Bandwagoning The Basics: On The Course

I’m not masochistic, and as such, public humiliation isn’t really my thing. But regardless, I shot my first nine holes on a real course yesterday.

I suppose it could have sucked worse. I parred a hole (the last one) and I enjoyed myself, so all-in-all, let’s call this a success. A scary, sweaty, muddy success.

Going out there is terrifying. What if you completely lose your ball? What if you whiff it? What if there are people behind you waiting on you to figure your life out while you hack away at the ball?

All of those things WILL happen, because they did happen. Those and dozens of other things will make you anxious (especially if, like me, you’re self-taught and have no confidence in your game). However, reading up on the rules and basics helped me avoid some surprises, so here you go. I bequeath to you the knowledge I (hastily) gathered (from Google) before teeing it up for the first time.

  1. Dress appropriately. I mean this two-fold: firstly, dress for the course. Some have dress codes, some couldn’t care less if you show up in a tankini. But make sure you adhere to whatever they want to see. Secondly, take note of the weather. If it’s going to be 95 degrees, skip the Phil Mickelson pinstripes in favor of some khaki shorts. Sweating and chafing are real struggles for both genders, and boob sweat isn’t appealing on either one.
  2. Bring what you need. As a beginner, you probably won’t have everything a seasoned golfer will have. I didn’t have tees, for example, so I bummed them like cigarettes. But you should come prepared- bag, clubs, glove, golf shoes, tees, balls, ball marker, divot tool, sunscreen, bottle of water. Asking my playing partner for another tee every time I broke one not only got old, but now I owe him like $9 worth of tees.
  3. If you’re playing a structured course (as opposed to a par three walk-up), don’t be late to your scheduled tee time. Just don’t. People are waiting. Rude.
  4. If you’re playing with people who care, figure out what “honors” means. Or just let me tell you: honors is essentially who gets to go first. At the first hole, it’s a free-for-all, but after that first shot is made, whoever is farthest from the pin is up first. Needless to say, I was up first a lot yesterday.
  5. Watch where you walk. You should probably do this no matter where you are, but on a green, you don’t want to step on your opponent’s line (meaning the path on which they intend to putt the ball). Your golf shoes can mess up the grass and alter the putt they would have had before you blundered on through.
  6. Your lie is what it is, even when it sucks. Even if you drove it onto the fairway of another hole (true story). The only time you should pick up the ball is on the green after you’ve put your ball marker down.
  7. There are cases (many, many cases) where your ball might be lost or in a hazard, and those cases have their own set of rules. Basically:
    1. Out of bounds (OB): If your ball ends up OB (you’ll see indications of what’s OB), you have to take a penalty- one stroke, plus distance. Meaning you add one stroke to your score and go back to where you last hit the ball. Do this quickly if you have a group behind you or take a provisional shot.
    2. Provisional shot: You can play a second ball off of the tee if you think you saw your ball travel OB. Let your playing partners know about the provisional, otherwise you’re a cheater. No one likes cheaters.
    3. Lost balls: The OB rules apply to lost balls as well. Same penalty, same choice to hit a provisional. Chasing your ball into high grass or trees is amusing, but it’s a waste of time. General rule is to spend no more than five minutes on the hunt for the ball.
    4. Hazard: Exactly what it sounds like, and you should probably stay out of it. Hazards can run across the line of play or alongside it (called lateral hazards). Water and bunkers are your two enemies- you hit out of a bunker, but take a one-shot penalty and a drop when you land in the water.
    5. Drop: Again, exactly what it sounds like. If your ball finds its new home in a water hazard, you can take a drop on the same line you would have played had the ball not found the bottom of the lake, as long as it’s behind the point at which the ball entered the hazard.
  8. Your mom doesn’t work at the course (probably) so clean up after yourself. Don’t drive outside of cart paths. Don’t just leave your divots unrepaired. Rake bunkers after you spend ten minutes hacking away in them. Be courteous to the groups behind you.

Afterward, you’ll probably be sweaty, you might have sand in places that sand shouldn’t be and you’ll probably feel awful about yourself. But that’s normal. Self-loathing drives success in golf.


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