Guide to Golf

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Introduction to Golf

Golf is a game in which a ball is struck with a club from a prepared area, known as the “teeing ground”, across fairway and rough to a second prepared area, which has a hole in it, known as the “putting green”. The object of the game is to complete what is known as a hole by playing a ball from the teeing ground into the hole on the putting green in the fewest possible number of strokes. A “round of golf’ consists of playing 18 such holes.

There are basically two forms of play, one which is decided by holes won and lost (match play) and the other which is decided by the total number of strokes taken to complete the round (stroke play).

There are three important principles to remember when playing golf:
Play the course as you find it. Play the Ball as it lies.
And if you can’t do either, do what’s fair.”

Etiquette covers both Courtesy and Priority on the Course as well as care of the Course. Whilst the following points are not rules as such they are an important part of the game.

  • Don’t move, talk or stand close to a player making a stroke.
  • Don’t play until the group in front is out of the way.
  • Always play without delay. Leave the putting green as soon as all players in your group have holed out.
  • Invite faster groups to play through.
  • Smoothen the footprints in bunkers.
  • Don’t step on the line of another player’s putt.
  • Don’t drop clubs on the putting green.
  • Replace the flagstick carefully.

The Course

To play golf, you need a golf course. A golf course generally comprises 18 holes. Though there are plenty of nine-hole courses as well. A round of golf is complete when you play the entire 18 holes.
A hole starts from the tee area, from where you hit your first shot, and ends at a green, where the actual hole is located into which you have to put your ball. Each hole on a course is of fixed length. It can be 167 yards from tee to green, or 356 yards or even 575 yards.

Depending on the length of the hole, you are designated certain number of strokes to complete it. That’s call ‘par’ of the hole. A short hole can be par-3, a medium length hole can be par-4, while longer holes are par-5. A good player is expected to complete the hole in that many strokes, or even lesser.
If the pars of all the holes are counted, it generally adds up to 72. That’s called the par of the course. You can even have a par-70 or a par-73 course. A typical 18-hole course has four par-3s, four par-5s and 10 par-4s, though this may differ from course to course.

The area between the tee and green is called the fairway. It is expected that you hit your shots into the fairway. If you are not accurate, you might end in the rough (area around the fairway where the grass is kept longer thus making your shot difficult), or bushes and trees which can hinder you shot towards the green.

To make the hole even more difficult, you have man-made or natural ‘hazards’. The most common are the ‘sand traps’ or ‘bunkers’ (an area dug up and filled with sand) and water hazards (natural or man-made ponds, lakes, ditches or canals). Playing a shot from the bunker is lot more difficult than playing it from the fairway. But if you enter a pond, you either play from inside the water, or take penalty drop, thus losing strokes.

On the green area, the grass is cut extremely short and even, giving it a carpet-like feel. Once you reach the green, you have to ‘putt’ the ball, i.e., roll it into the hole with the help of your putter.

The Equipment

A golf set is the next most important thing that is required if you wish to play golf. A set comprises of various clubs which is kept in a golf bag. Rules of golf allow for only 14 clubs in the bag while playing a round. The following clubs are required:

Driver: Also called 1-wood. Has a solid base and can send the ball miles if hit properly.

Woods: The other woods are 3-, 4-, 5-, 6- and 7-wood. These are called fairway woods because they are mostly used to hit the ball from the fairway. Though, depending on the distance you want the ball to cover, you can use them from the tee area as well. Of the above mentioned woods, a 3-wood will travel much farther than a 7-wood.

Irons: Starting from 1-iron to 9-iron. The head of these clubs has various degrees of loft which can send the ball higher into the air, or lower. Laws of physics state that higher the degree of trajectory, lower the distance travelled. Thus a 1-iron, with the lowest loft, will generally send the ball around 240 yards, while a 9-iron will go to about 160 yards for a good player.

Wedges: These have even more loft than a 9-iron and are required for special shots. A sandwedge helps you come out of the bunker. A pitching wedge is required when you have about 100-130 yards from the cup. A lob wedge is required when you want the ball to land softly and not travel much distance after landing.

Putter: Has a flat head and is required on the green to roll the ball into the cup.
Of course, the other thing that you will require is that small dimpled marvel called the golf ball. If you are just starting golf, make sure you carry more than one ball to the course, because you will surely lose some during your first few rounds.

Also required is a caddie to carry your bag and give you expert advice, since he spends most of his time on the course, on what line to take when you are putting.

Playing the Game

As stated earlier, the objective of the game is to complete each hole in as few strokes as possible.

Before you start the round, it is advisable to perform some warm-up exercises. The game may look simple but takes a heavy toll on certain muscles and body parts. One of the biggest mistakes amateur golfers do is play a round without warming up.

After you pay the green fee, the charge levied by golf courses on the golfers for playing a round, you are given a tee time to start your round. The beauty of golf is you can play alone, or form a twoball with a friend, or a threesome with two partners. You can even have a fourball.

There are various formats possible in golf, for which you can have a look at the Formats section in ‘More Golf’ area of this website.

You are normally expected to start your round from the first tee, though you can start from any hole on the course and complete the 18 holes thereafter.

The first person to hit the ball from the tee is said to have the honour. The honour keeps changing and whichever player has the best score on a particular hole, gets the honour of teeing off first on the next hole.

The first shot hit on any particular hole from the tee area is called the tee shot. Depending on the length of the hole and the distance you wish to cover, you can use anything from a driver to the pitching wedge for a tee shot. The choice of clubs depends on various factors, including the wind. On the par-3 fifth hole of the famous Pebble Beach, which measures just 106 yards, the wind from the sea can make you choose a pitching wedge on one day, and a five-iron on another.

Once you hit your tee shot, you have to hit your second shot from the fairway or the rough area wherever your tee shot has landed. The first rule of golf is that you have to play the ball as it lies. A lie of the ball is the way the ball is placed. You can have a good lie if the ball is sitting up on the fairway grass, or you can have a bad lie if the ball is embedded in the bunker sand or is hiding in thick rough.

Depending on the length of the hole, your second shot, or for that matter any shot which is hit toward the green, is called the approach shot. Normally, the course designers make the approach to the green tough by placing bunkers in the vicinity of the green. A good approach shot lands on the green, preferrably very close to the pinflag, after carrying all the hazards.

Once you are on the green, you need to use your putter to roll the ball into the hole. This is called putting and is one of the most frustrating parts of the game. While on the green, you should be able to sink the ball into the cup in one putt, or at the most two. The worst feeling in golf is when you need three putts to complete the hole. That’s what the pros call three-putting the hole.

Another commonly used term in golf is Greens in Regulations (GIR) or simply Regulations. By conventional standards, a good golfer should reach the green in two strokes less than the par of the hole. So, if the par for the hole is five and the player is on the green in three strokes, he is said to have reached the Green in Regulation. Similarly the GIR for a par-4 hole is if you reach the green with your second shot. The remaining two shots are kept for putting. Hence a good golfer is one who reaches the greens in regulation and makes two putts for a par. A very good golfer shaves off strokes from the GIR and putts, and hence makes a birdie or an eagle on the hole.

Your own playing skill can be divided in two parts – the long game and the short game. The long game generally involves shots with the driver, woods and from 1- to 7-iron. The important thing in the long game is your accuracy and how you can make the ball behave with your shot. You can either draw the ball (move the ball slightly from right to left in the middle of its flight path), or fade it (move from left to right).

The short game comprise the use of putter, wedges and 8-9 irons. This is mostly near the green area. The general belief among the golfers is that you need to have an excellent short game to make a good score.

Putting is a true art form where you have to judge the speed of the surface, take into account the contours of the green and how much the ball will break and on which side, as well as the direction in which the grass is growing.

Good Pitching (shots with your pitching wedge) and chipping (tender, gentle shot from about 50 yards from the green) help you set a good, short putt. Depending on the state of the green, you may decide to use the lob wedge which sends the ball high and helps you hold it on the green.

Once you have good overall command on your game, you can either make pars (taking the same number of strokes to complete the hole as is the par for that hole), birdies (one less than the par), eagles (two less than the par – mostly on par-5s where you reach the green in two shots and sink your first putt, but also possible on par-4s where you hole your second shot), or even albatross (three less than the par or when you hole your second shot on a par-5 or make a hole-in-one on a par-4 which is very rare). But if you are not very good, you can end up making bogies (one over the par), double bogey (two over the par), triple bogey and so on.

At the end of 18 holes, you total up your score and that is your gross score for the round. If you have taken 80 strokes to complete a par-72 course, you have effectively played an eight-over par round. But if you take 66 strokes to complete the round, then you need to be in the company of Tiger Woods for playing a sub-par round of six-under 66.

Checklist for Beginners

Anyone descending on a golf course in India will be surrounded by a fairly rowdy bunch of caddies all ‘wannabe golf teachers’. However, they would be of no help if you really want to become a good golfer. Here is a simple check-list of things to do when you are just about to start the game.

  • Find out who are the genuine, ratified golf teachers of the club and insist on booking your first series of lessons with him.
  • Check and count your clubs and balls before your caddy struts off with your bag.
  • Mark, preferably with a permanent marker pen, your initials on your golf balls.
  • When you hit a stray shot, wait till your fore-caddy finds and picks up the wayward ball before hitting another one.
  • Once you are done, repeat the equipment and ball checking procedure and take personal interest in returning your clubs to the trunk of your car.

In your first few lessons, strive to achieve the following:

  1. An athletic set up
  2. A fundamentally sound grip
  3. A consistent set-up routine
  4. Consistent ball position for all your clubs
  5. Conscious, careful and correct alignment
  6. Once successful, suddenly the usual refrain that ‘Golf is a set of awkward contortions meant to produce a graceful result’, will change. You will have a correct pivot motion, which will become the life blood of your very athletic action.

It would be better if you go to a driving range first instead of becoming the unofficial gardener of your golf club. Anyway, it is not good for your ego to see others hitting perfectly legitimate shots, while you hit one wormburner after the other. In the driving range, at least there will be more players of your kind of abilities.

In the beginning, all you need is a 5-, 7- and 9-iron, a few practise balls and lots of patience. Get the ball consistently in the air and then graduate to the full set.

It is advisable to buy a new set rather than go for a second hand one. Primarily because you can now get new sets for as less as Rs 16,000 in India, but more importantly because a new set will give you that much more motivation to justify the expense. Also, there is good enough chance that the second hand set may have serious defects which an untrained eye will never be able to catch.

Of course, keep two things ingrained in your mind: whatever happens, keep your head down and eyes on the spot where the ball was placed for at least five seconds after you finish your shot. Never be too anxious to see the result of your shot. That is the one cardinal mistake of golf which you should never commit.

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