golfing strategy for beginners and better players

The Ultimate Guide of Golfing Strategy and Lowering Your Scores

Playing well and achieving a lower handicap is more than striking the ball well. It requires a sound understanding of course management and a solid golf strategy. The ability to read a golf course and make sensible choices, will have you playing to your strengths and saving strokes. Especially when you’re struggling.

In todays ‘Ultimate Guide’ article, I have gathered together all the best tips and advice I’ve come across over the years. And wittled them down to give you the ones that work. 

So sit back and make yourself comfortable, you’re gonna be surprised at how easy playing good golf can be.

“Golf is a game of misses. He who misses best, wins.”

Ben Hogan

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “golf isn’t a game of perfect”, or “there’s no pictures on the scorecard”. A good score doesn’t come from stringing together lots of great drives and amazing approach shots. That’s how a great score is born. 

A good score comes from managing your way around the golf course. Giving yourself the best opportunity to play to your strengths, whilst steering away from danger should you hit the ball a little fat or experience a wayward drive.

This is called course management, or having a golfing strategy. 

How well do you know your game?

It’s not important to know how far you hit that 7 iron, or what shape your standard ball flight is. However, when it comes to applying good course management, you will save far more strokes if you do.

Being certain of where your strengths and weaknesses lie, will make your round a lot less stressful. By allowing the right margin of error in your golf strategy, you can relax and enjoy the monthly medal. And hopefully pick up more wins too.

If you’re unsure of what playing statistics you should be keep track of. I have a good run down in my article here on the website. Feel free to read it afterwards, I’m sure it will help guide you in the right direction.

And if you want to learn more about how to shape your shots, and how your swing and the clubface control the golf ball. Check out my article ‘here’. It’s detailed and very informative.

Step One – Create a strategic plan before you play golf

Before starting your round. Any number of things can happen that may affect your mood. 

It’s therefore safe to say that stepping onto the 1st tee at the start of your weekly competition, is not the time to make decisions around your best strategy. 

Whether you’ve played the course 100 times because you’re a member, or it’s your first time visiting with a golfing society. Planning a couple of days ahead or even the night before, is key to saving strokes.

Tip #1 – Use a course guide or better still Google earth.

golf strategy course guide image

I love having a course guide for every golf course I play. Yet that’s no use to me if it’s either a new course, or I can’t be bothered to go to the garage and dig around in my golf stuff.

That’s why the first tip, to help you create a strategic golf plan, is using Google Earth.

Google Earth is great. It allows you to use satellite images to accurately measure anywhere on the planet to within 400mm or 16”. 

So once you’ve found the course you’re playing, you can then jump over to Area 51 at Groom Lake, and see how long the main runway is. OK so I have already looked and it’s 7400m and the smaller runway is 3,700m.

If you haven’t got Google Earth installed on your computer, you can download it from their website ‘here’. Or you could use the online version, but it has limited tools to help you measure and draw lines, so i would definitely download it.

ScreenHunter 447 May. 09 12.16

With Google Earth installed you can then search for your golf course and zoom into each hole. 

Having this ‘helicopter’ view of the course is great as you get to see all the hazards and pathways that might be hidden from the tee boxes.

Once you’re focused on the hole, use the ruler function in the tools menu, to draw target lines and measure distances to hazards. You can even select the units of measurement to either meters or yards.

Google Earth is fantastic. It’s so detailed, if you wanted to, you could create a yardage book for any course you care to choose.

As one of the most useful tips of the article. Using Google Earth to help your course management comes in at the start.

Tip #2 – Knowing your club distance and dispersion.

There are a few things that I have found in my own game, that you may also be facing when it comes to knowing how far you hit each club.

  1. We all believe we hit the ball farther than we actually do.
  2. Carry distance is more constant a number than total distance.
  3. We don’t strike the ball as nicely on the golf course as we do at the driving range.
  4. We don’t always have the right distance we need to hit, when we’re on the course. We should get a rangefinder or GPS device.

Taking the time to understand your game will take all the guesswork out of each and every shot you need to play on the course.

I have spent a lot of time recording my personal statistics, using various methods and products. You can read my article ‘here’. It will give you a deep insight into what golf statistics you need to record if you really want to improve your game.

Tip #3 – Know your bad shots

Now you know how far you can safely and predictably hit each club. What about those times you don’t.

Go to any driving range up and down the country, and it’ll be filled with golfers spending hours doing nothing but perfecting their swings.

Why? Because we all want to hit better shots and prevent those fat and thin ones from creeping into our game. But how are you at recording your typical poor shot? Do you even know what it is?

As much as we’re told to concentrate on the good shots throughout the round, having an understanding of your standard miss, will help keep you out of trouble.

When things go wrong, your ability to limit the damage will quite possibly save your round. In a lot of cases where I’ve been in match play and played a poor shot. By planning for it ahead of time, I have only cost myself a hole and gone onto to win or halve the match.

Too many beginner golfers and high handicappers, think their round is ruined after a poor hole. 

Don’t be that guy that walks off after 4 holes because they’re already behind on their handicap. Or the one that moans for the remaining 14 holes.

Plan ahead for your misses. Stay in control of your game and you’ll get better results.

To help you with this, I wrote this article ‘here’ where I give you a few ideas that work for me on how to best get the right information about your golf game.

Tip #4 – Plan your strategy by working from the green backwards.

As you plan ahead for your upcoming round. One of the best pieces of advice I can give, is work from the green to the tee.

As a rule of thumb, a player who’s an 18 handicap or more, should be trying to give themselves a par putt with each first stroke of the putter. 

A golfer who is below an 18 handicap, should be putting for birdie with their first stroke of the money stick.

It should come as a surprise that the closer you land the ball to the flag, the easier you putt will be. So working back from the green gives you the opportunity to plan that approach shot.

Are you more confident at 120 yards or 80 yards? Having worked on your distances, you should know what your favourite wedge shot is. 

Once you have this plotted out on the hole using Google Earth. You can best decide how to get there from the tee.

Most amateur players who don’t have a golfing strategy, will turn up at every par 4 and par 5 and select the driver. But it’s not always the best club.

Using this method of working back from the green, you’ll see that you don’t always need the driver, or indeed a 3 wood to hit your mark for your approach shot.

In addition, as you have worked on your club distances and shot shape. You may also find that pulling your driver out may be the very thing that is costing you strokes.

Sometimes, without knowing it, you may be bringing bunkers and hazards unnecessarily into play.

Your obvious choice for landing areas in hitting the fairway away from any hazards. And whilst it seems the obvious choice, it’s not always easy to do. 

When faced with a situation where you can’t play short of, or carry such hazards, use your natural shot shape to play to the safer side of the fairway. 

Keep in mind however, that when playing a fade or draw, you want to account for the run of the ball too. You don’t want to hit the fairway as planned, only for the ball to run on and into the fescue.

For me, what I found was this. By leaving my driver at home and teeing off with a 4 hybrid for a whole month. I dropped an average of 4 shots a round. 

I did this by limiting the ‘3 shots of the tee’ penalties from OB’s, plus it kept me away from most fairway bunkers.

You can do the same too!

Step Two – Good course management in golf, starts on the 1st tee box

Having worked through Step One, it’s now time to actually execute your plan. 

If you have ever paid attention to your fellow players at the weekly roll up. You’ve probably noticed that most simply walk up, address the ball and rip it.

This may work for some but I think we can get a lot more out of your game and here’s how.

Tip #5 – Stick with your plan

Remember that we have already decided within our strategy, what distance we want into the green. And this has left us with our required tee shot. 

Now’s not the time to question that hard work you have already put into the round. When you start using a course strategy, it is not uncommon to feel less confident in that strategy once you face the tee shot.

That’s because you are used to not thinking and simply pulling the trigger. However, remember that the goal is to score well over 18 holes and make the whole round easier to play. 

Have confidence in your choices which were based on good planning and sound information gathered on and of the driving range.

Tip #6 – Don’t play uncomfortable shots 

When asked to give some advice on playing in competitions. Zach Johnson said once in an interview, “Never play an uncomfortable shot. If you have a choice of clubs, swing both and choose the one that makes you feel you can achieve the result needed.”

This is exactly the situation you have given yourself by putting together a golf strategy in Step One.

So now you should be faced with a simple choice between 2 clubs for your given distance off the tee. So what else apart from your ‘feeling’ will affect our outcome?

Weather

When I plan for a big match or club competition. I always think about the weather forecast and how that might affect my game.

Now that you’re stood on the tee, you may be faced with a strong head wind, following wind or cross winds. Each will have an impact on the choice you originally made.

In reality though, this will only take a moment or two. And you can be reviewing this in your mind whilst your playing partners are teeing off.

Then with your club choice made, you simply have to aim and swing. This is where the next tip will help you.

Tip #7 – Never aim where a straight shot will put you in trouble

I’m now a natural drawer of the ball. I have worked hard to be able to play fades and draws at will. They’re not perfect but it enables me choices when putting together a strategy when playing golf.

But when I was starting off I had the usual tendency to slice the ball with the longer clubs.

Many times in the past I have aimed at the fairway bunker on the left, only to have the ball fly perfectly straight and right into trouble! It’s annoying to say the least.

Using an article I wrote previously ‘here’. You can learn the simple basics around shaping your shots.

Until then, my tip is to NOT aim directly at trouble, unless it is far out of reach with a running ball.

If you have a fade and the fairway doesn’t seem wide enough when aiming right of the hazard. Consider a lesser club and lay up short.

Golf is not about ego. We just make it that by talking crap about driving distances and iron carry. 

Remember that a 200 yard shot to the fairway with a hybrid, beats a 360 yard drive into the trees every day!

Step 3 – Tips for the best approach shot strategy

With the round underway following a great drive off the tee. The approach shots to the greens are the next most important shots in golf. 

The approach shot accounts for nearly 25% of your round, if you’re playing well. So they can easily wreck your score if you fail to plan them correctly. 

Here are my tips for the best approach shot strategy within course management.

Tip #8 – Check your lie before reaching for the club.

How the ball lies and the environment around it. Has a huge impact on your ability to execute the required shot. So it is important that you take a moment to access it correctly.

If the ball is sitting on a nice lush fairway with nothing between you or the green, then happy days. Follow your plan, grab your club and pull the trigger.

But sat within soft, wet ground, with you required to carry a tree line or hazard. This means it’s less likely to come out clean. You’re stumped and have to make a strategic change.

And when you have reached the spot you originally planned for. Taking the time to access the lie will help with your wedge shot too.

Tight lies and fluffy lies, all need a different bounce on the wedge to give you the best chance to make the shot work.

Tip #9 – Flag position. Do you go short or long?

Earlier in the article I mentioned that we all believe we hit the ball farther than we actually do. I myself have a propensity to come up short of the green 18% of the time. Whilst only 3% of my approach shots are long.

Knowing this is useful to me, especially at my local club where the 14th green has a hazard that’s immediately short of the green. 

The fairway runs down into this ditch, with the wall being at least 5 feet high. If you find yourself in here you have added at least 2 if not 3 shots to your round.

Many times I would try and be cute when the flag was at the front of the green. But with just 12 feet or so between the ditch and the flag, more often than not, the inevitable happened.

Because of the penalty I endured each time I played this hole. I thought it was just this one hole where I kept falling short. So it didn’t seem too much of a risk to keep trying. 

Even in competitions for god’s sake. I was still playing for the best outcome and not the regular, most likely one.

It wasn’t until I discovered that my tendency to fall short was not limited to this one hole, but throughout all my shots. That I changed my strategy to going long.

It seems obvious now. With no hazards at all at the back of the green, if I went a little longer, it was a small chip to the flag.

If I fell short at any time. Well I still had more than enough club to carry the hazard and 2 putt for par.

It’s these simple, yet powerful choices that shave or add strokes to your game.

Tip #10 – Avoid the dreaded short side of the green.

Being short-sided is when you have the least amount of green available, between the ball and the flag. 

For example, if a hole is located in the middle of the green but to the left hand side. And the golfer misses the green to the left. Then they are considered to be short-sided.

That’s because his next shot has less room on the green to land the ball, as opposed to missing right of the green.

When around the green, it’s simply the worst place to be in after your approach shot. So good planning here will save strokes and keep the anxiety at bay.

When approaching the greens, I always plan for misses. In my mind, it is always better to go slightly long of a green, or miss on the long side, than try for a small area, run off and be short-sided.

Tip #11 – Bunkers can be a good miss.

This next tip goes well with the one above, and not many players consider it.

Bunkers are not always a hazard that penalises you. In the right situation, a greenside bunker can be the perfect place for a miss when playing a sound strategy.

So spend some time on the practice ground and get confident in the bunkers. Learning a standard, go to shot, will allow you to be fearless on approaches and deadly around the greens.

Tip #12 – Try to leave uphill putts

If you play on a course that has sloping greens, then you will no doubt, already know this tip.If not then it’s as simple as it gets. 

Putting uphill means that you can strike the ball harder. It travels faster and is less susceptible to the break of the green. 

This makes it a simpler line to read with less chance of error. Increasing your chances of that birdie putt.

Step 4 – Trust the process even when things are going wrong

A poorly executed plan doesn’t always mean that the plan wasn’t sound in the first place. A sweeping statement I know, but something to consider before you give up and go back to throwing caution to the wind.

Trust the process and the results will follow.

Golf is difficult and you won’t always hit the right shots. You’ll get bad bounces and poor lies and on some holes you just won’t catch a break.

It’s at these times that sticking to the strategic plan is your best chance of a good outcome. Throwing caution to the wind allows a greater degree of chance to creep in and affect the result.

My own experience of sticking to my golfing strategy

I remember playing in my first Pro-Am Captains Challenge at the Royal and Surrey Golf Club. 

The night before I had sat down and made my strategic plan. As I hadn’t played there before, all I had was an online scorecard and Google Earth.

The first hole is one of 5 par 3’s. It’s 225 yards from the comp tees and is protected by 3 large bunkers.

Whilst my plan was to play for the right hand side using the bunker as a best miss. I ended up hooking the ball and walking off with an eight.

The next hole, according to my plan, required the same club as the first. A 4 hybrid as the driver brought  teh fairway bunkers and mounds into play.

Yet the appalling miss I had on the first, could have led me to picking the driver and hoping for the best.

However, I stuck to my strategy knowing it had the best chance of a good outcome. Whilst my tee shot wasn’t perfect. It was good enough to get roughly where I wanted it and go on for a bogey.

As the round progressed and I settled down, my course management built my confidence. And when the final putt rolled in, I was in second place, and eventually finished 3rd.

Not bad with a field of over 120 players from around the country.

Conclusion

As I wrap up this detailed and lengthy article on course management, I have one final tip to help you with your golfing strategy.

Just like we review the end of the round, and discuss our best, or more likely our worst shots. It’s important also to review how we stuck to our previously prepared course management plan.

Take the time to refine your decision making process. Applaud yourself on where your decisions were sound and sensible. And especially congratulate yourself on the times you stuck to your plan when things were going wrong.

As you review each round you will gain confidence. Not only in your swing, but also in the way you manage yourself around the course. 

And that my friend, at any ability, is the key to being a player rather than just a golfer!

I hope you have enjoyed this article and that you’ve learned something from it. If you have please share this among your friends as it really helps out the website.

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