Discount golf services such as GolfNow and Teeoff.com offer the ability to play courses you might not have known about or played before.
Or, maybe your buddy has just joined a country club and invited you to play a round with him.
Or, you’re a ringer and your “teammates,” – you know, the guys you just met in the parking lot – can’t tell you how to play their course because if they could, they wouldn’t need a ringer.
Whatever the case, if you’re playing a course you’ve never played before, you need a slightly different mindset.
Start in the pro shop by asking the pro or the person checking you in how the course plays, if they have any tips they can offer you. Look at the scorecard and if they have one, pick up a course guide. A lot of times, the guide can give you tips about playing the course that you can’t get from a golf GPS. More on that in a moment.
Hit the practice green. Let me repeat: DO NOT skip the practice green. This is especially important if your round is not a casual round and you’re trying to make a score. Practice longer putts to get a feel for how hard you have to hit your lag putts. See if the greens are true and the ball takes the breaks you expect. Putt short putts to see if you have to account for grain in the greens.
If you do not have one, get a decent golf GPS or get an app for your smartphone. I have used a Skycaddy. It was very good, but I quickly realized that there are any number of GPS apps for smartphones that can do anything a standalone unit can do.
I use GolfPad. It can track distances for any club I hit, recommend clubs for the distance to the middle of the green. It keeps an impressive number of stats about my game including fairways hit, greens in regulation, and even strokes gained. I have never played a course that wasn’t in the app.
The really cool part is the overview of each hole on a course. You can zoom in on various course features, such as hazards, and get a distance to those features from anywhere on the course. In this way, a GPS is more important that a laser rangefinder. One of the drawbacks of a laser is that if you can’t see your target, you can’t find out how far away it is. Note: Being able to get a distance to things other than the course yardage markers for 200, 150 and 100 yards requires the subscription to the premier service, but the overview is available without cost.
Even without subscribing, GolfPad will give you distances to the front, middle, and back of the green, and distances to the 200-, 150-, and 100-yard markers, as well as track your major stats.
GolfPad also has the option of turning off the club suggestions so you could use it in tournament play if the tournament allows it.
I have also used GolfLogix and 18Birdies. They are both very good, too. As with a lot of things in golf, it is a matter of preference and you should experiment with various apps or standalone units before you commit to one.
When you are on the course, and if you have one, I highly recommend you use your laser rangefinder to shoot more than the flag. You can shoot the distance to the far side of a dogleg. You can shoot the carry over the water if you want to try to cut the corner on that drivable par-4. You can shoot the back lip of the bunker that guards the green so you know how far you have to carry.
This is one of the advantages of a laser over a GPS. If you are looking at a particular tree, you can shoot it with the laser. On a GPS, it is next to impossible to pick a particular tree out in a forest of them to get the distance you want.
Finally, if you don’t have the advantage of playing with a local, you might not know where on the green the hole is cut if you cannot see the green. Take your cue from the positioning of bunkers and even the trees around the green (if there are any.) Remember that course guide I mentioned before? This is where it can be your friend. If you have the option, take your cart or walk to a point where you can see the green so you can get an idea where you can miss the flag and not be in too much trouble.
Be prepared to face some long, and possibly awkward, putts. Also, be prepared to have to play some tough chips and pitches when you short-side yourself because you didn’t know exactly where the green was located.
If you are going to play a meaningful round at a course you’ve never seen, bring along a local or play the course prior to your tournament round. (Learn from my experience on this. I was playing in a national qualifying tournament in 2016 and didn’t get to play the course before my tournament round. I hit 13 greens in regulation that day, but had 39 putts because I was on the wrong side of ridges in greens and 3-putted five times.)
If, however, you are playing for fun, just looking for a round in a place other than your home course, none of this really matters. Go out and hit your ball. Don’t worry about your score.