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It may come as no surprise that ‘how to play golf’ is the most widely used keyword search in golfing terms. More people Google this question than any other when it comes to golf related searches on the web. Thus, this truly is the starting point for many on their golfing journeys. For those of us who love the game and play often it is useful to ponder our own beginnings in this great pastime. I noticed quite a few beginners on the practice range at my local golf club the other day.

I could feel their apprehension as balls flew in unexpected directions, as they endeavoured to make solid contact with their shots.

Robert Sudha Hamilton

We have all been there at one time or another, it is scary but fun embarking on the golfing challenge.

How Many People Played Golf

Golf grew through the pandemic in many countries around the world. Lockdowns saw more players taking to the course when they were allowed to. Golf Australia reported a 21% increase in year on year in rounds played 2020-2021. Plus, a 6.4% rise in golf club memberships over the same period. This equated to 24, 000 more members joining clubs. There are 1.204 million people participating in golf in Australia. In the USA this figure was 25.1 million people played golf on a course in 2021. 66.6 million people played golf globally in 2021, according to R&A research.

Who Is Playing Golf

So, if you are one of those people taking up the great game of golf or considering it, you are not alone. Golf participation demographics are more easily discernible for members of golf clubs, as they have more data on their members than social players. Club members are more likely to be male and in the back half of their lifespans. The average age of club members is 56.9 years. Males 55.3 years. Females 64.3 years. What we can deduce from those figures is that women are too busy working or doing all the work at home to play golf until a decade later than their male counterparts. Usually, women, also, already have better established social networks and don’t need golf clubs to provide that so much in their lives. More women are taking up the game, however, with an increase of 1.9%. Around a third of new members were aged between 15 and 34 years. Golf remains a game that demands a large time commitment and this reduces its appeal to parents with younger families.

man in gray polo shirt golfing in How To Play Golf
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Start Golf With A PGA Professional

How to play golf, this was the question which kicked things off. I could say that learning to play golf is a lifetime’s journey but that would only annoy a number of people. To optimise your golf make sure that your first port of call is with a PGA professional. Do the right thing and get schooled in the basics over a series of lessons, say 6 to start with. Guidance around the golf swing and technique is more important in golf than in any other sport. There are loads of ineffective swings out there in club land and they get it around but at what cost. You will be consigning your golfing life to struggle street and the lower grades. Get the good oil and establish sound fundamentals to work with going forward.

As in most things in life you will improve with experience.

Golf is a challenging game to play. Accept this and don’t beat yourself up too much when you are starting out.

Practice the drills you are given by your PGA instructor. You need to slowly develop a feel for where your club and body are during the golf swing. It takes time to develop some confidence in what you are doing. With confidence comes improved ball striking ability. You cannot be too thin skinned in golf. Don’t be afraid of hurting the grass. Many beginners are overly tentative about digging up the surface. Carry a sand bucket and always fill in your divots. Your golf club is a tool designed to strike the golf ball by hitting down and through the grass, especially your wedges and irons. Practice this without a ball to get a feel for swinging through the turf without digging deep holes with the leading edge of the club. Get to know your clubs by studying them from a design perspective. Feel the grooves on the face of the clubs. Look at the different lofts, the inclinations from leading edge to the top of the club. We all learn in different ways, as befits are uniqueness, but a tactile approach to the tools of your golfing trade is a must. Learn all the parts of your golf club and what they do – grip, shaft, face, grooves, leading edge, toe, heel, and head.

a person getting a golf ball on green grass in How To Play Golf
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Many great teachers began backwards, as in they start with putting on the green. Harvey Pennick was one such great. He recommends learning to putt the ball into the hole first up on your golfing journey. Spend some time stroking putts on the practice green.

Become proficient in this the most important aspect of the game. Every hole concludes with putting the golf ball into the hole – remember that.

This counterintuitive approach can rub some people up the wrong way, as they long to smash majestic drives down the fairway. You need to learn to walk before you can run folks.

Chipping around the green is next on the how to play golf agenda. Chipping with a variety of wedges and short irons will teach you about striking the golf ball. A chip is like a mini swing and it drills you in the solid contact between club face and golf ball. Practice chipping and experiment with where you place the ball in your stance at address. Placing the ball nearer your front foot will increase the altitude of your chip. Having the golf ball back in your stance delofts your club and promotes a lower chip, which will roll out longer on the green. This period is all about discovery and so, soak up all the data you are witnessing. Learn from your experiments and file this knowledge away for when you need it on course.

How To Play Golf featuring activity adult ball club
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Pitching is done with wedges and your shortest irons. Pitching into a green is all about creating a high altitude shot from around 120m to land on the green as close to the hole as you can. The height of the ball flight contributes to the golf ball staying on the green rather than rolling off. Creating spin on the ball via your strike can also assist in keeping the ball on the green and this comes with practice and good technique. If you are pitching from the fairway with a wedge you will want to know how far you hit your wedges. You may carry a Pitching Wedge, Gap Wedge, Sand Wedge, and Lob Wedge – all of these wedges have different lofts and may have varying bounces. Your wedges are called your scoring clubs and you need to get to know them well. Through practice and experience you will learn how far you hit each wedge on average.

Pitching and chipping are finesse shots in the game of golf and require feel and touch. These things come with regular practice and experience.

Short iron play involves your 9 Iron, 8 Iron, and 7 Iron. These clubs are most often used on short par 3s and approach shots to the green. Proficiency with these clubs is pretty important if you wish to enjoy your golf. These irons are considered to be somewhat easier to strike than the mid and long irons. The length of the shaft is shorter which means you stand closer to the ball and swing more upright. Golf gets harder, in terms of golf swing proficiency the longer the shaft and further you are away from the ball. There are subtle adjustments required within your repertoire of swings with 14 different clubs in the bag. Many teachers like to stress that you make the same basic swing but I think that this is not exactly the case. Your PGA instructor will set you up with the fundamentals necessary to perform every required swing in the bag. Many people fall in love with their 7 iron, as their favourite club in the bag. Depending on the size of your local course you will discover which clubs you use most often during a round of golf. Make sure that you get better at these if you want to score well. These irons are usually used from 110m to 150m depending on how far you hit the ball.

Mid irons are your 6 Iron and 5 Iron, and I would classify your 4 Iron and 3 Iron as long irons. Of course, these are only names and you might classify some irons differently. Some folks carry 2 Irons, which are often called Driving Irons these days. The shaft is longer as the number goes down, which makes these clubs more challenging for the beginner. Your swing needs to be longer and flatter because you are standing further from the golf ball at address.

Anxiety can be an issue in golf and the golf swing is all about timing.

As a rough rule the longer the swing the more time there is for things to go wrong. In fact, when we get anxious we often speed things up to the detriment of the golf swing. Long and smooth doesn’t usually go well with fearful and uptight. Practice your mid irons and long irons learning how far a well struck shot travels on average. There is joy to be had from becoming more proficient with your golf clubs. Developing competence with your ball striking ability increases your enjoyment factor in the game of golf. Practice makes perfect. Learning how to play golf with your mid and long irons can be enormously satisfying. These irons are usually employed from 150m to 200m+ depending on how far you are able to hit the ball.

Many beginners choose not to play long irons and carry hybrids instead. These clubs have been developed to provide similar distances but are easier to strike. These clubs usually have graphite shafts instead of steel, making them lighter, and their larger heads promote greater ease of use. You may carry a 5, 4, 3 Hybrid or a combination of these. Learn how far you hit each of these when successfully struck. These Hybrid clubs are played like a mid-iron in terms of address and shallow downward strike upon the ball. Like all golf clubs you need to spend time practicing and getting to know how these can perform. It can take time to develop a relationship with a particular golf club. Perseverance is rewarded with another weapon or instrument in your golfing arsenal. Hybrids have a similar distance to irons but are usually easier to hit higher. Some golfers find that they hit Hybrids longer than their irons. Find out via practice and experience.

Fairway clubs or woods. There are 9, 7, 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1 woods or fairway clubs. The 1 Wood is called the Driver.

This is the mother of all clubs with a massive, oversized head, and longest shaft of some 44 to 46 inches made of light weight graphite. The Driver garners much of the sexy attention at the pointy end of golf.

You know men and their obsession with shafts. Learning to drive the golf ball is almost a separate thing in itself, as it differs markedly from the iron swing. Firstly, you tee the golf ball up on the biggest tee and play the ball off the heel of your lead foot. This requires that the swinging motion strikes the ball on the upswing, sweeping the ball down the fairway. The ball position promotes this kind of swing and the longer tee allows for the big club head. Your PGA instructor will devote a lesson for this club and this swing. It is important to learn to get off the tee successfully with the driver, as you may be using this club a lot on par 4s and par 5s. The length of the shaft and the different looking head on this club can pose challenges for some beginners and perseverance under wise guidance is the key to success. How far you hit it with the driver becomes a measuring contest for some golfers and can provide an advantage if you can get it out there off the tee. Golfers can hit the driver anything from 170m to 350m depending on ability and proficiency. It is not all about strength either good technique can deliver exceptional distance.

The 3 Fairway or Wood is the little brother or sister of the Driver. Some golfers prefer to use their 3 Fairway off the tee. The use of the term Wood comes from the time when the heads of these clubs were made of wood like persimmon. 43 to 42 inches is the average shaft length for the 3 Wood. Great distances can be achieved with this club as well. Hitting the 3 Fairway off the turf on a par 5 for instance as your second shot can be a challenging shot to learn for the beginner. The long shaft means a flatter longer swing is required. Practicing this shot on the range under the tutelage of your PGA instructor will assist in gaining competence with this long shot. Many beginners prefer to carry 4,5,7, and or 9 Woods as their shorter shafts and greater lofts make it easier to more consistently strike the ball effectively. All of these clubs offer distance for those par 5s and long par 4s.  They can provide anything from 160m to 300m depending on how far you hit the ball. Some golfers prefer lofted Woods over long irons and Hybrids for the greater height they can offer in shot making and holding greens.

How to play golf, as you can see is a multi-dimensional affair. You can, however, only begin at the beginning as with most things.

You will find plenty of helpful friends and playing partners in club land. Most golfers are always happy to offer assistance where required. We have all been on this beginner’s journey.

Nobody will begrudge your beginner status. The majority of golfers are enthusiastic about the game and want to see more people enjoying it. Never fear reaching out for any advice, as it will be well met. Find a good teacher to set you on your course. Most clubs have a few PGA instructors on staff and they are in my experience charming and helpful. Golf is a lifetime’s journey no matter when you start. It is a game where technique and finesse can outdo raw athletic ability, which gives us all some hope. I hope to see you out there sometime. Happy golfing folks.

Robert Sudha Hamilton is the author of The Golf Book: Green Cathedral Dreams and How To Play Golf: Like A Winner


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