aren’t feasible for many people.
That being the case, here are a few basic tips for swinging the club to get you started.
First, the Setup
You can’t build a good swing on a bad foundation. Let’s get the setup down before we move on, shall we?
The grip is a basic component of the swing, but it is also pretty crucial to the overall quality of your swing.
To grip the club properly, rest the butt in the palm of your left hand so that it ascends vertically up your fingers. Close your fingers around the grip so that the V of the space between your thumb and index fingers that points to your right shoulder.
Next, rest the palm of your right hand over the butt of the club so that it rests on your thumb pad, again with the shaft ascending up your fingers. The space between your thumb and index should again make a V pointing to your right shoulder.
The best way to ensure that you are gripping the club correctly is to check that the Vs are pointing appropriately.
Like the grip, the stance is pretty simple but it’s also an area in which many golfers let themselves get lazy. Do not let yourself get lazy. To address the ball properly set up so that your feet are parallel and a shoulder length apart. Spread your weight evenly between both feet, and stand so that the ball is in the center of your stance.
And that’s it! How far you stand from the ball is relative to your height, and swing plane, neither of which you can really control. You will get comfortable with that as you practice.
Perfecting your back swing is going to take years, but there are nevertheless some fundamentals that you can apply that will help get you started. Let’s take a look.
Step 1: Start Slow
The backswing is supposed to take three times as long as the downswing so there is no rush. In fact, a common mistake that a lot of struggling amateurs make is to start their backswing too quickly and lose a lot of momentum on the down swing.
Don’t waste momentum. Take the club back smoothly, keeping your right arm straight as you do. If you have an upright swing plane, the club will end up with the shaft parallel to the ground, just over the shoulders at the top of the upswing.
If you have a flatter swing plane the upswing will end with the shaft just right of your shoulders, still parallel to the ground.
There are pros and cons to both swing planes, but they usually occur naturally, so you don’t have to worry too much about that.
Step 2: Wind Up
You get power in your swing both from your body and your arms. In order to maximize distance, you will have to incorporate a fluid coil into your backswing. It’s also very simple and subtle. Simply turn gently starting with your hips and continuing up to your shoulders.
Step 3: Stop at the Top
Again, the swing ends when the shaft of your club is parallel to the ground. It then transitions smoothing into the downswing, a process we will now cover.
Step 1: Uncoil
The downswing essentially reverses what you have done on the backswing. Your arms will retrace the path that they took on the upswing, and meanwhile, our hips will start to turn through the ball, followed by the rest of your body.
Step 2: Keep Your Tempo
Just because the backswing is should be slow doesn’t mean that the downswing needs to be super fast. In fact, many golfers find trouble when they deliberately start trying to swing hard.
You do need clubhead speed in order to get distance, but the best way to do this isn’t to swing in a way that compromises the stability of your set up or the quality of your shots.
Swing down smoothly so that your clubhead gains momentum until it reaches its maximum velocity at the point of impact. That way you will get the most distance possible while still maintaining a sustainable swing.
Step 3: Follow Thru
Your swing ends when the velocity of your clubhead brings you to finish. The finish is a naturally occurring aspect of the swing that is unique to each player. Just allow the acceleration of your club to continue naturally, and you will have your follow thru.
It’s worth noting that for particular shots (usually when you are trying to keep the ball low) you may suppress the length of your follow thru, but as a general rule, just let it unfold naturally.
How To Read Greens
Green reading is one of the most important aspects of the game, and the good news is that, while not everyone can hit a three hundred yard drive, everyone can get good on the greens. It requires a lot of practice, hard work, and of course, skills at green reading. Let’s take a look.
Step 1: Start Behind the Ball
Reading the green starts with putting some distance between yourself and the ball. Step a few feet back so that you are able to take a good look at which way the green is sloping in relation to the cup. The slope will help determine how you should aim your putt, so pay very close attention.
A lot of players will also then crouch to get a better look at their line. There are a lot of ways to survey the scene, you just have to choose the one that feels the most comfortable to you.
Step 2: Uphill or Downhill
Obviously, it will make a big difference if your putt is uphill or downhill. For one thing, a downhill putt is going to roll a lot faster than an uphill or flat putt. The downhill putt is also going to break a little bit less because of how fast the ball will be moving.
Conversely, uphill putts will break a lot more because they travel at a slower pace. Factor that in as you set up to your putt.
Step 3: Line
Your line is where you aim the ball. You select your line by taking into account the above-mentioned factors. After you have determined where you should aim, take a little bit of time to make sure that the turf is in good quality. Bumps, leaves, and other obstructions can turn an otherwise well-struck putt, into a disaster.
If you cannot fix a particular line, consider adjusting your speed ever so slightly, and altering your aim. Once you have chosen where to aim the ball, all that is left is to hit your putt and hope for the best.
Putting and the short game are arguably the two most important elements of the game. At the very least they are where you save the most strokes so you will want to make sure that you are well practiced in both.
The Pitch Shot
The short game is anything within fifty yards of the hole. For the longer shots you are really just going to want to practice. Get familiar with your wedges and figure out which club is best to land the ball softly from that distance. A lot of players favor the sixty=degree wedge for these shots but to each their own.
The Chip Shot
The chip shot occurs a lot closer to the green and is in many ways a lot like putting. In fact, to practice shot you should set up on the fringe of the green and hit pseudo putt shots with a variety of clubs in your bag. A lot of people will use anything from the seven iron to the sixty degree wedge. For closer chips, you may want to use a club with a higher loft, while longer chips may benefit from a lower loft.
The Bunker Shot
You’ll recall that we already addressed the mechanics of the bunker shots. To go over them again quickly, just focus on hitting a few inches behind the ball, using a full swing with a wedge that has an open face.
Here are just a few basic tips that will help boost your play a little bit.
- Always Use A Tee: A lot of players will get lazy when it comes to using a tee, usually on par threes where they seem a little more optional.
Don’t be cheap. If you get the opportunity to use a tee take advantage of it. You will make better contact which results in better shots.
- Learn Your Miss: While you are still learning how to play better, you can still work on playing smarter. For instance, if you know that you miss to the right every time, you can start saving a lot of strokes just by aiming a little bit more to the left. It doesn’t matter if the ball slices thirty yards. A hit fairway is a hit fairway.
- Stay Confident: Confidence is king in golf. If you’ve ever watched Tiger roar you should know at least that much. Bobby Jones (founder of the Masters, and one of the greatest players to ever live) once said that golf is a game played in the space between your ears, and I think that advice still holds true today.
Will being confident make you play like Tiger? No, of course not. A good attitude won’t make you better play better than you are otherwise capable of playing, it will simply help you to replicate your best shots more often.
- Check Your Tempo: If you find yourself in a funk one day on the course, and you can’t say for sure why it might be your tempo. It’s an aspect of your game that often gets thrown off when you are frustrated. To fix it, take a moment to center yourself, then take a few practice swings in which you make sure that the backswing is taking three times longer than the down swing.
To accomplish this, some players use a three-word phrase that they think to themselves as they draw the club back. For Jack Nicklaus it was “Low and Slow.” Of course, you can use whatever phrase suits you, though it’s never a bad idea to take a page out of the Golden Bear’s book.
I’m well aware of the fact that most people don’t have a lot of time to dedicate to practicing their golf game. If you can’t practice often, at least you can try to practice smart.
Busting out your driver and senselessly beating thirty or forty balls isn’t going to get you anywhere. Diversify your practice. Start on the practice green by working on green reading, and specifically, hitting some long range putts, some mid-range putts, and finally, the score killing three footers.
Once you have worked through the short game, you can then focus on the longer clubs. Start with the mid irons, and then finish with the driver.
It’s not easy starting out in golf, but if you are willing to put in the time you will find that it is a rewarding game that you can play for your entire life.
Use this guide to help you join the legions of players who are simply in love with the game. When you start making birdies, just remember to float some credit my way.