Golf course etiquette
June 9, 2009 1:29 PM   Subscribe

Can i play golf alone if I suck at it?

I'm trying to learn golf... and I think the best way will be to just go out there and do it. But they don't let you play by yourself, usually they pair you up with someone. This someone is likelier to be better and or faster than me. What is the best way to handle this - warn him in advance that I am not going to be a good playing partner so he can play through, play with him and be excrutiatingly embarassed while I shank balls all over the place, or??
Also I'm concerned about the amount of unsolicited, possibly unhelpful advice. Do I grit my teeth and take it in the spirit it's meant? Cause some people can go ON and ON with advice that I don't necessarily want to hear all of.
What is the best way to handle these social situations?
posted by chickaboo to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (18 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
go the driving range, and then local pitch and putt courses until you're comfortable, and hitting the ball well. Then you'll have nothing to worry about. And if you go in the mornings you can play by yourself. The short game is most important anyway, pitch and putt courses have holes <=115 yards, and they're are a lot more lax about expectations, playing alone, dress code, etc.
posted by imaswinger at 1:42 PM on June 9, 2009

My advice:

1) go to a driving range, take a couple lessons there, it will keep you from learning a bunch of bad habits. Go to the practice putting green. Tap them around until you can get it within 3-5 feet from the hole from a longer distance. Tap them at various distances to learn speed. Tap them from 3 ft and less to learn consistency.

2) It is polite to pick your ball up when you have hit it enough. What is enough? Well, that depends. But you don't have to keep hitting until the ball is in the cup. Know if you think you are taking to long and slowing others down, you can put it in your pocket.
Here is a tutorial

3) You aren't in the masters, don't line your put up for a half hour. Nothing more annoying than someone sextuple checking their line and missing the hole by 30 feet. Go ahead and learn how to line up, check the line once (twice for long or bad sidehill putts maybe), take the best aim you can, and tap away. Basically play the hole well, but don't try to become a better putter on the course, go to the range for that.

I haven't played golf for years, but played a lot at a nice country club, with a very high handicap, maybe a 24 or 26, as long as you don't unduly hold people up, and learn the etiquette of the game, being an awful golfer is just peachy.

Seconding the par 3 courses. Long clubs (woods) are really hard to master, par 3's keep you away from them for a while.
posted by Antidisestablishmentarianist at 1:49 PM on June 9, 2009

Response by poster: i should clarify, this is an easy par 3 course with some holes less than 70 yards...
posted by chickaboo at 1:50 PM on June 9, 2009

Response by poster: Oh and I have taken 3 months of lessons so I am not trying to learn on the course. But I think I'n at a point where I can't learn that much more on the range, need to get out there and don't necessarily have an endless supply of patient golfing friends available to play with me as much as I'd like.
thanks for the responses keep em coming
posted by chickaboo at 1:52 PM on June 9, 2009

Get out there early, so that you're not paired up with anyone else. If they still try to hook you up, say you just want to play the back nine (and do so).

If you have no choice but to play with other people then welcome to golf, a game where you're forced to embarass yourself in front of your friends, enemies and complete strangers. Learning to play by yourself, in company and in tournaments is actually, I'm afraid, part of the game.

That whole "mental game" thing you hear them talking about on tv? A lot of that is being able to get yourself into a zone where you're oblivious to the opinions, judgements and uninvited tips of your fellow golfers. (Okay, "oblivious" might be impossible for those of us not named after wild cats but...)

Good luck. I play off a 32 but I still enjoy myself and play with people of all skill levels. I also make sure I only play in tournaments where the format allows me to pick up my ball on holes that I'm really messing up.

Have fun.
posted by gwpcasey at 2:02 PM on June 9, 2009

Don't sweat it- especially on a par 3 course. Most skilled players won't spend much time on that kind of course- you'll probably see a lot of learners, young people and casual players. If it helps, try to pick an off-hour to play. You can even call and ask them when they're slow and play at that time. That'll minimize your chances of slowing anyone else down. Lastly, if you've taken 3 months of lessons, you're probably fine. Just get out there!
posted by JuiceBoxHero at 2:04 PM on June 9, 2009

the people whom you would likely feel embarrassed next to are not going to be playing on a course like that, or at least will know that missing par doesn't mean an extra 15min per hole.
posted by rhizome at 2:10 PM on June 9, 2009

Anyone playing a par 3 is probably not looking for anything serious so I wouldn't worry...but also if you can't hit the 70-120 yards pretty straight each time and your putting and chipping needs work, playing a course isn't necessarily the place to perfect technique in my experience. Repetition and developing that touch over and over again is what helped me when I was serious about golf in my younger years.
posted by mattsweaters at 2:11 PM on June 9, 2009

If it's a par 3 course, just go - go early or late, and you should be fine. Do you have a friend that golfs? If so, take that friend with you and...instant twosome. Play the par 3 a handful of times and you should be ready to go out on a full-sized course; seconding the advice of "pick up when you've had enough" on the big course, though.

As far as advice, I'm not a great golfer (I played off an 18/19 handicap when I played regularly, but I don't play much any more and so my handicap is....higher) and I always was grateful for any tips that superior players would give me, as long as they were offered in a genial way. I never really came across a playing partner that cut me down or made me feel like a crappy golfer, most everyone out there is trying to improve.

If you find that you are getting too much advice, just say so - be nice about it, but say something like "Thanks, I'm still learning and this is a whole lot to process during a round, so I think for now I'll just work on what you've shown me so far", and if you feel better about it later on, maybe ask again after a couple holes.

I know this probably runs counter to a lot of advice you've been given, but golf is supposed to be fun. The minute it becomes work, you won't enjoy it. So don't let it become work - in these early outings at the par 3, pick one or two things to work on throughout the round (mastering your 7-iron, correctly judging distance, reading greens), and focus on that and don't worry about the rest of it. Each time you go out, build on what you've learned. It's not a linear progression, but over time with this approach you will get better.

It's a frustrating game to play, but at the end of the day it's just walking around a park in the sun for a few hours. Have fun!
posted by pdb at 2:14 PM on June 9, 2009

Welcome to golf. The nice thing is that the etiquette and rules are designed exactly for these situations. Do not fear going out with a threesome...or even getting paired. Here's why:

1) They don't care about your game. They're playing their own game against the course.
2) Everyone - even Ben Hogan - sucked when they first started playing. Learning a swing is one thing, but course management can only be learned on the course.
3) If you abide by the etiquette of the game, then they will respect you because you're respecting the game. Believe me - golf is incredibly difficult and no one will resent you for being a player of lower skill.

Golfers who offer you advice, by the way, are breaching etiquette. Many pros had flawed swings - look at Jim Furyk and Lee Trevino. It may be good advice, but just nod and say thanks.

Now - that being said, as a lower skilled player, there are some additional things you can do to accomodate other players and be welcomed the next time you play.

When you meet the group, introduce yourself, tell them you're new, that you're trying, and that if it looks like you're slowing them down, you'll pocket and keep moving. They will appreciate that and no one will think less of you.

If you're topping them off the tee and not getting the ball down the fairway, after your second attempt, just wait until everyone has teed off, and drop approximately where the next player up hit it. That keeps you on pace and gives you a chance to practice different shots. Remember that just because that guy is hitting a 9 iron, you might need a 7 iron. No shame in that, either.

If you're lagging and everyone is on the green and you're still 140 yards out thinking you can save triple bogey if you hole it from there, just pick up your ball, put it in your pocket and keep up with the group. There is no shame in this. If you can, just toss the ball somewhere near the green (if everyone isn't on yet) and pull a wedge and do a bump n' run onto the green. The key is to accelerate enough to be able to putt when everyone else is. That also keeps the marshalls happy. And no one will think less of you.

Keep quiet and watch and listen a lot. Really commit the etiquette to heart. Never, ever question rules for other players unless you're playing on a bet. Remember - you're playing against the course, not each other.

Bottom line, have fun. I have many pleasant memories of going out in the early morning with the really old guys. They are the most fun to play with, and will show you that you don't have to be Tiger to be a surgeon with a wedge. And many golfers are very patient with newbies - they may be more than willing to wait on you a bit, or let you take a couple mulligans. That's great if they do. If it's a busy day, probably not.

One final thought - ask the pro shop when the slow times are at the course, and try and go then. Also tell them that you might like to get hooked up with other newbies. Playing scrambles with new players is a hell of a lot of fun.

And drink beer. Remember to drink beer.
posted by Thistledown at 2:38 PM on June 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

have you actually BEEN to the Par 3 yet?

Because at my local par 3 (Los Feliz Municipal, as seen in "Swingers"), if you have had 3 months of lessons you would probably be in the top 5% of the players there. I have seen people smoking pot on the course. It's not going to be "snobs vs the slobs" because snobs don't go to a par 3, and if they do, they know to expect beginners and causal goof-off players.
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:28 PM on June 9, 2009

Also, I have hit the ball over the fence and almost struck a horse, and on the same day my friend hit his over another fence and hit someone's car. No one batted an eyelash.
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:31 PM on June 9, 2009

The biggest sin for new golfers is playing slowly and holding up everyone behind them.

You'll be fine on a par-3 course. For your first time, if you hit double digit strokes on a hole, pick your ball up and move on to the next hole. On a par-3 course no one will bat an eye at that, most of the people there will be casual/new golfers.

The first time you play a regulation par-72 course, if you hit double-par on a hole (8 on a par 4), pick up. The first few times you play don't worry so much about your score. Its more important to pick up etiquitte and get a feel for the pace of the game on the course. For example, a buddy of mine started playing a few years ago. He never knew when it was his turn to hit (in general furthest from the hole hits first). I would have to tell him "you're up"...then he would spend a couple of minutes figuring out which club he needed to hit...then he would shank it 10 feet and start again. This really slowed the group (and all groups behind us) down. When you're ready for a regulation course, you should have a rough idea of which club to hit immediately. 150 yards, no wind, no hills? You should be able to say 6/7/8 iron right away.

You'll never get away from the range. Thats the only place you can learn new stuff. You practice it on the range forever, and the first time you try out a new technique/club on the course you WILL flub it...then go back to the range. Why do you think Tiger spends hours on the range before and after every round?

Relax and have is a great sport.
posted by BigVACub at 4:38 PM on June 9, 2009

From a non-MeFite friend, and golfer:

"If you suck to the point of really slowing the pace of play for the rest of your group, then take a lesson or two. They really are affordable when you compare it to the cost of a round of golf. The lesson doesn't instantly improve you, but it gives you specific things to work on at the driving range. So, you can turn two lessons into 4 to 6 interesting trips to the range, and by then you will not be worried about slowing the pace of play for other golfers. So, go out there with confidence. Another way to not slow down play is to cheat. Treat your round as practice, and if you hit a really bad shot, take a mulligan. Then just go to the best of the two shots and play from there. This can really speed up play as long as you aren't doing this more than once or twice per hole.

It's also been my experience that 99% of golfers will not offer unsolicited advice while on the course. It's just bad golf etiquette. And if you get some advice that you don't want, just say, "I'm taking lessons from John at the pro shop, and I think I need to just focus only on the things he's telling me to work on. Thanks anyway." Golfers will understand this, because we have all been there."
posted by mrhaydel at 8:27 PM on June 9, 2009

chickaboo - You're learning. That means you don't need to keep score. You play the hole as long as your partner does - maybe a stroke or two longer. If you need to pocket the ball and move to the next hole, then don't sweat it. No one at a par 3 will give a hoot.

You'll learn plenty from simply playing rounds with lots of different people. It will teach you to relax and allow your swing to flow. I've pounded plenty of balls into trees, because sometimes I hit 'em long and wrong. When that happens, I laugh at my squirrel hunting skills and move along to the next hole.
posted by 26.2 at 8:43 PM on June 9, 2009

You've had 3 months of lessons. That's about 3 more months than I've had. I also paid $30 for my clubs at a garage sale (real wooden woods!!!). I am not what the kids would call competent at playing golf in the least, and yet when I go to the local par3 with my friends or coworkers I find sucking more than they do is not even a little bit of an issue. You'll be just fine. Especially on a par3. Par 3s are for fun and a nice walk, not for serious playing.
posted by barc0001 at 1:34 AM on June 10, 2009

Stop by the local course and ask the people behind the counter (or the starter/ranger) when the best time would be to do what you want to do it. They will probably appreciate it.

Also, learn to read the players behind and in front of you. If the group behind you is consistently standing at the tee waiting for you to finish 9-putting, let them play through the next hole. Different courses have different cultures for this, another thing to ask the starter.

When I was learning to play, I had the luxury of playing at a course with my grandfather early in the morning during the week. The place was practically empty, and we had the run of the place.

(You've had lessons, so if your teacher is any good at all, you probably know more than everyone else at the place. Have your lessons been on a course, or at a range? If not on a course, have him do a few lessons on a course so you can get a feel for it.)

(And if you are like me and get frustrated, sometimes it feels really good to pick up the ball and throw it rather than shanking yet another shot.)

(And learn the difference between playing by the book and just screwing around. If you learn bad habits, it can annoy the people around you.)

(And trust me on this: learn to choose the right club for the distance/terrain you are shooting for. That way you don't have to re-learn club selection every time you get better at your game, and you won't over-shoot. Even if you suck, I've found that you'll play a better game if you have to take your extra shots approaching the hole, rather than from behind. I play with a friend who does this, because he thinks it is hilarious to accidentally hit a ball cleanly and make it sail into the next county.)

(Don't sweat cheap/old equipment. Better clubs and balls will improve a good game, but they won't fix a bad swing, they'll just amplify it. Nothing sucks worse than being terrible, and then paying $1000 for a set of super conducting titanium carbon fiber weightless clubs and still sucking. Get really good on grandpa's old clubs, and then those miracles of science will actually make a difference.)

(But also make sure your clubs fit. It's not a huge difference, but it's worth it. Clubs are fit by measuring from the tips of your fingers when they are hanging at your hips, to the ground. You'll find that this number is mostly the same for most people. But different enough that a long club on a short person will mess up your swing. You'll be correcting for the inherent slice, and then when you get a correctly fit club, you'll have a wicked hook. The trick is that the lines on the head of the club should be parallel to the ground when you hit the ball.)
posted by gjc at 4:55 AM on June 10, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for all the thoughtful responses, guys. Psyched to go out and try this! Thanks. Should be fun.
posted by chickaboo at 7:20 AM on June 10, 2009

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