Most golfers can hit the ball reasonably straight, chip and putt and escape from bunkers – though not always at the same time.
However a skill lacking in most club handicap players is the ability to plot their way round a course making the most of their limited skills.
It’s worth three or four strokes a round to be able to play the right shot at the right time, so here’s a few tips on the dark art of course management.
Know your yardages, use a course planner
How far do you hit each club in your bag – apart from your driver?
I say discard the driver because its yardages are tainted by an adrenalin rush – most of us couldn’t be sure how far we strike it consistently to within 50 yards.
But when playing a new course or even one with which you are vaguely, it’s important to know within five or ten yards, how far you consistently hit each club in your bag.
Linking this information to a course planner (cost £2-£4) will help you plot your way to a successful score.
Measurements from the tee to certain landmarks on the hole and from those landmarks and hazards to the middle or front of the green are usually identified. It’s then merely case of joining the dots.
Play for position on par-5s and long par-4s
At anything from 450 to around 600 yards, par-5s are out of reach to most mere mortals, so why risk a ‘career second shot’ to try to reach the green, merely for bragging rights in the bar?
Play the percentages. From a good drive, a 4- or 5-iron into prime position will usually be rewarded with a straight forward 9-iron or wedge approach into the heart of the green. Chances are too that the stroke index is low so you may be facing too putts for a nett birdie.
Long par-4s are typically a low stroke index on the card, too, so if they are out of reach, rather than risking ‘a wide’ into trouble, lay back to an ideal distance for your pitch and two-putt for nett par.
Take more club on par-3s
Most of the trouble around short holes is found at the front or the sides – waiting to catch the miss-hit, the pull or the slice under pressure.
Taking one more club for the distance identified on the card will help ease the tension and enable you to strike the ball sweetly to the back of the green.
And with fewer pitch marks at the back, the grass will be smoother to accept your approach putt.
Take your punishment
How many of us has a GCSE or an ‘’A’ level in hindsight? Most of us, if we’re honest.
So why bore people in the bar with ‘if-only’ stories? They’re not interested, believe me. You only have to look for the tell-tale signs of yawn stifling.
When faced with a shot demanding a miracle escape through a tiny gap in the trees or a penalty drop – take the latter. Take your punishment and get back into play. Often you’ll be amazed how good it makes you feel if you can salvage something from what previously looked a lost cause.
Use local knowledge. Get a pro to mark your card
How many of us, when we visit a new course, ask for advice from the guy who charges us our green fee? Less than one per-cent I’d imagine.
Chances are you’ll be speaking to one of the pro’s assistants, who plays the course everyday of his or her life. There’s nothing they don’t know.
So, if they’re not too busy, ask them to ‘mark your card’ – trouble to avoid, speed of greens, misleading slopes, when to take an iron off the tee. Takes a few seconds but could be worth at least two or three shots over your playing partners.