Which do you enjoy more: a) Playing golf, or b) Practicing?
If you answered “b,” you're part of a very small minority. (Possibly a minority of two – you and Vijay Singh.) For everyone else, there's no reason you can't make practice fun. Maybe not as much fun as an actual round of golf, but enjoyable enough that you'll actually get something out of it.
Whether you're working on your driving, iron game, chipping or putting, the key is to practice with a purpose. In order to keep yourself engaged, sometimes it helps to turn practice into – you guessed it – a game.
Integrate these skill-enhancing elements into your practice routine and practice will become a lot less routine:
- “Play” the course: This one just requires a little visualization, always a good skill to hone. After you've warmed up and worked on specific shots or swing elements, “play” the golf course. The course you frequent most often, or the one you're playing next, for instance.
- Start by imagining the tee shot on No. 1, picking the club you normally use there. If the hole is a dogleg right, picture it in your mind laid out in front of you, and execute the tee shot just like you're playing the hole. Guesstimate where your drive finishes based on its flight and how well you strike it, and imagine your second shot being hit from that spot to the next target, i.e. the green. Move on to the next hole, and continue through all 18.
- Obviously, this game is only suitable for tee shots, approaches and wedges, but it's a great way to throw a wrinkle into your practice routine. And you may be surprised how well it transfers to the course when you do tee it up.
- Alternatively, think of a hole that gives you trouble, or a critical stretch of holes on your home course, and “play” them several times. Successfully negotiating these holes on the range will help you overcome any trepidation you feel when you play them for real.
- Compete with a friend: This one requires practicing with a buddy of similar abilities. By introducing a little competition, it greatly improves your focus.
- It's simple, really. Just choose a target, like a yardage marker or the range picker (stationary or moving), then take turns hitting to it. You play a shot, followed by your buddy; whoever gets closest wins that round. Play five shots apiece to each chosen target, then switch to another target at a different distance and angle.
- For advanced players, add another layer by stipulating that a specific shot shape must be played. For example, require each player to hit a fade toward a chosen target; you must achieve a fade in order to win a round.
- Limit your club selection: A great way to develop feel is to use one club for a multitude of shots. Pick a club – a 6-iron, for example – and hit shots to each flag that falls within your range for that club, starting with the flag nearest the tee. If the flags are spaced at 50-yard intervals, you'll have to use a very delicate swing when playing to the first one, a slightly firmer swing to target the 100-yard marker, and so forth. It's even better if flags are spaced more tightly.
Practice doesn't have to be drudgery. Learn to enjoy it and you'll see improvements on the course, too – and what's more fun than that?
How to Make Golf Practice Fun on the Range
All golfers know at least one thing to be true – you have to practice if you are going to get better at this difficult game. Golf is extremely hard, even for the experienced player, so practice is required if progress is to be made. Even if you don't have any aspirations of playing highly competitive golf, you still would likely enjoy being able to lower your scores over time. Therefore, practice is going to be part of your golfing future. There is only one problem – golf practice can be tremendously boring.
Make no mistake, there are those who enjoy hitting a large bucket of balls before heading to the practice green for a long short game session. However, those players likely find themselves in the minority – for most golfers, practice is something of a necessary evil. They do it because they know it is essential if they are going to improve, but they don't really enjoy it. Of course, since golf is just a hobby for you rather than a full time job, it doesn't make much sense to spend your time at the course in ways that you aren't going to enjoy. So, if you find that you are bored by spending time on the driving range hitting balls, you may soon decide that you are just going to give up on practice and instead choose to play on the course whenever possible. While that might be fun, it isn't going to do much to make you a better player.
At this point, it should be obvious as to what you need to do – find a way to make golf practice fun. If you can have fun while practicing, you can have the best of both worlds in terms of enjoying your time while also getting better at this very difficult game. Fortunately, it is very much possible to make golf practice fun. In fact, once you get started thinking about new and creative ways to make practicing as enjoyable as possible, you might find yourself passing up on opportunities to hit the course just so you can have more time for practice. Even if you never quite reach that point, at least practice should no longer be viewed as a chore that needs to be checked off your list.
The key to making practice as much fun as possible is to keep your mind engaged in the process at all times. All of the ideas that are going to be included in the content below have that central theme – they are designed to make sure you are engaged, focused, and determined to do your best. Just as is the case on the course, you are only going to perform at a high level if you manage to bring your best to each and every swing that you make. If you aren't focused during your practice sessions, you might as well be doing something else.
All of the instruction below is going to be based on a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.
Variety is Essential
One of the first keys to making sure you are having fun on the practice range is to keep things fresh and new each time out. It is easy to fall into a habit of doing the same thing time after time, but that is sure to get boring before long. Don't allow yourself to fall into a rut that leads to you starting to despise your time on the range – by working hard to think of new ways that you can practice, you will always look forward to your next trip to the practice tee.
Of course, some of the classic ways of practicing golf are to blame for the rut that many people find themselves in with regard to the driving range. One common sight is to see golfers up and down the range who are doing nothing but pounding drivers as far as they can into the distance. You have certainly seen plenty of other players practicing this way, and you might even be guilty of it yourself from time to time. Sure, it is fun to hit your driver as far as you can, but is that really going to help your game in the long run? No, it isn't, and it will even get boring before too much longer.
As a general rule of thumb, try to hit each and every one of your clubs during each practice session. That shouldn't really be too hard, if you think about it – you only have 13 clubs to hit (not including your putter), and you probably have at least 25 – 30 range balls to use (if not more). As long as you are smart about moving through your bag gradually as the practice session goes on, it shouldn't be a problem at all to hit each of your clubs. By making sure all of the clubs get the attention that they deserve, you can avoid developing weak spots in your game that can be exposed on the course. Be confident in all of your clubs by giving all of them a fair amount of time on the practice tee.
Variety is also important when it comes to the short game. You should, of course, be practicing your short game every time that you practice your full swing, and you need to make just as much of an effort to keep short game practice fresh and interesting as you do when hitting full shots. Fortunately, there are tons of shots to work on within the category of the short game, so it shouldn't be hard at all to nail down a number of different ways you can practice this crucial part of your performance. Among the various short game shots you can work on includes short putts, long putts, chip shots from the fairway, chips shots from the rough, sand shots, flop shots, bump and runs, and many more.
There is another good reason to include as much variety as possible in your practice routine, in addition to trying to stave off boredom. The fact is that a variety of shots are required in each and every round of golf that you play, so it only makes sense to include as much variety as possible within your practice sessions. If you only practice a few different shots most of the time, you will have gaping holes in your game that will be quickly exposed. The all-around player is the one most likely to have success round after round, so make sure you are doing everything you can to eliminate any holes that might be present in your technique.
Make It Competitive
Perhaps the single best way to make golf practice interesting and exciting is to make it a competition. Sure, you probably think about being out on the course with your friends when you think about competing in golf, but there are plenty of great competitions to be had on the practice ground as well. With a little creativity and a friend or two to play against, you can keep your mind engaged on the range while even testing your nerves out a bit at the same time.
If you have someone you can practice with on a regular basis, there is almost no limit to the kinds of competitive games you can play both on the driving range and in the short game practice area. You don't have to gamble to make it interesting, either – just putting your own personal pride on the line is often enough to get the juices flowing. If you would like some ideas on the games you can use to make your practice competitions fun and exciting, review the list below.
- 18 holes of putting. This is one of the classic putting competitions for two people to engage in, and it really never gets old. A big part of the appeal of this game is the simplicity that it offers – you will only need a putter, a golf ball, and an opponent (who has a putter and ball of their own). To play, start out by deciding who is going to putt first and then have that person pick a hole on the practice green. You will each putt to that hole, record your score, and move on. The player who records the best score on a hole is responsible for picking the next target hole. Make your way back and forth around the green until you have completed 18 holes. Lowest score wins! As an alternative, you could choose to play match play rather than counting strokes. In that case, you would simply determine who won more of the 18 holes when deciding on a winner.
- 18 holes of chipping. This game is pretty much the same as the previous one, except you are going to hit your first shot as a putt on each hole before putting out. Obviously, your entire short game will get a workout when playing this game because you will have to both chip and putt well in order to win. If you and your partner are good about picking a variety of different types of chip shots and lies, you will quickly expand your skills from around the green.
- Closet to the pin. When on the driving range, closet to the pin is one of the best games you can play to work on your ball striking. Before you start, you and your opponent should agree on a number of points that you are going to play to during the content. So, for example, you could decide that it is going to take 10 points to win (with one point awarded for each KP). To start, one person will need to pick a target and then hit a shot. The other player will follow with their own shot, and the player closet to the flag will win the point. Continue on in this manner until one of the two players has enough points to win the game.
- Knock it down. In this game, you are going to work on your wedge skills on the driving range. Pick out a target that is relatively close to the tee line – less than 100 yards, ideally – and then take turns trying to actually hit the target. This isn't a closet to the pin game, as you only get points if you actually hit the target you have picked out. Some ranges have larger targets they set up specifically for this purpose, so you can pick out whatever is available at your range. If playing to a small target, you might want to have the game end as soon as anybody hits the target. Or, when using a larger target, you may need to play to three or even five hits.
- Chip it in. Back to the short game area, this game is similar to the previous idea in that it sets a lofty goal for you and your opponent. At the chipping green, pick out a target hole and do your best to chip the ball into the cup. Not next to the hole, not within three feet – in the bottom of the hole. The first player to chip in wins that hole, and you then move on to the next. This is a great game to build up your confidence from around the greens, as seeing the ball fall into the hole will help you believe in your ability to hit quality chip shots.
As you can see, there are plenty of options for competitions that you can have while practicing your golf game. In reality, the list above is just a drop in the bucket of what is possible. As long as you are creative and willing to think outside of the box in terms of competition ideas, you can keep coming up with new games endlessly into the future.
Shape the Ball
Many golfers stand on the range all day long trying to hit the ball as straight as possible. Not only is this not going to happen – it is nearly impossible to hit a golf ball perfectly straight – it is boring as well. Trying to do the same thing over and over again, no matter what it is, will get boring before long. You need to keep changing things up if you are going to keep your mind engaged, and one of the things you can change is the way you shape the golf ball around the range (and, eventually, the course).
During your next range session, make it your goal to work on hitting as many different shapes of shots as possible. It doesn't even matter if the shots are particularly good – at first, they probably won't be. For example, if you naturally hit a small draw with most of your clubs, work on hitting a bigger and bigger draw until you are hitting a hook. Why would you want to hit a hook? Well, you don't on the course, but on the range you can learn a lot by produce some extreme shots. Once you feel what it is like to produce a hook on purpose, you will probably have an easier time avoiding the same kind of shot on the course. Also, as you work your way from draw to hook, you will gain a feel for the various degrees of draw in between those two extremes. Then, when you are on the course and you need to hit a sharp draw to get around an obstacle, you will have prepared yourself appropriately. You never know exactly what kinds of shots the course is going to ask you to hit, so prepare by hitting as many different types of shots as possible.
One of the biggest mistakes golfers make when they get into the task of shaping the golf ball is thinking they can only go one way. Sure, you are probably more comfortable moving the ball one direction as compared to the other, but that doesn't mean you need to limit yourself to that type of shot. If you are willing to work on your technique and make changes in order to alter the path of the club, you can learn how to turn the ball in all different directions around the range.
The best way to change the path of your swing is through a change in your stance. You don't really want to change the way you swing the club, because those kinds of changes are harder to make, and harder to execute on the course. Instead, alter your stance to produce a new ball flight from what you are used to seeing. For instance, a player who usually hits a draw will likely be able to carve the ball from left to right if they play a shot from a significantly open stance. Again on this point, it all comes down to experimentation. Play around with creating as many different shapes as possible during your range sessions and you will find that you have many more options available to you when playing a round of golf.
The world has changed in incredible ways in recent years thanks to the many new technological innovations that have become available. While golf might seem like an 'old school' game, there is still plenty of room on the links – and in the practice area – for the introduction of technology. There are a number of ways in which you can use technology to improve your experience on the practice range, both in terms of making it more fun and making it more productive. The following list should give you a few ideas to get started –
- Record your swing on video. If you have a smart phone, you almost certainly have a video recorder at your disposal. By recording your swing on video, you will be able to get a great look at the techniques you are using and how they might be improved. It is one thing to have someone tell you what you are doing wrong, but it is another thing entirely to actually see those mistakes for yourself. Improvements often come quickly once a player is able to see for themselves how their swing is going wrong. Ask a friend to use your phone in order to record a swing, and then return the favor for them. You will likely find that a practice session spent reviewing video and making changes is one that is both enjoyable and productive.
- Use a swing analyzer. There are a number of apps available today for use with your phone that will analyze your swing technique – both with a full swing, and with your putter. You will have to spend some money on one of these systems up front, but that investment will likely be pretty modest compared to what you would have to spend on professional golf lessons.
- Wear some headphones. Okay, so this isn't all that high-tech, as headphones have been around for many decades. However, wearing headphones at the driving range is now easier than ever, thanks to the fact that most people have a music library at the touch of their fingers on a smart phone. Listen to your favorite tunes while practicing and you will notice the times goes by rather quickly. Also, you will be able to focus in on your practice more successfully without being distracted by those around you.
Finding a way to use technology to add enjoyment to your practice sessions is just one of many options that you have available to make the idea of practicing golf more appealing. Will golf practice ever be as much fun as playing a round with your friends out on the course? No, probably not. However, that doesn't mean you have to view practice as a form of punishment. Use the ideas included in the content above, along with your own thoughts, to create a practice environment that allows you to both improve and enjoy yourself at the same time.