For the complete novice the game of golf can seem like a very expensive hobby filled with a minefield of rules, regulations and etiquette. Here is my quick guide to getting started, this is not intended for juniors and kids starting out playing golf as they are well catered for by dedicated parents with the support of schools and sports organisations.
So your mates or work colleagues seem to play golf on a regular basis and you have to keep turning down invitations to play because you’ve never touched a club in your life. Do not fear, it is entirely possible to get playing within a few months and (albeit with high scores) and within reason you could be shooting under 100 within a couple of years. I must note that this is based on mine and friends experience but there is no reason this could be improved upon, it depends on your budget, time available, dedication and to some extent natural ability.
Don’t go splashing out on the newest and most expensive set of Taylormade, Titleist or other big brand name clubs. At the beginner level it makes almost no difference whether you play with an old 2nd hand set or brand new set. I was lucky when I started, I headed straight to my local 2nd hand golf store and found an unused 2nd hand set of Taylormade clubs with a 50% discount. Indeed it should be entirely possible to get hold of a usable 2nd hand set for under $200, just check out your local classifieds. (here is a set I found in my local classifieds for $130)
What are the essential clubs I need?
A set of irons 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, PW (Pitching Wedge), SW (Sand Wedge), putter and driver. At this stage don’t bother with any of those specialist clubs like rescue/fairway woods or pitching wedges. You can pick those up later once you grasped the basics. Bear in mind the rules allow for a maximum of 14 clubs in your bag. It goes without saying that left handed player will need a left handed set.
- A bag to put your clubs in, a good 2nd hand bag can be had for under $50 and if you’re buying a 2nd hand set you're more than likely going to get one anyway.
- A new glove, they are sized so check carefully before you buy. (About $10).
- Golf tees, try and get a selection of sizes, at this stage you don’t know what size tee will suit you ($5).
- Waterproof rain cover for your bag ($20).
- Golf umbrella for inclement weather or to shade you from the sun, make sure it’s of reasonable quality and windproof ($20).
- Golf shoes, whatever is the most comfortable and it’s a personal taste ($60 to $150).
- Golf balls, you could buy brand new balls from any golf store ($25 for 12) but probably better to buy at a golf course (used recovered lost balls for about $5 for 6).
- Golf attire, a totally personal choice and it really depends on your climate/weather but always worth checking the rules for specific courses. Some courses are very strict about pants (short vs. long) and that shirts must have a collar for example.
So there you have it, with an equipment budget of about $320 (plus golfing attire) you’re ready for your first lessons.
Don't forget the rules.
Brush up on the rules and etiquette of golf. The basic rules can be accessed from the Royal and Ancient, the same basic rules apply to USGA.
Find your nearest driving range (or course as most have a driving range anyway) and contact the course (PGA) professional. It’s probably a good idea to shop around at this point as the prices can vary enormously, and it’s always a good idea to book a set number of lessons as they will be discounted. Many pros also offer the first lesson free so you get the opportunity to try out that teacher and see how comfortable you are. Make sure there is a structured program in place. The initial focus will be set up and swing (it's quite possible that this is never mastered, not even by the pros so don’t lose hope). After 5 or 6 lessons swinging a pitching wedge on a range using a fake grass mat it’s going to be time to move on. Try and find a facility that has a putting green and chipping arena with bunkers as lessons here will start to pay off in the real world.
First few rounds.
Don’t go for the up market expensive course in the first few months, not only will you get frustrated if you’re constantly hitting wayward shots you are likely to be the subject of complaints from members (and other players) and gain the attention of the course marshal. Better to try and find a local (municipal) course, preferably a short par 3 pitch n putt course. There you will find plenty of other beginners hacking their way around. Not only are these courses cheaper you are also unlikely to upset anyone.
After a few months of lessons, (I suggest 6 to 12 lessons) and a lot of practice on the driving range plus pitch n putt courses, you may feel ready for a ‘real’ course. There are a few ways to do this and one route I highly recommend is to go round the course with the course pro. This way you are under his/her supervision (so no issues with the course marshal) and you get tuition for all those real life golf scenarios.
One year in.
Hopefully by now you’ve been getting a regular game with your buddies, once a month is probably about right. You have also identified specific areas that require attention (putting, chipping and/or driving) and so it’s a good time to take some follow up lessons with a focus on your weaknesses. After these follow up lessons your teacher should be able to identify areas for you to focus on.
Keep it up, make sure you are playing regular rounds, and try a few different courses. After a year you should be heading towards cracking the 100 but don’t get disappointed if it takes 2 years (not unusual). At this stage you can start looking at a few specialist clubs to improve your score, rescue or hybrid woods are perfect for fairways strokes and are far more forgiving than long irons or traditional fairway woods. Consider a gap wedge for those tricky sub 50 yard chips onto the green. After 2 years you may feel the need to look at updating your clubs, shop around to find a bargain and get your clubs fitted if possible. You can also start looking at the plethora of training aids available that will help you focus on specific areas in the comfort of your own home.
Final take away.
Golf is one of the most frustrating yet addictive games you can play. It’s never plain sailing and there will always be ups and downs. Always remember golf is a pastime that lets you enjoy good company, great scenery and keeps you fit too (assuming you walk).