A Beginner's Guide to Golf
By mjaber on 7/22/13
New to the game of golf? oober mjaber has some advice for you. Enjoy his latest column!

I've written a few articles for this little slice of the web about clubs, and courses, offering advice about how to get the most for your money. I probably should have sent this one in first, since it is an overview of what I did, and what I would do differently, if I were to start again.

I started playing golf later than most. I got my first set of clubs when I was 30, and didn't actually start using them until a year or so later. It was a starter set that I got from a frequent traveler program. In essence, since my company paid for all of my travel, the clubs were free. I started by going to the driving range with a friend, who did not own clubs of his own and had no intention of ever actually playing golf. He used the driving range as stress relief. I have always been fairly athletic, and I didn't think it would be too hard to hit a stationery ball with a stick. I had played baseball, and though I wasn't very good I managed to make contact with a moving ball, so how hard could it be to hit a stationery one? Oh, how wrong I was. I think I made about 300 swings and a bucket of 100 balls that first trip.

Well, I spent the better part of a summer going to the driving range every couple of days, just "beating balls", developing blisters, and then calluses, for no other reason than it was something to do other than playing Madden, watching TV, or drinking and playing pool. As the summer wore on, I stopped whiffing a lot, and the ball actually started flying off the tee. It went as far right as it did out, but it was an improvement. I started reading about how to properly grip the club, and started using the "inter-lock" grip. I started bring irons, instead of just woods, with me. I broke the head off of my 5-wood, because of too many hits on the hosel. Winter came, and I put the clubs in the closet. Something strange happened, though. I started thinking about actually going to a golf course and playing golf. It was weird. I had always scoffed at the notion of playing golf. It seemed boring. Then again, it wasn't as easy as I had thought to hit a golf ball, so maybe playing it was actually different than I thought.

I found a local course with what I thought was a decent rate. It was an executive 18-hole Par 3. I setup a tee time, and me, my brother-in-law, and a different friend than the one who had gotten me to the driving range ventured forth. My brother-in-law had been playing since he was a kid, and my other friend had been thinking about picking the game up for some time. Well, the 3 of us proceeded to hack our way around this par 3 for most of the morning, and that was that. I played 16 rounds that first season, and managed to do something my brother-in-law had never done. I broke 100. The week before my wedding, I shot a 96.

It was not all smiles and roses that first year. I almost quit after my 3rd round. I played a course well beyond my abilities, again with my brother-in-law and my friend. My brother-in-law's father was added to make a foursome. It was just all around bad. I had driven home from Washington, DC the night before, because my connection flight through Dulles had been cancelled. I got home at about 3AM, and was up at 7AM to make the tee time. The course was tight, and it was during this round that I initiated what became known as the 2-ball rule. If I lost 2 balls on a hole, I would card a 10 and move on. It was called in to play on many holes that day. At one point, I considered leaving the clubs, bag and all, at one of the tee boxes and just riding along for the rest of the round. I carded a 154 that day, and it probably would have been a lot higher if I had not used the 2-ball rule.

Luckily, I was smart enough to realize that I was spending good money to play, and if I wasn't having fun, it wasn't worth it. I took my clubs home and left them in the closet for a while. A few days later, I went back to the driving range. A couple of days after that, I went back to the par 3. I played a few more rounds there before I ventured back on a course that had anything more than a par 3, and even that was a 9-hole par 34. Then, I found a wide-open par 70. It was the perfect "next step". There was plenty of space, with almost no way to lose a few golf balls per round. It was called the "Prairie" for good reason. 7 of my 16 rounds that first year were played there.

It's been 5 years actually playing golf now. Life has begun to limit my rounds. I've gotten married, bought a house, and I have a 2-year old daughter. I have gone from 21 rounds in '09 to 2 last year. With all of the changes that have gone on in my life, I still enjoy playing when I have the time and money. My wife is understanding, and sometimes urges me to go play, if the chance is there. Sometimes I do, and sometimes I would rather be with her and my daughter.

Now that you know my story, I would like to give you a few tips if you, or someone you know, is considering playing. I'll go in to more detail on some of these later (some I already have).
  1. Do not buy new, name-brand golf clubs. You may not enjoy the game. Not everybody does. It's not worth spending close to $1000 on brand new, top of the line, clubs. Look for a starter set at a big-box retailer (sporting goods, or other wise). Look for used clubs online via craigslist, used golf websites, or find a good local used sporting goods store. You'll pay less than ½ of original MSRP, and you'll probably get at least a couple years out of them, which is long enough to decide if you want to keep playing. Unless you're buying wedges.

  2. Don't worry about having a full set of 14 clubs. Fourteen clubs is the max, but there is no rule that says you have to have all 14. If you're piecing your bag together, get a driver, a set of irons, a wedge or 2, and a putter, and maybe a hybrid. Figure it out from there. I haven't carried a fairway metal/wood for a couple years. There have been a couple times where it would have been nice to have one, but they aren't frequent enough that I will run out and buy one right now. I'm looking for one, but I know the club I want, and when I find it, used, at the right price, I might pick it up, if I've got the extra money. If not, I'll find another one eventually.

  3. Don't jump right into the big courses. Spend some time at the driving range. Try the different types of Par 3 and executive courses. Especially if you are playing by yourself. In my experience, the friendliest people I've met were at the Par 3 I play.

  4. Listen to the advice of others, but don't treat it as fact. The only person who can fix your swing is you. Advice on your swing by someone you just met on the golf course is not going to help you become a better golfer.

  5. Lessons can help, but only if you find the right teacher. I have taken a couple of lessons. I was having trouble getting the ball of the ground consistently with my irons, and my wife bought me a couple lessons at the local range. The pro made a couple of observations, and after a few swings, the ball did what it was supposed to. He didn't try to completely overhaul my swing. He had me make a couple slight adjustments to my stance, and that was that. He made a couple other observations about my grip and takeaway, but since I got out of the lessons what I wanted, he didn't press any additional changes. If you browse through the forums here, you can find some stories about why the right teacher is key. If you've already started swinging, and just need a few tweaks, some teachers will be better than others. If you're just starting, and want a swing built from the ground up, you've got a better shot at finding a teacher for that.

  6. Find "your shot". The biggest lift I got out of my lessons was the pro telling me, after I had just smacked the 150yd target with a 7-iron, "that's your natural shot shape. Don't fight it." From then on, I have played that shot. I have accepted that, unless I spend a whole lot of money I don't have, I'm going to play a cut. I'm never going to hit a draw on purpose, so I don't try. I have one stance, and one swing, and that one swing produces a fairly consistent shot. I'm not going to fight it, I'm going to embrace it.

  7. If you don't enjoy playing — stop. Nobody says you have to play golf. It's not cheap, and if you're spending your hard-earned money doing something, you should enjoy it. If you're not enjoying it, you shouldn't subject yourself to it. Life is too short.

  8. Find a club an iron in your bag you can hit consistently, the same distance, and play it. We all get comfortable with different clubs at different times. Usually, it will start with a short iron, and work up from there. For me, the first club I really liked in my bag was my 8 iron. I have no logical explanation for it, but it always went about the same distance. So, if I was in trouble, I would try to get the ball to my 8 iron distance, or I would just keep hitting my 8-iron until I got onto the green, or in range to chip.
Did I miss anything?

This was written by Mike Jaber, a reader/follower/fellow oober; the opinions are 100% his and do not necessarily reflect those of oobgolf in any way. Enjoy! We are sure that he's ready for your feedback.

Have an idea for a guest column? Send it here!

Image via Flickr, My Sweetheart

[ comments ]
jasonfish11 says:
Much of that is good advice for non-beginners too.

#6 - I know a guy who played in 2 US Opens and was on the (now) web.com tour. He claims that only 10 guys in the world are good enough to consistantly flight the ball both ways. everyone else should do what you say. He claimed to hit a cut on 100% of his open* shots for 3 straight years.

*he'd hit a draw or hook if a tree was preventing him from hitting a cut.
joe jones says:
Not a damn thing . Well said. Great article.
Matt McGee says:
Great article.
I would amend #7 a little. Even if you love playing, golf is one of the world's most frustrating ways to enjoy yourself. As I've progressed in my 2nd golf go-round (I quit playing for about 12 years), I've learned that forgiving myself for not being perfect (or even good) is as important as anything else in the game.
snkli says:
Great article! Wish I'd read something like this when I picked up the game.
Sparker1969 says:
#1A: Don't spend a lot of money on golf balls either. Titleist ProV1s will not magically make you better and the added sidespin will actually make you worse.

#3 is really important. I played par 3 as a kid and had to take a skills, rules and etiquette test to get on the big course at the age of 10. The pro put me on the red tee and said I couldn't play the white tees until I consistently broke 100. By the way, this was a public course. These days the golf pro will tell beginners to tee it up as far up as they like. Is the 400 yard par 4 first hole too much? Try teeing off at the 200 yard marker.

The only addition I would make is to tell people to make some effort at obeying the rules at etiquette of the game. Many rules can be optional until a certain skill level is reached, but the etiquette part should be emphasized. I'm talking fixing ball marks, raking traps and speed of play, not t-shirts and cargo shorts.
golfingbumunderpar64 says:
I really wish people would follow that advice. I myself spent time whacking a ton of balls until I learned about the game. Im still laughing at the 154. My wife said " is that why you don't wanna play with me? " To which I grin and say "yep". But it's all in fun. I enjoy her company for that 3 hr rd of 9 holes. :-)
Mjaber, great article.
mrcgamble says:
While I have played golf for many many moons now, my boys (ages 8 and 6) are attempting to take up the game. While they both love to "bang balls" at the range, I am trying to carefully teach them the short game (chipping, pitching, putting, and shots from 100 yards and in). Boy do i wish someone would have taught me this in my early years! My main objective when I go out with my boys is to have FUN!!! We have made it out to my local course a few times and I usually have them play from where my tee shot comes to rest, if we are playing a par 3, I don't want them to have a forced carry but let them usually play from the foward tees.

Again as long as they are having FUN, etiquette and rules will come, and are being taught along the way.

BTW, Great article!!!!!
DougE says:
I think that one of the first things that new golfers should learn (right after proper etiquette) is to swing easy and in control. It took me years to fully understand that concept. Most beginners tend to use every ounce of energy trying to smack the ball as hard as possible, usually resulting in an out of control swing and errant result. Once I learned to swing somewhat in control, getting the sweet spot of the clubhead somewhere close to the ball, the game started to become less embarrassing and consequently, much more enjoyable for me. I actually started to feel like a golfer. If I realized at the start that simply hitting the ball cleanly, with a nice easy swing would make it go much further and straighter than trying to whack the hell out of it, I could have saved myself tons of frustration and humiliation during my early years attempting to play the game.
jasonfish11 says:
"swing easy and in control. It took me years to fully understand that concept"

Agree. I started playing when i was 5. I learned this last year (24 years later) and dropped my handicap from 18 to 12.
joe jones says:
Matt McGee. Golf is somewhat like sex. You don't have to good at it to have a good time.
mjaber says:
@golfingbum... I laugh at it now, too. Knowing how badly that course beat me up, I still go back on occasion, because I know I can break 90 there.
jasonfish11 says:
"Golf is somewhat like sex. You don't have to good at it to have a good time."

Not to mention most people claim to be better than they actually are.
mjaber says:
@mrcgamble... my daughter (she'll be 3 next month), really "wants to play golf with daddy" (and yes, that is a direct quote from her). I know she doesn't have the attention span for the driving range, nevermind an actual round. So, I got a chipping net for the backyard. She's got her plastic club and some practice balls, and we work together to hit them into the net. It also helps me, because I get to get in some chipping practice once she's decided she's done (usually after about 5 minutes).
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