It started with the stories and camaraderie of your friends and coworkers who play and the inspiring feats of the pros on the Tour. So you borrowed some clubs, practiced on the driving range a few times and are now ready to venture out for your first round of golf. Now the question is: what do you need to know and do to make your initial foray on a real course something that will keep you coming back again and again?
Reserve a Time
While they’re not always required, it’s a good idea to reserve a starting time, also known as a tee time. Some golf courses offer online reservations, so check the course’s website to see if it offers this service. Otherwise, call the course to reserve a time. Be sure to inquire about fees and the course’s dress code. For your first round, a phone call could answer many of your questions. Plan on arriving at least 30 minutes before your scheduled starting time so you can check in at the golf shop, pay your fees and warm up at the practice area.
To fit in at the golf course, you’ll want to wear the proper clothes and have the right equipment. Depending on the caliber of the facility, the course may prohibit blue jeans, denim shorts and T-shirts. Typical country club attire for men includes collared shirts and Bermuda-length shorts or slacks. Proper attire for women includes collared shirts with or without sleeves, Bermuda-length shorts, slacks or a golf skirt or skort. Athletic shoes or golf shoes with non-metal spikes are generally required. Again, be sure to ask when you make your reservation.
Some courses have sets of clubs for rent, but if you are borrowing clubs or buying your own, don’t feel like your golf bag must contain the maximum 14 clubs allowed. As a rookie heading out for your first round, you’ll find that fewer clubs will make your shot selection easier. Over time, you’ll get a better sense of all the clubs, but for your first 18 holes a decent selection to pack would include the odd-numbered irons, a wedge, a putter, a 3-wood and a 5-wood. You don’t always need a driver, which is the longest and one of the most difficult clubs to hit.
A good way to ease into the game is to have an experienced friend or family member as part of your group, so you can learn some of the many nuances of the game as you play. If your group has fewer than four players, the golf course staff might pair another golfer or two with you. In that case, feel comfortable introducing yourself to your playing partners as a beginning golfer and explain that you welcome their help navigating the course.
If all four members of the group are new golfers, make your first outing more relaxed by changing the format and playing a game such as a scramble. In this format (also called captain and crew), everyone hits a shot from the teeing ground, and then the group selects the best shot. The other golfers pick up their balls and move them to the location of the best shot, where everyone then hits. Keep selecting the best shot, even on the green.
Keep your round running relatively smoothly by getting some local help from the marshals, if the course has these pace-of-play cops. Driving up and down the course in their carts, marshals may appear intimidating to a new golfer, but the reality is most of them have the attitude of wanting to help beginners enjoy the game. They are very open to helping golfers that are new to the game and welcome the opportunity to impart their knowledge to you.
Fundamentally, the No. 1 thing to be aware of for a new player is keeping up with the pace of play. Keep moving so you don’t hold up the golfers in your group or those behind you. Be ready to hit when it’s your turn, and when you are finished with the hole, exit the green quickly. People care less that you hit out of turn or hit bad shots than they do about you not being ready and slowing the game down.
Sure, things like replacing the chunks of turf called “divots” and raking the sand bunkers are standard etiquette—and there’s plenty more that you’ll need to pay attention to, as well—but most golfers will be forgiving as long as you’re keeping up with the group ahead of you.
If you begin to feel pressure from the foursome following you, don’t get emotional or egotistic about it. Just tell the group behind you that you are beginners and suggest they play through.
Remember to Have Fun
This game, more than most, is built on a lot of rules and precision. For the first round, though, give yourself a break and keep your expectations reasonable. As you get better and more comfortable playing golf, you can apply the rules more strictly.