It can be a lot of fun playing a new golf course for the first time, and the courses we always seem to enjoy the most are the ones we play the best.
While your preparation and technique are always important, there are also a few tactics you can take to ensure you have a memorable day.
1. Inspect the scorecard in advance
Starting your round with a quick glance at the scorecard will give you an idea of the length and layout of the course. The length of the course can give you an idea of what clubs you may have to hit on the green and this can guide your warm-up. If you see a lot of long par 4s, you may want to hit more fairway woods in your warmup. Knowing the approximate length of par 3s can also help guide which clubs to hit a few more times when on the course.
2. Meet the challenges of the course
Good courses often have reputations that precede them, whether it’s fast greens, difficult bunkers, thick and rough water hazards, or narrow fairways, just to name a few. Knowing this ahead of time can guide your practice and maybe even meet with your teacher to prepare for these challenges ahead of time.
3. Adjust your club settings as needed
Depending on the challenges of the course, you can adjust the clubs you carry in your bag. If the greens are small and protected by many deep bunkers, this may be a course where adding a lob wedge would be a good option. Windy courses may favor less lofty clubs in the middle of your bag, such as swapping a 3-hybrid instead of a 7-wood. When I teach my students, I often design the clubs in their bags to match the needs of the field in which they play most often. You also should.
4. When in doubt, don’t dress up
On a new course, it can be difficult to determine where to best aim your tee shots and know where the green is. A good rule of thumb is to simply aim for the center of the fairway or the green when in doubt. Don’t get excited trying to flirt with dangerous lines. And while I realize this may be a little easier said than done, it can be a good guide as you work your way down the hole to see your final location on the green.
5. Adopt GPS
I wish these GPS apps existed when I was playing professional golf. While we often had time for practice rounds, sometimes we didn’t. On numerous occasions, a hazard would appear that I didn’t even know was there, and it was often difficult to know exactly how far away I had to stop. As a brand ambassador for Golflogix (one of GOLF.com’s affiliated companies), I suggest the app to all my students. I especially like the ability to use the GLX app with my Apple Watch, because it gives me distances to the front, middle, and back of the green as I move around the course. Find an app like this that might work for you, and can be particularly helpful when charting your way through the course.
6. Play away from danger
Avoiding penalty kicks on courses you play for the first time should be priority number one. Even if you’re feeling a bit too conservative, staying away from water hazards and out of bounds should be at the top of your list of goals. A good rule of thumb is to tee off on the side of the tee that allows you to aim away from the hazard. Choose a more conservative strategy the first time you play a course; you can always become more aggressive the more familiar you become.
7. First practice your putt
Your pre-course preparation should always involve a lot of putting in before you go to the course. Getting the feel for the speed of the greens not only helps control distance on long putts, it will also help you convert those tricky short putts within eight feet.
8. Accept that bogeys are okay
Very few really good rounds have a lot of “others” on the scorecard, meaning a score higher than bogey. Having this in the back of your head while playing bogey okay can help. Putting the ball back in play, or on most of the green, instead of trying the hero shot, can help you avoid making mistakes. When I play a really tough course, I often make this my goal.
9. Listen to your caddy (or host)
Local knowledge can be invaluable when playing a new course for the first time. Listening to your host, or caddy if you’re lucky enough to have one, can save you from costly mistakes. Having said that, I think you should try to make a lot of decisions yourself, but when you’re not sure, ask for help.
10. Be patient and consistent with your plan
Each round you play will give you options on when to be consistent and when to make a bigger bet with the edge as your reward. Depending on how he’s playing that day and the difficulty of the course, you may find it wiser to limit your risk the first time he plays. Know your game plan and stick to it when you play. Try to manage the field to show your best shots and the strengths of your game.