Updated: Mar 5
Golf is a game where players swing a half pound piece of metal on the end of 3 and a half foot stick a bit less than 100 mph with the goal of impacting a golf ball on the center of the club face. It's a game where 1 or 2 degrees, 5 or 6 grams, and a 1/4" can make a BIG difference. In many ways, golf is an unrealistic pursuit of perfection. Simultaneously, it can also be incredibly rewarding. The relationships you build on the course and the relationship you build with yourself as you develop as a golfer are not found in other sporting contexts. With that said, golf can at times also be discouraging and sometimes downright infuriating. Every year, too many people quit the game for intervals, and some never come back.
Here is the first guide of its kind, a guide for how to love the game of golf for the long haul, written from the perspective of someone who loves the recreational side of golf just as much as the professional.
WHY DO PEOPLE QUIT GOLF?
"Golf is not fun any more"
"Golf is getting too expensive"
"I just don't think I'm the golfing type"
Let's address each of those points!
1. GOLF CAN BE WAY MORE FUN!
PLAY THE GAME YOUR WAY
Too many kids are first exposed to the game when an overbearing parent drags them out onto a stuffy and intimidating course. As a result, I think golf has a bad image for a lot of players. While the current crop of young stars on the PGA tour has helped the optics of the sport dramatically at the professional level, in my opinion, the recreational game still needs a makeover. More importantly, golfers need a fresh introduction to the game, a "do over" if you will. To me, the most important thing about recreational golf is having fun. What that really means is playing golf in a way that is fun for you - so that you get out of the game what you want. I want to challenge a few conventional ideas about the game, in hopes that I can change the way you think about golf.
Tip #1: Booze and golf
You will not shoot the lowest score of your life after your third beer in 3 holes. With that said, for some rounds of golf, camaraderie and building memories with friends and loved ones is more important than the scorecard.
Everyone has a different relationship with alcohol, so there is no one-size fits all here, but don't be ashamed about being a "serious, I never drink on the course, I'm here to play" type of golfer - or about being a "6 pack per round, beer league, heckle your buddies type of golfer".
Both have their place, both can be fun, just please be responsible and courteous on and off the course.
Tip #2: Hero Shots
The first tip all developing golfers get is to put the ego aside and NOT hit the hero shot. "Lay up here", they say. "Punch out to the fairway there" or "just take your medicine and move on"...
Statistically speaking, the advice to not go for the hero shot is usually correct. BUT - some people don't go to the golf course each week because they are excited to steadily shoot in the low 90s. Some guys don't care at all about the scorecard, instead, it is that one perfect shot that sticks in their mind that keeps them coming back. That one impossible save, that one 70yd Bubba'esque duckhook puncher around a tree.
If hero shots get you excited, screw the "game plan," play your way!
Tip #3: Walking vs Riding
When I play golf, a round spent walking feels like an entirely different activity, maybe even a different sport, than a round spent riding. I like both, but for different reasons. A walking round is about exercise, connecting with nature, and a pure experience of the game. To that end, I carry a different bag, a different composition of clubs, and a different mindset when I walk. Riding on the other hand is about beer, trash talk, badly timed "walk-up music," and degenerate gambling.
One, or both of those ideas may appeal to you, but most importantly, play the game the way you want to on any given day, and have fun.
Tip #4: Playing partners
If you want to get better at golf, play with better players. If you want to win a club championship, play more tournaments and join a match play league. If you want a fun social round, play with fun, sociable playing partners.
It's common sense, but the reason a lot of people burn out on golf is because the people they play with don't fit what that they are looking for. Don't let a bad egg ruin your rounds or your league, be selective about who you play with, what you want out of your rounds, and enjoy the game!
Tip #5: Prioritize your areas of improvement
Two words: Use Arccos. If you care at all about on-course performance, use Arccos. Arccos now uses strokes gained to show you in a single number where you are losing strokes in your game, and is the best tool for dropping your handicap, if you care about that sort of thing.
Arccos will reveal the places you struggle most - those areas should be your priorities with an instructor, or a fitter, or both - depending on the source of the problem. The players who get good faster work on the weakest parts of the game first, I believe Arccos is the absolute best way to get that data and improve.
Tip #6: Plan your season
The off-season: The off-season is for major changes. Save all of your swing changes for the off-season. Save all of your equipment changes for the off-season. Don't even change your golf ball in the on-season. In the North, our off-season is October - March. I set March 17th (St. Pat's) as my cut-off for all equipment and swing changes. I work backwards from that date, and work off my Arccos stats from the previous year, to figure out what I need to get fit for, what I need to build, what I need to tweak, and what I need to get sorted out with my teacher. Once St. Pats rolls around, everything is locked in for the year.
The on-season: The on-season is for playing golf, not playing "golf equipment" or "golf swing". In the on-season my focus is on finding consistency, getting in a groove, and just enjoying the game.
2. GOLF CAN BE WAY LESS EXPENSIVE!
GIVE UP YOUR NEW EQUIPMENT ADDICTION
There is not a single top fitter, golf store owner, PGA/LPGA tour player, instructor, top amateur, or even "better player" that I am aware of that changes ALL of their equipment EVERY release cycle. The guys and gals who COULD upgrade every part of their bag if they wanted to, well - they don't want to! So why do you? The release-cycle addiction is great for driving revenue for the manufacturers, but it makes golf more expensive (and it's already incredibly expensive). Here are some tips to get the most out of your equipment and to get off the "new equipment treadmill."
Tip #7: Putt for dough
If you're putting statistics are poor (Arccos, or even simply tracked as number of putts/round) a putter evaluation might reveal a lot. I personally always thought I was a better than average putter, but what I found out in a putter evaluation was that to create slightly better than average face control, I was working very very hard and having to use my hands a lot. The reasons were twofold; first off - I had to tweak the mechanics of my putting stroke, second, the putter I was using was not right for me. I walked out of a 1 hour putter eval/fit and dropped more 8ft putts on the practice green in a row than I thought was humanly possible.
I do recommend being professionally fit for a putter, which can be expensive, but there is good news for the penny pinchers out there. Once you have something that fits you, you shouldn't need to change it but once every other decade. Tiger Woods played just about all of the best golf the world has ever seen with the same putter. While it's true that some pros out there go through the occasional putting crisis, and they try different putters from time to time, most of them do not change their putter very often.
The worst thing you can do is buy a "cool", or "iconic", or "status symbol", or "high tech", or "revolutionary" putter that you weren't fit for - especially if it's expensive. There's a good chance that you'll drop 3 to 5 bills without improving your game, or that your new toy will actually make your game worse.
Tip #8: Wear the grooves out of your irons and wedges
How many rounds of golf do you play a year? How often do you practice or get lessons? How many times do you flush your irons in a round? If your answer was "I wish it was more" for those three questions, try to stick with your current set of irons and wedges until they are worn out. The reality is, unless there is a major problem with some, or all of your irons or wedges, there is a good chance that you will gain more advantage (measured in "strokes gained") by KEEPING your irons and wedges and building familiarity than you will by replacing them every cycle. If something is just a bit off, there's a good chance that a length, loft, and lie fitting session with your current clubs will have very nearly the same performance improvement for you as a brand new set of sticks. If something is really off, that is, if you are a 25 handicap playing blades, or a 60mph 7i swing speed player with a traditional 3 iron in the bag, then you may have to go back to the drawing board, but that is rare. If you were fit for your current irons and your approach stats are good, stick with what you've got.
If you have never worn the grooves out of a set of irons, it can be a fun goal. The money you save and the familiarity you gain by sticking to an iron set is valuable. Not to mention, the fear in your playing opponents eyes will be real when they see a 1" circle pounded through the chrome in the middle of your favorite practice club.
Tip #9: Much ado about hybrids and fairway metals
Hitting greens further than 150 yards out is statistically (according to Arccos) a weak part of the average amateur's game. Having even a single club that you can hit far and straight off the deck is absolutely an asset for creating scoring opportunities and for limiting damage off the tee. Hybrids and fairway woods can offer the ability to do this, but these clubs can be tricky to integrate into your bag in the right way. Here are the big no-no's for this section of your bag.
DON'T: Fit yourself for these clubs through "Trial and Error". Even if your equipment IQ is high and you are buying used clubs on eBay, you will waste a lot of money this way. The problem with this section of the bag is it's difficult to predict what hybrids, woods, and shafts you will get along with, what will hit your yardage gaps, AND what combo won't "fight" the swing you are putting on the other clubs in your bag. For example, I am 4-6 degrees in to out in my woods and hybrids, and I fight a hook. I was fit into a Ping G410 SFT (slice fighting technology, which should make the hook worse), and it's the perfect "dancing partner" for the Ping 75 Tour shaft for me. I murder the ball straight with that club. If I bought that off the rack without a demo or a fit, there is no way in a million years I would have selected that club head. It's worth abusing a big box stores "demo" policy until you find something you can pure -OR- coughing up the money for a proper fit in this section of the bag.
DON'T: Replace your hybrids and fairways too often. Tour pros update this section of the bag infrequently and for good reason. Despite the fact that there is a lot of benefit to newer technologies, most pros know the value of reliability at the top of the bag, and its not uncommon to see clubs that are 5 generations older (or more) than the driver in a Pro's bag. If Pros don't do it, and they can get any equipment they want for free, don't blow your money over-upgrading this section of your bag.
DON'T: Sell an old hybrid or fairway once it has been replaced. Even if you are relatively sure the new club is better, things happen. Swings change. Sometimes you find after a few rounds that a particular club that's great in the demo bay just doesn't work on the course. Sometimes you find out that the swing you have to put on a hybrid or a wood is just too different, or too "high maintenance" for you to keep that new club in lockstep with the rest of your bag. For all of those reasons, don't sell your old favorites out of this part of the bag, or you very likely will wish you hadn't.
TIP #10: The big dog
Though "purists" might groan, distance matters. Being able to hit driver far off the tee, and keep it (mostly) in play will drop your handicap. We are spoiled today to have great golfing stats that help us quantify the game. The biggest bit of statistical proof into the value of distance of the tee is Mark Broadie's concept of "Strokes Gained." Strokes Gained is a measurement of the advantage that a player has in certain types of golfing situations (example, "strokes gained off the tee", "strokes gained scrambling" etc). Equipment changes can be measured in terms of strokes gained, meaning, a change in driver can be measured not in just yards of distance, average dispersion (accuracy), standard deviation (consistency), etc - but the entire performance of that new club can be reduced to one single value, how many strokes that club is likely to shave off one of your rounds.
So, what's the value of a new driver? MyGolfSpy.com just released their 18,000+ shot test of 38 different 2021 driver models. if you believe the OEM marketing, you would think the advantage of the best driver over the worst driver of the year would be huge, but, it isn't:
2021 Best Driver - Strokes Gained: +.0522
2021 Worst Driver - Strokes Gained: -.0907
What the data would suggest is that if an average golfer randomly selected the absolute worst driver in the test, they would be giving up less than 1/6th of a stroke per round compared to selecting the best. What's more interesting is that MGS included the 2020 "Most Wanted Driver" in the 2021 in the test. What would an average golfer gain by going from the 2020 model to the "new and improved" best of the best 2021 model? The answer is a measly .0209 strokes per round, or 1 stroke less in total PER SEASON of 50 rounds. Are you willing to spend $550 to shave a single stroke off your next season? I'm not.
The plot thickens, however, because there is no such thing as an average golfer, and the MyGolfSpy averages are just that, averages across a huge number of players and shots. The reality is, if you bought an off the rack driver last year that DIDNT FIT you, say you were slicing it off the planet, you could lose 5 or 6 strokes per round. Now let's say you replaced that driver and with something that fit you (NEW OR OLD), and you can keep the new-to-you driver in the fairway, your handicap is going to drop like a rock.
The take-away: Unless you are at the highest level of the game, where a fraction of a stroke gained, or 2-3 yards is going to make a big difference, you do not need to get fit for and upgrade your driver every year. With that said, your driver DOES HAVE TO FIT YOU. That doesn't mean you necessarily have to be fit into new equipment, but going to a qualified fitter is by far the best way to know for sure that you've got the right equipment.
Tip #11: Replace your headcovers
Having a Ping G400 headcover popping out of your bag in the bag drop used to feel a lot like showing up to the course in a Lexus, that is, until Ping released the G410. Then it felt a lot like handing the valet the keys to a Camry. Now that there is a G425 kicking around - that headcover might have you feeling like you're just not keeping up. The reality? The G400 line is still exceptional by any standard (the Max is a freak) and there's a chance that it could STILL be the perfect driver for you. My recommendation is, if your headcovers are pulling you toward the dark-side of an equipment addiction, get rid of them.
Find something that suits your taste! Maybe a stuffed animal, maybe something traditional in tartan or plaid, maybe something tie dyed, or something done in a Hawaiian print, or themed after your favorite NFL team, maybe something sewn from a favorite t-shirt, or something from SWAG golf if you're into limited release stuff, or something from barstool or NLU if you like their stuff, or something from Golf Gods if you're a bit of an a** h**** - have fun with it! Custom covers are a good way to make your bag yours, and pull your ego, your identity as a golfer, and your wallet out of the OEM release-cycle rat race.
3. YOU CAN BE THE "GOLFING TYPE"
DIY PROJECTS THAT WILL TURN YOU INTO A GOLF HIPSTER
Golf is rife with opportunities to work on your own equipment, doing the work yourself can increase your confidence in your gear, help you better understand what works for your game, and it slowly changes the concept you have of yourself as a golfer. The guys I know who glue together their own clubs are not just confident on the course - they are usually the guys strutting up to hit first in front of the cart girl.
Tip #12: Fitting yourself is a gamble
The prevailing thought today is that golfers should never self-select their own equipment.
While it is true that fitting yourself is a gamble, some things are more of a sure bet than others. For example, if you get along great with X100 shafts in your irons, there's a good chance S400 will work for your wedges. Three S400 tour issue pulls on eBay are 5-10% of the price of 3 new Vokeys with a shaft and fitting upcharge, which makes that kind of "self fit" a reasonable risk to take. Similarly, If you're allergic to anything but KBS120 in the irons, the KBS TGI hybrid shaft in the weight that matches your swing speed should be pretty safe. Taking small, logical self-fitting "risks" can save you money and raise your equipment IQ. Throwing a Hail Mary and getting it wrong on the other hand, can set back your pocketbook and your love of the game, so approach with caution.
Tip #13: Build your own clubs
By building your own clubs, you can achieve a level of quality control, confidence, and intimacy that really rivals what the pros get. When I build clubs for myself I set head weight targets, and I hit them to within a tenth of a gram. I do that not because it makes a gigantic performance difference (1/10th of a gram here or there is no big deal), but because I want the confidence that my gear is "perfect." I've disassembled a BUNCH of iron sets, and I've never seen a perfect set that came out of an OEM factory that was as accurate as my builds. Knowing for a fact that you clubs are something special should help you love this game, even if you're only spending a few hundred bucks retro-building used equipment.
The retro-build is a great way to learn how to build clubs yourself (start with steel shafted clubs, pulling graphite requires a special tool or large testicles). You can start your retro build with just custom ferrule caps, or the more ambitious DIY'ers can build their own spine finder/FLO device, and can retro-actively FLO their iron shafts. If you have a digital scale you can check on head weights and add or remove weight from the hosel as needed. Whatever your fancy, building your own gear will help you fall in love with your clubs. Start wherever your comfort/skill level is, and go from there.
Tip #14: Install your own grips
The Kid at Dicks was probably trained on how to slide grips on, but there's no way your clubs get the attention to detail that YOU would give them when you send your clubs to a retail "pro shop".
If you know exactly how many wraps of tape you want under each hand, then for God's sake, install your own grips.
Tip #15: DIY golf accessories
Ball markers, towels, custom headcovers you name it.
You can literally shape the identity of your gear by shaping accessories. Have fun with it.