How to Play Golf


For the beginner, nothing seems as hard or complex as the game of Golf. First there is the equipment: go into any golf shop and you'll be amazed at the range and complexity of what's on offer. But fear not. Most of the stuff is unnecessary, and all that you need to get started are some balls, a few clubs (for hitting the ball into the air), a putter (for gently tapping the ball along the ground), and something to carry it all in, which is called a "bag". For the time being, you can forget the wing tip shoes, the plus fours and the brightly coloured pull-over. (Actually, you can also forget the clubs and bag, since these can be hired; all you really need is balls.)

Object of the Game

Most beginners, and many experienced players, are under the mistaken impression that the object of the game is to hit the ball as hard and as far as possible. This is quite false. The object is quite simple, and should be remembered and repeated before every shot: the object of the game is to get the ball into the hole in the smallest number of strokes (hits).

(Actually, the real object of the game is to enjoy yourself, but you'll soon forget that!)

The Three Principles of Play

Herewith then, my three principles of play, which are the essence of the game, and all you, as a beginner, need to know. (Trust me - I've been a beginner for years):

With each shot:

  1. Hit the ball. Each stroke or swing at the ball is counted in your score, so it is essential that when you swing at the ball, you hit it. Don't worry about your swing or your grip or how you are standing: the most important thing is that you hit the ball.
  2. Hit the ball straight. Experts can do amazing things, like fading a ball around trees. But you are a beginner, so just try to hit the ball straight. Aim at the hole. If you can't see the hole, aim at the point farthest down the fairway that you can see.
  3. Hit the ball closer to the hole than it is now. See Object of the Game. The best way to get the ball into the hole in the least number of strokes is to get the ball closer to it with each shot. This can be surprisingly hard, and will be your main challenge from now until you die.


Golf has its own etiquette, which is largely directed at not inflicting injury to others or damage to the course. This can be briefly summarised as follows:
  • Player furthest from the hole plays next. This is so as to avoid braining a player ahead of you with your next shot.
  • Players wait for the group ahead to get clear before playing their shot — for the same reason as above.
  • If you do hit a ball and find it heading towards another player, you should shout "Four". Nobody knows why. Possibly it is short for "For gods sake duck!" Don't be embarrassed to shout. Killing someone is much more embarrassing.
  • Don't wear large boots, or anything likely to dent the greens. Once you've tried to putt a few times, you'll understand.
There is more, but mostly it boils down to this: be polite and respect the rights of others. Remember, it is a social game.


Finally, here is a short glossary of terms you'll encounter:
  • Hole. Officially, not the little round hole into which you have to get the ball — that's called the cup. The hole is the entire field of play from the tee to the green, and there are eighteen of them to a standard golf course.
  • Flag. A flag on a pole is placed in the cup so that players can see where to aim.
  • Tee. Each hole begins at the tee, where players commence their attack. This is the most embarrassing time, since everyone else has nothing to do but stand and watch while you attempt to hit the ball. This is also the place where you'll receive the most unsolicited instruction.
  • Fairway. The sometimes apparently endless grassy area between the tee and the green.
  • Green. The really nice grass around the cup. Do not wear boots!
  • Rough. The unkempt area either side of the fairway, and often the first fifty yards in front of the tee (which is unfair when you can't hit the ball more than fifty yards!) Where you'll spend most of your time. Use brightly coloured balls, because the white ones are indistinguishable from rocks.
  • Iron. A club who's head is made of metal. These are numbered, the bigger the number the shorter the distance expected. If in doubt, use a five iron.
  • Wood. A club who's head is also made of metal, but used to be made of wood. Generally intended for hitting the ball greater distances, and making beginners look like wallies.
  • Putter. A flat faced club used to tap a ball along the green. Be gentle.
  • Wedge. A club intended to give greater height and less distance. Use for extracting the ball from sand bunkers (sand wedge) or for pitching the ball a short distance to the green. Since as a beginner your ball will home in on any sand bunkers, and inevitably always fall just short of the green, these will be your best friends. Practice with them a lot!