Playing a golf course for the first time

Tips for making the most of a course that's new to you

by Dennis Begin
Dennis Begin tees off
Dennis Begin tees off. — photo courtesy Dennis Begin

It is always exciting to play a golf course for the first time. There are no bad memories of triple bogeys, three putts, water shots or the wheels coming off. The course is fresh, exciting and full of promise. The truth is, most people will play well on a new course, despite not knowing what lies ahead. There are, however, a number of proactive steps that will benefit your game.  

1. The day before playing, check out the course’s website for general information, from the testimonials and reviews to photos of the course, including the signature hole. In addition, look for the course rating (CR) and slope (S) of the course, which determines the degree of difficulty.  A CR of 75.4 and an S of 139 make for a very hard course.

2. On arriving at the course, if possible, check out the flag locations on the 9th and 18th holes (red, white and blue pins). This information can be useful when hitting on to these two greens.  Distance is always measured to the center of the green.

3. Hit a small bucket of 20 balls to warm up the shoulders and back and get the feel of the club.  Warm up with a wedge, middle iron and driver. This is not the time to change your swing.

4.  Spend time on the putting green so as to determine the speed of the greens. Start with short putts and increase the distance.

5. Take five minutes to study the score card or layout booklet, if provided. Both provide a diagram of the holes, possible hazards, local rules and regulations and course etiquette. The layout booklet will go into greater details, with suggestions on how to play each hole and the exact distances. If the cart has a GPS unit installed, by all means use it.

6. Look at the total yardage of the course and play the appropriate tees. The average golfer will struggle with most courses over 6,200 yards. Put the ego aside, stay off the back tees and enjoy the game even more.

7. Get off to a good start. Take a conservative approach to the first hole. Play the hole as a bogey and avoid the double and triple bogeys. A par will feel like a birdie.

8.  When teeing off, find the flattest spot on the tee box. If the hazards are to the right, tee off as far right as possible. This opens up the fairway, giving golfers a bigger target.

9. Study the general landscape of the course. It will indicate both the slope of the fairways and where not to hit the ball. For example, if the fairway slopes left to right, the odds are that the hazards will be on the right side. If you have a blind shot, first look at where best to land the ball.

10. If there are ponds or creeks around the green, walk the entire length of the putt and let your feet help determine the break. Putts on the green usually break to the water or follow the slope of the land, despite what your eyes may see.

11. Since most golfers are right handed, golf courses are designed with more hazards to the right side of the fairway than the left. For right handed players, hit to the left side of the fairway and avoid most hazards.

12. The best way to get around a new course is based on three simple rules: Follow the signs as posted, follow the cart paths and follow the group in front of you. These three simple ideas will avoid the embarrassment of getting lost and slowing up the pace of play. For the males reading this, just ask for directions!

Relax and enjoy the experience of playing a new course with friends. Unless you are on the PGA tour or in a tournament, the final score is really just for bragging rights.

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