So the day is finally here. You've taken up golf, maybe been to the driving range a few times to hit some golf balls, and now you want to play on a golf course for real. Stepping onto the first tee box for the first time ever can be a little intimidating, but don't worry! I'm here to guide you through how to prepare for your first round of golf to make sure you have fun from the first tee shot to final putt and keep you coming back for more.
Pick the right golf course
A golf course is a golf course right? Sure, they are all places to play golf but there are some variations which will make a difference to you as a beginner player. In most countries, golf courses are divided in to public, semi-private and private. For most beginner players, you're going to want to look for a public or municipal golf course to play your first round of golf.
Here's a quick breakdown of what to expect at each type of course.
Public or municipal golf course
These are golf courses which are usually owned and operated by the town or city in which they are located. Municipals are open for all to play and are usually priced very fairly. Of course there are exceptions to this rule (Pebble Beach and Bethpage Black in the USA are both municipal courses) but playing a municipal should be an easy way for novice golfers to get into the game.
They might not be maintained to the same standards as private courses, but there will be tees, fairways and greens and you will be playing golf on a real course! Get on google to see if there's a local municipal near you and get out there!
Semi private golf courses
These types of courses are more common in the UK. Basically, the course is owned or used by members but they allow visitors to play golf by paying a "green fee." This can range from anywhere between $5 to $500 depending on the standard and location of the course in question.
Semi private courses are usually well maintained and welcoming to visitors but they aren't always the best place for a beginner golfer to play their first round. Many courses will have a handicap limit and require you to prove that you can play to a decent standard before they let you out on the links. This is becoming less common as courses struggle to get people playing but its worth checking before you book a tee time.
Private golf courses and country clubs
Private golf courses can be good and band for beginner players, depending on if you're a member or know a member of the establishment. Private courses will not allow visitors to play without being invited by a current member and so it's unlikely that this will the venue for your first round of golf.
However, if you're really keen on learning the game, joining a private club and getting lessons for the resident professional golfer is a really good way to get into the game. The pro might even do a few playing lessons with you to get you familiar with being out on the course before you play your first real round!
Play at the right time
Playing golf for the first time can be nerve wracking and lots of beginners struggle when they're being watched by other golfers. Also, playing your first round of golf will probably take a while as you plot your way around the course, hitting good shots, bad shots and everything in between.
With this in mind it's essential that you pick a sensible time of day to play your first round. 10AM on a Saturday or Sunday might sound good, but will see you on a packed course full of other golfers trying to get their rounds in. Pick a quiet weekday, or twilight weekend round (later in the day) to make sure you aren't being chased around by more established players. It's best to just dave yourself the aggro, trust me I've been there.
Play with the right playing partners
Golf is a social game and the right playing partners can be the difference between and good and bad first round of golf. My advice is to play with people who couldn't care less how you hit the ball, and will offer good company and general encouragement. The last thing you want is someone giving you swing tips while you're playing. While usually well intentioned, it will get in your head and stop you from just trying to hit the ball and get it in the hole.
If you don't have any golf buddies, playing alone is fine, but don't be afraid to ask the people in the pro shop if they know someone who will go around with you. They will often be able to recommend a nice guy or lady who will show you the ropes and understand that this your first round and not judge your golf game!
Play from the right tee box
Most courses will have multiple tees which you can play from, which vary in length. As a beginner you want to be playing the shortest possible tees you are allowed to play. Trust me, don't be a hero, golf is hard.
Learn some of the rules of golf
If you're just getting into playing you don't need to play to full PGA tour level rules when you play golf. If you are playing with guys who insist on every single rule being followed, choose other golfers who are more chilled out.
That being said, knowing some of the rules and etiquette of the game before your first round is a good idea to make things go a bit smoother and so you don't look like a dork on the course.
Here are few things to keep in mind:
- Tee the ball up in line with or behind the tee markers
- The guy furthest from the hole normally plays their shot first (unless you've agreed to play ready golf and hitting out of turn won't put anyone in danger)
- You can't pick you ball up until you're on the green
- You can't move your golf ball. Some guys will "play it up" meaning you can prefer your lie to make it easier to hit, but this has to be agreed before you start playing.
- You should only use a putter on the putting green.
- Repair divots and pitch marks.
- Don't talk during other people's swings.
- Try not to walk past other golfers when they're swinging. Its good form to stop and let them hit their shit.
- Don't make a big deal of a bad shot. Bad shots happen to everyone and shouting about it won't make it any better.
Play 9 holes
Playing an entire round of 18 holes is pretty tiring both mentally and physically, especially for a novice or beginner. My first real round was at a 9 hole par 3 course where the longest hole was 175 yards. This was the perfect place for me to get started with my game and didn't result in any lost balls or massive frustration.
Playing 9 holes is usually an option at public and municipal golf courses so give this a try before playing the full 18 on a full length golf course. It usually takes about 1.5 to 2 hours to play 9 holes depending on if you're walking or riding in a golf cart.
Have the right equipment
Obviously to play golf, you're going to need some golf clubs and other equipment. Borrowing clubs from a friend is a good way to get started and some courses will have rental sets for your to use. There are a few other things you might want to have with you to make the round a little easier and I've listed them here for you.
I would recommend taking a small selection of clubs, not a full set of 14 with you. This is the set I would use for my first round:
- Tee club - This could be a driver, wood, hybrid or long iron, whatever you're most comfortable with. Everyone loves to hit driver but if it's causing you to lose balls, consider another option!
- Irons - I would have a couple of irons in my golf bag, maybe a 6 and 8 iron. These can be used on the tee box or for approach and pitch shots into the green.
- Wedge - A pitching wedge will be just fine for your first round and you can use this for chipping and shorter shots.
- Putter - This is the club you will use on the putting green to get the ball into the hole and will be the club you use the most. Read my guide here on the best putters for beginners.
You will need a golf bag to hold your clubs and other golf gear. Courses will usually not let you play without a golf bag, and to be honest, it would be a pain in the ass to have to carry everything.
You can get stand or cart bags depending on how you will be getting around the course. Check out my guide here.
You can't play golf without a golf ball and it's with having a few with you for your first round. You can usually buy used golf balls from the pro shop at the golf course or get them online. Playing with brand new golf balls is nice, but not essential. You might lose a few balls in your first round so don't spend too much on balls.
You can put a mark on your ball with a sharpie so you know it's yours. You don't want to accidentally play another player's golf ball.
There are loads of different types of balls and you can learn more about them here.
Pitch mark repair tool
When the ball hits the green, it can make a small indentation called a pitch mark. It's good etiquette to repair these this a pitch mark repair tool when you're playing to keep the putting green in good condition for you and other players.
A ball marker is used on a putting green top mark where your ball is so you can pick it up. The green is the only place on the golf course that you can pick up and clean your ball without picking up a penalty shot. You can use a tee or coin as a ball marker, but most players like to use something unique like one of the ball makers you can find here.
Golf tees aren't mandatory but they make the game a lot easier! If you using a driver, fairway wood or long iron off the tee, putting the ball on a golf tee can make it easier to make clean contact with the golf ball on your tee shot. You can also use a tee on a par 3 hole but it's not essential.
Tees are also useful as makeshift pitch mark repair tools and ball markers and can be used to clean the grooves on your irons and wedges.
Attaching a towel to your golf bag for cleaning your clubs after golf shots is something that all seasoned players will do. You can use any small towel for the job, but there are specially designed towels which are perfect for the job.
If you're playing on a dry day, make sure to soak one end or corner of your towel in a little water to make it easier to clean a golf club when it picks up dirt and grass. Dried on dirt is really tough to shift, so cleaning your clubs after each shot saves a lot of time and effort. It also helps to keep the grooves on your irons and wedges clear of debris so you can extract as much spin as possible.
Wear the right clothes
If you've watched any golf on TV or been to a golf course before, you will notice that golfers tend to wear certain clothes when playing. Dress code in golf has loosened up loads over the last few years and most municipal courses will allow you to wear pretty much anything when playing. I have written a comprehensive article on what to wear when playing golf, but here are a few tips and pointers to help you out before your first round of golf.
Most courses will ask that you wear golf shoes on the course. Since the release of spikeless golf shoes about a decade ago, pretty much all sneakers are now fair game but they don't always offer the support and grip you're going to need to play golf.
The golf swing is an athletic move and involves a fair amount of effort. If you're wearing shoes with really flat soles or zero grip, you're going to slip or go off balance really quickly.
I would recommend investing in a decent pair of spike-less golf shoes like these from TRUE Linkswear if you think the game is something your going to take seriously.
A golf glove is not essential, but trust me, it will save you a lot unnecessary pain and will improve your golf swing. You wear a golf glove on your top hand - left for right handed players and right for left handed players.
A golf glove should be a relatively snug fit so that you hand can't move around in it too much when swinging the golf club. All pro shops will sell gloves and it's ok to try them on before you buy them.
If you're playing at a club with a dress code, you will need to wear a shirt with a collar. Most golfers will wear a polo shirt made from a synthetic material to wick away sweat and keep you cool while playing. These shirts also aren't restrictive when you swing. Check out some options here.
Pants or shorts
Depending on the weather and dress code, you can wear pants or shorts to play golf. Wear whatever feels comfortable but avoid jeans and heavy fabrics which can get hot and cause the dreaded chafing all golfers try to avoid.
Most pro golfers will be seen wearing a baseball cap but this is pretty much solely for advertising reasons. A hat is always a good idea if the weather is good to keep the sun off your head, but don't feel like you have to wear one to play golf!
A full round of golf can be equivalent to walking 5 miles on some courses so wearing a good pair of quality socks is essential. Choose sport socks that will keep your feet cool and dry and make sure they're the right size! Any slipping can result in blisters which you don't want.