The new golfer obviously was nervous. Playing the bucket-list, Alabama course, Kiva Dunes, with two experienced golfers on a media tour, she’d declare, “I’ll pick up,” any time she chunked a shot or hit one into a hazard.
Her companions, who were themselves observing the Rules of Golf, kept encouraging her to hit another one, not worry about her score, just keep up with the group in front. They praised her athletic swing, occasionally suggested small adjustments, and, only when asked, shared information about the rules.
She gradually relaxed. By the time she drained her final putt on 18, delight had replaced stress, and she headed for the 19th hole with a big smile. That look on her face left her companions with a memory much more gratifying than any number on their own scorecards.
I can tell you that because I was one of those lucky companions. Of course, I made sacrifices in my game. I spent less time on my shots, more on the new golfer’s. I putted even when everyone wasn’t quiet and still, and I rushed sometimes so that we could stay in position. But if you’ve played long enough to love the game, inspiring enthusiasm in a newbie matters more in the long run than your 2,408th round of golf – especially if she’s your daughter, sister, BFF, or anyone with whom you’d like to spend more time.
So climb onto the Newbie Welcome Wagon!
To prepare for the day, you can review the PGA of America’s 33 “It’s Okay” Rules and, for less raw newbies, Golf Channel’s seven “Relaxed Rules”. Or, simply follow along with these anti-rules, keywords, and radical ideas.
You may be paired with a newbie anywhere. I was shocked to learn from a Pebble Beach caddie that some of her clients at this renowned destination course are first-time golfers playing the course for business or charity. Imagine springing for a $525 green fee only to find you’re paired with what some may describe as “a hacker.” Would you be disappointed and try to keep your distance? You may want to adjust your attitude so that you can enjoy yourself while also encouraging a newbie, anytime and anyplace.
Replace “no, you can’t do that” with key phrases such as “put that back in the fairway,” “pick that up,” and “let’s just play from the 150-yard barber pole.” Many of us play in such strictly-by-the-rules clubs that we think we cannot play any other way. But think of it like this: You have one set of clothes for work and another you wear for fun. Why not have one golf game for league and another for recreation?
You, the more experienced player, do not always have to play by the Rules of Golf. Think of the golf course as your canvas and draw up new games with some of the anti-rules listed here. How about getting another experienced friend to join you and the new golfer for a scramble, where you all play from the site of the best ball? Or just play every hole from the 150-yard marker? Or, just for today, count only putts?
Do not keep the new golfer’s score or allow her to do so, unless, maybe, she plans to save the card and compare it to her 100th round. You can keep your score while not keeping hers, but let her know that this is perfectly okay with you, because women new to the game worry about ruining the day for others.
Tee the ball up until it reaches the green. Instructors recommend that even advanced students working on their swings use tees on a grass range, to give themselves perfect lies. New golfers should do this everywhere. She does not need to learn to hit out of divots yet.
Any putt within your putter’s length of the hole is automatically good. Consider that diameter around the hole the “circle of friendship” for the day.
Players get one try to hit out of bunkers. Then they must throw the ball out. (Not always as easy as it sounds.)
In keeping with Pocket, everyone gets a tee shot and five more swings before they can pick up their ball and carry it to the green.
Mulligan. In my first 18 played with a couple of patient dear friends, I called these “do-overs.” There were many that day, and I learned the golf term. Teach your friend to announce “Mulligan” and quickly reload when she wants to try a shot again, so that play keeps moving without someone getting nailed by the retry.
Gimme. I play frequent twilight practice rounds with groups of men, and, trust me, they do not labor over 3-foot putts the way that my female friends do. The men do not even say to each other, “That’s good.” They just swat them away and move on. Make frequent use of the term with newbies, and occasionally take one yourself so they do not feel like aliens. You can still post your score if you pick up a putt you probably would have made.
Pocket. Tell the new golfer that when she is lagging behind, particularly on a long hole, she should pocket her ball until she gets to the green. There, she can putt from just inside whichever ball is farthest from the hole. That way, she gets a chance to putt, gets a read, and everybody gets moving.
Finally, I think the hardest impulse to resist when playing with a new golfer is that urge to help. It’s only human, when we know a little more, to want to give advice and come to the rescue of one who is struggling. Do that in golf, and pretty soon the newbie’s eyes start rolling around in her head. This is one time when no information might be better than too much information. So give her maybe one in every 10 tips that come to your mind, all the while reminding her:
We were all new once.