If you are about to embark on your first trip to the golf course, you’re in the right spot.
Taking your first trip to the golf course can be one of the most intimidating beginner-things you’ll ever do, but is so exciting and fun. In this article, we’ll cover the basic equipment you’ll need, as well as some best practices and guidelines to ensure you have a fun time on the course. If you haven’t already, check out our first and second articles in the Beginner Series: The Sensible Guide to Beginner’s Golf and Your First Trip to the Driving Range
The Equipment You Need
Before you hop in the car and head to the course, let’s discuss the equipment and apparel necessary to ensure you have a good time.
Clubs – The maximum number of clubs you can carry is 14. If you don’t have 14 clubs, that’s ok. I recommend having at least a driver, a fairway wood, some irons, a pitching wedge and sand wedge, and definitely a putter. By this point, you’ve hopefully been to the driving range and become somewhat familiar with your clubs, which is good! More than likely, you’ve found a couple that you hit well. Stick with those during your first round.
Balls – In The Sensible Guide to Beginner’s Golf, I discuss selecting the right ball for your game. Refer to that guide if you have questions about which type of balls you should buy as a beginner. We like these for men and these for ladies. There is no reason to buy expensive balls if you’re going to lose more than 3 per round. Also, the high-compression cores of tour-quality balls are not suited for beginners. As a beginner, you’re going to want a ‘distance’ ball. One that flies as long and straight as possible.
Make sure you have plenty of golf balls during your first round – bring at least 15 and mentally prepare yourself to lose a good bit of them. Maybe a dozen or more! It happens. Always carry 2 balls to the teeing ground. There’s a good chance you’re going to spray the ball all over the place from the tee. Having two balls in your pocket allows you to quickly tee up a provisional, or mulligan if you launch a drive deep into the woods or water. We’ll discuss the pace of play later in this article, and this is one tip that can help speed things up for beginners.
Tees – Ensure you have a box of tees in your bag. My favorite beginner tees are these combo packs that come with 3.25” tees and 1.5” tees to make it easier to tee clubs less-than-driver, especially in the summertime when the ground can be hard as a rock. During my round, I keep a long tee and a short tee in my pocket with my golf balls and divot tool.
Divot tool – If you’re lucky, you’ll get to use this on your first trip to the golf course! A divot tool is usually a two- or three-pronged device that resembles a fork, like this one. These divot tools come in all shapes and sizes. Some people just use a tee. Regardless of how you do it, be equipped to repair your ball marks on the green if you make them. Most of the time, chips and pitches onto the green from 20 yards or less won’t make a ball mark, but you should always check for and repair any mark your ball has made.
Gloves – The use of a golf glove is purely personal preference. Generally, if worn, a golf glove is worn on the lead hand (left hand for righties, right hand for lefties). A glove helps you keep a solid grip on the club and prevents the face from twisting at impact. Wearing a glove can also prevent blisters on the palm. Gloves range anywhere from $10-$30. I’m a fan of these MG gloves that I found on Amazon. They’re cheaper than most gloves and last forever. Wearing a glove in the summertime is extremely beneficial, as sweaty hands don’t grip a club as well. There are also gloves made specifically for cold weather and rain.
Towel – There are plenty of options available on amazon. Make sure whatever towel you get has a clip so it can hang on your bag. This towel can be used for many things and is mainly used to clean your clubs off after swinging them. If you get into the habit of giving your club a quick wipe after each shot, they’ll never get super dirty! A towel is especially important/helpful to have when you’re playing in wet conditions. I also recommend having another, clean, towel for sweat during the summertime. For a personalized option, check out this inexpensive one.
Ball Marker – A ball marker is used on the putting surface to mark the spot of your ball in an unobtrusive way. If your ball is in the sightline or putting line of another player’s ball, you should mark your ball. The ball marker can be a dime, penny, poker chip, button, or an actual ball marker that clips to your hat or is magnetically attached to your divot tool.
Attire – Since this varies so far and wide, I’ll give you the general expectations of golf attire on the golf course. We also discuss some of these basic items in the Sensible Guide to Beginner’s Golf. For men, most golf courses will require the following:
- Shirt – collared and tucked in. No T-shirts!
- Pants – no jeans/denim
- Shorts – must be an acceptable length (no shorter than 3” above the knee)
- Shoes – golf/athletic shoes. No metal spikes. No sandals or flip flops
- Hat – I recommend a light color so it’s not so hot! Not to be worn indoors.
The attire requirements are different for women, but follow similar guidelines
- Tops – Shirts and Tanks – No spaghetti straps
- Bottoms – Pants or acceptable-length skirt or shorts
- Shoes – Golf/Athletic shoes. No metal spikes. No flip-flops or sandals
- Hat – optional but always recommended!
Now that you know what to bring to the course with you, in the next segment to this piece, we’ll talk about getting to the course, getting set up, and actually playing!
You’ve got your golf bag loaded up and you’re ready to get a round of golf in. Now what?
As you’re planning your first trip to the golf course, allow yourself enough time to get there and set up so you don’t have to rush around before you tee off. Consider the time it takes to:
- Drive to the course – varies
- Check-in at the pro shop and get pertinent details — 10 minutes
- Get a cart and get loaded up — 5-10 minutes
- Warm-up at the range or stretch (if applicable) — 10-30 minutes
- Meet with friends and get situated (if applicable) — 5-10 minutes
One of the best ways to mitigate an intimidating and frustrating first-time golf course experience is to play with a friend who knows their way around a golf course. Playing with a friend that has experience will help you navigate the course for the first time and can provide support as you hack your way through your first round.
Ask around. Family members, co-workers, friends; someone is bound to know how to play golf and they’re more-than-likely happy to show you around a course.
Once you’ve found someone who’s agreed to accompany you on your first trip to the golf course, decide on the course. Perhaps they have a favorite course, or maybe they know of the perfect learning course in your town. The course you choose is important. It’s not a great idea to make your golf debut on your town’s most prestigious course for a few reasons:
- Cost – I’m not telling you to find the worst-rated, dirtiest, oldest golf course you can find. There’s just no need to pay $70+ the first time you go play golf. Many decent courses have discounted tee times during the week. You can find super cheap deals on GolfNow or Supreme Golf.
- Comfort – Another reason (and the most important in my mind) for not heading over to the most prestigious course in your town is comfort. Your first round of golf is going to be uncomfortable to some extent. It’s never comfortable being outside of your element, learning new skills and being an absolute beginner; especially when there are people around to witness it. Why not play your first round at a place that isn’t so posh, where play is a little more casual and the atmosphere a little more relaxed?
- Difficulty – most prestigious courses will be challenging, especially for a beginner. Don’t make it harder than it is on your first time out! Find a course that is described as a ‘learning course’ or one that isn’t as challenging. If you’re playing with someone for your first round, ask them what they suggest.
The goal is to have fun. For your first trip to the golf course, a municipal or public course that isn’t so challenging is the best way to ensure you have fun! As you get better, you’ll find more enjoyment in the challenging courses.
After you’ve made your course selection and you’re getting ready to tee off, It’s important to set some expectations with your playing partner(s) before the round begins. Things like:
- After how many strokes-per-hole will you pick up your ball?
- Do you want tips and coaching from your partner throughout the round? A lot of people feel the need to do so if someone is struggling. If not, it’s always ok to kindly request they not give you any tips or coaching during the round.
- Are there any local or course rules to be aware of?
If you can’t find anyone that plays golf; or maybe you just want to play alone for your first couple of times, that’s perfectly fine. Some of my favorite rounds are played by myself, at my own pace, with my own thoughts.
Golf courses are trying to squeeze the most tee times (read: money) into the daylight hours. If you’re looking to play your first round as a single on a weekend when the course is crowded, there’s a great chance you’ll be paired up with another group or another single. Being paired up is a ton of fun — but not as fun if you aren’t expecting it, or REALLY want to play by yourself. All that said, the best time to play the course as a single is during the week when the courses are less busy.
Once you tee off and you’re having a great time, there are some general guidelines to follow to ensure you maximize your fun on the course.
Keep up the pace
Throughout your first trip to the golf course and beyond, you’ll hear about pace of play. It is important to keep pace so people behind you are not waiting on your group at every shot. The pace of play varies slightly per course, but you can bank on it being between 4 hours and 4 hours and 30 minutes. If you’re playing as a single, it’s pretty easy to maintain a good pace. If you’re playing with others, it’s a little more difficult. There’s a term and style-of-play that helps with this: Ready Golf.
At the start of the round is when you’ll decide to play ‘ready golf’. Traditionally, whoever is furthest away from the hole will always hit first. Playing ready golf helps speed up the pace of play by allowing he/she who is ready to hit their shot, to hit, without waiting on whoever is furthest away. Ready-golf should always be played on weekends when the course is packed and is recommended as the preferred way to play to keep up the pace.
To help keep pace, there will be times when you should pick up your ball on a hole and not finish out. One of the hardest things to learn is when to pick up your ball. Not because the task is hard, but because it’s an ego-softening blow that nobody ever wants to experience. But it happens! There is NO SHAME in picking up your ball or going “IP” (in-pocket) on the hole. You pick up your ball if you’ve reached the maximum number of strokes per hole. It’s normally acceptable to pick up at double the par score for that hole. Playing by this rule lets you keep your dignity and also helps keep the pace up.
Another favorable gesture if your pace is too slow is to let faster groups play through. This can be done in any number of ways and generally includes getting their attention, ‘waving them through’, and moving out of the fairway while they hit their shots.
10 Etiquette Guidelines for Your First Time Out
Like any other sport, golf has some nuances to be aware of while you’re playing. These nuances include golf etiquette and some unspoken rules to follow.
Know the basic rules of golf and any local rules for that course. The basic rule of golf is: play it as it lies. As someone who is learning, feel free to ‘fluff up the lie’, move the ball off of a hard surface into the grass, or even tee it up in the fairway if you aren’t making good contact! Don’t make it harder than it is, just yet. We’ll talk about holding yourself accountable for your game, soon, but the goal now is to have fun and enjoy yourself!
You’re bound to get paired up with people sooner than later. To help you have a good time, respect the people you’re playing with and respect the course. I’ve found that most of golf isn’t how well you play, but how well you interact with the people you’re playing with. Here are 10 guidelines for golf etiquette that will help you be a great playing partner even on your first trip to the golf course:
- Play from the appropriate tees. There are multiple sets of tee boxes on each course, designated by color. Red tees are almost always women’s tees, gold or yellow for seniors, white for men, and blue or black for ‘championship’ tees. You’ll also hear the back tee boxes referred to as the ’tips’. Play from the tees that make the most sense to you. If you’re a lady, play from the ladies tees. If you’re a male, the white tees are the normal tees for recreational golfers.
- Don’t move or talk during someone’s backswing. A good rule is to not to move or talk once they address the ball. Distractions, noise, and motion are unwelcome additions to a pre-shot routine.
- Don’t crowd the tee box while others are hitting. It’s ok to stand around it while you wait your turn, but don’t stand so close to your playing partners that they feel cramped. Give them plenty of space on the tee box for their benefit and your safety. Also, after you hit your tee shot, grab your tee and relinquish the box to the next person. Don’t linger longer than necessary.
- Stay out of sightlines. This mainly goes for the putting surface. Ensure your shadow or body position is not affecting any sightlines of your playing partners as they roll their putts on the green. Keep motion and noise to a minimum as your partners roll their putts.
- Offer to remove the flagstick. Generally, everyone will state their preference at the first green; whether they want it in or out. It’s always courteous for the person who’s ball is closest to the hole, on the green, to offer to remove the flag or tend it for the person who’s turn it is.
- ENSURE your phone is on silent. Leave it in the cart unless you’re using a caddie app. The main point is to have it not make any noise. Especially while others are hitting.
- Yell “FORE” when you hit an errant shot. VERY LOUDLY! This is very important as a beginner. You will have more errant shots than you’d like. It happens. As soon as you realize your ball has the potential to harm an individual or other groups of golfers, yell “FORE!” and “LEFT!” or RIGHT! as soon as you figure out which way the ball is going. You can also point your club in the direction it’s going so people can see. Again, yell this as loud as you can so people can hear you and react.
- Keep your own score. If you’re interested in what your score is, keep your own scorecard and pencil and notate your own score. Most of the time, whoever is driving the cart will offer to keep your score on the scorecard in the cart. If you choose to let them keep score, ensure you let them know what you made on each hole in a timely fashion after your group is finished playing the hole.
- Fill any divots in the fairway and fix ball marks on the green. Use the sand that’s normally attached to the side of the golf cart to fill in any big divots you make. Use your divot tool to repair any marks or dents your ball makes in the green. Be gentle and try not to tear the grass up when fixing ball marks on the green.
- Rake the sand in bunkers. Try to enter the bunker from the low side, directly in-line with your ball. You’re the one responsible for raking the bunker after you hit out of it. Make it easy (and quick) on yourself by not walking all over the bunker. Rake and level your footprints and where the club impacted the ball. Hitting a ball out of a footprint in the sand is no fun for anyone.
The last thing you must do to cap off a good round with friends, colleagues or some random people you got paired up with is shake hands and say ‘good round’ at the end of the round. This is very important. Regardless of who you’re playing with and how well or poorly you shot, it’s always respectable to shake someone’s hand and thank them for playing with you for that round. In the end, golf is fun and we can’t forget that. Hopefully, you had fun with your playing partner on your first trip to the golf course- let them know you had fun too and that you appreciated their company.
Bringing it Together
Golf is an incredibly fun and social game. You don’t have to be a pro, shoot par, or even shoot in the 80’s to enjoy it. As with anything in life, the nuances, rules, etiquette, and playing style will come to you with more reps, practice, and experience. Eventually, all of that will be ingrained in your mind and you won’t have to consciously think about them. The most important thing to remember is to HAVE FUN! There are always worse places to be than the golf course on a sunny day with friends!
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