Course Management: Tactics to Help Save You Strokes

Course Management - Keiser Golf Graphic

By Bradley Turner, Keiser University College of Golf Director of Online Golf Instruction – MBA, PGA

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to play the Honors Course in Chattanooga, Tennessee. This spectacular Pete Dye-designed layout is ranked #30 in the best golf courses in America. My host was great and provided us with everything we needed to prepare for our first of three rounds of golf. We all warmed up on the practice range, hit some pitch shots in the short game area, and finally tried to adjust to the fast and true greens. Looking out onto the first fairway from the tee box, we were all excited to test our skills on such a fine layout. We have all been in this situation when playing a golf course for the first time. This article will identify some important course management tactics that can help you save a few strokes the next time you tee it up.

Manage Your Expectations

For most golfers standing on the first tee, the emotions and expectations for a good day are often at their peak, especially when playing a great golf course. As the round unfolds, high expectations for a great day of golf can sometimes tumble down into a day of frustration and “what ifs.” I have been on the first tee many times thinking, “Today, I am going to play great.” I would estimate that nine times out of ten, I never played great but rather played to my normal skill level. The few times I have shot some of my very best rounds of golf, I did not know that a great round was about to happen. So, the first step is to keep your emotions in check and expect that your normal golf game is going to show up as you stand on the first tee.

Start with a Plan

Golf is like any other sport; momentum can play a big part in building up a good round. Making a birdie on the first hole does not guarantee you anything other than the fact you are one under par after playing the first hole. An excellent round of golf requires patience to build! It starts with the golf round preparation, which includes a strategic plan that matches your normal game. A hole-by-hole plan can help eliminate poor golf shot decision-making during the round. Plan on a normal day on the golf course, but if the day is going well and your confidence begins to rise, switch to a more aggressive strategy on holes that favor your game and ball flight characteristics. If you are playing well, ride that confidence the rest of the day and have fun.

Sometimes, you may need to adjust your strategy in the opposite direction. There is nothing wrong with switching to a defensive strategy for a series of holes while you assess the state of your game. Remember, everyone can score well when their timing is great, and striking the ball seems easy. With a good strategic plan, an experienced and savvy golfer can still manage a good score even when their ball striking is less than normal.

Decision-Making on the Tee

The middle of the fairway is always a good strategy. However, when you have played a golf course numerous times, you can learn to take advantage of preferred locations in the fairway. But when you are playing a golf course for the first time, it is very difficult to ascertain the right play off the tee by visually assessing your options. Range finders and golf course apps can help you determine the distance to fairway bunkers and hazards, but it still will take a golfer a few trips around the golf course to understand the best strategy off the tee.

Play to the Middle of the Green

This is something you have certainly heard before. But playing to the middle takes mental focus as too many good amateurs like to aim at the flagstick. Knowing you can hit a shot tight to the flag does not mean you should attempt the shot. What is the probability of an acceptable outcome? What is the consequence of a poor strike? Gary Player once said he likes to split the difference between the middle of the green and the flagstick … that is where he wanted to hit the ball. The only time he would take dead aim at a flagstick was with his wedges or when he was in total control of his golf ball. Why is it that many of us attempt to hit the flag when the great Gary Player would not?

Stay Below the Hole – Uphill Putts are Ideal

The general rule of golf course strategy is to keep the ball below the hole on fast greens and avoid hitting approach shots over the green. Most greens are tilted from the back of the green to the front of the green. This helps to keep an approach shot from bounding over the green. Jack Nicklaus believed that hitting the ball 15-20 feet below the flag was just fine. Putting uphill on fast greens allows a player to be a bit more aggressive, while putting downhill puts golfers on the defensive.

Mental Aspects of Course Management

Remember, a great golf course architect can camouflage various aspects of a golf hole. This is designed to challenge a golfer’s mental and strategic skills. No matter how long golfers play the game, a well-designed hole can tempt you into trying something that may not be the right play for your skill set. I am not advocating that you should never try to hit a challenging or risky golf shot. One of the emotionally satisfying aspects of the game is hitting a great golf shot on a difficult hole with plenty of risks associated with it. However, when you do decide to take a chance, you will do yourself good by accepting the results before you hit the shot! If you end up hitting the ball in the water, you can never say to yourself, “I should not have done that.” You evaluated the risk-reward potential and decided to go for it. It is all a part of this challenging, frustrating, and wonderful game of golf.

The Next Time

The next time you get to play a new golf course, start with managing your expectations for the day. There could be hidden hazards, sloping greens, and big pine trees that will swat your ball away from its destination. Strive for the middle of the fairway and the middle of the green. If the greens are very fast, keep your approach shots well below the hole. With these simple strategies, you will increase your chances of posting a good round on the new golf course. Jack and Gary were champions for a reason, and managing the golf course was a big key to their success.

Learn more!

Want more tips? If you want to take your game to the next level, contact our team at Keiser University’s College of Golf & Sport Management today. With our dedication and experience, together, we can elevate your game to new heights. Give us a call today at 888-355-4465.

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