Whether you’ve never held a golf club before or tried to take a few swings here and there, having the desire to play the game is a start, and taking the time to properly learn how to play is essential as a beginner. Golf is a sport that allows you to stay active—physically and mentally—and appreciate the outdoors at any age. The skill of swinging a club requires you to move with strength and control, challenging your muscles, balance and range of motion. And if you skip the golf cart and the caddy, carrying your clubs over a nine-hole course can burn 500 to 600 calories. What's more, golf allows you to practice good concentration and can be a relaxing activity while you’re enjoying the game.
One of the best parts of golf is embracing the natural environment you're playing in—breathing in fresh air, being surrounded by beautiful greenery, taking in the quiet atmosphere, feeling the warmth of the sun on your back. It’s an activity that offers you much more than a workout. To enjoy all that golf has to offer, and to play well, you need to learn the elements of the game in the right sequence. Here’s how to get started:
Sign up for a lesson. Hiring a pro can help you learn the rules, proper form and help you advance in the game in a shorter amount of time than going it alone, no matter how much you practice. You can search for instructors (some specialize in working with beginners) on pga.com, or by calling your local golf course for a referral. You may also want to look into local beginner events and discounts for short games (nine holes). Many courses have discounted afternoon and evening rates when you can play nine holes or less.
Be patient. You wouldn’t expect to head down a black diamond slope your first time on skis, or hit a 90 mph serve as a tennis novice. Learning any sport takes time and there are several basic skills to master (and practice) before upping the challenge. The same is definitely true of golf: One of the most common mistakes people make when they step up to the tee is swinging the club as hard as they can to see how far they can hit the ball. Slow down and focus on your instructor’s advice. In fact, swinging the club isn’t even the first thing you need to learn; it's crucial to learn the correct grip, and address position and weight shift.
Practice on a small scale. Playing 18 holes and keeping score can be overwhelming and frustrating for a beginner golfer. Simplify your practice by visiting a driving range to work on the mechanics of your swing. Breaking things down to focus on specific elements of the game will help you put it all together when you’re on the course.
Gear up. Whether you’re taking an hour-long lesson or going out on the course for the afternoon, there are several things you’ll need:
When you’re just learning the game, you don’t need to buy your own set of clubs right away. Consider renting or borrowing some clubs or getting used equipment to get the feel of things (and save some money). In fact, many teaching pros recommend that you start with a short set (five to seven clubs) until you reach an intermediate level. Make sure you have a driver or 3-wood for driving, a 7-iron (most often used for your second shot) and a putter for finishing the hole. Once you're ready for a full set of 14 clubs, shop around for the best fit. Look for three things:
- A “Game Improvement” Club: These club heads are designed with their weight around the perimeter of the head instead of the center, which makes it easier to hit the ball in the sweet spot of the club.
- A Flexible Club Shaft: The faster your swing, the stiffer a shaft (the long tube or rod between your hands and the clubface) you need. Ask a golf pro to advise you if you’re unsure of how fast you swing the club. For beginners, a flexible shaft will be more forgiving.
- A Well-Fitting Grip: This depends on the size of your hands and how your wrists move when you swing. Look to a specialist in a pro shop or sporting goods store to help you find a perfect fit.
If you’re taking lessons, a bucket of balls will most likely be provided for you. If you’re buying golf balls for the first time, try different compression balls until you find the one you like best. In general, 100 compression balls for pro/very good players, 90 compression for average to good players, and 70 to 80 for beginners, especially those with slower swing speeds.
Ask about the dress code for the course you're playing at ahead of time. Many golf clubs require men to wear collared polo shirts and tailored shorts or pants (no cut-offs); women may have more leniency. Consider a moisture-wicking fabric to help keep you cool on hot days and lightweight pants or shorts (if allowed). Hold off on buying golf shoes until you’re more invested in the game; instead, wear sneakers (not running shoes) that have minimal cushion to keep your feet level.
Ask a pro whether you need golf gloves (some people prefer to go without or just wear one glove for extra support). Remember to bring a hat, visor or sunglasses, along with sunscreen for UV protection. And just as with any sport, have water handy to stay hydrated.
Stay fit. Being able to swing your clubs, remain steady during a putt and walk the course with ease requires endurance, strength, flexibility and balance. A strong back, hip and leg muscles are especially essential to feel your best. Lower-body strength workouts are helpful, along with cardio training and some basic stretching. Ask your instructor to suggest some warm-up and cool-down moves.
Play by the rules. Understanding the etiquette on the course is just as important as knowing the technical rules. Be considerate around other players; limit your movement and noise and silence your cell phone. Wait until the players ahead of you are out of range, and if you do hit a ball that might endanger others, give a warning (calling out “Fore!”). Spend no more than five minutes searching for a lost ball to avoid slowing down the pace of the game, and be mindful of your impact on the course—rake smooth any holes or footprints in bunkers, replace any divots (grass and dirt that’s been removed by a shot) and place the flagstick back in the hole.