How To Play Golf: Golf For Dummies

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how to play golf

Golf is becoming more than just an old rich people sport as more young people are beginning to appreciate the sport’s relaxing, fun yet challenging nature. But unlike most sports, the learning curve for golf is a lot higher, especially in the beginning.

That’s why we’ve come up with the ultimate guide to help you start your golf journey as quickly as possible. To do this, we’ll cover the basics of:

  • How to Play Golf
  • How to Win in a Game of Golf
  • The Parts of a Golf Course
  • The Equipment You’ll Need to Play
  • Your Golf Grip and Golf Swing
  • Teeing Your Golf Ball
  • The Important Golf Rules and Etiquettes
  • The Common Golf Terms
  • Calculating your Golf Handicap

If you’re an amateur golfer, this is the article for you (and this one 15 Best Golf Tips For Beginners That Actually Work). By the end of this blog post, you’ll know all the golf basics you need to play your first round.

How to Play Golf

A standard round of golf consists of 18 holes with a standard par of 72. The term par simply means the expected number of strokes a golfer should have to complete a round of the golf course.

In other words, golfers who took exactly 72 shots to finish all 18-holes can be said to have played an ideal round of golf, we call this even par where your score for that day is a +0 (72 par – 72 shots taken = +0). You may think that a score of +0 is bad, but not in golf. It’s actually a really good score (we’ll explain why later).

Also, just because a golf course has a standard par of 72, doesn’t mean you can’t hit less than 72 shots to finish the round!

For example, if you only needed 69 shots to finish a round of golf, you’ve shot 3 under par (scoring a -3) for that round. On the other hand, if you shot a 78, it means you’re 6 over par (scoring a +6) for that round.

Each hole also has its own assigned par value specifically: par 3, 4, and 5. Generally speaking, the higher the par value for a hole, the longer that hole is, but all 18-holes should tally up to a 72 par.

How to Win at Golf

Unlike most sports, in golf, the champ is decided by the golfer with the fewest number of shots at the end of the round.

In other words, after playing 18-holes, scoring an even par will outcompete someone who scored a 6 over par. This chart will give you a better idea:

From this chart, we see Mark scoring 12 over par, Meg scoring an even par, and Tiger scoring 6 under par. Here, Tiger would have won first as he took fewer strokes than Meg and Mark, while Meg would have gotten second, and Mark third.

Here are a few other things to know about the sport

  • You can play solo or with a group. 
  • In most golf courses, each participant must have their own set of golf clubs and a golf bag.
  • Typically, each golf course may take you 2 to 5 hours for you to finish. This depends on how many people you’re playing with and your skill level.
  • Not all courses are 18 holes, but all standard golf courses and those used in competitions have 18 holes.
  • Some golf courses have a strict dress code in place so always check with the course ahead of time. Don’t risk getting denied entry during your tee time!
  • There’s no need to rush to participate in competitions. You’ll need to register for a USGA golf handicap card to do this anyway which may take some time (more on this later).

Parts of a Golf Course

There are a few things you should know about the golf course before you start playing in one. Knowing parts of a golf course will help you avoid hitting shots to places you don’t want and play more efficiently towards the flagstick.

  1. Tee box or Tee: This is where each hole begins. Most of the time, you’ll be using your driver unless it is a par 3 hole in which you’ll use one of your irons. This is also the only place where you can use your tee! On a par 4 or 5 tee box, your goal is to hit the ball as far as you can on the fairway. If it’s a par 3 hole, your goal is to get the ball on the green. There are also multiple tee boxes (usually red, white, blue, and black) which represent the different distances you can choose to tee off from. Generally speaking, women, beginners, and seniors would tee off from the white or red tee boxes.
  2. Fairway: The fairway is the stretch of land between the tee box and the green but not including the rough and anywhere else beyond. Landing the ball on the fairway for a par 4 or 5 is ideal.
  3. Green: The patch of land where the flagstick and hole are located. When players hit the ball onto the green they’ll use a putter to roll the ball into the hole.
  4. Rough: This area of a golf course often has higher, thicker grass. You’d want to avoid landing your ball into the rough as shots here are much more unpredictable and difficult to hit. Fortunately, you won’t get a penalty if you land the ball here.
  5. Hazards: Like the rough, you’d want to avoid getting your ball into hazards. There are two types of hazards:
    • Bunker: This is a specially designed area on the golf course to test a player’s skills when hitting a ball out from the sand. They appear frequently alongside the fairways or next to the green. Even though you won’t get any penalty for landing the ball in the bunker, golfers should avoid the bunker as it is a rather difficult place to get the ball out of. Also, touching the sand with your club immediately in front of or behind your ball during your practice swing or backswing will result in a loss of hole penalty in match play or two strokes penalty in stroke play. You’re only allowed to disturb the sand in the bunker during your downswing. 
    • Water: any form of water that surrounds that particular hole is considered a hazard. Hitting a shot into the water is every golfer’s nightmare as it often is assumed to be lost so most just take a penalty. You can play it if from the water if you can still see the ball, but it’s extremely hard and you’ll ruin your golf outfit. 

What Do You Need to Play Golf?

Time to spend some money. Here’s a full list of what you’ll need to bring to each round:

  1. No more than 14 golf clubs in your bag:
    • Driver: The longest club in your bag with the biggest clubhead. The driver is your farthest-hitting golf club and is the go-to club to hit off the tee from the tee box. (Check out some of the best driver for beginners and high handicappers)
    • Woods: Similar to the driver but has a shorter shaft and smaller club head. The driver is also considered a wood. (Check out some of the best fairway woods for high handicappers and beginners)
    • Hybrids: A golf club that borrows the design from both woods and irons. They have a similar swing mechanic to your irons; therefore, they are more forgiving than hitting with your woods while still making up for most of the distance. (Check out some of the best hybrid golf clubs for high handicapper)
    • Irons: Your irons are the clubs you use most regularly in the golf course. They range from your 2- to 9-irons making a full iron set. Most amateurs ditch the 2- and 3-iron for the 2- and 3- hybrids as the irons can be less forgiving to hit wtih, but eventually going back to the full set of iron is ideal. (Check out some of the best irons for beginners and high handicappers)
    • Wedges: These clubs are a subset of irons with a higher loft and shorter shaft making them more forgiving to use. They’ll primarily be used in the short game, where the wedges help land the ball onto the green or chip the ball closer to the hole slightly outside the green. (Check out some of the Best Wedges for Beginners and High Handicappers)
    • Putter: the go-to club for when your golf ball is on the green or partially off the green. Their sole purpose is to roll the golf ball into the hole. (Check out some of the Best Wedges for Beginners and High Handicappers)
  1. Golf bag
  2. Golf balls
  3. Golf Shoes
  4. Short and Long Tees
  5. Gloves 
  6. Towel
  7. Umbrella
  8. Ball marker
  9. Divot tool

Many golf courses do have a dress code, but not all of them. Usually, the higher the green fees are for that course, the more strict they are with the golf dress code. In general, there will be courses where you can wear gym shorts and a tank top to play, like most municipal golf courses. But, make sure you check with the golf course as some require a collared shirt and have a no-denim rule. Just make sure you’re not shirtless. Please. 

How to Grip Your Golf Club Properly

Before making your first swing, you need to find the best way to grip your golf club. Here’s how:

Golf grip: how you grip your golf club with your fingers and hands
Golf strength: the way your fingers and hands are aligned in respect to the center of the grip while the clubface is squared to your target

There are many ways you can hold the golf club. From our experience, we advise you not to go with the 10-finger grip. Yes, it’s comfortable, but none of the pros use it and so shouldn’t you. Start off with neutral overlapping or interlocking grip. These steps are for right-handed golfers:

  1. Place the grip at the base of your fingers of your lead hand (left hand).
  2. Wrap your fingers around the club. The club should rest along the middle joint of your index finger to the base of your pinky.
  3. Take the upper and middle joints of your right pinky and rest it on top of the middle joint of your left index finger.
  4. Now with the rest of your fingers on the right hand, wrap them around the club with your right thumb pointing down.
  5. Here, you can pick between the overlap or interlock:
    1. Overlapping or ‘Vardon’ Grip: Your right pinky rests on top of the notch of the index finger and middle finger of your left hand.
    2. Interlocking Grip: Your right pinky rests in-between the index finger and middle finger of your left-hand while your left index finger rests in-between the pinky and ring finger of your right-hand, creating an interlock and bringing your hand’s closer together.

Swinging Your Golf Club

To properly execute the golf swing you need to make sure to get in the right golf stance, to swing on plane, to position your golf ball correctly, and to swing with your hips and shoulders instead of your arms. Here’s a general idea of the right golf swing:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, hip-width for shorter golf clubs.
  2. Bend/ flex your knees just slightly.
  3. Tilt your upper body forward by approximately 40 to 45 degrees.
  4. Drop your hands from your golf stance and grip your golf club.
  5. Rotate your hips and your shoulders for the backswing and shift your weight to your back foot.
  6. From the top, uncoil your hips followed by your shoulders while shifting your weight to your front foot.
  7. Make your downswing, follow through, and hold your finish.

How Tall To Tee your Golf Ball?

The ideal height for teeing your golf ball is 1.5 inches for the driver. If you’re teeing up for other clubs like the 3-wood, aim for half an inch; for your irons, a quarter of an inch. Here’s a great tip to teeing up your golf ball for the driver, simply use the height of a golf ball as a reference.

Important Golf Rules

These are the top 10 golf rules that you should familiarize yourself with first. You’ll eventually want to know more golf rules along the way, but for now, these would do.

  1. Stick with your own golf ball: Don’t touch anyone else’s golf ball or pick up a random golf ball. A good golf habit to have is to remember the type and number labeled on that ball every time you use a new one. That way, you won’t play someone else’s ball by accident! If you think your golf ball is the one on the floor but you’re not sure (maybe because the label and number are hidden in the ground), double-check with your group.
  2. No Moving your Ball: Pretty self-explanatory, but if you deliberately lift or move your ball, you get a one-stroke penalty.
  3. Ball Falls off the Tee: If it’s due to the wind or something beyond your control, you can re-tee the ball without a penalty. But if the ball falls from the wind of your practice swing or you touching it, you play as it lies.
  4. No More Than 14 Clubs: Carrying more than 14 golf clubs will lead to penalties potentially for every hole you play.
  5. The One-Stroke Penalty: The one-stroke penalty can be added to your score for a few reasons. Most of the time, you’ll get a one-stroke penalty from moving the ball intentionally or unintentionally, from losing your ball, or from hitting the ball out-of-bounce.
  6. The Two-Stroke Penalty: The two-stroke penalty may be added to your score if you play or move someone else’s ball, if you play out of turn while someone else is playing theirs, or if you ask for advice besides your caddie during a tournament.
  7. Unplayable Lies: There will be cases where you’ve found your ball but it is on an unplayable lie due to obstructions on the golf course. For instance, if your ball is lodged at the edge of a bunker to the point it’s unplayable, if a wild animal is preventing you from hitting your ball, etc. The good news is you can get a free drop to reallocate your ball in most of these cases.
  8. Provisional Ball: If your golf ball is unplayable – it’s underwater, it’s in a bush, or the ball breaks in two – you get the chance to play the ball under a stroke and distance penalty, adding a one-stroke penalty and playing from its original spot.
  9. Order of Play: At the start of every round, the player with the lowest score hits first. Beyond the tee box, the player furthest from the hole is the first to hit. This is also true on the putting green, if you’re on the green and 20 feet away from the hole but your opponent is 10 feet from the hole but outside the green, you still go first (many recreational platters get this wrong).
  10. Only Putt on the Green: Don’t make a full swing on the green, create any divots, drive over, or damage the green in general. Use your divot tool to repair any ball marks you make from landing your ball on the green.

Golf Etiquettes You’ll Want to Know

Here are 5 important golf etiquettes for your first day:

  1. Watch where you’re standing: Never stand directly behind or in front of someone during their golf swing.
  2. Let the faster group through: If you’re playing too slow, let the group behind you pass you.
  3. Keep your temper under control: Golf is hard and frustrating, but getting angry and lashing out at the golf course is not only embarrassing and distracting to others, but also makes you play a lot worse.
  4. Be quiet: No, you won’t get a penalty for talking, but when it’s someone else’s turn, keep your distance and be silent during their swing.
  5. Yell “Fore!”: We all hit bad shots like the golf slice, but if you notice your golf ball flying towards a person or where you think there may be a person, yell “Fore!” as loud as you can to warn the golfers ahead of you.

There are hundreds of important golf etiquette’s we haven’t mentioned, like healing ball marks on the green or showing up a few minutes earlier before your tee time. Point is, golf is a sport that really follows a “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” motto.  Eventually,  you’ll pick up more of these etiquettes as you play, just remember to respect the golfers along the way.

Some Practical Golf Terms To Get You Started

No one likes to be the odd-man-out when on the golf course, so it’s good to familiarize yourself with some of the more common golf terms:

  1. Par: Even par on a hole
  2. Bogey: 1 stroke over par on a hole
  3. Double Bogey: 2 strokes over par on a hole 
  4. Birdie: 1 stroke under par on a hole
  5. Eagle: 2 strokes under par
  6. Alabtross/ Double eagle: 3 strokes under par
  7. Ace: A hole in one
  8. Scratch golfer: A golfer with a handicap of 0 over any or all related golf courses
  9. Bogey golfer: A golfer who averages a bogey per hole, oftentimes it refers to someone with a handicap of 18 to 24

Calculating Your Handicap

As golfers get better in the game, they’ll eventually want to register for an official golf handicap card by the USGA. The golf handicap is a measure of a golfer’s potential playing ability for each golf course they encounter and golfers must have an official handicap to compete in any golf tournament.

We’re not going to dive deep into the USGA handicap here, but we just want to make sure that you don’t simply calculate your handicap by taking:

(Your average score for that particular golf course) – 72 = Unofficial Handicap

Many beginner and recreational golfers often don’t know about the handicap system and claim their handicap to others unofficially through this method. Don’t do this!

What‘s Next?

By now, you should have a solid idea of how to play golf or at least how to get started properly. Golf is a sport that can be challenging and competitive but can also be relaxing and fun. 

The bottom line is, it takes time to pick up the sport. Very few golfers memorize the entire list of golf rules and etiquettes, nor do they need to. Having fun and playing along with the information we’ve given you so far is the best advice we can give you moving forward. 

Finally, these are just some of the basics of playing golf. There are still many things you need to work on the become a well-rounded golfer. if you want to expand your golf knowledge, check these posts out:

If you have any questions, feel free to contact us. We’re happy to help!

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Mark has been an avid golfer for more than 15 years and has reviewed golf clubs since 2015. He is also the founder of the Golf Leap Blog site.

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