Understanding Course Management: Strategies to Lower Your Scores

Course management is the strategy of making better on-course decisions, tailored to your playing style. It is knowing which clubs to use, which shots to take when to play to your strengths when to play aggressively, and play more cautiously when need be.

Strategically managing your way around the course with the objective of lowering your score, and making the right choices during your game, at every hole, every shot, and every swing amounts to course management to achieve your golfing goals.

Selecting the wrong club or wrong line can cause you a double bogey or worse or cost you more strokes than a bad swing. So, while it is great to improve swing tempo, weight shift, and other aspects of your golf swing, it is crucial to perfect your golf course management.

Different holes require different decisions to be taken. Golf course management is all about making smart decisions. Your goal is simply to make the lowest score possible on each hole. The key is understanding your game. Perfecting golf course management means being focused and aware of the different aspects of your game.

Approach Shot Club Selection

An approach shot is hit with the intention of landing the ball on the green. Picking the right club is the critical decision here, for which you need two pieces of information: 

  1. How far are you from the hole? 
  2. How far do you hit your clubs?

You must know your yardages here. How far do you hit a 6-iron versus an 8-iron? Figure it out on your next trip to the driving range. You can calculate the distance to the flag using yardage markers or by “shooting it” with a rangefinder to answer the two questions above. Here golf course management can help you decide if you will hit this shot perfectly, thus making you save strokes. According to Shot Scope data, 80% of approach shots miss the green, because they are too short. So, you can moderate this when choosing your club. For instance, if you have 150 yards to the hole and your perfect 8-iron goes 150 yards, the club you should select is probably a 7-iron. Your ball will still find the green even if you miss or hit it slightly.

Consider the Hole before Selecting the Club

Consider the hole before you select the club even if you are teeing off on a par 4 or par 5. Consider the length of the hole and potential trouble such as out-of-bounds, hazards, etc. before grabbing the driver or “the big dog”. Mostly, a 3-wood, hybrid, or long iron works better than the driver. The driver is a risk vs. reward club. Consider your options before making the decision whether the reward of hitting the ball farther is worth the risk that you might hit the driver out of play.

Play Away from Trouble

Trouble can mean out-of-bounds, creeks or lakes, and deep bunkers on a golf course. At certain spots, you can be aggressive, but you must play away from trouble whenever you can. So, assess your next shot to avoid trouble. 

Recovery Shots can Make or Break a Round

Golf is not a game of perfection, and all players, be they handicapped or Pros, hit bad shots. At times your ball may end up in a tough spot and you may find a deep fairway bunker or end up in the woods. What is done is done but you can surely recover from it. However, beware! Though recovery shots can save a round, they can also derail it. Instead of saving par, most golfers consider that a bogey is much better than a double or a triple. It’s all about playing the percentages and you must consider realistically the chances of you making a par-saving shot. If the odds are against you, play it smart. It’s better to get your ball back in play and give yourself another chance.

Aim at the Middle of the Green on Par 3s

Par 3s are the toughest holes on a golf course. Here you must overcome the temptation to make birdies and be happy when you walk off a par 3 with a par. So, simply ignore the pin and aim at the middle of the green! 

Beware of Par 5s

Most golf course management mistakes, happen on par 5s. When it comes to favorite yardage or club for an approach shot, most golfers, prefer a wedge shot from 100 yards which can consistently hit the green and give a chance for birdie. Play par 5s to make your 3rd shot from your favorite distance to avoid needing a driver off the tee. If not, hit a 3-wood or long iron so that you don’t need to “max out” on your second shot. While choosing the club to hit remember to leave yourself with the preferred yardage. Don’t try to overpower a par 5. Instead of trying to hit the green in two, using a 3-wood, 5-iron, and wedge may give you a better birdie putt. Another “par 5 mistake” is trying to get too close to the green in two. Since half-wedge shots require touch and accuracy, try to leave yourself a full shot into the green.

Learn to Lag Putt

Golf course management continues even after you reach the green and play the hole well. You must consider the risk vs. reward of aggressively trying to make a putt or else you could end up giving away strokes with the putter. While giving your first putt a chance to go in, leave it within a couple of feet of the hole. Before hitting your first putt on each hole make a decision whether it is a putt you are trying to make, or simply a 2-putt. The length of the putt and how many breaks you read will help you make this decision. If you are simply trying to 2-putt, anything inside 2-3 feet is great even if it comes up short. When you are lag-putting, your speed control is more important than your aim. If the putt is makeable, then give it a chance. If you want the ball to finish past the hole, you will need the speed and the line to be accurate. 

Playing safe is the key

Playing safe means playing shots that you can execute with almost 100% success. In other words, you need to understand your playing style and know when a shot is too risky or unlikely to happen.

Learn from Your Mistakes by Tracking Your Data

Are you used to slicing or hooking the ball from the tee box? Are your iron shots missing the right or the left? Do you tend to miss putts long or short? Track your data for the answers. By learning from your mistakes, you can minimize the amount of risk you take and play overall to the best of your ability.

Play with Your Favourite Club

Play with the cubs you are most confident about because this will help you in many tough situations. Find which club is your favorite and use it to your full advantage. 

Think Your Way Around the Golf Course

Your strategy and playing percentages are the key to golf course management. To make your golf handicap drop, you must think your way around the golf course.

So, deploy these strategies of golf course management to lower your scores and improve your game.

Travis H.
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