If you want to learn how to play golf, we have to be honest with you.
You can't really play golf without caring if you suck.
But you can have a roaring good time while playing even if you do!
And sucking at golf is not a bad thing.
You need to know that.
So if your handicap is so high that it needs its own golf cart -- you're in the right place!
We can't teach you how to play golf to make you an instant expert, but we should at least be able to teach your handicap how to share the golf cart.
Gerald Ford: "I know I'm getting better at golf because I'm hitting fewer spectators."
You know you care.
That's why you're here.
Let's see if we can teach you a little about how to play golf and maybe help with that whole sucking thing...
How To Play Golf: Understanding The Game
You get to the tee, and you whack the ball as far as you can.
How hard is that?
It isn't QUITE that easy.
Let's start with a general overview of the game. This will help you understand how to play golf.
Understanding the tee box
It is a common misconception that the tee boxes are segregated by gender.
While it is true that many women do utilize the forward-most set of tee markers, that is not the "ladies tee."
Typically, a tee box will have three sets of tee markers. Although there may be as many as six sets of markers on some courses.
They are often white, yellow, and red, but there are no designated colors assigned to the different tee markers.
Some courses are introducing blue tee markers, for junior golfers.
The farthest from the fairway, or back tees, are the championship tees. These are generally used for tournament play, or for low-handicap golfers.
The middle set of tee markers are for mid-range players, including low-handicap women, middle- to high-handicap men, and long-hitting senior golfers.
The forward-most set of markers is for beginners and mid- to high-handicap women and seniors.
It is appropriate to use the tee markers most closely aligned to your skill level.
You can line up just behind the tee markers or up to two club lengths behind them.
Here's the best tip:
If you suck, use the front set of markers.
Golf is a strategy game
The basic concept of how to play golf is to complete the course by hitting the ball at or below the rated "par" for each hole.
What is par?
"the score standard for each hole of a golf course"
Most golf courses will have a variety of par 3, par 4, and par 5 holes, with a combined total of 72.
So, while you're whacking the ball down the fairway, you should be counting the number of times you hit it before sinking it in the cup.
In golf, each swing is called a stroke.
"a: a controlled swing intended to hit a ball or shuttlecock
b: such a stroke charged to a player as a unit of scoring in golf"
Unlike most games, the higher your score, the worse you're doing.
Math hurts, but scorekeeping is (mostly) painless
Keeping score is relatively easy.
You score one point for each stroke.
There are penalties for hitting into a water hazard, or out-of-bounds, which add strokes to your game.
To avoid being labeled a lumberjack, you may opt to take one penalty stroke and drop a new ball just outside the wooded area. This is normally not allowed in tournament play.
The goal is:
Reach each hole in the specified number of strokes to maintain or finish the course below par.
Figuring out your handicap
Handicaps in golf are a little more complicated.
"a: a race or contest in which an artificial advantage is given or disadvantage imposed on a contestant to equalize chances of winning
b: an advantage given or disadvantage imposed usually in the form of points, strokes, weight to be carried, or distance from the target or goal"
Simply stated, your handicap index "is a numerical measure of your potential ability." Once applied, your handicap gives your "net" score. This would, theoretically, be close to your actual score if you played golf to your true potential.
In other words, if you didn't suck.
The purpose of a handicap is to level the playing field or to create fair match play. Handicaps allow a player with lesser skills to compete fairly against a player or players with a greater skill level.
Arnold Palmer quote: “I have a tip that can take five strokes off anyone’s game: It’s called an eraser.”
Image from Twitter
Handicaps were originally introduced in 1911 by the United States Golf Association (USGA), giving each player a "net score." Handicaps are based on skill and experience.
Here's how it works:
By averaging a set number of games, usually at least 10, then doing some mathematical gymnastics, the handicap is calculated.
Although there is a specific formula to figure out handicaps, it requires course-specific information. Worry about that later.
Establishing a high handicap is not a substitute for learning how to play golf. It just puts you on the ball field while you improve.
Selecting The Right Equipment (Or Using Dad's Hand-Me-Downs)
Golf equipment is expensive.
We ain't lying.
If you have never played before, borrow or rent equipment for your first couple of outings.
Learn how to play golf and see if you even like the game.
Because if you end up not liking golf after spending $1,000 buying the best of everything... your spouse is going to kill you.
Clubs, grips, and wrong-handedness
Golf is pretty much geared toward right-handed players.
Equipment for lefties is more difficult to find, but it is available.
Don't let it bug you. Phil Mickelson is a lefty and look at how successful he is!
You are ready to start looking at equipment.
Golf equipment is strictly a personal choice and finding what works for you.
We don't have a list for you, but we do have a few tips and suggestions.
Hopefully, this will make your shopping easier and your wallet happier. At least for starting out.
First, stop by your local pro shop.
Many have pros that will help you find the right shaft length for your clubs, the proper type of grip for your swing, and they will make recommendations to improve your game.
And that's not all:
They will usually allow you to test-swing a variety of different brands of clubs to get a feel for what will work best for you.
After finding a brand or style that you like, you can usually save a lot of money by leaving the pro shop, then searching online or visiting a local big box retailer for that set.
Take your time when you shop for clubs. This is a big purchase.
Once you fall in love with the game and are a die-hard golfer, all bets are off.
You will owe your soul to the country club store...
The right bag can save your life
... or at least your aching back.
Functionality should be the key feature.
Like choosing a new car, accessories can be important!
Additionally, bags might be outfitted with features like an umbrella holder, bag covers, a drink holder, and other neat stuff.
MY FATHER ALWAYS CARRIED A SUNDAY BAG.
WHEN HIS GOLF BUDDIES UPGRADED TO STAND BAGS,
HE FASHIONED MAKE-SHIFT LEGS FOR HIS BAG FROM OLD DOWEL RODS,
ATTACHING THEM WITH DUCT TAPE.
HE MAY HAVE BEEN LAUGHED AT BY ALL HIS BUDDIES, BUT HIS SHELF FULL OF FIRST-PLACE TROPHIES PROVED THAT YOU DON'T ALWAYS NEED THE BEST EQUIPMENT.
When you shop for just the "right" bag, keep in mind what you need.
A place for tees, spare golf balls, maybe some granola bars? Do you want a designated cell phone pocket? A place for your scorecard and pencil? Do you need an umbrella?
Or you can just buy the green and yellow one because you're a Green Bay fan.
Cute shoes, gloves, and other junk you don't need
Although SOME courses require golfers to have actual golf shoes, most have no such requirement. Shoes can be left on your shopping list until after you decide that you love the game.
On the other hand:
Golf shoes are designed to keep your feet from sliding during your swing.
Running shoes, cross-trainers, or other general-purpose shoes may accomplish the same thing.
However, you should not wear hard-soled street shoes, sandals, or boots on the course, as these may damage the landscaping, especially on the greens.
Make sure you do this:
Always verify with the course you are using to make sure they have no shoe requirements. If they don't, save that $100-plus for now.
Golf gloves are another expense you can avoid at first.
If you have sweaty hands, carry a towel to dry your hands before each shot.
Dressing the part -- No tank tops and cut-offs, please
Golf has always been known as the "Gentleman's Game."
For centuries, it was a game that could only be afforded by the nobility.
Dress codes have remained a bit on the "stuffy" side.
But, what you wear on the course has no bearing on learning how to play golf.
Unless the course you are playing at has a specified dress code, standard attire is usually fine. Most golfers wear loose-fitting khaki or similar trousers or shorts with short-sleeved polo or golf shirts.
Keep in mind, ladies:
Women may wear golf skirts, Capri shorts, hemmed shorts, or long slacks. Blouses should be modest, with collars, such as polo or golf shirts.
Pants and shorts should be hemmed, and shirts should have a collar. Other than that, dress comfortably, and you will fit the accepted dress at most clubs and courses.
Although some community and municipal courses allow blue jeans, many private courses and clubs do not.
When in doubt -- check it out.
A quick phone call before your golf outing can save you the embarrassment of being turned away at the course for improper attire.
Balls, tees, and those little marker thingers
Commoners couldn't afford the golf balls in use during the early days of the game. All that changed with the invention of the gutta-percha ball in 1848.
And then again in 1898 when Coburn Haskell invented the precursor to our modern golf ball.
Since then, golf balls have undergone a lot of transitions.
They have DIMPLES!
And a variety of colors!
Although the average number of dimples is around 336 per ball, there are no set regulations except for tournament play.
Dimples serve a purpose too:
The number of dimples and their configuration aids the ball in loft, distance, and accuracy. Some patterns have been ruled illegal for tournament play, though, because they give too much of an advantage to a golfer.
"The golf ball is the only piece of golf equipment that you use for each stroke, so choosing the optimum ball that fits you is important."
From: At the Tee
The balls you select should work for you. You will probably try several brands out before you settle on a favorite.
Golf tees are pretty standard. You need them, so buy them.
Markers? Meh. Unless you are in a tournament, you can use a quarter to mark your ball. But markers are cheap, so if you must have them, buy them.
Don't forget your towel!
The golf towel should be required equipment.
You can use your towel to wipe off your balls and clubs when playing on a muddy course. It will happily dry your ball after a run through the ball-washer.
Some players carry two towels -- one for equipment and one for their hands and face.
The lesson here is:
Always carry a towel. You'll thank us later.
Tee Times And General Course Etiquette
Many golf courses assign tee times for starting the course. Most start at or around sunrise and will assign tee times until about two hours before sunset.
"Golf courses set their own policies when it comes to tee times, and fall into one of three categories:
1. Tee times are required;
2. Tee times are available but not required;
3. Or tee times are not available and not accepted."
-- From: ThoughtCo.
Check the course's website or call them to verify their policy.
But be warned:
If your course uses tee times -- that is considered an appointment, and if you miss your tee time, you may not be able to play that day.
Most tee times are spaced from 7 to 15 minutes apart. This spacing allows all members of a party to tee off and begin their progression through the course.
Checking in and waiting your turn
Always plan to arrive at least 15 to 30 minutes before your scheduled tee time.
Once you have checked in, you can visit the pro shop, grab some coffee, or arrange for your cart rental.
Just make sure that your group is ready to go when the clock strikes that tee time!
Using a cart vs. walking the course
Ah, the magic of a golf cart.
Technically speaking, a golf "cart" is a people-propelled cart with wheels used to carry a golf bag.
But when anyone says "golf cart" it is generally assumed they are referring to the electric- or gas-powered motorized golf "cars" that carry golfers and their equipment around a golf course.
Now that we've cleared that up...
We're going to use the common nomenclature, so we don't confuse anyone.
The first golf cart was developed in 1932, but early carts did not gain wide acceptance on the links until the 1950s.
It is now more common to find carts on the course than walkers, although some golfers still prefer to get their daily exercise.
The most important golf cart etiquette is to be courteous to golfers on foot because it's the right thing to do.
Use common sense in a golf cart, and you should do OK.
Why do golfers yell "FORE!"?
Golfers yell "Fore!" to warn people that might be in the line of a flying golf ball.
It's generally used when a shot goes awry and is nearing golfers or spectators that might be on the fringe of the fairway.
And it doesn't hurt to warn people:
So it should be used anytime you feel that someone ahead of you on the course might need a warning.
Playing through or letting impatient golfers cut ahead
Golfers play at different paces.
"Playing through" allows faster golfers to go in front of slower golfers in order for both groups to continue playing in an orderly fashion.
A twosome plays much quicker than a foursome.
Low-handicap golfers play much quicker than high-handicap or new golfers.
If a group is behind you and you notice they are waiting at each tee, hold up your first golfer and allow them to play through.
Once they play through, they can continue on the course unimpeded, and the people in your group won't feel rushed in the tee box.
And let's face it:
Not feeling rushed is very important for anyone learning how to play golf.
Playing through is a win-win for both groups, and it is common courtesy on a course.
What the heck is the "19th Hole"?
The 19th hole is the bar.
Players go to the "19th hole" to have a beverage following a round of golf.
And they brag about that shot they "almost" made.
Laugh, have a beverage, cool off, and get out that eraser Arnold Palmer mentioned.
The Importance Of The Driving Range
Most golf courses have a driving range where you can practice your swing.
There are also commercial driving ranges nowhere near a golf course.
Whichever you have available to you -- use it.
The great thing about them is:
You can rent a bucket of balls and try out each club. Get a feel for the swing. It's where you work on distance in your drives, form, and consistency.
If you are serious about wanting to learn how to play golf...
We can't stress the importance of using the driving range enough.
Nailing Your Putts (Or At Least Not Totally Sucking At Them)
Putting may be the hardest part of learning how to play golf.
Gone is the need for distance. It is replaced with a need for extreme accuracy.
Each green is formed differently. They have slopes, angles, and gentle curves.
And they move the hole around the green frequently. That means that just because you nailed the 17th last week, you will have similar success this week.
Many courses have practice greens where you can work on your short game.
Visit them often.
There are several different styles of putters on the market. Finding the one that you are most comfortable with may take some time.
Go back to the pro shop and try out a few. Check their balance. See how they feel. And most importantly:
Take some practice swings.
Putting is a part of your game that will always need work.
Wrangling The Rough And Sandcastles In The Breeze
The "rough" is the area on the side of the fairway that has higher and more coarse grass.
It isn't the end of the world.
You will often be able to aim farther down the fairway to continue your play.
This is where those clubs with the angled clubfaces come into play. The angle gives your ball more loft and helps to dig it out of high grass and weeds.
If you can't aim down the fairway, you should attempt to position your ball near the center of the fairway.
Ah, the sand trap. Why do golf courses have these?
It is inevitable -- you will eventually land in a sand trap.
And it's frustrating. The only way you're going to master it is through...
Every sand trap will be different. Figuring out your lie and the angle you need to address the ball is the first step.
Concentrate on lifting the ball up and out of the trap and getting it back into the play area.
Some sand traps are a bit... deeper than others:
This is where you will be using those specialty clubs to get yourself out of trouble spots. A sand wedge should be included in your bag.
Here is a good video with some practice drills:
Grab that rake beside the pit and neaten up after yourself.
Watch Out For That... TREE! Staying On The Fairway
Avoiding those errant hooks and slices, especially for newer golfers is a challenge.
Sometimes hitting a tree works out well for you. But most of the time it won't.
Many courses have local pro golfers that conduct classes or private lessons. They're normally not too horribly expensive and can get you on a good path from the start.
And here's the truth:
It is MUCH easier to learn how to play golf and swing a golf club correctly than it is to correct a poor swing after your body grows accustomed to doing it wrong.
Starting out right will benefit your overall game.
Exploring The Pro Swings
As we leave you today, we're going to finish up with some of the best golf swings in professional golf.
Will watching them teach you how to play golf?
Maybe. It will show you pointers and things that you can do to improve your swing.
Some brutal honesty:
Only you can make you a better golfer.
If you truly care about not sucking, and you really want to learn how to play golf, you will practice. Worry less about things like whether your golf shoes match your polo shirt.
Practice. Practice more. Listen to advice from better golfers.
Use the driving range, practice putting greens, and your own backyard (except maybe use whiffle balls to avoid broken windows?)
The Classic Swing:
Some slow motion action that allows you to see the entire swing:
We hope you enjoyed learning about the basics of how to play golf.
Check out our site for more specific tips and tricks, and great details on how to play golf and improve your game. You'll find everything you need to advance from beginner to a well-rounded player.
Leave us a quick nod in the comment section! We'd love to hear about your game.
Our last word -- no one really sucks at golf, not even you.