Begin by selecting a course that matches your skill and capabilities. The United States Golf Association has a system to evaluate golf courses on their difficulty resulting in a uniform course ranking system know as the slope/rating. New golfers and occasional players will be much happier on a golf course with a lower slope/rating. This number can be found on the score card. As your skill progresses you might want to challenge yourself to a course with a higher slope/ rating. Take a moment to call the pro shop or Google the course to find out this information.
The second question you want to answer is from what tee box do you want to play? The golf ball does not know if you are young, old, male or female, yet many still refer to tees by gender or age. The fact of the matter is the course is laid out by an architect who created design features based upon skill level. You will only be fooling yourself when you step up to a tee box that exceeds your capabilities. Many courses today offer over 5 different tee boxes that reflect the differing abilities of golfers. A good way to select the proper tee box for you is to look at the yardage on the Par 3 holes. If you cannot comfortably get on the green in one shot you should select another option.
Once you have selected your tee take a moment to look at how the golf hole is set up. Basically, there are three types of golf holes. The first offers a safe way to the green. The second type offers both a safe route and another that, with a well executed shot will provide an opportunity to reach the green in fewer strokes. However, if you cannot pull off the shot there will be consequences. Finally, there are golf holes that require a highly skilled shot to get the job done. The golf course architect skillfully creates landing areas to play the golf hole as it was intended and then adds rough, bunkers, water, trees, etc., to remind you when you have strayed from their intended course or have exceeded your capabilities and skill level. Easier golf courses with a lower slope/rating have a higher number of golf holes with a safe way to get to the green. As the skill level increases so will the slope/rating as well as the number of holes that have consequences requiring skilled golf shots.
Keep in mind that par for a golf hole is what the architect had intended a skilled player to score when they properly played the golf hole; birdie is when they demonstrated exceptional skill. To determine how many strokes it should take a skilled player to get to a hole simply subtract 2 from par. On every hole 2 strokes are factored in for putting. For example, a par 5 hole allows three shots to get the ball on the green and two putts. If you are an occasional golfer or just starting out try establishing a “personal par” that may be a stroke or two over the actual par. This goal of “personal par” is much more attainable and realistic. Personal Par will help you develop your golf skills as opposed to developing bad habits, and will help you maintain a positive attitude about your game.
For more advanced players increasing your knowledge of golf course architect styles will help you make your way around their designs. The naturalists are minimalists: they follow few rules and design around mother nature. You will be rewarded by carefully calculating each shot, having the ability to take a few wayward bounces while remaining patient. The strategists require not only patience and physical skill but also offer a cerebral challenge. Skilled players can play it safe for par or debate the risk/reward factors for birdie. The Freeway School of architects began designing championship courses that promoted distance over shot placement. Inspired by tour players who could hit the ball far, many of the courses bear the name of famous players. Architects from the Framing School planned courses that were pleasing to the eye and offered dramatic visual experiences. Framing courses offer a visual experience for the player where hazards are more for atmosphere than to catch an errant shot.
It is amazing to see sketches of early golf course design and photographs of how the breathtaking, mentally stimulating and emotionally challenging courses began. Small pieces of scrap paper with simple outlines of tee boxes, squiggly lines for fairways, rectangles for bunkers and circles for greens plotted the way for famous tracks such as Augusta National, Pebble Beach and Oakmont. Plow horses were used to move the earth along with the blood sweat and tears of many. These designs have stood the test of time and are available for us to enjoy today.
Today‘s technology assists the architect with aerial photographs, geological surveys, computerized irrigation systems and, at the extreme, greens with heating and cooling systems. Players too are benefiting from the technology of computerized GPS systems on golf cars, hand-held range finders and yardage books. It still never hurts to stop in the Pro Shop and ask the local golf professional for some tips on how to play the course. And if the opportunity ever arises, step back in time and treat yourself to walking the course with a knowledgeable caddie at your side.
Great golf holes are the brain child of great golf course architects who engage us both physically and mentally. These architects utilize nature and geometric design features of angles to lure your eye and mind to new dimensions. For example, by placing trees on both sides of a fairway the fairway will appear narrower than it actually is. Bunkers with the far edge high enough to hide the area between the bunker & the edge of the green create the illusion of the green being closer and players often leave their shots short. This is also accomplished when architects place trees, sand or water behind a hole.
Needless to say architects have many tricks up their sleeves to create an enjoyable experience for golfers of all levels. On the same hole a bunker may be in play for a skilled golfer but never enter the game play for a player playing from the beginning level tees. Many architects will also place hazards in view to challenge the mental toughness of players. For many the hazard would never be in play but the power of suggestion often stimulates fear and as the players attention is drawn to a hazard the ball will soon follow. Take note of the next time you are in view of a water hazard; if your thoughts are “don’t go in the water” you are setting the stage for disaster. You need to keep your focus on where you want to the ball to go not where you don’t want it to go. Know that the architect is having a little fun with you and laugh it off, on the way to a well placed shot that sends the ball to where you want it. In the words of famed architect Robert Trent Jones, Jr., “A great golf course both frees and challenges the mind.” Enjoy the beautiful walk the architect has created for you, but never forget that golf is a thinking game.