Course Management? What is it and Why should I be interested?
Head out to almost any driving range during the week you are likely to find a long line of golfers hitting ball after ball (mostly with driver). Of course, they believe they are all there for the same reason, to improve their game and shoot lower scores. As golfers, we are always striving to be better, and improving our swings is the most common thought as the best way to do just that.
What if I told you there is a different way?
What if you could score significantly better without making any changes at all to your swing?
That ‘different way’ does exist, and it is commonly known as course management. This is the name given to making smart decisions as you work your way around the course, whether it is picking the right club for a certain shot, or picking a safe target line to keep your ball out of harm’s way.
Between two golfers of equal physical skills, the player with superior course management skills will almost always prevail.
I hope I have peaked your interest? If, let’s get started covering the basics of how proper course management works and how you can use it to start lowering your scores immediately.
The First Steps
If you are serious about committing to improving your game through course management, I suggest the first step is to quit working on your swing for a while. That doesn’t mean you should stop practicing or having lessons, just maybe stop with the over technical thoughts and tinkering of your swing in favour of swing maintenance. For now, stick with the swing you currently have, and get to work lowering your scores through better thinking on the course.
This may sound easy but is a lot harder to do than say, for many golfers especially amateurs, making changes to their swings is a continual process as they struggle to find a swing they are happy and comfortable with, however I want you to have faith in the process. In the end you can always return to improving your swing once you’ve begun to understand how course management works. So in the meantime just "Go and Play Golf"
Do What You Do Best
The real heart of course management is about avoiding situations that expose your weaknesses and playing to your strengths. Think of the golf course as an opposition football team, the bunkers, water hazards, trees and slopes are all defenders trying to take away your opportunities to score. It is your job to create a solid game plan to beat that defence. Just like a top manager who looks over the opposition and identifies weak spots, it is your task to look at the golf course and identify the best scoring opportunities and picking the correct shots to do so.
Yet before you decide where the weaknesses are on the golf course you should first understand the strengths and weaknesses of your own game. Asking yourself questions such as "What is your favourite ball flight?" "What distance do you prefer to pitch from?" and conversely "Which distance is problematic?" and "What ball flight can't you hit at all"
Simply put, don’t attempt to hit the shots you aren’t comfortable with, and find ways to hit the shots you love.
If the only way to hit a protected green is to play a high fade around the tree line, and you know your game well enough to understand that you’re just not capable of making the shot, simply don’t try it! Instead try a shot path that you have a better chance of executing. In this case it may be a low punch shot or even a layup that gets you close enough to setup a chip shot.
"Remember, there is always time to go back and learn new shots on the range. The time to push the limits of your capability is not when you’re on the course and trying to score well."
A Conservative Plan - For better scoring
The majority of golfers I work with choose to use a more aggressive golf course management plan, and who can blame them it sounds like fun going for every par 5 in two or trying to the green on a short par 4. With that being said aggressive shots might be exciting, but they are rarely the smart play. If you are like most golfers, you don’t possess the consistency in your ball striking to take on challenging shots hole after hole to escape without doing some major damage to your scorecard.
"Be smart about your game plan and try to choose more conservative shots that match your current ability"
When you are putting together your game plan for a given round/course, look for the most conservative path first. Once you have figured out the conservative clubs to hit on each hole, and the safest targets to pick, then you can mix in a few more aggressive decisions if the opportunity presents itself.
When it doubt always opt for the higher percentage shot – your score at the end of the round will thank you.
Harness The Power of Uphill
From inside 50 yards of the green, ideally you want to be playing uphill as often as possible. Short shots are almost always easier to negotiate when they are played uphill toward the hole, as opposed to down the slope running away. On your short shots speed control is key, and playing uphill towards the flag will increase your margin for error.
So how does this fit into your master plan? Throughout the round it is your job to position the ball below the hole as often as possible, try picking targets that are below the hole, this will give you the benefit of chipping and putting uphill more often. Whilst we won’t be able to do this successfully all the time, the more you can do it the better off you will be.
Avoid: The Dreaded Short Side
For those who are not familiar with the term, the short side of the green is the side which is closest to the location of the pin that day.
Without much green to work with, you will likely have a harder time chipping the ball close to the hole, and therefore a harder time getting up and down.
This is another reason why we should lean toward using a conservative game plan throughout the round. When playing your approach shot into the green it is wise to play towards the wide part of the green.
Avoiding the short side is a common golf course management strategy among professional golfers, and you would be wise to add it to your game as well.
Start Thinking Two Shots Ahead
Think of a time when you’ve been faced with a long second shot on a par five. Perhaps your ball has landed just off the fairway and is sitting in a challenging lie in the rough. Ahead of you is 275 yards to the green (a distance you can’t reach even with your best 3-wood swing). Chances are you’ve been in this position before and you’ve grabbed the 3-wood out of the bag thinking you might as well smash it as far as you can and try to get close enough for a short pitch shot. The course strategy mistake here is with this decision you are introducing a lot of unneeded risk into your game. Hitting a 3-wood out of the rough is a difficult shot, and the low loft increases your chances of not getting the ball in the air, as well as generating quite a bit of side spin. All this leads to an increased chance of an errant shot, which could leave you with a lot of work to do for par or lead to bogey or worse.
Let’s look at the conservative method, faced with the same shot try thinking through the hole backwards by trying to envision what shot would be easiest for you to play into the green. In this case, perhaps you know that you could easily hit the green from a fairway lie from 125 yards. Given that you are currently 275 yards from the green all you require to setup that next shot up is move the ball 150 yards! This is something which can be done fairly easily instead of trying to hit it 270+.
Can you see how this approach is a much easier way of managing the course? Sure it might not be as glamorous as hitting that long 3-wood but it certainly makes for an easier par than having to scramble back if you didn’t hit that first shot perfectly!
Summing it All Up
It might be hard for many of you to embrace this way of improving your game as you may not feel that your swing is truly reliable, however let me assure you it's more consistent than you think. Also remember there will always be time to work on your swing later, but it makes sense to tighten up your golf course management skills first in order to maximize your scoring ability.
Once you understand the basics of good course management and how much it can affect your game, you might find out that your swing is already good enough to reach most of your goals in the game of golf.
Setting up your own Master Plan
If you are interested in learning more about how course management can improve your game, we can schedule a 9 hole playing lesson to introduce you to some of the practices and show you how to apply the strategies to make your scoring better.
Till then Happy Golfing