How to Analyze a Golf Course to Shoot a Lower Score

If you play a certain golf course frequently, you should know its ins and outs. You should know the best way to maneuver the ball around each hole. That gives you the best chance to shoot a low score because you’ll be choosing the right shot.

On a well-designed hole, your ideal landing spot off the tee won’t be apparent. Find it as you walk down the fairway by stopping at the spot where you would like your tee shot to land and lining it up with the tee on one side and a landmark on the other. Be aware that this spot might mean you wouldn’t tee of with your driver.

On par 3s mark down where your tee shot landed, what club you used, and where the tee markers were that day. After a while, you’ll know what club will get you close to any pin position.

Learn where everything is located.

  • If there’s water, can you reach it from the tee? Same for fairway bunkers?
  • On dogleg holes, how far is it to the corner and how far is it before a straight shot would go through the fairway?
  • Are there holes where one side of the fairway gives you a better look at the green?
  • On each green, where is it OK to miss and where should you avoid a miss at all cost?
  • Which pin locations can you see ahead of time as you make your way around the course?

On the par 5s, find out how far from the green certain landmarks are in the area where your drives typically land. Sprinkler heads usually aren’t marked this far out. (One course I play has sprinkler head about 300 yards from the green on a par 5 labeled Dreamer.) To get the ball into position for your third shot into the green, it’s good to know where you are as you plan your second shot.

Each course has its own personality in the sense that it asks you to hit certain shots that others courses don’t. For example, the typical height of the grass around the green might be closely-mown puttable grass on one course and full-blown rough on another. To play those two courses, you have to know both two shots.

On some courses, you’ll be hitting irons into most of the greens. On others, you’ll be pitching in most of the time. You can, however, play to the distances you like rather than the ones the architect wants you to play from.

Learn how pin positions dictate where you aim your approach shot. It might be easy to get down in two putts from position A, but near impossible from position B. And on another day, with a different pin position, B could be ideal and A could be bad news.

If you’re playing a course for the first time, try to find out as much of this information as you can, so the second time you play it you’re fully informed.

Golf is not only about hitting shots. It’s also about planning your way around the course and choosing the shots that let you execute that plan. The more you know about the courses you play, the more you can attack them and give yourself a chance to shoot a score your skills deserve.

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