Avoid “Blow-Up” Holes with Better Golf Course Management

How much lower would your handicap be if you could only avoid “blow-up” holes?

You know, those double- and triple-bogeys (and worse) that seem to creep up at least a couple of times per round golf round, ruining an otherwise solid score?

There are several ways to minimize blow-up holes, if not completely eliminate them. It comes down to observant course management, discipline, and knowing your limits.

Most blow-up holes start -- where else? -- on the tee. Since wayward drives into the trees, sand or water can cost a stroke or two right off the bat, take a close look at the hole's risks and rewards before choosing a club. If the hole is fraught with trouble, forego the driver and hit a fairway wood, hybrid, or even an iron to get the ball safely in play.

The conservative approach is also recommended when, despite your best intentions, you find trouble. Surrounded by trees, for instance, or close to the lip of a bunker. Rather than attempt the hero golf shot, it's usually best to take your medicine, follow the easy route out – often sideways, not directly at the hole -- and try to salvage a bogey.

It may seem boring, but remember – there's nothing more exciting than lower scores.

Avoid Blow Up Holes with Better Golf Course Management

Avoid Blow Up Holes with Better Golf Course Management

There is nothing quite as frustrating in the game of golf as having a good round ruined by a blow up hole – or two. What is a blow up hole? Just as the name would suggest, this is a hole where you make a big number after a series of mistakes. A simple bogey certainly wouldn't count in this category, as every golfer makes bogeys from time to time. Even a double bogey probably wouldn't rise to the level of a 'blow up hole', unless you are a professional golfer. For most players, anything from a triple bogey on up will be classified as a blow up hole. For obvious reasons, you need to work on eliminating these kinds of holes from your game. Just taking away your big mistakes during an average round will go a long way toward lowering your handicap over time.

Of course, it is easier said than done to simply take these kinds of holes out of your game. After all, if you could have done so easily, you would have already done it. The key to making blow up holes a thing of the past is to use better golf course management. You don't necessarily need to make better swings to avoid blow up holes, you just need to make better decisions (although better swings will help). By making smart, patient decisions throughout each round, you can keep the ball in play and keep those ugly eights and nines off of your scorecard.

In this article, we are going to offer a collection of advice on how to successfully avoid blow up holes as you move forward with your game. This advice, as indicated in the title of the article, is going to focus on the mental side of your play. Feel free to work on the techniques you use in your swing as well, but that is a topic for another article. For now, we are going to stay focused on course management advice which will help you to be a better decision maker from the first tee to the last green.

One of the great things about working on your course management skills is the fact that this effort can pay off almost immediately. You don't have to wait for a swing change to become comfortable and reliable before you start shooting lower scores – taking a new approach to the game can benefit you as soon as your very next round. As long as you are open to the idea of thinking about your game in a new way, there is no telling what you will be able to accomplish. Your mind is one of the most powerful tools you have available to you on the golf course. Hopefully, by the end of this article, you will be using it more effectively than ever before.

All of the tips in this article are written from the perspective of a right-handed golfer. If you play left-handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.

It Starts with Patience

It Starts with Patience

A patient golfer is often a good golfer. Of course, there is much more to shooting low scores than just being patient, but this one trait certain can take you a long way in the game. When you think about golf as a whole, this makes a lot of sense. In a game that usually takes more than four hours to play, one where you only hit a single shot every few minutes, it is logical that patience would be required. Unfortunately, most amateur golfers do not display the patience necessary to play consistent golf, and they wind up with blow up holes on their card as a result.

Patience is needed to avoid big numbers because it is usually a rash, foolish decision which will get you into trouble on the course. Going for the green when you should be laying up, for example, is a classic case of losing your patience and paying the price. There are exceptions to every rule, of course, but most of the time golf will reward you for making a patient choice. Aggression is not something that tends to fare well in this game, as the reward for being aggressive is rarely big enough to justify the risk you have to take.

In the modern world, patience is a virtue which is not often seen. We don't have to be patient anymore, because we have everything right at our fingertips at all times. Therefore, it can be difficult to switch yourself into a patient frame of mind when you step onto the first tee. In order to improve on your ability to remain patient as you play a round of golf, consider the tips below.

  • Remember there are 18 holes. It is easy to get caught up in thinking that the hole you are currently playing is the most important one on the course. In reality, however, there are 18 holes to be played, and each is of equal importance. If you put too much importance on playing any one hole well, you may make a forced decision which puts you at risk for a blow up hole. Instead of thinking that you have to make a birdie or par on a given hole, instead focus on avoiding a big number. As long as you steer clear of the kind of poor decisions which lead to big scores, you should be happy with your total at the end of the day.
  • Put your phone away. If at all possible, try to play your entire round without checking your phone. Unless you have some specific reason for which you have to be available, you will play better without the distraction. Checking your phone can take you out of 'golf mode' and put you back in the same busy frame of mind that you live with day in and day out. It is hard to play patient golf when you are thinking about the rest of your real world obligations and responsibilities. When you can, stick your phone in your bag and leave it alone until the round has been completed.
  • Respect the difficulty of this game. Golf is an extremely hard game to play at a high level. As a golfer, you probably already know this to be true. Often, it is the frustration of the game that leads players to lose their patience at some point during a round. Don't let this happen to you. If you head out onto the course with a healthy respect for the challenge you are facing, you will be less likely to lose your cool – and your patience at the same time. There is no need to get mad at yourself for hitting bad shots, as everyone hits bad shots from time to time. With a realistic perspective in mind as you play, it will be easier to maintain a patient approach. Not only will this style of play help you avoid blow up holes, but it will also help you to have more fun on the course as well.

If you are anything like most of the other golfers on courses around the world, you probably don't do a great job of keeping your patience all throughout your rounds. As a part of your quest to eliminate blow up holes from your game, making improving on your patience a top priority. As a more patient player, you will find that you are able to steer clear of the big mistakes that quickly tack several strokes onto your card.

Earn Every Stroke

Earn Every Stroke

One of the main goals of every professional golfer when they step onto the first tee for a competitive round is to 'earn every stroke'. What does that mean? Simple – they want to avoid adding any penalty shots to their scorecard. You can 'earn' your strokes by actually hitting the ball, counting one shot at a time as you go. If you are regularly adding penalty strokes on top of the shots you have hit, it is going to be impossible to play well. Learn how to steer clear of penalty strokes and your game will immediately improve.

So how do you get away from adding any penalties to your card? Consider the following advice.

  • Take certain hazards out of play with club selection. One of the best ways to keep penalty strokes away from your scorecard is to use clubs that simply can't reach the hazard you are facing. For instance, if there is a hazard which comes into the fairway at 250-yards from the tee, and you can hit your driver 260-yards, use something less than a driver to take that risk away. Instead of having to be perfectly accurate with your drive to stay out of trouble, you will give yourself more margin for error knowing that the hazard is not in play. Sure, you will have a longer approach shot to deal with, but that is a small price to pay for the ability to take a hazard out of the equation. These kinds of tradeoffs – longer approach shots for less risk – are deals you should always be willing to make on the course.
  • Use a smart ball flight. When possible, it is a good idea to turn the ball away from any area of the course which might cause you to incur a penalty. One such situation is when you are facing a tee shot to a fairway which is guarded on one side by out-of-bounds stakes. If the right side of the hole is out-of-bounds, consider using a draw to turn the ball from right to left and away from the trouble. This pattern might cause your ball to drift into the left rough by the time the shot comes to rest, but the left rough is far better than having to add a stroke to your score and try the shot again. As long as you can consistently produce a ball flight you can trust, this strategy will take many of the hazards on the course completely out of play.
  • Lay-up. This tip is about as simple as it gets. Instead of going for the green in two on a par five, or instead of trying to drive the green on a par four, just lay-up and keep your ball in play. Far too many golfers go for the green when they don't really have a chance to make it. Therefore, they are taking on risk with no actual possibility of a reward. Don't put yourself in this category. When in doubt, laying the ball up is almost always the right call. You will rarely regret laying up, but you could immediately regret going for the green if you hit your ball into a hazard. Many of the triple bogeys and worse made on the average golf course are the result of being too aggressive with course management decisions. Instead of always going for the green, work on your wedge game and plan on getting up and down for a par or birdie after your safe lay-up shot.
  • Put your ego to the side. It is often the ego which leads golfers into poor decisions on the course. For example, if you are standing on the tee of a par three, and all three of your playing partners have taken aim right at the flag – even though it is cut dangerously close to the water – you are likely to do the same. Is that the smart decision? Probably not, but it is the one you will make because you don't want to back down. Countless golf shots are lost on courses around the world due to players trying to keep up with the others in their group. By rising above this kind of ego-driven decision making, you can take your game to a new level. Ignore what the others in your group are doing and make up your own mind about each shot. Want to play away from the flag, or lay-up short of the target entirely? Go for it. Whatever you can do to keep penalty strokes off your card is likely the right call.

Many of the decisions you need to make with regard to course management are quite simple. If you can just avoid penalty strokes, for example, your score will look much better when you add it up at the end of the day. By making choices which allow you to steer clear of the penalizing spots on the course, your handicap will fall and the game will be a lot more enjoyable.

Put Down the Driver

Put Down the Driver

If there is one club which is more likely to cause a blow up hole than any other, it is the driver. When you take your driver out of the bag on the tee, you should know that you are taking on some inherent risk. By using the club that can hit the ball the farthest down the fairway, you are also using the club which can send the ball the farthest off line. A great drive can certainly set you up with an easy approach shot, but a poor drive may lead you to a dreaded triple bogey – or worse.

So does this mean that you can never use your driver? Of course not. The driver is a valuable weapon, and you need to use it effectively in order to score well. However, you have to pick and choose your spots wisely if you are going to get positive results from this club. Using it at the wrong time is only asking for trouble, and sometimes that trouble is going to find its way onto your scorecard.

If you need help deciding when is the right time to use the driver, ask yourself the following questions.

  • What kind of trouble is waiting? This is one of the first questions you should ask yourself as you stand on the tee. If there is serious trouble waiting on one side or the other, you might want to consider moving down to a shorter club for control. Also, if the trouble happens to be on the side of the fairway where you typically miss, it is even more important to consider clubbing down. On the other hand, if there is only some light rough waiting to catch a mistake, you should feel free to let it fly with the big stick.
  • Do you need the distance? There is no point in taking on the risk of using your driver if you don't actually need the distance which it can provide. For example, if you are playing a par four which only measures 350 yards, you can probably set yourself up for a nice approach shot with something less than the driver. Don't just automatically reach for your driver when you arrive on the tee of a par four or par five – think about the layout and length of the hole before making a final selection.
  • How are you playing today? One area where many amateur golfers could stand to improve is reacting to how they are playing on a particular day. If you are playing well and your swing feels great, it is probably okay to be aggressive with the driver. On the other hand, if you are struggling to keep the ball in play and your timing is off, put the driver away and play it safe. You shouldn't be forcing the action just because you think the driver is the right club to hit. Be smart, think about how your day is going, and respond accordingly.

Using a driver when it is not the right pick is asking for all kinds of trouble. Even if you get away with it now and then, consistently making poor club choices from the tee will eventually come back to bite you. Only use your driver when you are confident that it is the right choice, and pick a shorter club on the rest of the holes.

Don't Relax Around the Greens

Don't Relax Around the Greens

When you think about making a big number on a hole, you probably picture hitting your driver deep into the woods, or sticking an iron shot into a pond. Those are not the only ways it can happen, however. In fact, you can have a blow up hole come out of nowhere, even when your ball is safely around the green in just a couple of shots.

Once you get up near the green, don't feel like you can let your guard down with regard to a blow up hole. If you make a poor decision when chipping or pitching, for example, and then back that up with a three putt, you can quickly make a triple bogey out of thin air. To avoid such a problem, the first thing you need to do is prioritize getting the ball on the green with your first chip or pitch. Don't get 'cute' and try to hit a perfect shot from a tough lie – simply knock the ball on the green somewhere to give yourself a putt at par. As long as you follow that safe chip with a two putt, you can walk away with no worse than a bogey. It is when you try and pull off a miracle pitch shot that you wind up placing yourself in a terrible spot, and then big numbers become possible.

It only takes one blow up hole to throw your score off track for the entire round. Even though golf is a game which takes several hours to play, your score can be ruined in just a matter of moments if you combine bad decisions with poor swings. Use the advice provided in this article to keep your game on track, and keep your ball away from the dangerous parts of the course. It is difficult to be patient and smart while playing golf, but your reward will be a lack of blow up holes. Good luck!