A beginner’s guide to golf: 10 key points

Golf is a challenging game, but it can also be very rewarding. It’s a great way to get out for some fresh air and work on your hand-eye coordination, body control and...patience!

man hits the golf ball out of the sand trap

So, you’ve decided to give golf a try—fantastic! Here are a few points to keep in mind as you head out on the course for your first round. 

1. Golf etiquette

Generally, you are not alone when playing golf. Since concentration and safety are two of the most important factors of the game, there are certain codes of conduct that should be respected. First of all, respect the absolute silence needed when someone  is playing a ball; don’t move too much and be sure not to stand in a place where you are casting a shadow on their ball. Position yourself at a distance from the player and be sure that you are not obstructing their field of vision. Watch where the player’s ball goes—this may save you both a lot of time as you play through the hole. 

woman ready to hit her golf ball on the tee off

2. How to keep score

At the starting point for each hole, you’ll find important information like the distance of the hole and the number of shots it will take to make par. “Par” is the score an expert player would be expected to make for a given hole. Once you have finished a hole, you can make a note on your scorecard to indicate how many shots it took you to complete the hole. Your goal is to take as few shots per hole as possible. 

3. Where to tee off

You’re at hole #1 and you’ve chosen your club according to the distance of the hole. But, surprise! There are many different coloured markers to tee off from—which one do you choose?

The answer depends on your level of ability, your gender, your age and also the rules you are playing by. You can always ask the starter where you should play from. Teeing off from the right spot will help accelerate the rhythm of the game and won’t hold up other players—an important part of golf etiquette. 

man teeing off at the start of a hole

4. How to use a tee

As part of your golfer’s starting kit, you will definitely need a tee. It may be a tiny accessory, but it’s important to know how to use it properly. The only time you’ll use a tee is when teeing off at the start of each hole. You must place the tee between the markers you have chosen to tee off from. It doesn’t have to be placed directly in the middle of the two markers, but somewhere along that line. Push the tee gently into the ground, leaving enough space for you to comfortably swing at the ball when it is resting on top of the tee.

5. What order to play in?

For safety reasons, it is always the person who is starting the furthest away from the hole that plays first. Never position yourself in the line of another player’s shot. Stand at a distance, and only approach your ball when the other player has finished.

To accelerate the rhythm of the game on the greens, the rule of “ready golf” was put in place by golf federations. If you are the first to be ready to putt, then you can go ahead, even if your ball is not the closest to the hole.

6. How to recognize your ball

Most golfers play with white golf balls, which can make it difficult to tell your balls apart from others on the course. To be sure you don’t end up playing someone else’s ball, take a moment before you start playing to identify the brand of ball each person is playing with. If you are playing with the same brand, take note of the number written on your ball. If you want your ball to be even more distinguishable from the others, you can use a special marker to mark your ball before you play. You can also opt for coloured balls (orange, yellow or pink) rather than the traditional white. 

7. What to do if your ball goes off the course

At some point during the game, your ball may end up in the trees, the water, the bunkers, etc. Here’s how to handle it when you find yourself veering off course.

OUT OF BOUNDS (WHITE PICKETS)
If you accidentally play your ball way off to the side, you might end up beyond the limits of the course (marked by white pickets). If this is the case, you can simply play another (provisionary) ball to keep the game going. If your original ball is actually out of bounds, or you can’t find it, then you can play through the hole with your provisional ball. If you do find your original ball and it’s actually within the limits of the course, you can pick up the provisional ball and play through with the original one.


UNPLAYABLE BALL
If your ball ends up stuck in a tree, or wedged in a hole somewhere off to the side of the course, it is considered to be unplayable. Ambitious golfers may try to play the ball anyway, despite the challenging circumstances, but if you aren’t up to it—don’t worry! You have 3 options for what to do next, just remember each one comes with a penalty:

- Pick up your ball and drop it somewhere else within a distance of approximately two golf clubs from where it landed. Penalty: 1 shot
- Pick up your ball and back up as much as you want from the hole, in line with the flag on the green. This may help you to get out of a very rough patch. Penalty: 1 shot
- You may simply decide to play another ball from the starting point. Penalty: 1 shot


BALL IN THE BUNKER (SAND TRAP)
Ready to hit the beach? Your ball may have had the same idea and landed itself in the middle of a sand trap. Once again, don’t panic—you’ve got this! 

- If your ball is still playable, try to get it out of the bunker using your sand wedge. Just be careful not to make contact with the sand on the backswing.
- If your ball is not playable, simply drop another ball just outside of the sand trap and take the 1-shot penalty.
Once you’ve made it out of the sand trap, don’t forget to rake the sand where you played and walked in the sand. Always leave the bunker smooth and evenly raked for the next players.


BALL IN THE WATER (yellow pickets)
If the obstacle you find yourself in is surrounded by yellow pickets, you may replace your ball with a second one and accept a 1-shot penalty. In this situation you have two options:

- Drop your ball along the line between the point of entry into the obstacle and the flag on the green, always moving yourself back from the flag.
- Simply re-take your shot from the previous spot.


BALL IN THE WATER (red pickets)
If the obstacle is located on the side of the course and is surrounded by red pickets, you can replace it and accept the 1-shot penalty. In this case, you may choose between the following 3 options: 

- Re-take your shot from the previous spot.
- Drop your ball along the line between the point of entry into the obstacle and the flag on the green, always moving yourself back from the flag.
- Drop the ball at a distance of approximately two golf clubs from the point of entry into the obstacle.

8. Safety on the course

Getting hit by a golf ball can cause serious injuries—don’t take any chances! Always follow the rules of the course you are playing and remain aware of your environment, both before playing your ball and also while you are moving around the course. You want to be aware of those playing around you, as well as people simply walking from one hole to the next. 

golfers walking side by side on the course

9. Etiquette on the greens

The greens are the most sensitive parts of the golf course, so it is important to treat them respectfully. There are certain basic rules that must be adhered to: 

- Never put your golf bag down, or roll your cart onto the green
- Always fix the mark your ball leaves on the green from the impact of landing.
- Don’t walk in the line of another player’s shot.
- You can choose whether to remove the flag from the hole, or leave it where it is.
- Once you have finished the hole, replace the flag and move off of the green quickly so that players behind you, who may be waiting for you to move on to the next hole, can continue their game. 

10. How to finish a hole

A hole is finished once all players have got their ball in the hole, whether with a single putt or multiple shots. In order to keep the game moving and allow players behind you to continue their game, don’t stop to record your score right away. You can take a moment to jot down your score when you reach the start of the next hole. But, who plays the next hole first? Easy! Priority goes to whoever had the best score on the previous hole. 

Golf can be a very enjoyable game. Don’t be frustrated if you lack certain skills when you are just starting out. Many people spend years perfecting their golf techniques. The key is to relax, take in the beautiful surroundings and enjoy the learning process.