The driving range is the best spot to learn how to hit a golf ball. It’s a low-stress environment and allows you to hit ball after ball without moving very far. As a beginner, this is where you want to be while you’re learning how to make contact. Here’s why:
- You can wear whatever you’d like, whatever feels the most comfortable. This goes for shoes too. Unlike the golf course, there isn’t a dress code for the range.
- Driving ranges are rarely packed with people which gives you a good opportunity to practice in peace, with space to yourself.
- It doesn’t cost a fortune. Most ranges also offer discount cards that bring the price of a bucket down to a few bucks.
- It’s a relaxed environment. Most people out there are in their own worlds, working on their own swings, at their own pace. There are no marshals telling you to speed up the pace and no judgment from other golfers.
Just like the first time you do anything else in life, you’ll have some questions as you approach the driving range for the first time. Below are some quick points to get you ready for the first range session. If you have questions while you’re at the range, the best thing to do is ask the range staff for help. Most range staff are helpful, attentive, and understanding of beginners. You’re not the first one to hit a divider with a ball or send one down screaming down the stall line. Some of the staff members are also PGA teaching professionals and charge very fair rates for instruction.
Setting Up at the Range
The first thing you want to do is head into the pro shop and grab a bucket of balls. There are usually stands in front of the entrance for your bag. Never bring your bag into the pro shop if you’re buying a bucket of balls and heading out.
Most ranges offer a few sizes of buckets. When I started, I would get ‘swung out’ after about 120 balls, which is generally around the size of a ‘large’ bucket. For reference; when I started going to the range, it took me about an hour to hit through a large bucket. Now it takes me about an hour-and-a-half to two hours to hit through a medium bucket, because of how deliberate I am and the different drills I do.
If you aren’t able to determine the different sections of the range when you drive up, ask a member of the pro-shop staff where they are. The actual driving range is the wide-open field with markers denoting different distances. There’s usually a putting green, chipping green, and sometimes a short-game area that includes some bunkers and sometimes a green or two.
It’s important to know which greens are for chipping and pitching, and which ones are strictly for putting. If they aren’t labeled, ask the range staff for clarification. We’ll talk about why you want to spend more time at the chipping/putting green in a later article. For now, head over to the main driving range area and get set up.
Most ranges offer 2 types of hitting areas: mats and grass. Be sure to understand where you can and can’t hit the ball. If in doubt, ask the range staff. There should be clear signage designating prohibited hitting areas. These areas can close for a couple of reasons — the main one being the range is trying to re-grow the grass. Be respectful of these prohibited areas. They’re closed for a reason! I recommend hitting on mats during your first couple of trips to the range. Mats are more forgiving than grass, provide stable and level footing, and give your ball a consistent lie every time. If you hit behind the ball on a mat, the club bounces off of the mat and makes the bad shot look decent. Eventually, you’ll want to shift to hitting on real grass since that provides a more accurate representation of your shots and allows you to practice like you play. If you hit behind the ball on the grass, you’ll take a big ole’ divot that might fly further than the ball. That’s called ‘hitting it fat’ or ‘chunking’ the ball. In my group, we call it ’selling sod’.
There should be ropes, boards, stalls, or some type of markers on the grass, indicating the front and back of the hitting area. If there aren’t any dividers or stalls in the hitting area, a good rule of thumb is to allow 2 driver-lengths of distance between you and the next person. If the range isn’t crowded, put as much distance between you and the next person as possible. Don’t crowd them, just as you wouldn’t want them to crowd you. It’s always preferable for beginners to set up towards the end of a line of stalls. Doing so gives you a little extra space and prevents you from hitting between two people. This also lessens the chance of your errant shots going places they shouldn’t go.
Range Safety and Etiquette
Now that you’ve got your stall picked out and your area set up, it’s time to hit some balls! Any time a stick-like tool is used to hit a ball that flies at high speeds, there are inherent safety risks that should be discussed. Take a look at these points to familiarize yourself with basic safety and etiquette:
- Do not step into the range to retrieve a ball that you duffed or chunked – no matter how close it is. When you walk onto the range, you are facing away from other golfers as they take their shots and significantly increase your chances of being hit by a ball. If you can’t reach it with the club in your hand without going over the line, it’s a goner. There’s also some etiquette that comes into play here. The more movement golfers see; the more distracting their shot is to hit. Creating extra motion in other golfer’s periphery is disrespectful and unnecessary in this case.
- Never hit towards other people or anything you aren’t supposed to hit towards. This includes the pro shop, the parking lot, and especially range staff that are collecting balls in the range. It’s pretty easy to tell which direction you’re supposed to hit the balls. Again, golf balls flying at a high rate of speed towards a human or vehicle is a recipe for disaster and is highly unsafe. I’d like to add a little emphasis to not hitting towards range staff collecting balls. Not only could your ball cause serious damage and injury to the staff member and vehicle, but it is also very loud and unexpected when it happens which isn’t fun for the person collecting balls. Aim the other way if the ball collector is coming down the range. Or, wait a few extra seconds to hit your shot.
- Avoid talking loudly on the phone, playing music through your speaker, screaming at the person next to you, etc. While driving ranges are way more relaxed and casual than the golf course, it’s still important to show respect to other golfers around you. If you’re going to take a phone call, step away from others in your area and complete the conversation before you return. Put yourself in the other golfer’s shoes and think about how annoyed and distracted you would be if they started yapping on the phone next to you.
- Headphones are great for the driving range if you want to listen to a podcast or some music while you hit. The point I’ll make about headphones is this: If you’re playing golf with other people, chances are you will be enjoying conversations with them and not listening to headphones. I say this because I practice like I play. I rarely use headphones at the range, because I never wear headphones with I play. It’s a personal preference.
You’re at the range, know where to hit, and know proper etiquette….now what?
As much fun as it is to grab your driver and start ripping them down the range, that’s never the most effective way to practice. Explore all the clubs in your bag. Give them all a swing to see and feel the differences in weight, length, ball flight, trajectory, etc. Don’t be discouraged if they don’t look as pretty, fly as high or straight, or go as far as the pros or the person next to you. They took their first trip to the range at some point, exactly like you’re doing now. Also, don’t be discouraged if there isn’t much distance gain as you hit longer clubs. You will start to realize these gains and distance differences between clubs as you groove a more consistent swing and become a better ball striker.
Bringing it Together
After reading this article, you are ready for your first day at the range. It’s time to have some fun and hit some golf balls! As always, the mindset you have going into your first couple of range sessions will dictate how the sessions go. You’re there to have fun and learn. There will be frustrating times — especially as a beginner. You are going to hit TERRIBLE shots. Don’t worry, it’s normal! Realizing and understanding that, will help you immensely. If you feel yourself getting frustrated, take a two-minute break. Get some water, walk around, relax, and get back to it. The worst thing you can do is get frustrated and start pounding shot after shot down-range. When you’re frustrated, your muscles tense up and your body gets tight which is never a recipe for success in golf.
Take your time. As hard as it will be, don’t worry about what others are doing at the range, or what they may think about you as a beginner! You are there to practice what YOU need to learn. Nobody else is looking at you; nobody cares what you’re doing, they’re all out there doing the same thing: practicing. Remember – there is absolutely no shame in being a beginner. And every person you see hitting a beautiful shot was in your shoes at one point!
If you’re looking for a place to call home in Charlotte, we love The Effortless Golf Center on South Boulevard in Pineville. There are mats (in heated bays for year-round practice) and 2 grass areas to hit from. That’s also where we both had our first lessons. Rob Catlett is one of the teaching pro’s there and does an EXCELLENT job helping beginners understand the game and striking the ball. His rates are an incredible value for the support and guidance he provides. Need some help with your range routine and purposeful practice? Head over to (THIS ARTICLE) for some tips and tactics that will help you practice with purpose. Or, if you’re ready to hit the course for the first time, click here for a complete guide on how to enjoy your first round of golf!
Now get out there, hit some balls, and have FUN! We’ll see you at the range!