How to get started in golf?
April 7, 2011 10:49 AM   Subscribe

After waiting 42 years, I'm thinking about taking up golf. Is that possible?

Here's a few salient facts...

1. I think I have the demeanor for it - I'm the type of person who takes joy in a single success, even if it comes amidst 999 failures.

2. I'm not much of an athlete - honestly, I have virtually no natural athletic ability

3. I've never been on a golf course. I've been to the driving range a few times in my life (not recently), and was unable to hit a driver anywhere close to straight.

4. I have many good friends who golf regularly. While they're ready partners - I'm nervous about playing with them because they're all probably pretty good. (I don't mind losing - I just don't want to spoil the game for them.)

I have a bunch of questions...

There are some sports/games like poker, that are easy on beginners. In other words, I could easily sit down and play with the world's best poker players (if they agreed to low enough stakes). I'd lose, but I could certainly play with them.

On the other hand - a sport like ski-jumping is not something you can just "pick up."

I guess I don't really understand how golf works... Is it possible for a newbie to just step out on a course and play? Do I need to take 6 months of lessons first?

I have a real fear of driving 10 successive balls into a hazard, and not being able to get off the tee - this has kept me from trying. How do golfers accommodate this?

Would I be better off finding some sort of beginner program someplace? Is so - can anyone recommend a program in or near the Metrowest area outside of Boston?

I'm a little intimidated by the etiquette, the formalities. Is there anything to that, or is that just because I've never tried it?

Should I start with lessons, with books, with time by myself on the driving range? Or, should I just take the next invitation to play and just wing it?

Sorry for all the questions - I really think I'd like the game - I just don't have any idea how to get started...

Thanks in advance!
posted by stuehler to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
First and foremost, not matter what, take a few lessons! I don't know what the area is like, but find a decent rated golf pro. You aren't trying to be the Golden Bear, so don't worry too much about where. But don't go out by yourself the first and just try to pick it up. You will pick up all kinds of bad habits. Check the local public courses or even the big golf superstores. They all employ pros. It will pay dividends later.

That being said, don't be intimidated. Do you know what golf and sex have in common? You don't have to be good at either of them to enjoy it!
posted by Silvertree at 10:58 AM on April 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Absent a pretty severe problem with vision, mobility or coordination, golf is very learnable at pretty much any age.

That said, it is not really possible to wing it, or teach yourself, and you basically cannot play as a sub-beginner alongside competent golfers, because your game will simply take too long.

Six months is a fair estimate of the time it might take to get presentable ... if that's one lesson, one practice session and (after you've skilled up a bit) one solo round a week. Books and videos are useful as a supplement, but most of them are targeted to more advanced golfers.
posted by MattD at 10:58 AM on April 7, 2011

Sorry I'm not a golfer so I don't have any specific advice for you, but wanted to offer this bit of encouragement. My dad just took up golf last year at 65 and he is absolutely loving it. He took a few lessons to teach him the basics and spent some time at the driving range before he was comfortable enough to play with friends. Some of his friends are awesome golfers but it's all a bit of fun and they didn't mind that he wasn't up to par (har har) when he started. He said it didn't take long to pick up the basics. Have fun!
posted by futureisunwritten at 10:59 AM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do it! Golf is awesome!

Ask your friends who play golf to take you to the range. They can show you some basics like grip and stance (we love to show off our golf knowledge), and you can swing their clubs a few times.

Next get yourself a beginners set of irons/woods. Don't worry about spending big bucks, get a generic set from a sporting goods store. These will be fine for your first year or so.

Keep going to the range. Your friends who golf will go to the range a lot more than they play...all golfers do. Once you can make contact regularly on the range, plan an outing to a par-3 pitch-n-putt course with your friends. This will get you some on-course etiquette with less pressure than a real course.

You don't need 6 months of lessons to go out and play, but you do need to know proper course etiquette and not slow down the pace of play.
posted by BigVACub at 11:02 AM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I can't help you with most of your questions, but my son and I took a few lessons at Natick Golf Center (Speen St., Natick) and we really enjoyed them. They had both indoor and outdoor areas so you could practice rain or shine. I get intimidated easily (after 20 years of being a guitar player I still won't play at the music store) but I didn't find anything scary about the lessons. Nobody was staring at me or judging me. The instructor was used to beginners and very patient.

Also, you get to drive a golf cart!

After four lessons I in no way felt ready to go out on a course. I think i was able to hit 1 in 10 balls any sort of distance.

I had pretty much the same fears as you and still do, but I didn't stick with it. Mostly I signed up to do it with my son (8) who became obsessed with golf for some reason. I like to encourage his obsessions.

If you get too frustrated, there's a great mini-golf place a couple miles down Rt. 9. Have fun!
posted by bondcliff at 11:03 AM on April 7, 2011

Golf is great! Play golf! And you can definitely pick it up at any age, and pick it up well.

But golf is not a sport that wildly different skill levels can play together without conflict. Golf can be surprisingly difficult. Unless you have very, very patient friends, I'd take at least a few months of lessons / rounds with another beginner friend before you began playing with them.
posted by good day merlock at 11:09 AM on April 7, 2011

As a very occasional golfer, I highly recommend taking a few lessons; they really improved my swing and enjoyment of the game. I'm also a fan of par 3 courses (commonly referred to as "pitch and putt") - tons of fun, and much less intimidating for the beginner.
posted by malocchio at 11:15 AM on April 7, 2011

I would stay away from having friends teach you. Most amateurs have bad habits that they will pass on to you. Go up to the local municipal course and talk to the pro. They can teach you the basics of the swing, the game as well as etiquette and rules. They may even play a few holes with you. Some clubs provide group or intro lessons that are pretty cheap.

Don’t be intimidated. Everyone makes bad shots and your friends are probably not as good as you are envisioning. I have played all over and it is extremely rare to have everyone in a foursome all play well. If you take some lessons, practice over the summer, you should feel comfortable playing with any group. The key is learning to hit straight. Once you can do that, you should be able to keep up just about any amateur group.
posted by iscavenger at 11:18 AM on April 7, 2011

In addition to all of this excellent advice you may want to see if there is a driving range near you. I have no real golf ability [love mini-golf] but I find hanging out at the driving range with a cool beverage and a bucket of balls is an inexpensive way for me to practice my swing, hang out with other people, get stretched out and be outside. You might want to start with a few lessons and then just hit a bucket of balls [or five] and see if you feel that you'd be okay getting involved in a real game. My feeling is that once you get a basic feel for what's involved you can assess yourself and see if that sort of thing is fun for you and whether it's worth taking the next steps to move forward.
posted by jessamyn at 11:18 AM on April 7, 2011

The key to playing with better golfers and not annoying them by slowing them down, is to play "ready golf"--whoever's ready, hits. After everyone tees off, each player walks to their ball and hits it as long as 1) no one else is hitting at the exact same time or 2) right in front of you. Essentially, you avoid the slow style of play where the foursome goes to one person's ball and lets them hit, then the next player's...

In practice, this means you all split up, and the player with the nearest ball hits while the others stop and wait if they'll be in the likely way, otherwise they continue walking to their ball. Your part in this means being able to walk up to your ball, pull out a club, take no more than one practice swing, and hit your ball. This means picking your club as you're walking towards the ball, not once you're at the ball. This means worrying less about your score and more about just advancing the ball to the green.

When I started, I was playing with two quite good golfers, and never held them up even if I was pushing the ball 20 yards at a time through trees.

Take introductory lessons that teach you a basic golf swing. In practice you'll only need three or four clubs because, since you're not hitting the optimum distance per club, you won't need to worry about using a six instead of a five to land on the green. Driver for the teebox, a driving iron for the fairway, a 9 for pitching/sand, and a putter. As you get more consistent you can add clubs to your game and start worrying about the finer points of getting out of the sand or laying up. Good golfers won't care as long as you're keeping up with the overall pace, and they'll likely feel quite paternal towards you as they recall their initial difficulties getting started.

I encourage you to golf--it's a lifelong pursuit where your biggest opponent is yourself, and there's always improvement to be made. It's also hard to beat spending four or five hours outside, even in the manicured environment of a golf course. Avoid using a golf cart. Take a pull cart for your clubs and get the long walk in.
posted by fatbird at 11:37 AM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

My 60 year old father-in-law just started golfing. Go for it!
posted by gnutron at 11:44 AM on April 7, 2011

On being comfortable playing with your friends: It all depends on your friends and how they and you like to play. I pretty much suck as a golfer [play two or three times a year; picked it up at 47 after not having played since high school, when I sucked slightly less]. Now I go out with my 13-yr-old, who's just learning. He and I play best-ball scrambles whenever we go. Both players hit the ball, then we both hit from the location of the best shot. Lather, rinse, repeat. Even though he shanks it off into the woods or hits it ten feet half the time, we're not holding up anyone behind us, he's not getting frustrated, and we both get a lot of swings in.

Maybe your friends are amenable to this sort of thing. Maybe you're a rotating scramble partner with the other three. Maybe you go out golfing with them and tee off, then ride the cart to the green, where you putt from the farthest guy's location. There's lots of options. You get to spend time with your friends, you get some swings in without getting frustrated by scoring eleventeen on every hole, and they're not frustrated watching you progress down the course ten feet at a time.

If your friends all view themselves as candidates for the Senior Tour and every round as a step in that direction, maybe they're not up for this, but if they're your friends and know you're just picking the game up, they'd have to be real dicks [IMO] to not accommodate your desire to learn and pick it up, at least a few times.

I now play in a tournament with friends each year. Sixteen of us; we play 4 or 5 rounds or so over a weekend. There are several people in the group who only play this one weekend and never practice outside of it [one numbers each ball as he puts a new one into play, having lost the previous one in the water or woods; last year he finished the weekend on ball #45]. There's me, who plays a couple other times. There's guys who play every week and who probably are candidates for the Senior Tour. We all get along fine on the course.
posted by chazlarson at 11:51 AM on April 7, 2011

I would start with lessons and a decent set of clubs.
A lot of golf courses offer lesson packages where you get X number of lessons for Y amount of dollars.
For clubs, places like Costco have some good options that include Driver, woods, and irons/wedges. You'd just need to get a putter.
You can also look around for used clubs. Some of your friends may even have some sets laying around; golfers tend to upgrade often.

For a budget, I would definitely spend more money on lessons than on clubs at this point.
And be sure to visit the driving range regularly.
posted by nickthetourist at 11:53 AM on April 7, 2011

Yes, you want golf lessons. A golf swing is all about muscle memory -- going to the driving range and simply repeating bad habits will make your game WORSE. You need someone to teach you how to do it right first. (FWIW, I am a terrible golfer, 28 handicap, and it was my experience that if my swing felt natural and smooth that meant I was doing it wrong. The human body just isn't built to swing a golf club, IMO. I still can't hit a driver to save my life. The best round of golf I ever carded was the one where I deliberately left all my woods in the trunk and teed off on ever hole, even the par fives, with a five-iron. I made a lot of double bogeys, but that beat the snowmen I was usually scoring.)

So yeah -- lessons first.

The great thing about golf is that you'll go out and hit 100 terrible awful very bad shots and somehow in there accidentally hit one perfectly -- and that's the shot you'll remember at the end of the day.

Golf has rules for everything. You will unknowingly break them, and your asshole friends will call you on it. Don't play golf with those people. They are assholes.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:14 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

When you start golfing with your friends, make sure you don't apologize. Hearing someone constantly complain or point out that they are bad is much much worse then them playing poorly. They already know you suck and that you are a beginner. There is no need to remind them of this.

Plus people only care about their own game. Unless you do something super annoying they are more likely to be thinking of their next putt instead of where your shot went.

The one exception is you don't want to slow your group down. If you are, pick your ball up and walk it to the green.
posted by rdurbin at 1:37 PM on April 7, 2011

If you haven't played before you shoud know that golf has an odd learning curve. The first stage -- the "when I swing the club, the ball goes roughly forward for more than 10 yards" stage -- can be quite hard to master. Its unnatural, not like throwing or kicking. Its something you do alone or with someone else that is starting. Lessons can realy help with this, especially since you can learn it wrong and have a swing that will never get better. You don't do this on a course with friends that can play.

The second stage - hitting on average 2 or 3 over par with an occasional 9 and an occasional par, i.e., an over 100 golfer (stokes per 18 holes) -- is pretty easy to obtain once you understand hitting. This level of golf can be a lot of fun and, if it is what your looking for, there should be no problem getting there.

The next stage -- an equal mix of pars and one or two overs, a sub-90 golfer, usually takes a lot of work and a lot of time on the course. If your frineds have been playing a lot for many years, this may be where they are. Any better than that, i.e., a scratch or better golfer, is approaching pro level. I wouldn't worry about your friends being there or you getting there, there is a reason those guys get paid for golfing.

Of course, your natural ability plays in at every level.
posted by rtimmel at 1:42 PM on April 7, 2011

My mother-in-law took up golf when she was 50, and she was definitely not in shape at the time! I think golf is a good sport for mixed beginner-levels play, as long as the beginner isn't super-apologetic about their skill level all the time. My MIL will golf with my husband, who has been golfing since he was very young and is still an intermediate player. They do "ready play."

Absolutely start with some lessons - check around for public golf courses in your area. They often have very reasonable prices for one-on-one lessons.
posted by muddgirl at 2:26 PM on April 7, 2011

Grip it and rip it.
Well ok that isn't really true until you have played and know what to do but go, have fun with it. It sounds like you already understand the frustration factor and aren't looking to be the PGA tour pro. Those are excellent starting points.

You will swing in frustration untold times and will remember the one that clicks off the club just like you want for longer than you would think. Those few shots that just "take off" when you are learning will be the ones that keep you going.

Remember to have fun and not get down on yourself. Take a few lessons and some solo trips to the range. Try and find a lower key course to start on as there will be less pressure than you might feel at a very nice course.

My friends would go out after work and play scrambles with teams of three to four people where each team play from the best ball. This takes all of the pressure off you and if you happen to get a hold of one or you can chip or putt well you will still be helping, having fun and learning.

Go grab a decent set of cheap clubs and you'll be set until you can feel you want to play more/bette golf, then worry about good clubs.

Have fun.
posted by Blackie at 3:22 PM on April 7, 2011

I guess I don't really understand how golf works... Is it possible for a newbie to just step out on a course and play? Do I need to take 6 months of lessons first?

Probably not six months of lessons, but you'll certainly need to get some lessons and practice what you have been taught at the driving range. The problem, as some people have noted, is simply speed - if you are hitting the ball 10 yards average and your friends are hitting greens in regulation, you will slow them down to a point that reduces their enjoyment. You may also get in the way of the game behind you, and if you're playing a higher-end course at a busy time, you may be asked to speed up by a course official of some kind. So you want to get yourself to a point where generally when you try and hit the ball you make contact with it, and it goes a significant distance; say, more than 100 yards with a mid-iron.

I have a real fear of driving 10 successive balls into a hazard, and not being able to get off the tee - this has kept me from trying. How do golfers accommodate this?

You learn to have a basic level of confidence in your swing, and then you just risk it. You might stand on the tee hitting fresh air after fresh air before finally slicing one through the clubhouse window, but if you have been hitting the ball reasonably consistently at the driving range, there is no reason you won't do that same thing on the course. Take most of the pressure off by getting out very early when not many other people are around for your first few real rounds. But FWIW, I have been playing golf for half my life, when I catch a drive I can hit it 300 down the middle, I have won competition large and small, and yet when I stand on the first tee I worry I will fresh-air it. Much of golf, as you are already beginning to see, is mental.

Would I be better off finding some sort of beginner program someplace? Is so - can anyone recommend a program in or near the Metrowest area outside of Boston?

I'm not familiar with such programmes I'm afraid.

I'm a little intimidated by the etiquette, the formalities. Is there anything to that, or is that just because I've never tried it?

The basic etiquette of golf can be summed up as 'be a gentleman' (or gentlewoman). If you're slowing down the group behind, let them play through. If you touch the ball with your club in the trees where no-one can see you, call the foul on yourself. Don't get in the way of your fellow players, and so on. You can pick up the basics from a five-minute chat with someone who plays the game, and learn everything else as you go along, and really this stuff only becomes important in competition play anyway. Not somethign to worry about.

Should I start with lessons, with books, with time by myself on the driving range? Or, should I just take the next invitation to play and just wing it?

My standard recommendation is to spend some time by yourself at the range or on a range at a course, but only do that for a few hours. You are teaching yourself bad habits which are far harder to unlearn than they are to learn, but at the same time you will save time and money on lessons by getting the basic feel of what it is like to swing a club and hit the ball. Once you've got a little used to it, go to a pro and get the lessons, before you have had a chance to properly damage your swing. A good pro will understand you are not as flexible as when you were 16, and allow for that in what they teach you. Do _not_ take tips or lessons or help from anyone playing off a handicap higher than three or so; they may be well-meaning, but they're probably wrong.

Golf is a wonderful, wonderful game; like all great games, it is a metaphor for life. It provides endless hours of pleasure (and follow-on conversations) for players well into their eighties and nineties. Will you get down to a low-single-figure handicap? Probably not, unless you happen to have an extremem natural talent for the game. Will you develop a hobby for life that will frustrate you, energise you, elate you, bring you to despair, introduce you to new people and give you a healthy, positive outlet? Absolutely.
posted by StephenF at 4:11 PM on April 7, 2011

If you are starting at 42 and you aren't really good at other sports, you are never going to be "good"... but it doesn't matter! That's why golf is fun for everyone, because the fun part is shooting YOUR best score and making YOUR best shot.

You don't need lessons for six months, but going to the driving range and putting green a few times is a good idea. Lessons are nice to have, but not necessary if you can figure out the basics from the internet, like how to put your hands on the club. It's good that you have friends to go with because they can help you with etiquette, which is really only a handful of rules.

One rule that helps out our friends that aren't too good is "double par", where that is the maximum score you can get on a hole. Some folks use 10 for that number also. If you have a bad hole you can just pick up your ball and you don't need to worry about people waiting for you if you hit a bunch in the water.
posted by solmyjuice at 9:49 AM on April 9, 2011

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