What to know how to immediately make a newcomer hate golf? Do what my grandparents did when I was 12.
With the best intentions, they snuck me onto the snooty, private course that adjoined their backyard, and (with no previous instruction) shooed me along, flubbing and hitting grounders as they warned that a group of members was about to catch up with us.
Everything about the experience was traumatic. It took me three decades to recover and try to catch the golf bug again.
So, what changed?
It started with friends giving me good advice: Do some preparation before you take up that client’s invitation to play a round of business golf. So, I got professional instruction and put in the time on the range and the practice green before I hit the course—with a playing lesson from the patient pro, not anxious relatives.
My experienced friends kept up the encouragement. They made tee times to play with me during off-hours, so I felt less pressure. They gave me multiple mulligans off the tee; the even invited me to play on scramble teams where my duffs didn’t count and my occasional good putt did.
You can be that friend who helps a newcomer get into golf. You can even do it in a way that does you some good as well as her.
Here are some suggestions:
Teach what’s hard to learn from books.
Connect your friend with a pro to learn how to swing. Trying to teach someone to drive is a relationship-breaker. Instead, you can be a huge help with other parts of the game that intimidate newcomers. “Soft stuff” like etiquette, rules, and pace of play can be hard on novices.
Show her where to park the cart by the green, so you can get out of the way of the group behind and off to the next hole efficiently. Demonstrate how to mark a ball on the green and stay out of other players’ putting lines. Explain what honors are but advocate ready golf. And don’t be condescending when you instruct. Most of this soft stuff isn’t self-evident to new golfers.
Play nine and dine.
The worst thing you can do with a newcomer is to play your regular game. Both you and she will be miserable as she tries to slog through 18 holes on a Saturday morning.
Get away from primetime; go out at the end of the day, hack around casually for a couple hours, then go in for beer and burgers, or Chardonnay and salads. Half the fun of league night happens after you play, right?
Hone in on the range.
Your newbie needs to practice. Know what? So do you. Most golfers I know would rather play than go to the range or the practice green, and this is why they tend to get stuck at whatever (usually unsatisfactory) level they’re at.
You and she can play golf games on the range and green as well as on the course. Don’t just hit aimlessly; have her pick a target or set a goal. Who can sink the highest number of putts at one-foot intervals starting two feet from the hole? Your newcomer can compete with you . . . and maybe sometimes beat you!
Play par 3 courses.
Ideally, your newcomer will spend her first season mostly on short courses. When you’re hitting a lot of grounders, it’s less frustrating to get to a green 120 yards away than one that’s 300. My LPGA Amateur Golf Association chapter runs several leagues for beginners on par-3 courses, and I spent two years in them before I moved up to a league at a full-size course.
So take your newbie to so-called executive courses. For you as a mentor, self-interested game improvement applies here, too. Honing your shots from 120 yards will knowck more strokes off your score than beating out drives on the range.
Don’t keep score or rules.
Learning the rules is an important part of golf . . . eventually. If you’re newcomer’s drive dribbles off the tee, let her re-tee and hit again. If she duffs yet again, have her join you at your (presumably well-hit) ball to take her next shot and let her tee up her ball on the fairway.
Don’t make her hit out of the bunkers; let her use the hand wedge. If she loses her ball, don’t make her go back; let her drop near where it disappeared.
When she dunks a ball in the pond, it’s a good opportunity to teach her where and how to take a drop; but don’t count the penalty stroke. For that matter, don’t count anything but the strokes on her good holes.
There are reasonably avid golfers who play this way all the time. I’ve not seen the golf gods strike them with lightning bolts for kicking a ball out of the rough. As long as these casual types aren’t posting a score for handicap purposes, they’re not cheating in my book. Let them enjoy the game as they prefer to play it.
For the experienced golfer, putting time into a newcomer yeilds rewards of all sorts. You’re helping the game, whcih constantly needs new participants. You’re helping your friend discover a unique mental and physical challenge she can enjoy for a lifetime. And you’re helping yourself, not just with an improved game, but also the biggest prize of all—another person to play with!