Get Your Game On: Golf Tips for Beginners

Ted Stonehouse, Clovelly Golf Club (Image: Clovelly Golf Club)

Instructor Ted Stonehouse works his magic at Clovelly Golf Club in St. John’s, Newfoundland. (Image: Clovelly Golf Club)

Where to go for lessons, when to buy equipment, a few basic swing thoughts, course etiquette tips and everything else you need to know to get started in the game.

 

Every spring thousands of Canadians take up golf for the challenge, the health benefits, and the opportunity to spend time in gorgeous scenery with friends. These eager newcomers join the more than six million of us who already play the game, making Canada one of the most avid golfing nations per capita in the world.

Golf is mystifying and frustrating, but also joyously addictive once the game has you firmly in its grip. A Sports Illustrated survey revealed that golfers feel they’re healthier, happier and having a lot more fun than other people. In fact, they’re so hooked on the game that 81 per cent said they would pass up sex with a movie star to shoot par.

With that ringing endorsement, let’s get started. The world’s fairways are calling.

 

Lessons Learned

  • Do yourself — and everyone you’ll be playing with — a big favour by taking at least a few lessons when getting started.
  • Lessons will save you months, if not years, of struggle by providing a firm grounding in the basics: grip, posture and swing mechanics.
  • Almost every course has a fully certified Canadian Professional Golfers’ Association (CPGA) teaching pro on staff. Individual lessons generally cost between $50 and $100 an hour. Group lessons are often less expensive.
  • Ask golfing friends for recommendations. You’re looking for a pro with plenty of patience, enthusiasm and an ability to adapt to your needs.
  • Most important, be sure to diligently practice what you’ve learned. Golf quickly becomes more chore than pleasure for novices who don’t experience steady improvement.

 

Taking lessons at the Innisbrook Resort Golf Institute in Florida

Golf lessons give beginners a firm grounding in the basics: Grip, posture and swing mechanics. (Image: Brian Kendall)

Fully Equipped

Winston Churchill described golf as “a silly game played with weapons singularly ill-suited to the purpose.”

In truth, modern clubs and balls have advanced to the point where they can help even duffers hit it both longer and straighter. But hold off for a while before spending serious money on new clubs. What if you decide golf isn’t the game for you? Instead, borrow clubs from a friend or buy an inexpensive used set to use during your initial lessons.

You’ll know it’s time to plunk down for new clubs once you’re swinging in balance and hitting mostly solid shots. Even then exercise restraint. While a custom-fitted set of clubs by a top manufacturer might sell for thousands of dollars, a perfectly decent set of clubs can often be purchased on sale for $500 or less.

As always, seek out your pro for advice. By now he’ll have a good idea of your playing potential and which clubs are best suited to your game.

 

Swing Thoughts

We’ll leave it to your teaching pro to explain the fundamentals of the swing. But a key thought for golfers of every level is to keep it simple and in balance.

Sweet-swinging Canadian golf legend George Knudson, who won eight times on the PGA Tour, believed that most golfers get so bound up in mechanics they end up forcing the swing to happen rather than simply letting it happen. A relaxed, Zen-like state of mind is a key component of Knudson’s philosophy. Knudson taught that if a golfer starts in a balanced position and finishes his swing still in balance, then not a whole lot can go wrong in between.

Even simpler is the swing philosophy of our greatest amateur golfer, Marlene Stewart Streit, Canada’s only member of the World Golf Hall of Fame. “Smoothness, rhythm and balance. That’s all you need,” Streit says. “If I ever write an instruction book, it will say the same thing on every page: ‘Smoothness, rhythm and balance.’”

 

Five Golden Rules of Course Etiquette

Nothing annoys experienced golfers more than when a novice talks during their backswing or fails to maintain the pace of play. Though you may be a beginner, there’s no reason why you can’t comport yourself like a seasoned pro.

  1. Avoid slow play. Always be ready to hit the ball when it’s your turn. Limit yourself to one or two practice swings. Keep up with the group in front of you. And allow faster golfers to play through.
  2. Silence is golden. Never talk when a partner is preparing to swing. Never curse out loud after a bad shot. And please turn off your cell phone!
  3. Help maintain the course. Always fix ball marks on greens, rake bunkers, and replace fairway divots. It’s the responsibility of every golfer to leave the course in the same — or even better — shape than he found it.
  4. Dress properly. Avoid short-shorts, T-shirts, blue jeans and halter-tops. And, for pity’s sake, no golf caps worn backwards!
  5. Pick your ball up. When you’ve dribbled one off the tee, or failed to get out of a bunker after two or three attempts, pick up your ball and move on. You’re still too inexperienced to worry about posting a score. Anyway, there’s always the next hole.

 

Health Benefits of Golf

How can you not love a game that lets you burn calories while having fun in the great Canadian outdoors?

Research shows that playing four hours of golf while walking a course is comparable to a 45-minute fitness class. And a golfer who walks 36 holes a week is burning nearly 3,000 calories.

Golf is also known to help lower harmful cholesterol levels, speed up your metabolism, improve bone health, reduce stress and even help ward off Alzheimer’s Disease by stimulating blood circulation and improving neural pathway connections in older players.

Having trouble sleeping? Tiring yourself out while playing golf will help you fall asleep faster and remain in a deep sleep longer.

But perhaps the biggest boon of taking up golf will come from all the new friends you make. Social intercourse is known to increase endorphins, which in turn improves an individual’s mental outlook and feeling of well-being.

 

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