Playing golf with strangers is common and can yield a very different experience every time you tee it up. Some of my favorite golf memories were shared with complete strangers, many of which I will likely never see again. At the same time, some of my most unforgettable golf memories were a result of being paired with people that negatively impacted my experience.
While these instances are rare, we can all agree that playing with friends and family provides a much more comfortable and enjoyable experience for everyone involved. You know what jokes you can crack around each other, how to provide praise and criticism and better enjoy each other’s company.
Maybe you’re in the same boat as me, an avid golfer with friends who don’t even know that a typical round of golf is played over 18 holes. So, how can you convince your friends to hit the links with you?
First and foremost, golf is about having fun. A lot of people are nervous to pick up golf for fear of being mocked, and the best initial exposure should be in a welcoming environment for all skill levels to hack away – at your local driving range.
Your friends may be thinking: What if I’m not accepted? Isn’t golf an old-fashioned, slow-paced, preppy gentleman’s game, with a dress code and etiquette requirement?
There is absolutely no pressure or judgment at the driving range. Your friends will quickly notice this casual setting is filled with golfers of all shapes and sizes. Whether they’re the aspiring Tour pro going through their warm-up routine, the Weekend Warrior who’s preparing to do battle against Mother Nature and inner demons, or first timers looking to have some laughs, the range is a sanctuary for all golfers.
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Advice: Remember, the primary goal of this first step is to make sure your friends have a good time and want to come back again, so first and foremost have fun. Don’t go overboard with addressing every minute detail of their swing mechanics. Let them try it out on their own for a bit, then maybe throw a few pointers their way so they can have a sense of progress and want to come back for more. When you’re finished, make plans to come back another time.
Players of all skill levels should consider taking lessons to hone their skills and improve their game and practice routines. The best golfers in the world frequently work with swing instructors and coaches, so it should be no different for the rest of us.
First-timers are especially encouraged to take lessons, as just one session will help them learn proper mechanics and form, which ultimately translates to improvement and a lot more fun playing golf.
Advice: One of the biggest factors in benefiting from lessons is finding the right instructor. According to the Southern California Section of the PGA of America, there are over 1,700 Golf Professionals in Southern California alone, which is both helpful and intimidating. Use your golf knowledge and tap into your network to help your friends find instructors that have experience working with new golfers or clinics designed for beginners.
Once they start to develop some confidence in their ability, you’ll want to introduce them to a more genuine golf experience than just the driving range, but they aren’t quite ready to take on a full-length course.
Par 3 courses are a great way to invite your friends to play golf. For beginners, shorter holes mean less frustration. With less yardage to worry about, players of all skill levels will be using short irons and wedges repeatedly. Not only are these clubs easier to hit for newer golfers, but the additional repetitions will also boost confidence in swinging these clubs and translate to a more enjoyable experience.
While they may not appear on many lists of top courses in the country, most golfers will tell you the local pitch-n-putt where they learned to play has a special place in their heart. My first exposure to golf was at this short and straight par 3 track in upstate New York. The scorecard doesn’t reveal anything that would stand out, but every time we go back east to visit family, we stop by to appreciate where I first picked up a club and fell in love with the game. There’s just something magical about being back there, all these years later, and I would expect most golfers to have a similar experience with their local par 3 course.
In a recent Golf Digest interview, PGA Tour Pro and SoCal native Max Homa mentioned that he would trade his course record at the prestigious The Los Angeles Country Club for a course record at Vista Valencia’s par 3 course, “Chica.” These are just a couple of examples that show the impact and aura that par 3 courses possess, in their own unique way to every golfer.
Advice: The on-course experience is a brand new world compared to the driving range. Once again, the main goal here is to create a fun environment where they want to return. Don’t keep score (unless they really want to), have them pick up the ball if they’re struggling on a hole, and introduce them to some of the basic etiquette while on the course. Most importantly, celebrate those moments that create those special, serotonin-inducing feelings that keep you coming back round after round.
In the Spring 2022 edition of FORE Magazine, Tina Mickelson emphasized the benefits of playing nine holes. “A quick round in the late afternoon before heading in for some wine and appetizers is one of the best ways to spend your day when you don’t have enough time (or sunlight) for 18. It’s also a great way to introduce beginners or intimidated players to the game in a reduced-pressure environment.”
While your friends will notice a step-up in difficulty compared to a par 3 course, with longer holes and more confidence in their bag required to navigate the course, they will also be preparing themselves for what it takes to conquer 18 holes. Playing nine holes with friends is a much more inviting approach, and it’s easier to fit it into our busy work schedules and lives.
Advice: For many, this will feel like they’re finally experiencing “real” golf. Embrace it: this is a good opportunity to start introducing some strategies like club selection or reading a green. There will likely be some challenges that you won’t see on a par 3 course, so help them navigate through the round.
Executive courses provide a fun an inviting experience for players of all skill levels to play a full-length, 18-hole round of golf without dreading a 5-hour round and needing to bomb your driver 250 yards to have a chance at making par. Executive courses also contribute to great short game practice, which benefits players of all skill levels. The jump from nine holes to 18 holes can seem daunting, which is why executive courses serve as a stepping-stone to playing a full-length course.
I personally love to play at my local executive course, because I know the focus will be more on fun and enjoying my friends’ company than mentally grinding out every approach shot and 5-footer I have left to save bogey.
Advice: Jumping from 9 to 18 holes can feel like a grind, even on an executive course. Prep accordingly and bring plenty of snacks and drinks, consider grabbing a bite to eat at the turn, and encourage them to drop a ball near yours or pick up if they’re feeling tired.
With a fresh sleeve of balls, your favorite playlist and three buddies to tee it up with, it’s time to embark on an 18-hole round of golf at a par 72 course. This will test players of all skill levels, presenting new challenges every round. Whether it’s the best round of their lives, or one to forget, one thing’s for certain: golf is a game that will keep them coming back for more, just to do it a little bit better the next time.
It’s those miraculous sand-saves and long approach shots over water into a small green guarded by bunkers that make us all return customers, and the memories and experiences shared with friends add to the perks of this great game.
Advice: Play by the Rules of Golf and keep their actual score. Up to this point, you may have been giving your friends mulligans and better lies so they can have a more enjoyable experience. They’ve come a long way from that first time at the driving range, and it’s time to take a more serious approach to their game. Also, while it may seem a bit cruel at first when you jot down that final score but when your friend starts to see their scores drastically decrease over a relatively short period of time, they’ll thank you.
A service provided by the USGA, the World Handicap System (WHS) allows golfers of all skill levels to compete against one another on an equal playing field. This is great news for your friends, as they can challenge you, who has been playing much longer and introduced them to the game, to a fair match.
Having a Handicap Index will allow your friends to track their progress and play competitively. By posting scores, they will have a more accurate reflection of their current skill level, with the ability to view past rounds and see where they have improved. They can also track specific stats, such as fairways hit in regulation, greens hit in regulation, and how many total putts they made during a round. The ultimate goal is to lower your current Handicap Index, as this reflects a better golf game and bragging rights with your friends.
If you and your friends want to compete against each other, but the difference in your playing abilities is too large to play straight-up, this is where having a handicap comes into play. Say you are a 3 handicap, and your friends are all 18 handicaps. You will only receive a stroke on the 3 most difficult holes according to the “Handicap” or “Stroke Index” section on the scorecard, where your friends will receive one stroke on every hole. This allows for a more structured, competitive environment for all involved, and encourages your friends to participate in tournaments and matches, even though their skill level is not up to par with you yet.
Advice: As I mentioned in the previous section, one of the greatest thrills in golf is to have things start to click and to see your game improving. Keeping a Handicap Index is the easiest way of tracking progress even when the scores don’t reflect it as your friends take on more challenging courses. Shoot them this link and they can get started for free for 60 days.
Your friends will love their experience of joining a club. They will be immediately welcomed into a new golfing community, with like-minded individuals that love to share memories and fun experiences around the game, and more involvement in the Southern California golf scene. When they join an SCGA Member Club, it will open the door to golfing opportunities that your friends may have never imagined.
Advice: It’s been a long journey from that first time they went to the driving range with you, so how do you make sure your friends will make the effort worth and keep going? As you’ve probably already learned, it’s a lot easier to make an excuse not to play golf if you don’t have someone inviting you to play. If you’ve already found your golf community, make sure to welcome your friends in. If not, find one of the hundreds of communities in SoCal that match what you and your friends are looking for, or start your own.