If you’re anything like me (I’m really, really sorry), you love golf, and it would be nice if other people loved the game too. We want the game to grow, and if I had a dollar for every poorly written work of fiction on how the game is dying, I could probably afford to go buy a new box of Pro V1X’s (mostly because I don’t read this garbage, and neither should you).
However, if you’ve ever stumbled upon a golf course and seen the looks of sorrow, frustration and agony (and that’s just using the port-o-let…rim shot!), maybe you’ve thought “these people need help” and you wouldn’t be wrong. Or, you thought “you know, I could use something that will take my money and my time, and leave me a complete disaster of a human being” but didn’t feel like heroin was addictive enough for your taste. Worse, you stumbled upon a couple drunks swearing like sailors and mocking each other (otherwise known as the 19th hole) and thought “they look normal…this could be fun!”
Maybe, just maybe, you watched golf on television (remember that brutal weekend when everyone was snowed in a few weeks ago) and thought “wow, they’re outside in the sunshine and they look happy…and that looks like fun” and wondered about taking up the game. That’s lovely what you’re thinking. I can understand it.
Most golf publications have written articles geared towards beginners (yes, there are magazines devoted to golf!), except they’re written by people very much part of the golf industry. The analogy of drug companies peddling drugs isn’t completely off base (they need people to buy their magazines, support their advertisers, and buy golf equipment). These folks are well meaning but honestly, they have long forgot what it’s like to take up the game, and how to speak to someone who wants to join our fraternity of insanity.
Okay, so you’re still reading and aren’t in a coma…so you’ve got that going for you. You want to learn the game. So now what? I’ve tried to spell out my version of a guide to the game for beginners, written for someone who doesn’t care (because I’m not vested if or where you spend your dollars) how you get into the game. I hope you find the game enjoyable, and if this helps, then all the better.
I could joke about having someone come hit you in the head with a tire iron, but frankly that seems cruel.
You’re going to need equipment, lessons, and patience (and alcohol).
If you watch golf on television and don’t fall asleep, you’re what’s known as a captive audience. If you’re watching the commercials during golf telecasts, you’ve noticed that it’s equal parts alcohol, cars, boner pills, and golf equipment (this is not what they mean by Golf’s Grand Slam, if you’re wondering) and ads for whatever company is sponsoring the tournament (if you don’t know, it’s okay- they’ll bring the CEO of the sponsor into the booth where Jim Nantz (Nantz’s safe word may or may not be “Hello Friends”) or Dan Hicks will verbally fellate them). You already have at least one of these things (a car), to play golf you’ll need equipment (and possibly alcohol). I’ll let you fill in your own answer about the boner pills.
Despite what you hear, you do not need the latest and greatest driver technology, and honestly, what kind of idiot spends $500 on a new driver? Clearly, dropping $400 is a much more reasonable and rational decision. Really. I mean, that’s a smart investment! Actually not really. Let’s not judge what someone spends on a new driver…even if that new driver has 12 adjustments (12!) and increased my…I mean someone’s driving distance by 20 yards. You don’t need this. Not right now at least.
You, on the other hand, can buy an entire set of clubs for far less than $500. If i were starting out, I’d look at used equipment. Even the stuff that is 3-4 years old is still relevant in terms of technology for the most part.
Some brands (Wilson, Spalding/Top Flite) even make starter sets that include clubs and a bag. Worth a look.
A limited starter set will include a driver (that club with the giant head), a hybrid club, a few irons, a wedge or two, and a putter which will get you started. They sell mens, womens, and left handed clubs. Left handed women? Clubs are out there but in all honesty it’s not the easiest to find.
There are golf sections in most large sporting goods stores (Sports Authority, Dick’s), golf-specific stores (Golf Galaxy, Golfdom are your options here in the DMV). You can look online, but I’d be careful about e-bay, as a good chunk of the stuff they have are fakes. There is a site (Second Swing) that sells used clubs. There are numerous online shops for golf equipment, but make sure they’re licensed to sell the brands they’re selling (selling cheap, knockoff equipment is more common than you’d think, and like other counterfeiters, the money you give them isn’t exactly supporting the Girl Scouts).
In addition to clubs, you’ll need golf balls. Initially go cheap. There’s no reason to pay $30-$45+ for a dozen balls. Shop around and you can find good quality balls for less than $20 per dozen. A golf glove isn’t a bad thing, but you should buy something synthetic (they will last longer and they’re cheaper).
You’ll need some accessories. Sunscreen, bug spray are absolute must-haves. For sunscreen I’d recommend something that can be sprayed on- I like the Coppertone Sport. Bug spray? Think a spray that has some deet in it. I’d also carry a mosquito bite stick (you can rub it on bites). You’re going to be outside, so don’t be dumb. Protect yourself. A hat isn’t a bad thing, and some people like to wear sunglasses to protect their eyes. You’ll also need some golf tees (cheap), a divot repair tool (a few bucks will get you taken care of), and ball markers. Golf shops sell ball markers, but in all honesty what you probably have on you right now will work just fine (you can put this stuff in a ziploc bag- they can be sealed to keep moisture and other things out; you can buy small ditty bags or, if you’re like me, the Crown Royal pouches are a great and free option). A small coin (penny, nickel, dime, quarter) will suffice (keep a couple just in case). A ziploc bag with a couple band-aids and some antibiotic ointment isn’t a bad thing to have
Golf shoes are a nice thing to have, but a decent pair of running shoes will work in the short run (trail running shoes work great if you have those- I wore a pair several years ago playing a late-day round while walking and carrying my bag and they worked fine even though it was a bit damp and dewy). They should be comfortable above all else. Golf shoes have rubber spikes or are what’s called spikeless (with little rubber nubs). They look more and more like athletic shoes.
You’ll need a golf bag to put all this in. You can buy what’s called a staff bag (the pros use these), a cart bag (best if you’re going to be playing full time in a cart and/or need a lot of storage), or a stand bag (if you’re going to walk and carry your bag this is the way to go). I have a big bag for cart golf that I use, when I travel I have a lighter stand bag that I use because of airline restrictions on bag weight. Go with a stand bag to start. You want light, ideally with dual shoulder straps (then you can carry it like a backpack).
If nothing else in this blog resonates, let this be that one thing- when it comes to learning the game, seek professional help! By that, take lessons from someone who knows what they are doing. Your local golf course has a teaching professional. There are community colleges that offer beginner golf lessons (not the worst option), and the PGA of America has been running a Get Golf Ready program geared at adults (5 lessons for a nominal fee). They will teach you grip, stance and swing fundamentals. I will say this- there’s a basic athletic stance (feet shoulder with, knees slightly bent) that, if you’ve ever played other sports you’ll be familiar with. Same goes here, but let a professional work with you on this.
Any option other than the person you’re intimate with is the way to go. Seriously. I don’t care if you’re going out with a touring professional. Go elsewhere for learning how to play the game.
Be reasonable with your goals. None of us are turning professional. I love this game, and I’m content with being a mid-handicapper (my index will fluctuate between an 8 and a 12; if I break 80 it’s a fantastic round). Even if your goal is to make solid contact on every swing, that’s a great goal. And remember- joking aside the goal should be to have fun. If you take this game up, at some point, you’re going to have that perfect swing (at least once) and that ball is going to fly high, far, and straight. It’s going to feel AWESOME. And you’ll wonder why you can’t do that every time. Welcome to the club.
Want to read/watch? Jack Nicklaus’ Golf My Way remains one of the best options you can find. Ben Hogan’s Five Fundamentals is another gold standard option. I can’t recommend any of the newer books that are out because I haven’t read them (or seen the DVD’s).
Any golf professional will tell you what I’m about to tell you…when you practice on your own, start with your putting and work out to hitting shots with your driver. Work on chipping and shots around the green. From experience, I’ve seen plenty of golfers that are 30-50 yards shorter than me off the tee, and yet these players almost always have great short games. They hit their chips, pitch shots and wedge shots close to the hole and usually make the putt.
You can work on your putting in a lot of places. If you have an office with typical office carpeting, that makes a great surface to putt on. You’ll need a putter, a ball, and a target. An empty can of pop works fine; it’s the same size as a hole give or take.
One important thing to learn before going out on the course is to gauge how far you hit each club. I’m going to go off of what I learned over 20 years ago…pick a mid-iron (a 7 or 5 iron will work), and hit it about 15-20 times. See how far you hit it on average. If you hit your 7-iron 130 yards, figure the 8 will go 120, the 9 will go 110…the 6 iron will go 140, 5 iron will go 150, and so on. If you need to write this down to help you remember, write it down and keep it with you.
After your initial set of lessons, take more if you need it, but try to have an idea of what you want help with (maybe it’s the driver and your woods, maybe it’s the short game). There are more people teaching golf than there needs to be (mostly these people who have “systems”). Remember, the person you’re taking a lesson from is there to help YOU (not the other way around). If they’re not helping, go elsewhere. In the end, swinging a golf club (athletically speaking) isn’t significantly different from swinging a baseball bat or a hockey stick. Same idea…solid contact using your body to generate power. Swing thoughts, hand position, path…there’s a million swings.
Look at Jim Furyk’s swing (you can watch it here), then watch Jack Nicklaus here. Two guys who have both been very successful with wildly different swings. Remember- golf isn’t a game of how…it’s a game of how many. It’s not a beauty pageant (thank god).
You’re not going to go out and break 80 for an 18-hole round the first time out. Suggestion would be to start with 9-hole rounds on shorter courses, and work your way up. Sligo Creek, Northwest Park, Needwood all have 9-hole courses that are great for a novice. In Virginia Hilltop is a decent 9-hole track.
As someone who’s played the game for close to 25 years, I say this with all sincerity- I’ve never met someone new who I haven’t gone out of my way to be helpful. One big ask- nobody is asking you to play speed golf, but let’s keep things moving along. How do you do this?
- Take one practice swing before your actual swing.
- Note where the ball went (if it didn’t go dead straight). Watch your ball (it’ll make finding it that much easier).
- If you’re at more than double par on a hole, pick up. It’s okay.
- If your ball is in a divot in the fairway, move it to where you can make a swing at it (later you’ll learn this shot but for now, make it easy on yourself).
- Play from the forward tees. Even if the other golfers in your group are playing from the back tees, move up and make it easy on yourself. When you get better you can move further back.
- Practice good etiquette.
More than any sport, golf can be flat out confusing to a beginner. It’s okay. There’s a few basic ideas we’re dealing with.
- Don’t do anything to disrupt golfers in your group when they’re hitting. This includes standing far back from them, making sure your shadow doesn’t interfere with them (if they can see your shadow, move to where they can’t), not talking or moving when they’re hitting, and not standing on their line when you’re on the green.
- Leave the course as you’d hope to find it. If you take a divot, replace it. If your ball goes into a bunker, rake it (there will be a rake provided) when you’re done. If your ball makes a pitch mark or divot on the green, repair it. Learn how here.
- If your ball mark is in the line (meaning someone’s putt would roll over it), offer to move it. Learn how here.
- If you’re in the fairway, typically whoever is furthest out will hit first. HOWEVER, if you’re closer and not ready to hit and someone is on the other side and ready, then let them go. It’s called playing ready golf. Same thing on the tee (normally, whoever had the lowest score on the previous hole would go first, but if you’re all playing from the same set of tees and you’re ready, have at it), but make sure everyone is good with playing ready golf.
- If your putt is holed, walk over and pick it up out of the hole, being careful to not walk on anyone’s line. Then stand back so you’re not interfering or casting a shadow on your fellow golfers.
- If your putt is close to the hole (say 3-12 inches) your competitors may say “that’s good” or “pick it up” in which case, you can do just that. It’s called a concession. They’re saying “we know you’d make that tap-in so go ahead, add a stroke, and pick it up so we can move along”).
First off, if you don’t drink or have no desire to drink alcohol, then don’t feel compelled to imbibe. You shouldn’t be drinking during a round to the point of intoxication, but a cold beer during a summer time round can be awfully tasty. The key word being moderation, if you’re one to enjoy a cold one.
You have two ways of going about this. One is to buy beer at the snack bar/restaurant/halfway hut at the course, the other is if the course has a beverage cart. The cart is almost always driven by a young lady (you’ll find an interview I did with a beverage cart driver on my blog- it’s pretty good if I don’t mind saying so), and the over/under on how many times she’s been hit on is about eleven billionty. Don’t do it. The beverage cart is like a pit stop in auto racing. Designed to be quick, helpful and get you moving. Most beverage carts will have beer, sodas, gatorade/powerade, and snacks. You’re paying a premium for convenience, so accept it, pay up, and move on. And tip- minimum a buck per drink.
So that’s it…have a great time and welcome to the game!