Practicing golf and playing golf are two different matters. On a practice range, there is some comfort in knowing that you don’t have to chase after every ball. But actually stepping onto a golf course for the first time can be a little intimidating. After all, every shot counts.
That is why you might want to consider a few things before playing your very first round. It should be a memorable experience, fun and relaxing, yet beneficial to your game.
For starters, your best bet is a par-3 course. These are courses in which all holes measure under 250 yards, so there is no pressure to hit the ball long distances. In fact, you use mostly your irons to get around these courses, and it’s a good test of your short-game and putting skills.
Just because total par is 54, it doesn’t necessarily mean the holes are easy. Expect to find bunkers and water hazards, like you would on regulation-size courses. Greens fees also are generally less expensive at par-3 courses, and your 18-hole round should take no more than two-and-a-half hours. Some par-3 courses are even lighted, giving you the choice of playing at night.
Another option is an executive course. These have a combination of par-3 and par-4 holes that add up to about a par-63 course. You will get an opportunity to use your woods on an executive course, because several holes usually measure 300 yards and longer. The shorter distances, though, mean less trouble. Plan on at least three hours to play an 18-hole executive course.
When you are satisfied with your progress on shorter courses—or just ready to take on a bigger challenge—it’s time to move on to a regulation-length course. These courses have a variety of par-3, par-4 and par-5 holes, and measure between 5,000 and 7,000 yards for 18 holes, depending on from which teeing area you hit from.
New golfers should hit from the forward tees. The back tees are reserved for experienced golfers. The middle tees are for average golfers. It should take four hours to play most regulation courses.
As a new golfer, avoid courses that are too difficult. The United States Golf Association (USGA) developed a Slope Rating system as a way of comparing the relative difficulty of courses. The standard Slope Rating is 113. The higher the rating, the harder the course. Courses over 130 are especially challenging to beginners. You won’t have much fun walking from bunker to water hazard to trees.
Not all courses are open to the public. Although most par-3 and executive courses are generally available to anyone with a set of clubs who pays the greens fee, you may not be able to just step onto any course of your choice.
Municipal golf courses usually are open to the public, but primary playing privileges are extended to local residents. You may be asked to show a driver’s license. Semi-private courses cater to members who pay annual dues, but non-members also are allowed to play. Private courses are reserved for members only and their guests. Resort courses are available primarily for guests of that resort, although non-guests usually can play for higher greens fees.
Call for information before heading to any course for the first time. Ask if there is a separate greens fee and cart fee. If the course is busy, you may need to request a tee time. Or you might ask when the course is less crowded, which is usually in the afternoon, so you can play at your own pace.
If you are by yourself or with one other person, the pro shop operator or starter might pair you with others to create a foursome. Introduce yourself to your playing partners. Let them know it’s your first time on a golf course. (They undoubtedly will offer you tips throughout your round.)
Don’t worry as much about your score as about the experience itself. You don’t even need to finish every hole at first. To maintain the pace of play, consider picking up your ball if it takes you more than double par to reach the green (for example, six shots on a par-3). You should be familiar with golf course etiquette and the basic rules before teeing up.
When the round is over, save your scorecard and write down the date to mark the occasion. You will have many golf memories, but your first round will always be special.