How to pretend you understand golf – when you don’t have a clue!

Looking for quick sparknotes on the game of golf? No idea what a “birdie” is, or an “eagle”? Sick of pretending to be interested in a subject you know nothing about? Now is the perfect time as the weather begins to warm up and you start to lose those loved ones to the links. Here’s a few tips to pretend you know the rules of golf to impress your husband, coworker, a random guy you are chatting with on Bumble, or simply being able to follow along in golf conversation. Look no further, here is your Golf Guide for Dummies. 

We caught up with  Matt Considine, CEO and Founder of NewClub Golf Society, an officially recognized club by the USGA and PGA of America for like minded golf aficionados to network and experience bucket-list level courses around the world. His most important piece of advice when hitting the links for your first time, “Lower your expectations. The dirty little secret about golf is that almost everyone stinks. Luckily, you don’t have to be “good” at golf to enjoy playing. Stay positive, keep the ball moving forward, and remember to be kind to yourself and enjoy the company.”

1. Familiarize yourself with the basics of golf – the objective, types of clubs, terminology used and how long a round takes (9 or 18 holes). 

Let’s start with the basics:

  • It’s played by hitting a ball from the teeing ground into the hole in the fewest number of strokes – lower the better 
  •  Remember the teeing ground is the starting point for each hole, (this is a holy zone, not to be walked or driven through)
  • The stroke is counted each time the player takes the club away from the ball creating a score and ultimately a player’s handicap (the number used in conversation to learn if someone would be a good golf partner)
  • The players must play the ball as it lies, except when it is lifted or moved on a specific rule 
  • No scraping, spooning or pushing the ball (that means you would move the club along the surface of the ground pulling the ball towards or away from you) As the pro’s say, fair strokes only! 
  • Each hole is completed when the ball is “holed” and everyone completes their turn 
  • The match is complete when all the holes have been finished and the result agreed upon all players 

2. Know the score-keeping system.

Want to know how to keep track of the number of strokes taken by each player and how to calculate the winner? Lots of trust here, as each player actually records their own strokes on the scorecard after each hole. At the end of the game, each player adds up the total number of strokes taken by each player to determine the winner. The player with the lowest score is the winner. 

*Wondering if your husband or coworker is good at golf? Totally lost on golf score terms? 

Now, a “good” golf score is relative to the course difficulty, its handicap, number of holes played and the player’s experience level. Generally, a score of 95 or below on an 18-hole course is considered a very good score for a beginner, while a score of 70 or below is considered an EXCELLENT score for a more experienced golfer. But unless you’re dating/married to Tiger Woods, the average golf score for an amateur golfer (be sure not to to call them that to their face) is typically around 100. Professional golfers usually have an average score between 70 and 80.

3. Learn the basic rules of golf etiquette: always be courteous on the course, repair divots, and always play the ball from its current lie.

Golfers take their etiquette VERY seriously, from sportsmanship, to quiet time on the course and dress code. When in doubt, be sure to ask instead of assuming the proper etiquette as it can also vary course to course! For example some courses may require collared shirts and non-metal spike shoes, while others may be more lenient and allow for jeans and more casual ‘fits. Some courses may even have specific dress codes for different days of the week or for different tee times- YES, we’re also thinking it, *queue Mean Girls’ On Wednesday we wear pink!”  This is why you may see players checking the course’s dress code with a friend more familiar if they’re from out of town or less familiar with the course. 

 4. Be familiar with the Rules of Golf, such as the out-of-bounds rule and the penalty for hitting a ball out of bounds. (SKIP if you’re feeling overwhelmed – this is the advanced portion of the lesson) 

  • When a golf ball is out of bounds (OOB), the player must play a “provisional ball” from the spot of the previous shot. 
  • The player must add one penalty stroke to the score for the hole. 
  •  If the provisional ball is also out of bounds, the player must hit another provisional ball and add another penalty stroke. 
  • If the original ball is found in bounds, the player may continue to play with the original ball, but must still add a penalty stroke. 
  • If the original ball is not found, the player must play the provisional ball with a score of two strokes over par. 
  • If the provisional ball is also not found, the player must continue playing with a new ball and a score of three strokes over par.

Considine says the biggest faux pas he sees in golf is “not picking up or being self conscious of your ability in general.”  New golfers tend to think, “if I don’t finish the hole, I’m a failure!” Golf is a humbling sport and golfers respect when someone picks up to keep the group moving. It doesn’t matter your skill level; if you can keep a good pace, you’ll make friends quickly on the golf course.”

5. DO NOT SKIP THIS ONE! Practice golf etiquette: stand still and be quiet when another player is addressing the ball, and avoid walking on the line of another player’s putt. 

  • Don’t talk during someone else’s shot, not a PEEP
  • Maintain a reasonable pace between shots
  • Fix the green if you cause any divots (leave it nicer than you found it)
  • Personal space: don’t get too close on the other players during their shots even if you’re out of their view point
  • No practice swings near someone else’s shot
  • No running or throwing clubs on the course (I mean duh)
  • No golf carts across bunkers, greens or tee boxes unless someone explicitly tells you too (but also, is that a person a member/someone you should listen to?)
  • Faster players go first

Golf is a super social sport, Considine adds, “My wife likes to joke that I play golf so I don’t have to ask my friends to go for a walk. There is some truth to that. Where else can you spend 4 hours with someone, away from your screens and everyday distractions, completely surrounded by nature, together focused on an infinitely challenging game? It’s beautiful in that way and I think both men and women hit a flowlike state playing golf that is hard to replicate elsewhere.” 

6. Have a basic understanding of the different types of shots and how they should be played, such as a chip shot, a bunker shot, and a putting stroke.

  • Drive: The drive is used to hit the ball from the teeing ground and is typically hit with a driver. 
  • Fairway Shot: A fairway shot is used for a longer shot from the fairway, usually with a mid or long iron. 
  • Approach Shot: An approach shot is used to approach the green, usually with a mid to short iron. 
  • Pitch Shot: A pitch shot is a short shot used to get the ball on the green, usually with a pitching wedge. 
  • Chip Shot: A chip shot is a short shot that is used to get the ball up and over a bunker or other obstacle, usually with a wedge.
  •  Bunker Shot: A bunker shot is used to hit the ball out of a sand trap and is usually hit with a sand wedge.
  • Putt: A putt is used to roll the ball into the hole and is hit with a putter. 

7. Dress the part! That’s why we’re personally out on the links… an excuse for a new wardrobe.

Check out some of our favorite women’s golf clothing and gear brands for women. Women’s golf clothes are really in a league of their own… monograms, patterned ladies golf shorts, decadent crests, knit sweater vests, comfortable skorts and sweat resistant and comfortable polos? Okay, you have our attention. 

8. When someone at the course gets a hole in one, it’s typical etiquette to have the golfer buy every single person in the clubhouse a drink on their tab, so be sure not to miss those hole in ones.

Okay, how fab is this?! What other sport makes the winner celebrate with buying everyone ELSE a cocktail? Now this is a sport we can get into. The gesture is to thank those around them for playing and embracing the sport, while recognizing the rarity of the occasion as well. Perfect, we love an excuse for a free drink. 

Golf Terms & Glossary  

  • Albatross: A score of three under par on a single hole. 
  • Approach shot: A shot played from the fairway onto the green. 
  • Bogey: A score of one over par on a single hole. 
  • Chip shot: A shot played from off the green, usually with a lofted club such as a wedge.
  • Divot: A piece of turf displaced by a golf club during a swing. 
  • Eagle: A score of two under par on a single hole. 
  • Fairway: The area of the golf course between the tee and the green, typically cut to a shorter length than the rough. 
  • Green: The area of the golf course near the hole, typically covered in grass and surrounded by sand traps. 
  • Hazard: An area of the golf course, usually marked by white stakes, such as a water hazard or bunker.
  • Lie: The position of the ball when it rests on the golf course. 
  • Par: The number of strokes a skilled golfer should take to complete a hole. 
  • Rough: The area of the golf course that is not well-maintained and typically contains longer grass. 
  • Tee: The area of the golf course where you take your first swing from 

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