Golf Course Management

Once you learn course management you will soon be doing it without youself realizing it. You will really get into the fun parts of golf and your enjoyment will be increased.

There are usually three points to your managing rather than having the course manage you.

  1. You need to study the course, dampness slows your ball down while dry fairways will have that ball go another 20 yard. The speed at which your ball lands and moves should always be taken into consideration. The wind can play havoc with anyone's game. Pay attention to wind direction, you may have to club up when the wind is in your face and do the opposite with at your back. Cross winds can be very frustrating, keep the ball lower than usual so the wind will have less influence on the direction (left or right) of the ball.
  2. Develop a game plan. The hardest thing to do is to follow the game plan and not be tempted to whack the ball as hard as you can! I call it having the ball in the hole before you even take your back swing. It is always good to visualize, but be careful of throwing yourself off balance and missing your tempo and your weight shift. This isn't easy when playing a new course, but if you are lucky enough to have the holes pictured on the score card you can usually plan each hole as you approach it.
  3. You will need to know your game and your strengths and weaknesses. Know how long you hit a ball with any given club. Pay attention to your targets, when you are the tee box you usually won't be aiming at the pin if you only drive the ball 150 yards and the pin is out 300. Find the target you know you can hit that would set up your next shot for the green. Make it a part of your routine to stand behind your ball and pick out two targets one at a distance and one nearer object on your target line, and use the close up point as your reference when you address the ball. It is almost if not identical to lining up a putt.

Make sure you look at where the trouble is on the hole you are on. You can do this as your playing partners are playing then you won't be delaying play.

You have done this a hundred times: When there is trouble, such as trees or water, on one side of a hole, you will tee up as far away from the trouble as possible. The mistake here is, you tend to crowd yourself and miss the tee shot right into the trouble you were trying to avoid.

Instead, tee the ball up near the tee marker closest to the trouble. Choose a spot on the fairway, away from the trees or water, where you want to land your ball. You will give yourself a better angle and will have more room to hit the fairway, even on missed shots.

Before you play any shot, pick out where you want your ball to land. You may not make it every single time, but eventually you will hit your target more often than not.


You don't want buy into the hype of the latest club on the market boasting of the best in club technology. Keep it as simple as you can and know your own clubs first. When you know your own strengths and weaknesses you may consider custom golf clubs which you know you can depend on time and time again.

Very few golfers know what to carry in their bags. You know what brand and model you have, and you know what the club is called by the number on the bottom of it, but wouldn't you like to know what loft and length your 9-iron is and what distance YOU get with it, for example. How well do you really know your driver, or hybrids, or wedge distances?

The first thing you need to do is go to the driving range. You need a driving range that has yardage markers so you can determine the distance you get for each club.

You will begin with your wedges and move up to your 9 iron and up through your irons. You hit your woods and driver last. You must hit each club about 20-30 times and record the distances in a journal. Your record should show each club is around to be a variance of about a 10-15 yard area. This will give you a good idea of the average distance for each club. You will also do this for each club's half swing and three quarter swing.

Go out and get some practice rounds in, while improving your game. Knowing the distances you hit for each golf club you carry, will dramatically improve your golf game.


Each golf club's clubhead will be tilted back at a different angle. That is the LOFT ANGLE. Club designers make each of the clubs hit the ball a different distance by making each club with a different degree of loft angle on its face. The higher degree of loft, the higher and shorter you hit the ball. The lower the degree of loft, the lower and farther you hit the ball, AND the more difficult it will be to hit the ball up into the air.

The shaft controls the weight of the clubs more than any other part of the club. If you get clubs that are too heavy and flex inappropriate for your swing speed, it will take you longer to hit the ball well enough to have fun.

You must know the speed of your swing because shafts are made in different degrees of stiffness, which is called the FLEX. When selecting the flex of the shafts, make the golf shop measure your swing speed and recommend your flex based on that swing speed, not just on your physical strength.

To swing properly and to make the game easier to play, your grips should be fitted to the size of your hands. All of the clubs sold in the golf store are made with one grip size for men and one grip size for women. If you know your hands are larger than most other men or women, do yourself a favor and be fitted with an oversize grip to match your hand size. You'll hit the ball better if you do.

There needs to be a myth about club length dispelled, "The taller you are, the longer your clubs should be".

The primary factor to take into account when judging how long your clubs should be is the length of your arms. It is important to take arm length into account when deciding which clubs to buy.

Standard length clubs will suit the majority of players, but it is something you need to be aware of.

Standard Golf Club Loft Angle Chart

Club................. Loft Angle Range

  • Driver.................. 8 - 13 Degrees
  • 2 Wood.............. 12 - 15 Degrees
  • 3 Wood.............. 12 - 17 Degrees
  • 4 Wood.............. 15 - 19 Degrees
  • 5 Wood.............. 20 - 23 Degrees
  • 6 Wood.............. 22 - 25 Degrees
  • 7 Wood.............. 25 - 28 Degrees
  • 1 Iron.............. 15 - 18 Degrees
  • 2 Iron.............. 18 - 20 Degrees
  • 3 Iron.............. 21 - 24 Degrees
  • 4 Iron.............. 25 - 28 Degrees
  • 5 Iron.............. 28 - 32 Degrees
  • 6 Iron.............. 32 - 36 Degrees
  • 7 Iron.............. 36 - 40 Degrees
  • 8 Iron.............. 40 - 44 Degrees
  • 9 Iron.............. 45 - 48 Degrees
  • Pitching Wedge.............. 47 - 53 Degrees
  • Gap Wedge................... 50 - 54 Degrees
  • Sand Wedge.................. 54 - 58 Degrees
  • Lob Wedge................... 58 - 62 Degrees


Remember your handicap. I have seen so many players have an adversity to a golf handicap, but have no problem being spotted pins in bowling. Too many golfers have this self defeating attitude of having to shoot par when they have a handicap of 22 or more. Handicaps are calculated for a reason, they are to equalize abilities. It is a wonderful feeling when your handicap starts to come down, but then having to maintain it or shoot better is challenging, in and of itself. Using the knowledge of how many strokes you are allowed on a hole helps take the pressure off. When we are relieved of the pressure to shoot par, we will be amazed at how many pars or birdies we will start to have.

A simple way to know what holes get what strokes can be very easy. You will have to know your handicap. Okay, let us say you are a 22 handicap, there are 18 holes, you get one stroke ever hole. There are still 4 strokes left to your advantage, so you look on the score card and see that the holes are also handicapped from most difficult to the easiest one to make a par. The holes are handicapped with 1 being the most difficult to 18 being the easiest. You will get an extra stroke on the first 4 most difficult holes, giving you 2 strokes to make mistakes on them, all the rest you get one stroke. That should clarify the mystery behind handicaps.


We need to play the course smartly, regardless of our level of play. We really do need to get those ego under control if we are going to enjoy this silly, crazy, mystical game of golf.

The importance of staying out of trouble is that you save yourself 2 strokes, the penalty and the one that got you there. 2 strokes you didn't need, and that is good course management. When one stroke will keep you out of trouble, it never hurts to make a bogey, instead of that triple with those 2 extra strokes. I used to be a bit of a daredevil, and my game suffered from all those extra 2 strokes. I learned to lay up if I had to, and not try to play pin-ball among the trees. Trying to shoot through a 2 foot gap in the woods can cause more than just 2 strokes, that little smack against the tree trunk can cost me another 2/3 strokes. It is better to take an unplayable and get a better position than stay in the woods for more strokes.

Whether your course is wet or dry, it is windy or calm, good golf course management is important and bad golf course management can chalk up useless strokes to any golfers round. Playing your game based on the weather and course conditions is important for anyone's round. Slow down and play wise. You will build confidence with every great shot you make.


Question: "should you go for the green when facing a tough approach?"

Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez gives this course management answer:

When you are facing an approach shot with a hazard guarding the green, many factors figure into deciding whether to go for it or lay up. Wind, distance and lie are key considerations-and the last one is crucial if your ball is in the rough. A great example of this shot is the approach to the par-5 18th of the Dinah Shore Tournament Course at Mission Hills C.C. in Rancho Mirage, Ca. The hole provides a dramatic finish to the Kraft Nabisco Championship. In fact, I think it's one of the most pressure-filled shots in golf, with the gallery sheering, the water looming, the adrenaline pumping and a major victory possibly on the line.

In 1981, when the event was known at the Colgate-Dinah Shore, I had an easy wedge into the green from the fairway on the last day, and ended up winning with a score of 65. But I've been in the right-hand rough after my second shot, facing a stiff breeze and the pressure of saving par from, say, about 150 yards out. If you are in a similar situation, hitting to a hazard-guarded green, what’s the smart play?


If the conditions are right-little or no wind, a fluffy lie and a shot with a 7-iron or shorter-I’d recommend going for it. But if the wind picked up (it can be fierce at Mission Hills) and I needed more than a 7-iron to get home, I’d reconsider. Shots from the rough tend to come out hot and dive quickly, so using a club with lower loft is risky: Your chances of hitting a shot that will carry the water and stop on the green are greatly diminished. (On the 18th at Mission Hills, there's the added danger of having the ball run off the back of the green into the water.) Now, if you're confident that you can clear the hazard with a 7-iron or 9-wood, go for it. Both can produce high shots with a good chance of stopping on the green.


There's nothing wrong with laying up, especially when you consider the possible alternative of hitting it in the water and taking a penalty stroke. After laying up you can still make par (bogey is okay, too; it’s the double bogeys that hurt) by getting up and down. The goal is to get your ball into position in the fairway that leave you with fourth shot that you know you can hit close to the hole. Club selection is key when laying up-sometimes even a wedge or a 9-iron will suffice. Whatever you do, don't over-club. A 7-iron or 9-wood may work well from the rough, but if you can reach the hazard with either, leave it in the bag. As my dad always told me, if you’re going to lay up short, lay up short. You don’t want to get into more trouble than you're already in.

GFW-Jan/Feb 2003

Question: "should a player cut corners on doglegs?"

Here are Nancy's options on course management:

For me the thrill of golf has always been about the great shot-the satisfaction of going from a challenge despite the risks, and pulling it off. A dogleg creates the classic tug-of-war between your ego and the smart play. The fairway curves sharply to the left or right, tempting big hitters to cut the corner. The risk? Getting lost in the trees, the rough or another tough spot at the bend of the fairway. The reward? A shorter shot into the green--and a better scoring opportunity.

The 366 yard, par 4 fourth hole at DuPont Country Club in Wilmington, Delaware (site of the McDonald's LPGA Championship), doesn't turn as sharply as some of the other holes on the course, but it presents the same tee-shot options that other doglegs do. You'd need to carry your drive 200 plus yards, with a fade, to bend the shot around the corner. Pull it off and a short-iron approach awaits you. But if you overcut the shot and end up in the trees on the right, the danger of shooting a big number increases, just as it does when you try any heroic shot. As a rule, I play the hole conservatively, aiming for the left-center of the fairway, which gives me the optimum approach angle on my second shot. (As my dad used to say, "Always put yourself into position for the next shot.") I've learned that you can't just bomb your driver here--particularly if the breeze is at your back--or you run the risk of running out of fairway on the left. So I usually hit a 3-wood, which best enables me to control the distance and direction of my shot. A 3-wood also effectively makes the fairway wider: I know the shot won't run as much as it would if I were to hit a driver, so I can safely miss to the left. I also tee up my ball in the middle of the tee box, but some players favor the right side, from which the target area--namely, the fairway--looks larger. (On a dogleg left, you’d get the same result by teeing the ball up on the left side of the tee box.)

Remember, the safe shot is the smart play, but you don't always have to play that way. That is the fun of golf. How you approach a shot will depend on the conditions and how you feel that day. The more you practice, the more control you'll have of your game, and the better you’ll know your limits. But don't be afraid to go for it every now and then--so you can also know the thrill of pulling off a great shot.

GFW Mar/Apr 2003

To pull or not to pull, there's a great question.

Should a player pull the flagstick or keep it in when putting or shipping from off the green? Is there any way to determine how one would proceed?

Kathy Whitworth tells us the only time she keeps the stick in is if she can't see the hole from where she lies, such as a blind chip to an upslope into an elevated green. She prefers to take the pin out, because it could keep the ball from going in the hole. You want your chip shot to react like a putt and roll to the hole and (maybe!) even drop in. A lot of players think the pin will help the ball go in, but that's not the case. The flagstick isn't always straight, and that could prevent the ball from dropping from either side. It may stop the ball from going off the green if you have a speedy downhill shot, but that is a rare occurrence.


Shallow water hazards:

Your course has very shallow water hazards. You usually take a drop after hitting in one. Someone has suggested you just hit the ball right out of the water, how is that done?

Kathy Witworth offers this course management tip:

You must make sure that half the ball is above water, or don’t even attempt it. It is going to take a lot of power to get out-once your club hit’s the water it is going to feel like you struck a brick wall. You should look at it as a sand shot. You can’t be trying to hit the ball first, because it is half buried. You must dig deep to get underneath it, and you can’t just stop the club’s motion as you hit the water. Just like a bunker shot, it is the follow through that brings the ball out. If you are a good bunker player you might be able to pull it off, but it is difficult. Harvey Penick used to say, "If you can’t practice it, don’t play it." If you take a drop and keep playing, you are losing just one shot. You might lose 2 or 3 trying to hit a ball out of the water.

Clean and Smart:

Sloppy shots waste shots. Here are some tips for better golf and lowering your score and better course management.

    When we find ourselves in trouble, it is better to play a smart shot rather than trying to be heroic. You can try to use your driver from beneath overhanging tree branches. To do this swing it waist high to waist high. The shot keeps the ball low and provides the run you’ll need to get it back in the fairway. Play the ball to the center or back of your stance. Grip down on the club, and be sure your feet are firmly planted before you make your shot.
    Don’t assume the tee markers are lined up correctly, pointing the way straight down the middle of the fairway. Often more than not they may steer you right into trouble. Disregarding which way the markers are pointing, stand behind the ball to determine your target line, and set up to your shot. Watch that you do not tee up in front of the markers (2 stroke penalty).
    It isn’t necessary to always go for the green when you have a tricky shot. Downhill lies near a water hazard can be rather difficult. Try chipping the ball back into the fairway (away from the green) or to the closest flat area of grass. Putting yourself in a better position gives you a chance to get the ball up and down onto the green on your next shot. It may be desirous to sacrifice one stroke to save yourself 3 strokes.
    Whenever you are practicing or playing you need to pay attention to how far you hit each club you have in your bag (allowing for carry and roll). You will give yourself more confidence when hitting any shot, and you will be able to get to the greens more often than not when you know how far you can hit any given club in your bag.
    Pot bunkers can sometimes translate into multiple shots when a simple wedge out on the safe side would do. When you have a difficult lie in a bunker and don’t think you can get up and out, try hitting the safe shot and going out on the lower side. You may be going away from the green but you can save yourself an untold number of strokes by playing it safe.
    You never have to play any course the conventional way. There is always more than one way to the green. It is up to you to know your strengths and limitations on how to get there. When you are uncomfortable shooting over water or other obstacles, find another path for your ball. You can go around a hazard. Go for the safe part of the green (lots of green to work with).
    Try using the logo or trademark on your ball to line up your putting line. Practice lining up, try to use a striped range ball, but then switch to your usual golf ball. Lining up each putt should become automatic in time. Once you have your line and set the ball to make your stroke focus on your distance control. SPEED AND DISTANCE-DISTANCE AND SPEED


You cannot control the direction or distance of a chip if you do not set-up properly. You have to position the ball back in your stance, in line with your right toe. To ensure a downward blow through impact, which is the key to solid chipping-lean the shaft forward and shift your weight to your left leg.

Do not scoop the ball at impact, this usually leads to fat or thin shots. To get that solid contact as well as loft, make sure the face of your watch stays ahead of your knuckles through out the chipping motion.


If we can get up and down from 30 to 50 yards, we will be able to shoot in the 80’s.

The standard pitch swing moves from 9 o’clock in the backswing to 3 o’clock in the follow through. If the backswing is longer than the follow through, there will be a deceleration and the ball will be hit fat. Use the same swing for pitch shots of every distance, jut take a club with less loft (a 9-iron or pitching wedge) for longer shots and one with more loft (a sand wedge or lob wedge) for shorter shots.


If the ball is sitting up in a fluffy lie, you have a much easier shot than if the ball is nestled down in the grass.

The more difficult lie and some green to work with try a pitching wedge if you are a beginner. If you are a more advanced player take your sand or lob wedge.

The two key thoughts that will help you hit a solid shot:

  • First, hang on to the club a little tighter, because the grass is going to grab hold of the club head.
  • Second, follow through. The biggest mistake we make is stopping the club head at the ball. Without club head speed we will only chunk the ball a few feet in front of ourselves and not reach the green.

Take a few practice swings to get used to the follow through and keeping that club head speed.

If you don’t have confidence with a shot, don’t try to play it. Your goal is to get onto the green. You are better off letting it go past the pin so you are putting, than leaving it short in the fringe for another tricky shot.

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