We know what you are thinking…course management…you probably think we are going to tell you about how to run a golf course. Wrong! Time to put on your thinking caps and battle armor…we are talking golf strategy. Golf is like a game of chess; the player that plans ahead and makes the smart moves scores lower and that is the name of the game. If you are not already a professional golfer, you will probably glean some useful skills from this article.
If you want to become a better golfer, you need to learn to develop a game plan for every hole on the course. That means you need to read the hole before you swing (i.e., look before you leap). Understanding how to best play every hole on a course and this will build your confidence, increase your skill, and lower your handicap. It is you against the course out there…outwit the course by bringing your entire arsenal to the game.
Before you evaluate the hole in front of you, check the stats on the hole. First thing is to look at the range card or the placard for the hole and get the distance. Then, from the range card, find out how difficult the hole is. Take a look at the picture of the sample range card and look at the men’s handicap line. The 3rd hole on this course (a par 3) is the second easiest hole on the entire course (18 would be easiest). The very next hole (a par 4); however, is the most difficult for the course. It might not be clearly obvious why it’s so difficult until you play the hole, but this is an important clue to how to play the hole.
Now that you know the stats of the hole you are about to play, figure out the approximate distance you want to hit on this hole. Many golfers will automatically pull out their drivers and simply bash their ball at the fairway and sometimes this isn’t the right thing to do. A lot of tools are available to the golfer. First are the ones you get for free–the scorecard and hole placard will provide you an idea of distance and design. Aspiring golfers can purchase a nice GPS system for a couple hundred dollars that tells them the distances to the green and hazards on the course. Also, some courses publish a yardage or course management book; if you play a certain course a lot, you might want to invest in one. Knowing the distances does not help you if you do not know how far you normally hit each club in your bag. The simplest way to get a good judge of your distances is to get to the range and figure out how far you normally hit your clubs.
Now you can walk out on the tee box and evaluate the hole. Look for all the hazards (trees, sand, water, waste, out of bounds, etc…) on the hole. Golf courses are normally designed to make you think about your shot, but they also can be sneaky and have inconspicuous traps designed to snare the average golfer. When you are standing on the tee box, find a level spot to tee up your ball on the side of the worst (or most) hazards. Normally we try to stay away from the worst hazards, but when you tee up on the side with the hazards, you tend to hit away from them easier.
Always check the green before you shoot so you can set yourself up to putt for par. Unless you are extremely accurate when you hit, look for the largest section of the green and aim for that area. Also, try to see what type of elevation is on the green before you take your shot. You want to try to be on the same level as the pin, or if the pin is cut in the middle of an elevation change, be below the hole. This way you can take your first putt and get your ball close (within three feet) and then putt it on your second stroke.
Take a look at this example par 3, 200-yard (from the blue tees) hole. We will assume this hole does not have any serious elevation changes and the green is relatively flat. When you look at a hole like this, what type of strategy comes into play? Let us break the hole down.
1. The length is 200 yards; for most golfers this requires a long iron or fairway wood to reach the green. That means there will be less loft on the ball and it will tend to roll more then “stick” on the green. Hitting long can be an issue.
2. What hazards come into play on this hole? Most players will notice the tree on the left first and discount the water on the right because it’s not between them and the green. Big mistake! Most amateur golfers have a slice and this hole is designed to trap the everyday duffer–especially if you’re using a longer club, your “power fade” becomes more pronounced. Now, let us look at the trouble they created with this hole on the right side. The entire length of the hole has water laying in wait and even the green has an inconspicuous sand trap on the right hand side. Clearly the right side has the most hazards.
3. Water and wind. If there is a large open area of water, you can expect the wind to blow stronger from that direction. Trees block wind, but large open areas like lakes and fields allow even the slightest wind to pick up speed. Note that on this hole the tee boxes are protected by the wind, but the fairway and green stand open. Look at that flag and get a sense of the wind direction and speed.
So, how do you play this rather simple looking par 3 hole and stay out of trouble? First, tee your ball up on the right side of the tee box–as close to the water side as possible. As stated above, this will help you keep your ball to the left of the hazards. Use a club that, with roll, takes you no more then 200 yards. Going long over a green (and in the rough) almost always spells more trouble then being short (and being in the fairway). Judge the wind by looking at the way the flag is blowing, not from where you’re standing, and then adjust slightly to compensate. Aim for the center of the largest part of the green–do not attack the pin, it is probably set up in a location that is difficult to reach in one shot. Focus on getting your ball on the green and then putt that second shot up close to the hole to ensure a par.
The key to playing par golf is to play smart. Taking chances are just that–chances. Pros can carry long expanses of water, bend their shots around trees, and place their ball exactly where they want on a green. For the rest of us, we need to practice laying up, hitting straight, and lag putting.