It's no secret that golf is a complex sport.
In fact, it's a culmination of several different skills: you need to master your understanding of a golf course, to get the right equipment, to choose the right clubs, to handle your clubs, golf etiquette, rules and good old-fashioned basics if you want to become a good golfer.
Bottom line? If you want to enjoy golf as a sport and improve, mastering the basics is a must.
And in this guide, we're going to show you everything you need to know to get effectively started in golf.
Let's dive right in.
The Golf course
This is the grounds where golf is played. The standard golf course has eighteen holes consisting of a fairway, the rough, teeing ground, and other hazards.
In addition to the holes, a golf course has a green with a hole and flagstick, otherwise known as a cup and pin respectively.
A subset course has nine holes, which are played twice per round.
Most golf courses have 3,4, or 5 pars although a few have six pars. A par indicates the difficulty of a particular golf course. A Par 3 golf course means that a typical hole should be completed in 3 shots.
Few golf courses have many 5 or six par holes as they are typically only suitable for more advanced players, very long and thus costly to build and maintain.
1. Teeing area
The first section of every hole is what’s referred to as teeing area or teeing box.
The boxes are varying distances from the hole. Sometimes the teeing boxes are rotated, so it becomes more difficult to shoot straight down the green. This rotation is referred to as the angle of approach.
The teeing ground is designed to be as level as possible, but slightly raised from the surrounding fairway.
Two markers on each tee are used to show the legally bound tee area at the front. The entire teeing box extends beyond the markers to two-club lengths behind them (see the image on to get the idea).
Where can I stand in the teeing area?
You usually stand between the frontline and the back of the teeing ground (see image on the right).
While you can play the ball standing outside teeing the area, you have to place the ball within the teeing box.
What do the different colors at the teeing area mean?
The going convention looks as follows.
- RED markers at the teeing area signal a so-called front tee. This teeing area is close to the hole and often used by adult women and boys until age 12.
- White markers are used by ordinary male golfers.
- Blue markers signal very difficult tees, which is why they are most often used by low handicap male golfers.
- Black tees are reserved for official events or a Club Championship.
- Green tees are a rare sight and indicate teaching courses for novices.
- Gold or yellow tees can attract two different audiences. When placed close to the green, they indicate teeing areas for male seniors. When placed very far away from the green they indicate a championship tee.
- Silver tees are commonly used by female seniors.
While these are conventions, you'll find that many golf courses deviate in some colors, so don't rely on them so much and look at the most commonly played tees.
2. Fairway and rough
The fairway refers to the area between the putting green and tee box while the rough is used to describe the area between the fairway and out of bounds or the area between the out of bounds and mowed apron surrounding the green.
The grass on the rough is a coarser strain and cut high than on the fairways. This makes it disadvantageous to hit from the rough.
Holes are designed with a direct line of sight from the teeing ground to the green. However, they occasionally bend to the left or right, and this is known as dogleg.
The hole is called a dogleg right if it angles towards and dogleg left if it angles to the left. A double dogleg is a hole that bends in both directions.
Colored Markers indicate the distance to the hole
To make identification of the box easy, the markers are often color coded.
Red is closest to the hole and used to minimize the influence of major hazards like water; gold is next to furthest from the hole while black/blue is furthest from the hole.
White is found between gold and black/blue.
Holes often have hazards that may include ponds, rivers, lakes and sand traps. They are special areas of play that have additional rules of play.
When you encounter hazards like sand traps or bunkers (which are basically the same thing), you'll typically use a special club to get out of it. This type of club is called a wedge, and there are multiple types of wedges used for different hazards. We'll take a closer look at these types of clubs later.
4. The Green
Getting to the green means being close to your goal, as the hole is always placed somewhere on the green.
The green is also often called “putting green” since it is the most common place to use your putter in these situations close to the hole.
What makes it special?
The green is surrounded by slightly higher grass that is cut at height between that of the fairway and green.
The longer grass in the surrounding is known as fringe, and it slows down the ball enough to stop it from exiting the green. The grass in the putting green is usually cut short, allowing the ball to roll further.
Some golf courses use a thin carpet so that bad weather doesn’t pose a serious issue when it comes to maintenance.
What do colors indicate on the green?
On the green, you see only one color - the color of the flag. Depending on the color it gives you a different meaning.
- Blue flag indicates that the hole is placed a the back of the green, furthest away from the approaching golfer.
- White flag is the most common and signals that the hole lies somewhere near the greens center.
- Red flag indicates that the hole is near the front of the green, closer to the approaching golfer.
These colors help you select the right golf club for the situation, especially further away from the green where you can't quite make out wether the hole is 140 or 160 yards away. If the flag is red, he may estimate 140 yards and pick his eight iron. Conversely if the Flag is blue, he may estimate 160 yards and use his six iron instead.
If you are not sure yet what all these Irons mean - no worries - we got you covered in the next section.
Understanding Golf Clubs
While still on the topic of golf for beginners, allow us to educate you on golf equipment.
Golf Clubs are the most essential part of golf (together with the golf ball) since you use them to get the ball along the course and hopefully into the hole.
As we saw in the previous chapter, you will encounter different situtaions which require different clubs to deal with. Let's look at these different club types.
A golfer’s bag usually comes with five types of clubs.
They include a driver as well as one or two fairway woods, most commonly a 3- and/or 5- wood. The 7-wood and 9-wood is beneficial for seniors and women.
The woods come with a deep clubhead that is constructed using metals, particularly steel or titanium alloy. The driver, otherwise known as a 1-wood, is one of the most difficult clubs to use for beginners.
This is because it is the longest club in the golf bag, making it difficult to control in swing. Fairway woods are easier to control as they are shorter than the driver.
You may want to consider carrying extra fairway woods in place of the irons as they are easier to hit.
Irons are called that way because their clubheads are made from metal and this has been the case for centuries.
Metal clubheads in the case of woods is a recent development.
Irons come with clubheads that are thin from the front to the rear and the clubfaces have grooves that impact on the spin. Blade or muscleback style irons are suitable for more experienced golfers.
Recreational players as well as beginners will appreciate the ease of use that cavity back style irons have to offer.
The main difference between blade and cavity back irons is that the former have a full back on the rear while the latter have slightly hollowed out back. This helps create a perimeter weighting effect that less accomplished golfers find useful.
The standard golf iron set consists of eight clubs including a 3-iron pitching wedge. The clubs are identified using numbers i.e. 3,4,5 etc. on the sole of the club with the exception of the pitching wedge, which is marked “P” or “PW.”
Other irons can bought separately, but none of the additional ones are necessary for newbies.
Irons are generally categorized into three i.e. long, mid and short irons. The long irons are 2-, 3- and 4- irons.
Mid irons are the 5-, 6- and 7- irons while the short irons are the 8- and 9- irons as well as pitching wedge. The shorter irons are easier to hit compared to the longer ones, making them ideal for amateurs.
This is because shorter irons have shorter lengths and increased lofts.
They are the highest-lofted clubs in the golf bag and are designed for short approach shots.
Wedges are also great for pitch shots, strokes played out of sand, chip shots or any shot where you need the ball to ascend and descend gracefully.
They are in fact irons, but some players like to think of them as specialized irons or a sub-set of irons. In other words, they are often purchased as their own category of golf clubs.
Until the latter years of the 20th century, golfers only carried two wedges i.e.
- Pitching wedge – is the lowest lofted wedge and is often included in a set of golf irons
- Sand wedge – abbreviated as SW and is designed to make shots out of bunkers easier
As more specialization in golf became common, manufacturers made additional wedges including:
- Gap wedge – has less loft than a sand wedge and more loft than a pitching wedge
- Lob wedge – has the highest loft and creates a steep angle for ascent or descent, allowing the ball to get up quickly.
These additional wedges are usually sold separately and beginners only need the pitching wedge, at least until they have grasped the basics.
Putters are the most specialized golf clubs and come in the widest varieties of sizes as well as shapes. They are used for the last strokes played on a golf course, particularly on the putting green, to knock the ball into the hole.
Due to the fact that choosing a putter is an extremely personal process, there are more varieties of putters on the market than of any other golf clubs.
Putter clubheads fall into one of three styles i.e. traditional, mallet and heel-toe.
The traditional blade is narrow and shallow, with the shaft entering at the heel.
Mallet putters come with large clubheads that maximize forgiveness, allowing for a straight put for beginners.
Heel-toe have the same general shape as blades, with the difference being extra weight at the heel and toe.
Other design tricks are applied to make the clubs more forgiving.
Conventional putters range from 32-36 inches long, and this is what beginners should work with.
The length on the belly putters causes the grip-end to come up to the golfer’s belly, hence the name.
Long putters are also known as broomstick putters and are usually 40-50 inches long. This allows the player to stand up more upright.
The hybrid is a relatively new golf club that became mainstream in the late 20th century.
Sometimes known as a rescue or utility club, it combines the best of a wood and an iron.
Every beginner should definitely own a hybrid as it is designed to make it easier for recreational golfers to hit.
You can always switch later to more specialized clubs such as the longer irons which are harder to play but can give you just the right shot once you have more experience.
Thanks to advanced features hybrids are more forgiving.
How to play golf
While many may describe golf as the best game in the world, it doesn’t welcome beginners very well.
For starters, the game is plain difficult and the cost of getting started can be prohibitive for amateurs. Between purchasing a golf bag, club set, golf apparel and other equipment, you will spend a small fortune before you pay the first golf course fee.
Other discouraging factors include finding good places to play, meeting others who play the game as well as making time for 4-5 hour rounds. If you are looking to get started, some of these concerns may have passed your mind.
While they are legitimate problems, it is important that you figure out a solution for each one of them if you want to succeed as a golfer.
Golf stance and posture
If you are going to hit the ball well, you will need to assume the right stance.
Your face, shoulders, hips, and feet should face the ball while your body should be parallel to the hole.
To ensure maximum balance, keep your feet a shoulder width apart.
Keep your arms straight with the dominant hand below the non-dominant hand. Remember to lean forward as you position the club to the ball.
For the perfect backswing, move the club back away from the ball and in the direction of your dominant hand.
The elbow of the dominant hand should bend slightly while the other elbow should remain straight. This will cause the shoulders to twist slightly.
Raising the club until it is somewhere between the hip and shoulder height will make the swing more comfortable. Most importantly, don’t force your body to swing high.
A golf swing is made up of three swings i.e. a backswing, downswing and follow-through.
As we have explained how to achieve the perfect backswing, also known as a takeaway, this section will focus primarily on the other two swings.
For the downswing, be sure to uncoil by leading with lower body and swing the club down in reverse action.
This backswings until the club head impacts the ball. Once the club impacts with the ball, the club swings through. This often occurs with the arms extended around the shoulder and finishes with the head and body facing the target in a balanced position. This is what is referred to as a follow-through.
For further tips on how to improve your golf swing follow our guide.
Take a golf class
A sure way to become a better golf player is to sign up for classes with someone who is more experienced.
This can be in the form of a paid, informal or formal lesson.
Your coach will teach you how to properly hit a ball. Better yet, you will learn which clubs are best suited for certain conditions and get you started with the correct technique, slang and etiquette to perform well on a golf course.
Golf has many variations with the main ones being match play, stroke play, and stableford.
In stroke play, the golfer records the strokes on each hole and sums them up to a score, similar to mini golf. This score is considered relative to the par score.
In match play, two or more players play as a team until one team is regarded the outright winner.
Controlling the speed of putts
Compared to a golf swing, putting takes on a whole new dimension as the cup looks smaller, slopes larger and target further away.
And while aiming puts with accuracy is relatively easy for beginners, hitting the ball the right distance will prove challenging. There is no magic trick to stroking every putt right.
Regular practice is the only way to develop feel in relatively short order.
During your sessions, ensure that you dedicate 10-20 minutes of your time to putting, Start from a close range and work from there, keeping your practice inside 10 feet.
How to aim
Golf is a target oriented game and as such, getting the ball to a specified point is of fundamental importance.
The first step towards aiming the ball well is proper alignment. For the amateur, this means ensuring that the club and body are in square to the target. Every part of your body from the feet to the eyes should be parallel to the target.
To get started, stand behind the ball with your eyes directly on the target. Draw an imaginary line on the line then pick a spot on that line that’s about a foot in front of the ball.
Aim the clubface directly at the spot when taking a stance and align the body with the clubface.
Determining distance to the target
Knowing the distance to the target isn’t that important when you get started as a golfer.
It is, however, crucial to know how far the ball should go when you start to consistently get the balls airborne and headed in the right direction.
There are a few difference options that will come handy when determining distance to the target including:
They monitor and display a graphic depiction of the hole thus showing the exact distance to hazards like water, flagstick and bunkers.
Handheld GPS rangefinders work just as effectively as on-cart GPS devices. These handheld GPS Rangefinders can either be dedicated devices or apps on your smartphones.
Apps such as Golflogix can do the trick, altough you may prefer not bringing your smartphone on the court in order to stay focused and enjoy your stay even more.
This is an old fashioned method and markers in most golf courses are set 50 yards from the green.
They are always white and basically disks or stakes at the edge of the fairway.
Some courses use distinctive bushes set at 250 yards on the edge of the fairway.
If you are between two markers, say 150 and 200 yards, you can either step off the yardage to the nearest marker or estimate your total distance.
Basic shot types
Golf shots are generally categorized into the following types:
- Approach: Refers to the second or subsequent shot whose intention is to deliver the ball to the green. It is taken with an appropriate iron.
- Drive: It is a long distance shot that’s taken from the tee and sometimes the fairway if need be. Its purpose to move the ball the furthest distance towards the green. The distance that beginners can expect to achieve ranges from 200 to 260 yards.
- Layup: The purpose of this shot is to leave the ball in a favorable position to make the following shot easier to make. It comes handy in situations like when there’s a hazard between the green and fairway.
- Putt: It is a short distance putt that is performed on the green and whose purpose is to get the ball rolling on the ground. Important factors to consider when putting include the slope. This ensures that you strike the ball with the right amount of power and aim correctly.
- Chip: It is a short shot that’s taken without a full swing and its purpose is to get the ball out of a hazard back on to the fairway or the green.
- Flop: This shot is designed to ensure that the ball takes a high arched trajectory, allowing it to go over objects. Since Flop shots are often played with highly lofted clubs such as a lob wedge, the ball is more prone to have alot of backspin. Therefore, Flop shots are also used when one wants the ball to stop quickly upon hitting the ground.
Challenges for beginning golfers
Being one of the most complex games in the world, screwing up on the golf course is inevitable.
Amateurs don’t do themselves any favors by making errors that can be avoided with careful deliberation.
That said, here are common mistakes made by newbies and how to avoid them.
Missing the putting line
The trick to good putting is ensuring that your mind accurately visualizes the ball.
Many newbies, however, make a mistake of starting the analysis of potential trajectory from the hole backwards to the ball stance.
It is important that you do the exact opposite and visualize the route from the position of the ball towards the hole. This is because at the end of the day, that will be the actual route of the ball.
You should also accelerate at the moment you impact the ball to guarantee straight shots.
Lack of acceleration
Accelerating the ball through the ball is fundamentally important and many beginners make a mistake of decelerating through the swing.
Such an error leads to the ball landing short of the target. The key to achieving the desired distance is the finish, and not the backswing as many would think.
The only way to get the right finish is if you accelerate the club at the moment of impact.
Many beginners invest time and money in a bid to improve their swing with the conviction that that the swing plane isn’t consistent, the backswing isn’t straight and that the finish isn’t high enough.
And while all of the above are good reasons, it’s important to note that almost 100% of the swing can be corrected by improving the first three steps of the swing sequence.
The grip is the first step and the right positioning of the right and left palms is crucial.
Ensure that your grip is not only solid, but also smooth.
The second step is to position the club face right on the ball. This will be achieved by positioning oneself based on the distance given by the right alignment of the clubface towards the objective.
Getting the right posture is the third step and more about has been discussed above.
For further tips on how to improve your golf swing follow our guide.
Some beginners believe that they will be able to gain more distance if they turn their backswing further.
The truth is that finding the perfect posture that allows for a fluid swing is the best and most effective way of gaining distance.
Exaggerating the twist on a backswing makes the ball go out of the intended swing plane.
The motion of the upper body is the one thing that dominates the short swing game.
Instead of your legs acting dead, you should ensure that you take the proper stance and maximize the power and control motion of the arms and hands.
Keep in mind that it is the length and not the force of the backswing that helps gain distance of shots.
Again, follow this guide to improve your golf swing.
Rules of the game
Knowing how to prepare for a golf game is important as there is a lot of swinging.
And while we may have covered what seems like everything, there are still a few things you should familiarize yourself with.
Such include basic rules, etiquette and what to wear.
Basic rules of golf
To avoid embarrassing yourself on the golf course, adhere to the following rules.
- Adhere to the rules and regulations of the venue
- Play at a reasonable pace
- Rake bunkers, repair ball marks and replace divots
- The player who is farthest from the pin should hit first on each shot
- Pay attention to the rules laid out by the USGA and R&A
- Turn in every score for handicap purposes
- Don’t ask your opponent what club he hit
- Don’t hold up other players
For more on rules on golf and how you should conduct yourself on the golf course, read this guide.
What to wear
The clothing in golf is part of the decorum of the game and most courses have a defined dress code that players have to adhere to.
They aren’t as restrictive as the rules that apply to LPGA Tour or PGA Tour players. However, the dress code is designed to ensure that beginners adhere to the traditions of the game.
- Shirts: Almost all of the golf courses require players to wear collared shirts. This ultimately means microfiber, cotton or polyester shirts. Some courses allow turtlenecks. In the case of women, the main rule is that what they wear should be modest. This means no tube tops or bathing suit tops. Tank tops and T-shirts aren’t allowed on the course.
- Shorts and pants: Shorts that extend to the knee with a flat or pleated front are allowed, especially in the warmer months. Khaki and cotton are common materials for golf materials. Jeans and jean shorts are also allowed. Women can wear golf skirts, dress shorts, capris and long trousers. Basketball and running shorts as well as cut-off jeans are, however, not allowed.
- Socks and hats: Both aren’t specified in the dress code, but the socks are necessary with golf shoes just as they are with sports footwear. The hats come handy when playing in sunny conditions.
This post provides more information on the rules and regulations that apply to the game. It also outlines how one should behave themselves on the course.
What about golf slang?
There are so many important golf terms that every beginner golfer should be aware of.
Terms such as bogey, eagle, par and much more are just a few of the terms you will learn on and of the court. It's best to play and learn them while gaining practice on the golf course.
Since we cannot cover all of them in this post, we recommend reading this comprehensive list.
This brings our guide on golf for beginners to an end. And while starting out may be incredibly difficult, keep in mind that Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Dedication and hard work is what will make you a great golfer. Got any thoughts or tip we should hear? Tell us more in the comment section.
Further reading sources