Golf is a great game. In fact, many longtime players would argue that it is the greatest game in the world.
Unfortunately, golf doesn’t have the best reputation for welcoming in new players. There are a variety of reasons for that reputation.
First, the game is just plain hard!
There is no getting around the fact that golf is challenging, and new players will almost always struggle for a period of time before they start to make progress. Also, the cost of getting started in the game can be prohibitive for some potential new players. Between buying clubs, balls, shoes, a bag, and more, you can spend a small fortune before you even buy your first bucket of range balls or pay your first greens fee.
In addition to those two obstacles, other discouraging aspects for new golfers include the difficulty of meeting others who play the game, finding good places to play, and making time for 4-5 hour rounds of golf.
If you have been thinking of getting started in golf, it’s likely that at least a couple of these concerns have crossed your mind—and to be fair, you are not wrong. These are legitimate concerns, and you will need to have solutions to these problems if you want to come to love the game as so many others have before you.
With all of that said, there is good news: golf isn’t nearly as hard on beginners as its reputation would lead you to believe.
Are there some challenges when first getting started? Sure. However, the rewards of taking the time necessary to learn the ropes will be more than worth it when you start to see success on the course, meet new friends, travel to beautiful courses, and more.
Simply put, golf is a game worth your effort. Put in the time and money, and you will be rewarded with memories that can last a lifetime.
This article is meant as a comprehensive guide of golf for beginners to help you get started in the game of golf. You can take all of the advice offered below, or you can pick and choose from the sections that will benefit you the most. If you read through these steps and begin putting them into action, you will be calling yourself a golfer before you know it.
So without further delay, let’s get down to business!
Step One: Dive Right In
As an adult, it is easy to put off trying new things. Between your commitments to your job and your family, along with the existing hobbies you already take part in, it is can be hard to find time for a new interest. This is how it goes for many people who are thinking of getting started in golf. They put it off one year after the next, and never end up learning to play this great game.
Don’t let that happen to you!
The best way to get started in golf is simply to point your car toward the nearest driving range and go for it. Forget about buying an entire set of clubs for now, or any of the other accessories that you will need later on. For now, just find a local driving range and go make your first swings.
Are they going to be pretty? No, probably not.
Are you going to know what you are doing? Not necessarily.
It doesn’t matter, though. Just get to the range and hit some balls. For most people, this first step is all it will take to hook them on a lifelong pursuit. You can’t become a golfer if you never swing a golf club, so step over this first hurdle as soon as possible.
If you don’t own any golf clubs currently, there are a few options that you can use to facilitate your first trip to the range. They are as follows:
- Borrow clubs from a friend: Chances are, you know at least one or two golfers among the people in your social circles. Ask around to see if anyone has some clubs they would be willing to lend you for that initial voyage to the driving range. Not only is this a good way to find some clubs, you also might find someone willing to accompany you on your first trip.
- Use clubs at the range: Call ahead to the driving range you are going to visit to ask if they have clubs that you can use. Many practice ranges will offer free rentals when you purchase a bucket of balls. Of course, these aren’t going to be the greatest clubs in the world, but that isn’t important at this point in the process.
- Buy two or three clubs: Instead of purchasing a whole set, consider buying just two or three clubs for now so you can take a few trips to the range. If you take this approach, try buying a driver and a sand wedge. Avoid buying any clubs in the range from three iron to pitching wedge, as those would be included in a set of irons if you decide to purchase a whole set of clubs later on.
There is no reason to be nervous when heading to the driving range for the first time. Unlike the golf course, you won’t be holding anyone up or getting in the way when you are on the range. If you go by yourself and don’t know exactly what to do, just watch the other golfers for a few moments and you will get the idea.
When at the driving range, safety is a top priority, so never walk too close to another golfer when they are swinging the club, and certainly never walk in front of the tee line. The driving range is meant for learning, so don’t worry about hitting bad shots or even swinging and missing. Most ranges have plenty of people who are just learning the game, or only play periodically.
It is perfectly acceptable to just get in the car and head to the driving range for your first visit without learning anything about the golf swing. However, if you would like to give yourself a little bit of a head start, you could do a little reading online on the basic fundamentals (YouTube is also great for this). Educating yourself on basics like the stance and the grip could make your first trip to the range more enjoyable.
The most important thing to remember at this point is that you should be having fun. There is no point in becoming a golfer if you aren’t going to have fun with it, so relax and laugh at yourself when you hit bad shots or miss the ball. There will be plenty of time to get better and take the game more seriously if you so choose. For now, smile a lot and enjoy your time at the range.
Step Two: Acquiring Some Gear
Try to take at least four or five trips to the driving range before you go any farther in your golf journey. Think of this as a trial period—you need to make sure you like the game before spending too much money on equipment and accessories. While golf is a great sport that is loved by millions, it isn’t for everybody. Give yourself a few trips to the range to make sure you enjoy the game before pulling out your credit card and loading up the garage with some shiny new gear.
Once the trial period has passed, it will be time to acquire a full set of clubs and the other accessories required to play your first round. The following list includes the basic items you will want to own before making your first tee time:
- A full set of clubs, including a driver, fairway woods, iron set, wedges, and putter.
- Golf shoes.
- Golf balls.
- Golf bag.
- Golf-appropriate apparel.
- Minor accessories such as tees, ball markers, and a divot tool.
Be sure to check out our Beginners Golf Equipment Guide: What You Need to Get Started for even more detailed money saving equipment suggestions.
You can certainly shop online for these items, but you may be better off visiting a golf store in person so you can see and touch the items for yourself. Of course, after you visit the store to look at some gear, it is perfectly acceptable to go home and compare prices online to make sure you are getting a good deal at the store.
TIP: Don’t walk into the golf store and tell the sales manager that you are a new golfer looking to build a set of clubs. Most likely, they will point you toward clubs that are too expensive for your needs at this point. Instead, politely decline their help and show yourself around. You can always ask the salesperson questions later, but identifying yourself as a new golfer will only be an invitation for a pushy sales pitch.
At this stage, controlling costs should be your main focus when purchasing your clubs and accessories. Buying a set of Titleist or Taylor Made irons for nearly $1,000 is simply not necessary, and likely a waste of money. Look for an off-brand which will allow you to learn the game for a fraction of the price (like this starter Wilson set which includes everything you need for under $300). Those fancy clubs aren’t going anywhere, and you can always buy a more expensive set later after you improve your skills. Also, don’t fall into the trap of buying a bunch of accessories that you don’t need as a beginner. Is a golf GPS unit a nice item to have? Sure, but you don’t need one yet.
Step Three: Learn the Rules
There are a lot of rules in golf. The rule book itself is longer than you might expect, and somewhat confusing. Beyond that, the “decisions book” based on situations that can arise on the course is downright overwhelming. Unless you have a spare month to spend reading through all this documentation, don’t concern yourself with the finer points of the rules just yet.
That isn’t to say that you should ignore the rules – not at all. Golf is a gentleman’s game, based on honest competition and integrity (our Ten Unwritten Rules of Golf Etiquette is a good place to start). You should always follow the rules as closely as possible. However, as a new golfer, you simply won’t be able to remember all of the rules just by reading them in a book. Experience is the best way to learn the rules, as various situations will present themselves when you make your way around the course.
Buy a rule book or quick reference guide for a few dollars, and put it in your golf bag. When something happens on the course that you don’t know how to handle, consult the rule book and get the answer. Over time, you will remember the various scenarios and you will begin to get comfortable with the rules. In reality, even the top pros often forget some of the lesser-known rules, so don’t worry if it takes you some time to get comfortable with this part of golf.
To get you started on the right foot, the following list includes the most basic rules that you will need to know prior to your first round:
- Only One Try: There are no second chances in golf. Every shot counts, so if you hit the ball, it should be reflected on the scorecard. You might hear the term “mulligan” used in reference to a second try on a particular shot, but this is a term that appears nowhere in the actual rules of the game and is only occasionally used in informal and “friendly” rounds of golf.
- Touch the Ball on the Green – and Nowhere Else: Unless your ball is resting on the putting green, you shouldn’t be touching it (unless you are putting it on the tee to start the hole – at that point the ball is not yet “in play”). Even if your ball is sitting down in some deep grass, you aren’t allowed to move it to a better place.
- Your Club Should Not Touch the Sand: If your ball comes to rest in a sand trap, you aren’t allowed to touch the sand with the club (until you actually hit the shot). Resting your club in the sand behind the ball prior to hitting the shot is a penalty, so is taking a practice swing and making contact with the sand.
- Play Your Own Ball: It is also a penalty to hit the ball of another player, so pay close attention and identify your ball prior to hitting it. You might find it helpful to make a unique marking on your ball to lessen the chances of making this mistake, but at the very least be sure to know what make and number are written on your ball for quick identification.
- Red Means Drop, White Means Try Again: You will see wooden or metal “stakes” around the golf course, marking different areas of trouble. Red stakes are called “lateral hazards,” and they often surround ponds or other wet areas. If you hit your ball into one of these areas, you can drop a new ball within two club lengths of the hazard line, nearest to where the ball went in, and when you drop, you will incur a penalty of one shot. White stakes, on the other hand, mark out of bounds areas. In this case, you add a stroke to your score and hit the same shot, from the same location again. For this reason, white staked “out of bounds” areas are considered a penalty of both stroke and distance. For more on this be sure to read our “How to Score it” article on red and white stakes.
While there are plenty of other rules involved in playing golf, these five will get you started on the right foot. One other thing worth mentioning in this section is etiquette. The way you conduct yourself on the golf course is called etiquette, and it is an important part of getting along with the other golfers. You will learn more about etiquette with experience, but a few of the key points are as follows:
- Never make noise while another player is hitting a shot.
- When on the putting green, don’t walk between the hole and another player’s ball. This is also referred to as “stepping on a player’s line.”
- Always rake sand traps when you are done.
- Replace your divots wherever possible.
- Fix the indentation your ball made on the green when it landed (called a “ball mark”).
- Help other golfers look for their ball when it is in a bad spot, and they will do the same for you.
- Play at a reasonable pace as to not hold up the golfers behind you and if you are playing slowly it is good etiquette to let the players behind you “play through.”
If you can follow those basic points, you will quickly become a golfer that anyone would be happy to play with.
Step Four: The First Round
At some point, you are going to have to take the leap and make your first tee time. Most likely, you will be nervous about playing your first round on an actual golf course, but that is okay. Don’t put it off just because you are nervous—as soon as you feel like you are up to the challenge, pick a date and a course and give it a try.
If you want to ease into it you can also book your first round at a Par 3 course (also called an “executive course”) as these are usually less expensive and more informal rounds.
As you are planning out your first round, there are a couple important things to keep in mind. The first is the day and time that you choose to schedule the tee time. Golf courses are busiest on weekends, so it is best to avoid Saturday and Sunday if at all possible. Also, most courses are busier in the morning on weekdays, as retired people often like to play early in the day. Therefore, weekday afternoons are your best bet for finding a quiet time where you won’t feel the pressure to keep up with a crowded golf course. Consider taking a half a day off of work, or pick a weekday when you aren’t working, so you can enjoy a sparsely occupied course for your very first round.
Another consideration is the specific course that you choose. Some courses are harder than others, and you will want to introduce yourself to the game on the easiest course that you can find. A good way to judge the difficultly of a course is by reviewing the course rating before you make a tee time. As a total beginner, it would be ideal to find a course with a rating under 70, and something in the range of 6400 – 6600 total yards would be great. You can locate the course rating on the scorecard, which can be found on the website of almost any course.
After you have picked your course and your time, you will want to make a reservation. While tee times can be booked online (usually at a nice savings), consider calling to speak with someone in the pro shop for this occasion. When you call, tell them that you will be playing your first round of golf and would like to avoid being paired up with other players. Golf courses often pair up groups who have less than four players so they can get more people onto the course. However, since you are playing your first round, you don’t want to deal with the pressure of playing in front of total strangers. If the course isn’t busy at the time you selected, the pro shop will likely be able to accommodate your request.
If you have no choice but to be paired up with other players that is actually okay too. Simply let your group know that this is your first time playing golf and you might just be surprised at how helpful they can be. Golfers tend to be a rather welcoming bunch (as long as you stick to the etiquette rules we discussed earlier). Chances are you’ll even learn a thing or two about the game by playing with a few more experienced golfers.
When the day arrives, take the time to make sure you have everything you need in your golf bag, including all of your clubs, some golf balls, and some tees. Also, don’t forget to put your shoes in the car before you leave. Upon arriving at the course, head first to the pro shop to check in and pay for your round. The pro shop worker will be able to give you any instructions you need for the round, such as where you can find the first tee and where the restrooms are located on the course.
One final tip – don’t forget to eat and drink during the round. If you decide to start with a full 18-hole round, you will be on the course for four hours or more, so keep yourself nourished and hydrated. Most courses offer a snack bar near the pro shop for your convenience but it’s always wise to throw a few granola bars or a banana or two in your bag just in case.
Step Five: Getting Better
Hopefully, your first round will be a lot of fun, and you will be anxious to get back out and try it again (most golfers say they got “hooked” after their first real round on the course). While it is easy to fall in love with the game, it is not quite as easy to get good at the game. Golf is among the hardest sports in the world, and improving your game requires a combination of experience and hard work. Of course you don’t need to swing like a PGA TOUR player to enjoy playing golf, but steadily improving your skills will add to the overall experience.
It’s also worth noting here that game is never a game of perfect. In fact, even the world’s best golfers struggle with their games on a regular basis. The real beauty of the game is the process of always working to get a little better. The more you play, the more you’ll find that your success in your golf game is far more about the journey than the destination.
One of the first things you can do to improve your game is read – a lot. Find golf instruction online, and even consider purchasing a couple of golf books. In reading about swing theory and various technical methods, you can become more familiar with the mechanics of the golf swing. In time, this education will help you better analyze your own swing so you can make changes that will lead you in the right direction.
Reading is a great place to start, but it will only take you so far in your quest to play better golf. Eventually, you are going to want to take a formal golf lesson from a trained professional. Taking a lesson at your local course is the best way to quickly improve your technique and learn things about your swing that you may have never discovered otherwise.
The best time to take your first lesson is after you have played two or three rounds out on the course. You want to have a little experience under your belt so you will better understand what the teacher is saying. However, you don’t want to wait too long, or you will start to engrain bad habits that will take time to fix.
Most golf facilities offer lessons for reasonably affordable rates, and some even have lesson packages specifically designed for beginners. Remember, your lesson experience doesn’t need to be limited to the full swing. Consider taking a lesson or two that are geared toward the short game, as this is the area of golf that most amateur players stand to make the biggest improvement. To get started taking your first lesson, simply stop by or call your local course and ask about their lesson plan. The club pro will be more than happy to provide rates, explain the lesson process, and answer any other questions you may have.
Step Six: Making Friends
You can have fun playing rounds of golf by yourself, but the game really becomes enjoyable when you make new friends out on the course. Golf is a social game by nature, since most of the time during a round of golf is spent walking around or riding in a cart. If you can assemble a group of people that you play golf with on a regular basis, your enjoyment of the sport will skyrocket.
There are a few ways to meet people that share an interest in your new hobby:
- Ask in the Pro Shop: When checking in for a round of golf, let the staff in the pro shop know that you would be open to playing with new people. While they might not always have someone to pair you with, most courses will do their best to “find you a game.” It is not at all uncommon for players who are paired together by chance to wind up becoming friends who play more rounds of golf together in the future. To increase your chances of meeting new people at the course, try playing during busier times of the week.
- Join a Club or Golf League: Almost every public golf course has a Men’s Club and a Women’s Club that are open to join. Typically, these clubs will play a number of casual tournaments throughout the year. Don’t be scared off by the prospect of a tournament – you don’t need to be a great golfer to participate. Players of all skill levels are usually welcome in these events (the playing field is usually leveled with the help of golf handicaps), and you might find that you actually have fun playing in the competitions. Joining a club or golf league is a great way to make new golf friends because you will see the same faces over and over again throughout the season.
- Talk About Golf: As you make your way through life, don’t hesitate to chat about golf with other people, even when you aren’t at a golf course. There are millions of people who play the game, and you probably already have several friends who are golfers. Just by bringing it up in casual conversation, you might find that some of your existing friends and acquaintances would like to join you for a round.
Don’t be shy when looking for new people to accompany you on the golf course, and don’t be self-conscious about your ability – or lack thereof. As long as you keep up the pace and have a good attitude, you will have no problem finding plenty of people who would like to join you, even if your scores are on the high side.
Step Seven: The Never-Ending Quest
Everyone has a different reason for staying loyal to this great game (and there are plenty!). For some golfers, it is simply the chance to spend several hours outside on the green grass that keeps them coming back. For others, it is the friendships that they have developed with their fellow players. Some people also play mostly for exercise and to get in a little friendly competition.
All of those are valid reasons to play golf. However, one reason rises above all the rest in terms of compelling people to stick with the game for a lifetime – the never-ending quest for improvement.
Golf is a game that cannot be mastered. An avid bowler may one day roll a perfect score of 300, for instance, but no such “perfect” score exists in golf. It’s not physically possible to shoot an 18 for a full round, so golfers will forever be in search of something that cannot be attained.
It doesn’t matter what level of ability you currently possess on the golf course, you can always get better—and that’s the fun part! From the complete beginner to the best golfer in the world, everyone has room to improve. That ongoing pursuit of longer drives, better putts, and lower scores is what allows golfers to remain in love with the game for as long as they are capable of stepping to the first tee.
Now take the leap and get started in the game of golf – chances are, you will never look back!
Cover Photo by Neville Wootton via Flickr