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April 23, 2012 6:04 PM   Subscribe

What else do I need to not look like a redneck yokel on the golf course?

My best friend passed down his old set of clubs to me. I've never really played golf before, but it's something I've always wanted to be serviceable at.

I met up with him at the local driving range today, and discovered I was, at best, ill-prepared. That little white glove has a purpose after all (maybe my hand well heal up by next week).

What should I be okay skimping on for now, and what should I spend a little money on? Like I said, I'm a beginner. I've literally got a bag of clubs, and that's it.
posted by chrisfromthelc to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (16 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Lessons! Nothing will make golf more fun (or at least tolerable) than knowing how to swing a club for reals. And unfortunately, there's no such thing as a piece of golf equipment that will make you any better than you already are. Unlike other sports, it takes a lot of work to become "serviceable" at golf, and driving ranges are crammed with duffers chopping at buckets upon buckets of balls without a purpose, thinking that sheer effort will get them where they want to be. Get yourself a new glove, and spend the rest on group lessons at the range (they're cheaper than privates, which you don't need right now.)
posted by turducken at 6:21 PM on April 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

One piece of equipment that improved my game at least 3 or 4 strokes per round was when I went from playing in sneakers to getting a pair of actual golf shoes.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:31 PM on April 23, 2012

Response by poster: Yeah, lessons are a given; I just don't want to show up and the instructor say something to the effect of "Where's your widgety-doo? How do you expect to play without one?!?"
posted by chrisfromthelc at 6:44 PM on April 23, 2012

Be aware of some of golf's rules of common courtesy.

Repair your divots. They sell little forky-looking things for this, or you can use a tee.

Never, ever walk in another player's line on the green. In other words, don't walk between a player's ball and the hole -- always walk around. Always.

If you are wearing golf shoes (which you should invest in: they will help your game) don't drag your feet. That turf is expensive, especially on the greens, which cost thousands and thousands a year to maintain. Don't tear them up.

Don't talk while another player is addressing the ball. Don't use the ball washer while another player is addressing the ball. Just wait until they hit, then go about your business.

If your drive does not make it beyond the red teebox, you have to play the rest of the hole with your pants around your ankles.*

Don't spend a lot of money on golf balls. You're going to lose them. Spend your money on shoes, a glove, and lessons. Also, a hat is nice, as are sunglasses.

*Not an actually rule, but one frequently invoked in the redneck golf matches in which I have participated.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 6:45 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Go get Golf for Dummies by Gary McCord. Yes, I know it's a "for Dummies" book, but Gary McCord a) actually knows his stuff, b) writes in a very approachable manner and c) covers all the little etiquette and expectations things. The book actually does what it intends to do.

Plus, he was banned from covering the Masters for CBS because those racist, sexist bastards in Augusta thought he wasn't properly respectful of their bullshit. Mad props, yo.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:47 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

As the other commenters said, golf shoes are probably your biggest bang for the buck right now. If everything is dry you can get away with a pair of running shoes for your lessons, but if the grass is slick or dewy, you need the spikes. You can show up at pretty much any golf course in a pair of khakis and a polo shirt and fit right in. No cuffs on your pants, as they'll just collect dirt. If you like your instructor, you might ask whether he gives playing lessons (lessons where you go play a round). I found these to be valuable for learning about things like club selection and where to hit the ball (which, often as not, won't be directly at the hole). Buy your wooden tees in the large bags (like 100 or 250) and dump them in a ziploc bag, you'll be amazed at how many tees you'll go through. Get a magic marker to mark your balls with your initial or a symbol or something. If you are going to be playing, plan to carry 12-18 balls (you'll forget to refill or need to loan somebody one or god forbid actually lose that many if the course is watery). Pick up a copy of the rule of golf and make an attempt to learn them. Some of the rules are pretty arcane; you may have better luck reading one of the books on how the rules are applied that cover lots of practical scenarios. A towel is always useful (I use one that clips on the bag and keep an extra towel in the bag). Never throw your clubs in anger, no matter what happens. Good luck and have fun.
posted by kovacs at 7:53 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, group lessons to start with - you'll learn as much from paying attention to the tips given to others as anything. Individual lessons can get expensive, but worth one every now and again to keep your skill development on track. If you're happy with the coach, don't ever take tips from any other person - amateur or professional, because everyone has their own technique and this will almost always make you worse.

Buy some reasonable quality shoes - make sure you buy shoes with 'soft spikes', because lots of courses won't allow anything else. Buy a reasonable quality glove and look after it, but realise that they don't last all that long. At first, buy second-hand balls as cheaply as you can - you will lose a lot of balls at first. A LOT. For beginners, a good golf ball is a cheap golf ball. Losing a ball per hole on average is not unheard of (especially if you are obstinate like me and refuse to give up when teeing off over a water hazard, even after losing 8 balls)

Repair your divots - carry a sand bucket at courses that provide them, if you can. As BitterOldPunk says, never walk between another player's ball and the hole on the green - ideally, walk around behind the player and never walk, talk or make any kind of noise while another player is addressing the ball.

On the course, it is your responsibility to keep up with the group in front, not just to keep ahead of the group behind you. Be courteous to those behind you and let them play through if it looks like you are holding them up.

Don't get sucked into spending a lot of money on equipment. You can spend more than you can imagine buying the latest gadgets and never get any better. A competent player will still be a competent player no matter what club they are using, but a bad player will never get better with better clubs (in fact, this usually makes things worse). The key is the get your basic swing right and practice, practice, practice.

Mainly, don't get sucked into how far you can hit the ball with a driver - you will hit a driver less than 18 times in a round, but you'll use your short irons (those with higher numbers) many many times more, so that's where skills will pay the greatest dividends. That and putting for the same reasons.

Have fun and keep that as your goal - if you don't take it too seriously, you can have a great time, but the game can be a cruel mistress otherwise.

This may be a regional variation to BOP's but (if you are male), if you don't hit the ball past the ladies' tee box from the tee, you have to buy drinks for the group after the game. Not quite an official rule, but probably observed much more rigorously around here than most rules.
posted by dg at 8:29 PM on April 23, 2012

AS others noted above, etiquette is everything. I can tell you that the condition of your game means nothing if you are a pleasure to play with/spend five hours tromping around outside. You can be terrible, and if you are in good spirits and follow some pretty simple rules of behavior, you'll be thought of highly. You will be a more desirable partner than someone more skilled at the game but worse company.

Play quickly. Be quiet during being quiet time. Don't get mad about poor shots. Pick up your ball after reaching double par and you are gold.

Have fun. It's the greatest game yet invented.
posted by Keith Talent at 8:58 PM on April 23, 2012

Decent golf shoes are a must just for traction. Many courses won't let you play unless you have the correct shoes and attire.
Used balls are the way to go, no need to spend an absolute fortune on new balls that you won't see any practical benefit from.

Have fun with it, you'll enjoy it a lot.

I've heard both rules for not getting past the red tee boxes, but only dg's drinks rule actually applied.
posted by arcticseal at 9:02 PM on April 23, 2012

Golf is not anywhere near as easy to learn as badmitton. When I was in high school in my Phys Ed class we had a golf module and there was thirty guys in there and we all practiced for around fifteen hours before we went out onto the par 3 course (not a real course) and it was pretty much a complete disaster for well over half the class.

Lessons are not cheap. You are going to need a mentor if you are going to pull this off. For almost all golfers currently in the population that mentor was their dad who spent way more than fifteen hours preparing them for the very big step of going to the first tee. If your best friend is really patient and he knows that way more than fifteen hours are going to be involved, this could be a lot of fun for both of you. Eventually.

My guess. If you are of perfectly average athletic ability. 100 hours of preparation before you can confidently stand on the tee box at hole # 1 on a regulation 18 hole course. Your best friend does not have to be there for all 100 hours, but he definitely has to be there for a good fraction of them.

I know a man who taught himself to be a scratch golfer by himself at the driving range and practice putting green with nothing but his own gumption and the Ben Hogan book.
posted by bukvich at 9:04 PM on April 23, 2012

Get those tees that have a bottom edge to them so they're always the same height. Fucking figuring out how high to tee the ball with regular tees if for the birds, man. And if you're divoting the green as a beginner, you don't need lessons.
posted by mckenney at 9:07 PM on April 23, 2012

Oh also, buying a rescue wood is worth it. And don't let all this etiquette stuff freak you out. Get three friends who are just out to have a nice day, play ready golf, and don't keep score. Listen to the warden if he says speed up but other than that, it is so not rocket science. Play muni courses starting out, they're cheaper and less douche potential.

Incidentally, I don't care if you walk across my line. I'm already putting with a bunch of chumps quoting Caddyshack at me.
posted by mckenney at 9:12 PM on April 23, 2012

bukvich: "If you are of perfectly average athletic ability. 100 hours of preparation before you can confidently stand on the tee box at hole # 1 on a regulation 18 hole course"

This is a very pessimistic approach to the game. If you are of average athletic ability, are prepared to pay attention to what you are taught and practice it and have reasonable expectations, a lesson and a few hours of practice is enough to have you on the course. If you expect to break par on your first time around, 100 hours or 1,000 hours of practice won't do it for you.
posted by dg at 9:54 PM on April 23, 2012

Nthing the advice for starter lessons and time at the driving range! Other advice below:

Shoes: Go for non-metal spikes (the plastic spider-looking spikes, not the metal pins). They are less likely to tear up the course, the woodwork, etc, and are required at some places. If you already have shoes with pins, you can buy a set of replacement spikes for pretty cheap and just swap them out (they unscrew, most divot tools have little nubs for removing/changing spikes).

Balls: If you're new, you'll likely lose a ton of them. So don't buy expensive balls. Some places sell bags of good-condition used balls for much less than a box of new ones. Take advantage of this until you feel more confident you can finish a hole with the ball you teed off with. Depending on how straight you shoot you may come out even (I know I've found a lot in the grass and woods!). If the ball is clearly abandoned (that is, no one else is playing near you, it's under a log or in a pile of weeds three feet high, it has been stepped on and is embedded in the mud, it is two feet deep in standing water with algae on it, etc.) don't be ashamed to pick it up to replace some you lost. I always have a pocket on my golf bag with "good" balls, and another pocket with so-so found balls that I use when I am risking losing a decent one (teeing off over water, for example - I can't hit a 20-yard-wide fairway some days, but I am sure if there was so much as a Dixie cup full of water embedded in the course I would shoot my ball straight into it!)

Tees: Cheap wooden tees are great. Plastic ones are OK - more likely to last a bit longer, but then you may spend a lot of time hunting for them if you knock it out of the ground. Go wooden, it's friendlier to the course if you can't find it.

Clubs: You can get as many as you want, really (there is officially a limit to the number you can carry, but rules are for tournaments, not for learning!). But all you REALLY need is a very limited set: Driver for teeing off on long holes, a couple of irons (a bare minimum might be 5, 7, and 9 for long, medium and short distances) and a putter. Start with those and stick with those until you feel comfortable with the distance you can cover with each. If you have trouble with the driver, use a 3 wood instead - lower numbers = longer distances, but they can also magnify your errors! And remember it's OK to tee off with an iron; most people aren't using a driver on a Par 3. (Practice on a driving range first; hitting a ball off a tee with an iron is a little different than hitting it off the grass. NEVER tee off without a tee. Bad form, and bad for the grass in tee area!)

If you add on, I really like a 5 wood because it's OK for teeing off on some shorter distance holes, but it has a small enough head you can use it off the fairway. At least in my hands a 5 wood is more forgiving than some of the long irons (3 or 4 iron). My current set has a "hybrid" style 5 wood: It's shaped like a standard wood, but the head is heavier and more solid like an iron. I really like that club. Specialty irons (pitching wedge or sand wedge) can be helpful too once you learn how to use them, but in a pinch you can do nearly the same job with a 9 iron.

Etiquette: (1) Tear up a chunk of turf when hitting the ball? That's a divot; pick it up and stick it back in the hole. Step on it gently to try to help it back in place. (2) Keep an eye on other golfers. Wait until the group ahead of you is clearly out of the way before teeing off (generally, if they just put the flag back into the cup on the green, you're good to go). If the group behind you is breathing down your neck, step aside and offer to let them play through. (3) When putting, pull the flag out of the hole and lay it down gently next to the green. It is also polite to offer to tend the flag when your golf partner is hitting onto the green from a short distance away - just hold the flag in place, and if the ball comes close pull the flag and step away (out of line with the direction of the ball). (4) If you hit the ball into the sand, you are supposed to use the provided rake to smooth out your tracks and ball marks after hitting your ball out of the trap. (5) And surely you know this last bit, but if you hit a ball towards someone, yelling "FORE" is obligatory to warn them.

Pro tip: If someone is hitting towards you and yells FORE, if you can't duck behind a tree, crouch down and stand your golf bag upright in front of you. Some protection is better than none.

Finally, golf carts can be fun but they're expensive and not necessary for most people. Renting a pull cart is really handy though, unless you really want to lug your bag yourself the whole day. My wife and I bought a couple of inexpensive folding pull carts and use them pretty much every time. Saves your back, and keeps your bag out of the dirt when hitting.
posted by caution live frogs at 8:43 AM on April 24, 2012

Decent golf shoes are a must just for traction.

Was going to say this, too. Shoes are a must. You don't have to spend a fortune on them, either.
Oh, and a big "hell yes" to lessons. Best investment, ever. Find a local "real" public course. Their pro will usually offer lessons for less than at a private or "public yet priced like a country club" course.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:59 AM on April 24, 2012

OH YEAH I forgot several things I learned from experience:

1) If you happen to go out with a friend who likes to smoke cigars when golfing, and he offers you one and you accept, take it out of your mouth and set it on the ground when hitting the ball. (Unless you like cigar smoke directly into your eyes.) Kinda learned this one the hard way.

2) If you wear a heavy watch on your wrist, if it fits loosely at all be prepared for it to attempt to poke holes in your arm thanks to the force applied to it when swinging. Lightweight sports watch for the win.

3) Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen!

4) Every muscle in the leading side of your body will be sore the day after. You have no idea how many muscles you are using that ordinarily don't get used that way.

5) Par 3 courses are a great starting point. Low pressure, short distances, less likely to have water or sand hazards, and usually no impatient seasoned hard-core golfers annoyed that you aren't moving as fast as they want you to.
posted by caution live frogs at 9:11 AM on April 24, 2012

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