Course Management: 10 Tips to Conquer Any Golf Course

Mariah Swigart Mariah Swigart
8 minute read

One thing that draws golfers to the game is the beauty of the golf courses. The scenery soon fades, however, when the course gets the best of you. You may find yourself in one hazard after another with no care for the beauty of the course. Golf is a game that challenges its players both mentally and physically. The challenge and the feeling of success is what draws us back to it time and time again. If you are looking for more enjoyable rounds and less time in the hazards, your answer could be in playing safe course management. Course management is key to the overall improvement of your golf game.  This is done by playing to your strengths and knowing which shots are going to keep you safe and in play. Keep reading for 10 tips on how to employ smart course management and play to your strengths on the course.

Tip 1: Set Up for Success 

The first step to success is learning the course. Knowing the course will give you a leg up on those surprise doglegs or any hidden water. This does require a little homework before your round. Like the saying goes, an ounce of preparation is worth a pound of cure.  

Let technology benefit you before your round. Many courses have posted their course guide online. For example, Moon Valley Country Club has a “course flyover” which displays every hole on the course in detail. If the course you are playing does not have any information online about their course layout, Google Earth serves as a useful tool to give you a look at the course. 

By looking at the layout of the course you can see what areas you want to avoid. If there are any hidden water hazards or bunkers you will want to know those by looking at the course beforehand. 

Tip 2: Work Backwards 

Our goal is the hole, which means we want to be on the green as soon as possible. As you are looking at the layout of the course at home, think backwards from the hole. Planning from the green first will help you keep your goal in mind and aid in setting you up for success. 

Find a way to measure out the shots that you will take. For example, Google Earth also allows you to measure out distances, while you are home. This means you could literally play the course shot by shot using yardages that are consistent for you. If you are not able to do your research before the round, a detailed scorecard, GPS app, or course guide can also help with measuring out distances during the game. By working backwards from the hole, you can also measure out yardages that you are confident with.  With this information, you will have a solid game plan for each of your strokes.   

Tip 3: Stick with Your Plan

Once you have done your homework and you have a plan, stick to it. An area that can cause many issues for golfers, is playing shots that they cannot consistently execute. A solution to this is the 70% rule or the 7 out of 10 rule. Several pros recommend this rule to playing safe golf and good course management. The 70% rule means that you play the shot that you can execute well 7 times out of 10. If you step up to your shot, and you are not sure that you would be able to pull off this shot 70% of the time, then look at a different, safer approach.

One example is a 180 yard shot over a large bunker. If you know you can pull out your wood and stick the ball tight on the green, then go for it! But, if you are uncertain about flying the bunker, consider a layup, or a different approach to the green.  

Tip 4: Aim Smart 

Start with a generally safe location that is about 30 yards wide. The general location of your target should be safe and avoid any chance of the ball rolling into a hazard. This safe area will allow you to be set up for success on the next shot. When you have a general location in mind, then choose a smaller spot to envision your ball landing. A small target can help you focus on one focal point in your mind as you aim and hit the shot. 

Tip 5: Choose a Fairway Favorite 

Have a club that you love in the fairway. Having a favorite club can be a benefit to your confidence on the course. Don’t worry if a favorite club has not presented itself to you or if all your clubs are equally loved. It’s really more important to know your yardages in the fairway and the type of approach shot you want based off the layout of the course. 

The goal in the fairway is to choose a shot that you feel good about and one that will set you up for your next swing. If you cannot reach the green from the fairway, keep in mind your strengths around the green.  If you feel confident chipping, try to land the ball somewhere safe, close to the green. But, if you prefer a 100 yard shot, then choose that 100 yard approach shot. Planning ahead can be a gamechanger to keep you safe on the course and closer to putting. 

Tip 6: Check Out the Lie 

As you approach the shot, whether in the cart or walking, look at the lie of your ball. For example, if your ball is in a divot, you will want to put the ball in the back of your stance,  your weight on your front foot, press your hands forward, take a steep backswing, and swing down and through the ball.  The lie of the ball plays a big role in the shot. You make chalk a bad shot up to several reasons, but it may have been as simple as not adjusting your stance to your lie.  Other awkward ball placements can make it hard to hit the shot. There are strategies to hitting all types of lies successfully. The Quick Reference Cards are handy to keep on you during the round, but even better to study at home so you are prepared to use great course management. 

Tip 7: Look to the Wide Side 

When you are approaching the green, look to the wider side of the green. Remember, the goal is to be on the green, putting, as soon as possible. If your ball hits the smaller side of the green, there is a chance that the ball could roll off the green. Instead of risking it, aim for the target that you believe will give you the best approach to the hole, then make sure it is favoring the side the has the most green to work with. 

Tip 8: Check out the Slope 

Before you hit that chip shot, look at the green as a whole.  Analyze the slope, and visualize the potential breaks that your potential putts will be taking. 

Whenever you have the chance, set yourself up for an uphill putt. Uphill putts are generally easier to gauge the speed on. These putts are also less likely to get away from you and end up 4 feet past the hole. 

Tip 9: Simplify Your Putts 

The simpler your putts can get the easier it is to make pars, and birdies. Start by taking a simple stroke. The putter should be taken straight back and then straight through. Instead of trying to have the putter face accelerate through the ball, let gravity do the work for you. Simply allow the ball to get in the way of that pendulum swing. With this type of simple stroke, the farther back you take your putter, the farther distance your ball will go. 

Tip 10: Stay Confident 

The most important tip of all is to play to your strengths and stay confident on the course. If there is a shot that you are not feeling confident hitting, it is probably best to take another approach. Start with doing research on the course so you know what hidden hazards may get into your way.

Good course management means playing to your strengths. Know the layout of the course, know which areas to avoid, and you’ll save strokes every time.

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