I occasionally use this column to get a message to golfers, usually about maintenance issues they should be aware of. But this one is different because the times are different. Golf is the perfect pandemic activity and the game is seeing a healthy “bump” in play that we’d like to see continue. Let’s all work to get new people playing — while understanding the importance of your job and keeping the course beautiful and safe. Post this article at your club and make copies for your friends, golfers and non-golfers alike. We really can “grow the game.”
Now is a great time to start playing golf — or, if you already play, to play more. Why? Because there’s no pressure. The Rules of Golf are relaxed, the sport is experiencing a resurgence, and done right, it’s a proven form of social distancing. And you don’t have to keep score to have fun. So why not try something new and start playing a game you can play for as long as you want?
I’ve been playing for more than four decades and have talked to many of the greatest players and teachers in the game. I’m not going to tell you how to swing a club, but I have learned a few things about how to play golf that I’d like to pass on to make your start easier.
If you are a beginner, learn how to grip (and rip) a club and which clubs to use first, then learn how to swing a club correctly. Course management (getting from tee to green most efficiently) needs to be taught. Learning to manage the course is more important now for the beginning player than swing technique.
The Rules have been relaxed like never before, and everyone should take advantage of the “new normal.” Roll the ball over to give yourself a better lie in the fairway, smooth bunker sand with your shoe, and clean dirt off the ball when it’s in the fairway. The game is hard enough, especially when you’re starting out.
One of the hard things about golf — but also one of the great things about golf — is that it gets in your head. Try to keep it in perspective: It’s simply getting the ball into the hole in as few strokes as possible.
COVID-19 has caused courses to lighten up, too. Due to labor issues, you might notice a change in conditioning: the turfgrass isn’t being mowed regularly, the flagstick must remain in the hole, there are no rakes in bunkers. This is a good thing and I hope the trend to more relaxed conditions continues.
Because our world has changed, it’s a great time to assist your golf course superintendent by being aware and caring for the course. Help as much as you can during this period of reduced staff, time and budgets. Here are a few things a beginner (and all of us) must know about the course itself.
Walk or ride?
First, it’s golf, not NASCAR: Driving the cart shouldn’t be the game. Second, carts are in limited supply due to single-rider protocols. So, if a course is walkable, why not walk?
If you want to ride, fine, but be responsible behind the wheel. Stay on the path if asked, stay well away from the greens. You’d be amazed how much damage carts can do to a course — and how long it takes to heal.
On the tee
Whatever tee you choose to play from, aid the superintendent by fixing your divots (especially on the par 3s) if there is a box of sand present or a bottle of sand on the cart. Pick up your tees, broken or otherwise; leaving them on the ground is inconsiderate and damages mowers and their reels. You’ll be saving the staff a lot of clean-up time.
In the fairway
Always pick up your divot and put it back in place or fill the scar with sand from the bottle. Driving a cart? Avoid puddles and soft spots, follow the signs.
If there are no rakes and your ball comes to rest in someone else’s crater, pick it up, smooth the footprints with your shoe, take a good lie, and play away. Then smooth YOUR footprints in the bunkers. Enter and exit the hazard where it’s flattest.
Ball marks on the green
When your ball hits the green, it can leave a mark. So when you walk onto the green, look for your mark and if you find it, fix it! And fix two others, because, believe me, they’ll be there.
When it comes to the course, remember golf’s golden rule: Leave the course in better shape than you found it. Learn that rule — and learn to have fun — and you’ll always enjoy the game no matter what you shoot. Embrace the experience.