For your first time out, focus on fun.— Chris Vatcher, general manager of Westlake Golf Course
Inspired by the stories and camaraderie of your friends and co-workers who play and even the pros on TV, you’ve borrowed some clubs, practiced on the driving range a few times and are now ready to venture out for your first round. So what do you need to know and do to make your initial foray on a real course something that will keep you coming back again and again?
Reserve a time
While they're not always required, it's a good idea to reserve a starting time, also known as a tee time. When you call the golf course, explain that you are a new golfer and ask the staff to recommend a non-peak playing time. Also ask about fees and the course's dress code. For your first round, a phone call can answer many of your questions, but you may also be able to reserve a tee time via the Internet. Some golf courses offer online reservations, so check the course's website to see if it offers this service.
Plan on arriving at least 30 minutes before your scheduled starting time so you can check in at the golf shop, pay your fees and warm up at the practice area. Arriving well in advance shows the golf staff that even though you are a newbie, you understand the etiquette and respect other golfers.
To fit in at the golf course, you'll want to wear the proper clothes and have the right equipment. Depending on the caliber of the facility, the course may prohibit blue jeans, denim shorts and T-shirts. Typical country club attire for men includes collared shirts and Bermuda-length shorts or trousers. Proper attire for women includes collared shirts with or without sleeves, Bermuda-length shorts, trousers or a golf skirt. Athletic shoes or golf shoes with non-metal spikes are generally required. Again, be sure to ask when you call for your starting time.
Some courses have sets of clubs for rent, but if you are borrowing clubs or buying your own, don't feel your golf bag must have the maximum of 14 clubs. As a rookie heading out for your first round, you'll find that fewer clubs will make your shot selection easier. Over time, you’ll get a better sense of all the clubs, but for your first 18 holes, pack the odd-numbered irons, a wedge, a putter, a 3-wood and a 5-wood. You don’t need a driver, which is the longest and one of the most difficult clubs to hit. You’ll also need tees, balls, a coin or other object to use as a ball marker and a ball-mark repair tool. A golf glove -- worn on your non-dominant hand -- is optional.
Ease into the game by having an experienced friend or family member as part of your group so you can learn some of the many nuances of the game.
If your group has fewer than four players, the golf course staff might pair another golfer or two with you. In that case, feel comfortable introducing yourself to your playing partners as a beginning golfer and explain that you welcome their help navigating the course.
"A good idea for your first round is to observe more experienced players, and when the time is right, ask questions," says Chris Vatcher, general manager of Westlake Golf Course. "All golfers started somewhere and had to learn the many rules of the sport as well. It is important to get out there and play. The more you do, the more feedback you’ll get about the nuances of the game."
Vatcher also suggests that if all four members of the group are new golfers, you should make your first outing more relaxed by changing the format.
"Every once in a while we get four newbies in the same group," Vatcher said. "While the sport is a game of rules, you can relax them a bit with your first round. For example, we oftentimes suggest they start by playing a scramble." In this format (also called captain and crew), everyone hits a shot from the teeing ground, and then the group selects the best shot. The other golfers pick up their balls and move them to the location of the best shot, where everyone then hits. Keep selecting the best shot, even on the green.
"Driving up and down the course in their carts, most marshals appear intimidating to the newbie golfer, but the reality is most marshals have the attitude of wanting to help beginners to enjoy the game," Vatcher said. "Most are very open to helping beginners and would welcome the opportunity to impart their knowledge to you."
"Fundamentally, the No. 1 thing to be aware of for a new player is keeping up with the pace of play," said veteran PGA teaching pro Dan Martin. "There is a flow to golf. People care less that you hit out of turn or hit bad shots than they do about you not being ready and slowing the game down."
Sure, things like replacing the chunks of turf called "divots" and raking the sand bunkers are standard etiquette -- and there’s plenty more that you’ll need to pay attention to, as well -- but most golfers can be forgiving as long as you’re keeping up with the group ahead of you.
"Some people new to the sport get an attitude that 'I paid my money so I can play any way I want to,'" said Vatcher, adding that such a mind-set "is a recipe for a frustrating introduction to the game."
If you begin to feel pressure from the foursome following you, Vatcher said, "Don’t get emotional or egotistic about it -- just tell the group behind you that you are beginners and suggest they play through."
Remember to have fun
This game, more than most, is built on a lot of rules and precision. For the first round, though, give yourself a break and keep your expectations reasonable. As you get better and get more comfortable playing golf, you can apply the rules more strictly.
"Don’t try to play like a pro your first time out," said Vatcher. "You’ll only get very frustrated thinking you can emulate the pros you see on TV. If you score a snowman (an 8) on a hole, just tell yourself you're just starting and you're definitely going to get better. Be patient. If you happen to hit it in the water, drop it on the other side and play on. For your first time out, focus on fun."
Immersing yourself in the culture of golf can be overwhelming. That’s why teaching pros like Martin like to put new players in a more relaxed environment so they'll enjoy the game.
Martin's motto is "let's enjoy playing first and we'll get better later."
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