Swing tips are a dime a dozen in the instructional world. One topic that I believe is never explored enough is course strategy, which is all about how you strategize and plot your way around the golf course.
Golfers are in an endless pursuit of lowering their scores, and many times they are looking in all of the wrong places. If you want to become better at this game, you absolutely have to have a smart course strategy.
Here are 7 characteristics of players with a smart course strategy
They are Prepared
Being an effective course manager means doing a lot of your work before the round even starts. No matter what level you play at, there is an opportunity to survey the course you are playing beforehand, and make some mental notes about basic strategy like club selection off the tee and your targets into greens.
You don’t have to be a PGA Tour caddy and walk the course methodically making notes, but there are a few things you can think about beforehand.
Using Google Earth is a nice trick to take a look at satellite images of the course you are playing. You can measure key distances off the tee, and take a look at where some of the trouble is around greens.
They Are Disciplined
Once you have decided what your strategy is before the round, here comes the hard part. You actually have to stick with it on the course.
It’s one thing to go through club selections off the tee, and deciding where you are going to be aggressive or conservative in your targets before your round actually begins. Things can change very quickly on the course though. If you are off to a bad start you might feel the pressure to abandon your plan and play more aggressively. Typically this compounds your mistakes and results in even more indecision.
One of the greatest feats of course strategy came when Tiger woods won The Open in 2006 at Royal Liverpool. He decided before the tournament that he would largely play irons off the tee, methodically plotting his way around the course. No one could touch him as he kept the field at bay without making any major mistakes (he would only use his driver once the entire tournament).
Now you don’t have to be exactly like Tiger, but there is certainly a benefit to sticking with the script.
They Know Their Distances
This sounds extremely basic, but if you are looking for one of the most effective golf tips around I would implore you to know at the minimum the front, center, and back yardages to every green you are playing.
Additionally, knowing key yardages to bunkers, hazards, and all kinds of trouble on the course is essential. When you have cold hard facts rather than guesses before you swing, you can be decisive in your pre-shot routine. Anything you can do to remove doubt before a shot is going to result in more positive results.
GPS devices have come down in cost, and many of them can provide all of this information when you are playing. This is something to consider if you want to become a more effective at course strategy.
They are Honest With Themselves
Golf is a game of decisions. Every swing you take should take into account the risks and rewards of your club and target selection. On the whole, recreational golfers are way too aggressive, and take unnecessary risks because they are not being honest with their abilities.
How many times have you tried to pull off the hero shot from the trees only for it to result in failure, and compound your initial mistake? Just because you can pull off a shot on the range does not mean you should play it out on the course.
Let those words burn into your memory.
If you can hit your 3-wood 240 yards off the ground 1 out of 10 times successfully on the range, it does not mean that should be your choice on the course when you have a water hazard to clear just before the green (and the added pressure of having only one chance to succeed).
The best course managers are brutally honest with themselves, and typically will only play a shot when they know they can execute it on the course most of the time, not sometimes.
They are Conservatively Aggressive
Golf course architects love to make you gamble off the tee and with your approach shots. If you take a look at the courses you generally play you might notice fairways will get more narrow, and be guarded with bunkers.
Or you might notice that certain greens have steep drop-offs, or are guarded by bunkers on one particular side.
The best course strategists I have played with know when to step on the gas pedal, and play aggressively versus when to pump the breaks and play more conservatively.
There is no right answer for every player, but a blend of the two allows you to take advantage of your best opportunities to score and prevent major mistakes from ruining your round when it makes sense to reel it in and try a safer course strategy.
They are Decisive
This might be the most important piece of the puzzle if you want to lower your scores by choosing the proper strategy out on the course.
While it’s not a guarantee, if you are second-guessing your decision before you take a shot, it is going to prevent you from making a confident swing. The prior 6 points I made in this article only work if you step up to your ball with 100% confidence that the choice you made is the right one at the moment.
The time to think and analyze occurs before you actually make a swing. When you’re standing over the ball and ready to pull the trigger, the best course managers out there are completely committed.
About the Author
Jon Sherman is the owner of Practical Golf, a website dedicated to being an honest resource for the everyday golfer who is looking to enjoy the game more, as well as improve. He is the author of the bestselling book 101 Mistakes All Golfers Make (and how to fix them). You can find him on Twitter here – @practicalgolf, where he is happy to chat about golf with anyone.