Make a plan and stick to it.
Making a plan before your go out and play is a vital part of any good round of golf. It helps you stay focused on what you need to achieve, and if you stick to it fully, it will help you stay clear of being tempted into taking on risky shots or losing focus on the job in hand.
Devising a game plan can be done in different ways depending on the format of the game you are playing. If it is a medal (Strokeplay) event then you need to devise a plan that will help you stay clear of any real trouble during the round.
For example, you are encouraged to not hit driver off certain tees because the fairway bunkers will come into play. Aim more for the middle of the greens as opposed to tight pin positions that could put you in trouble.
A plan for Strokeplay has to be well thought out and slightly safer than other formats such as Matchplay. A plan for Matchplay can be less safe depending on the situation. In Matchplay, being more aggressive with your style of play can help intimidate your opponent and can help you secure an early advantage in the match.
The key, however, is sticking to your game plan and reflecting that in the course management decisions you make. Writing down your game plan in a small golf notebook can help you to quickly make the correct decisions on the golf course without hesitation or doubt. That is a huge part of the job that the top caddies on tour have. They know their player's game plan and will make sure they stick to it regardless of the changing situations. The only real time the game plan is altered is if you need to make a certain score happen on the final few holes, otherwise you may lose out.
Top tip - Do not get ahead of yourself! It is very important when you are out on the golf course that you stay in the present. Mid round, you must avoid thinking about the handicap reduction you may receive or the trophy you might pick up. This will distract you from the job in hand, and the job in hand is to stick to your plan and get the job done. No one wins a tournament half way through the round, so it is important to concentrate right to the very end of the round.
Post round plan - Analyze whether your plan was the correct one for the round. Was it achievable to stick to or did it fall short on certain areas?
Learn from this and next time you plan your course management, aim to have an improved plan of attack for the very next round of golf.
How to Improve Course Management Skills
If you are a fan of baseball, you know that a pitcher needs to have an assortment of pitches in his arsenal in order to succeed. Pitchers who can combine a great fastball with a nice curveball and a tricky changeup are always going to be harder to hit than pitchers who only throw one speed. However, even pitchers with plenty of options in their arsenal need to know how to use those pitches effectively to get results. Which pitch should be thrown at what time, and to which hitter? Making smart decisions is every bit as important as the skill of throwing those effective pitches.
This concept is perfectly mirrored in the game of golf. For a golfer, it is important to have a variety of shots. The best players are able to hit draws and fades, high shots and low shots, and more. With an arsenal full of shots, a golfer will have a great chance to make his or her way around the course successfully. Of course, those shots are only half of the battle, as smart decisions need to be made regarding when to hit which shot. Just as the pitcher needs to know when to throw a fastball and when to reach for a curve, the golfer needs to know when to use which shot to effectively conquer the course. In golf, the skill of making smart decisions is known as course management.
In this article, we are going to look at the top of course management. Specifically, we are going to discuss how you can work toward improving your own course management skills one step at a time. You have probably focused most of your time and effort within the game of golf so far on simply making a better swing. While it is important to make a fundamentally sound swing, it is also important to manage the course properly as you play. Bringing these two skills together is what will allow you to take the next step toward consistently low scoring.
When you watch a golf tournament on TV, it is important to note that it is not always the player with the best swing, or even the best putting stroke, who comes out on top. Frequently, professional golf tournaments are decided by decision making more than anything else. It is hard to make good decisions under pressure, so the players who can do so are always at a significant advantage over the rest of the field. You aren't likely to face enormous pressure during the average weekend round with your friends, but you should pay attention to course management nonetheless. The decisions you make throughout your round could easily be the difference in winning a friendly match or coming up just a bit short.
All of the content below is a based on a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.
Course Management Basics
Before you can think specifically about your own course management skills, it will be helpful to gain a better understanding of the topic of course management as a whole. While playing styles will vary from player to player, there are a few points on this topic which apply across the board to all golfers. Review the points below to begin your education on this important subject.
- The reward needs to be worth the risk. This is one of the key ideas behind the topic of course management. There is inherently some degree of risk that comes along with every shot you hit during a round of golf. As a golfer, it is your job to manage that risk properly. In other words, you need to ensure that the potential reward for the shot you are attempting is worth the risk you are deciding to take on. It is okay to play aggressive golf on some occasions, but only when there is an enticing reward to balance out your risky strategy. If a shot is all risk and very little reward, you should probably look for a different option. We will look further into this topic later in the article.
- Penalty strokes are your enemy. If there is one thing professional golfers hate more than almost anything else, it is penalty strokes. When you add penalties to your card, you are essentially giving away shots that you will never get back. The stroke added to your score as a penalty did not get you any closer to the hole, so it is simply wasted and you have to move on. Doing your best to avoid penalty strokes will go a long way toward improving your golf game. This might seem like a fairly obvious point, but many golfers are far too willing to play shots close to hazards and other trouble spots. Keep your ball safely within the margins of the course and your scores are sure to improve.
- Stay below the hole. One of the 'golden rules' of the game of golf is that you want to be playing from below the hole as often as possible. Positioning your ball on the low side is desirable because it is usually easier to control the distance of your shots while playing uphill. This is particularly true in the short game. If you are hitting an approach shot into a dramatically sloping green, for instance, you want to do your best to place the ball somewhere on the low side of the hole. When that is done properly, your upcoming chip or putt will be much easier to execute. Staying below the hole is a smart way to play the game, and it is especially important for golfers who regularly play on firm, fast courses.
- Always consider tee shot options. It is common for amateur players to simply reach for the driver as they walk up to the tee of any par four or par five hole. Of course, this is a mistake. While some of those clubs will certainly call for the use of your driver, others are going to be better handled with a fairway metal, hybrid, or long iron. To avoid hitting your ball into trouble for no reason at all, always consider your options on the tee before making a final selection. You very well may end up hitting the driver, but you still need to go through the process of analyzing the hole in front of you before hitting the shot.
- The pin is not always the target on approach shots. For many golfers, the process of hitting an approach shot involves simply aiming at the pin and swinging away. Unfortunately, taking such an approach will inevitably lead you to trouble. You need to look at the design of the green on each approach shot while factoring in variables such as the distance of the shot, the wind, the conditions of the course, and more. Sometimes you will be able to take dead aim without incurring too much risk. In other cases, however, you are going to need to aim away from the hole toward the wide side of the green. It takes patience to play away from the hole on occasion, but patience is something that is often rewarded on the golf course.
You can think of the points above as the groundwork of a solid course management plan. There is certainly more to this topic than just the short list above, but taking these tips with you onto the course will give you a good start. Make decisions in your next round by using these tips to guide your thinking and it is almost a certainty that you will finish the day with a respectable score.
Examining Your Mistakes
One of the best ways to learn about course management is to look at the mistakes you have made in past rounds. It is never fun to examine your own mistakes, but doing so is a great way to open yourself up to improvement moving forward. If you are willing to take an honest look at the current state of decision making in your golf game, you should be able to find at least one or two areas where you can improve.
To get started on the process of examining your mistakes, pull an old scorecard from your golf bag – ideally, this will be a card from a round which you have played within the last month or two. On a piece of paper (or a computer, if you prefer), list out all of the holes where you made a bogey or worse. For a good golfer, this list may only include a few holes – for a higher handicap player, it may include nearly every hole on the course. Either way, list out every hole where you were over par and include details such as the length of the hole, the par, and your score.
Now that you have your list, think back on each of these holes and write down the cause of each of those bogeys (or worse). Did you hit a poor drive which left you out of position for the approach shot? Did you hit the green in regulation only to three-putt? Be honest in your evaluation and write down the reason for each lost stroke. In the case of a hole where you made a double or triple bogey, there may be more than one mistake which needs to be logged.
Once this exercise is complete, go back over the list one more time and determine how many of the total lost strokes were due to poor decision making. You will need to 'connect the dots' as you think about your lost strokes in order to attribute them to bad course management. For instance, you may have failed to get up and down after a missed green, leading to a bogey, but did you have a chance to get up and down in the first place? If you left your ball in a terrible spot, this wasted stroke should probably be attributed to course management rather than the short game. There won't always be a clear delineation on the precise cause of your wasted strokes, but use your best judgment as you go. In the end, you will be left with a total number of lost strokes from this one round which can be blamed on poor course management skills.
If you are like many golfers, this number is going to be bigger than you expect. Most golfers think they shoot high scores because their swing is inconsistent or just not very good, but it is often decision making that wastes more shots than anything else. Now that you can plainly see just how many strokes your decision making is wasting, you should have all the motivation you need to clean up your performance in this area of the game. Also, having listed out your poor decisions from a recent round, you will be able to note any particular types of decisions that seem to cost you over and over again. Eliminating those recurring mistakes is a big part of the journey toward lower scores.
The Temptation to Play Aggressive Golf
There is something about playing aggressive golf that just seems to call to the average amateur player. Most golfers want to take on the difficult shots that they find around the course, rather than playing it safe and trying to keep the ball in play. While there is something to be said for the excitement that comes from trying these tough shots, playing a more conservative game is usually going to lead to lower scores. The risks that amateur golfers take often lead to penalty strokes and lost golf balls – two things that no golfer enjoys. If you are serious about shooting lower scores on a consistent basis, it is time to think carefully about taking your course management in a more conservative, patient direction.
Thinking about playing golf with an aggressive game plan brings us back to the topic of risk and reward. If you are going to take on a significant risk on the golf course, you need to be sure there is a valuable reward waiting on the other side. Too often, golfers are willing to take on a risk when the reward simply isn't great enough to justify the gamble. This concept can clearly be seen when thinking about going for the green in two on a par five. Sure, it is exciting to have the opportunity to set up an eagle putt – but it is worth it? Often, the answer is a definitive no.
Picture the following scenario – you have hit a beautiful drive from the tee of a short par five, and you have only 225 yards left to reach the green with your second shot. Since you can hit your three wood 230 in the air, you know that the green is well within your range, and you also see that you have a clean lie in a flat section of the fairway. All signs point to reaching the green in two shots, except for one big problem – there is a water hazard in front of the green. You will need to hit the shot perfectly to carry the water safely, as any degree of miss-hit is likely to send your ball into the pond.
So, should you go for the green, or lay-up short of the water? Believe it or not, the best choice in most cases is going to be the lay-up. Sure, you are pretty much taking an eagle out of the picture when you lay-up, but the eagle was always an unlikely outcome anyway. Getting down in two shots from 225 yards is not something that will happen very often, so that possibility should hold very little sway in your decision-making process. Instead, you should be thinking mostly about the changes of a birdie vs. the changes of a bogey. While going for the green in two will likely increase your chances of making a birdie, it will also greatly increase your chances of making a bogey at the same time. Any ball in the water will probably lead to a six on the scorecard, which is exactly what you are trying to avoid.
The point that many golfers seem to forget when making this kind of decision is the fact that you can still make a birdie after you lay-up. A good lay-up shot will likely leave you a very short wedge into the green – a situation which should allow you to set up a makeable birdie putt. The lay-up leaves you with the chance to make a birdie while nearly ensuring your par at the same time. Going for the green does give you a chance at the birdie as well, but it also brings a bogey (and possibly worse) into the picture. You could feel great about going for the green if no hazard was in play, but the presence of the water means that you are better off laying up.
Most professional golfers play a style of golf that is far more conservative than most fans would expect. When watching on TV, you are only going to see the exciting, brave shots that take place during the day, so it seems like everyone is playing aggressive golf. What the TV coverage doesn't show, however, is all of the conservative play that is taking place throughout most of the field. Aggressive golfers usually are tripped up by a mistake or two along the way, while conservative players can make it through from start to finish without any big issues.
To clean up our discussion on the important topic of course management, please review these final few thoughts.
- Don't be one-dimensional. Part of the problem that the average golfer has with course management is being one-dimensional. Some players decide that they like to play aggressively, so they make aggressive choices at every turn. Other players decide they like to play it safe, so they never step out and take a chance. In reality, the optimal strategy is going to be stuck somewhere between those two extremes. Evaluate each shot you encounter as its own individual situation and make decisions accordingly. The right choice will often be the conservative path, but it will make sense to be aggressive from time to time as well. Blending those two methods is going to lead you to your best results.
- Keep your emotions out of the picture. There is no room for emotional thinking while trying to make smart course management decisions. If you are frustrated by a poor shot, for instance, you need to take a moment to calm yourself down before making a plan for the next shot. Or, if you are feeling confident after playing a few good holes in a row, you need to come back down to earth and make a rational choice which isn't too aggressive or risky. Riding your emotions will lead to a rollercoaster that prevents you from playing your best golf.
- Adapt quickly to course conditions. Changing course conditions can make it difficult to manage your way through a round successfully. Pay close attention to the condition of the course under your feet and adapt as fast as possible to changes in firmness, green speed, etc. The conditions of the course can be quite different from the start of a round to the end, so you must be willing to adapt your plan as need be on the fly.
Course management might not be the most exciting topic in the world of golf, but it certainly is one which is important to your performance. Think carefully about the ideas presented in this article and use them to make better decisions in your very next round. Unlike changes to your swing, which can take a long time to provide results, changes to your course management strategy can pay off right away. Good luck!