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How to Play Golf

By Jeff Gordon

Golf pits the competitor against the course. Each hole presents a distinct challenge. Throughout the round, players will be challenges by different hole lengths, terrain, layouts, hazards, green conditions and hole placements. Holes are graded as par 3, par 4 or par 5, based on the number of shots a skilled golfer should need to hit the ball into the hole. Golfers must learn to use a variety of clubs and master an array of shots to score well.

Using the Clubs

To play golf well, develop smooth swing mechanics you can adapt to all golf scenarios. Once you master the basic golf swing, you can focus on adding distance and improving accuracy. Start by practicing with a 6- or 7-iron, since these clubs are easy to control and require the same swing as longer clubs. Hybrid clubs offer the length of woods with the control of mid-irons. Drivers produce the greatest distances with a clean ball strike off the tee, but can be more difficult to control. Work with shorter irons and wedges to hit balls with different spins and distances. Find a comfortable putter and practice on the putting green, starting with short distances before backing further from the hole.

Off the Tee

Tee shots determine how the rest of the hole will be played, with a far and accurate drive making it easier to finish the hole in par or better. On a short par 3, the objective is to drive the ball directly onto the green. This shot requires proper length and accuracy, since trees often line the fairway and sand traps and water hazards may bracket the greens. On a par 4, drive the ball deep into the fairway so the green can be reached easily on the second shot. A par 5 requires a long enough drive to avoid making the hole even more difficult to play.

Approach Shots

Fairway grass tends to be short. Keep the ball in the middle of the fairway to create easier shots toward the hole. The perimeter grass, or "rough," can be very long. Holes may feature sand-filled bunkers around the green to trap errant shots, or a pond that can swallow your ball forever. Your ball could also land in a dry creek bed, come to rest on a golf cart path or end up behind a tree. Through experience, golfers learn which clubs to use for each circumstance.


The final stroke on each hole is the putt. This the most valuable golf skill, one that even top professionals may struggle with. Your objective is to roll your first putt on the green directly into the hole. Failing that, you want to leave the ball very close to the hole so your next putt is an easy tap-in. Rolling the ball well past the hole could cause you to three- or four-putt the hole -- or worse.


Scoring 1-under par for a hole is a birdie. Scoring 2-under on a par-4 or par-5 hole is an "eagle" and scoring 3-under on a par-5 course is a "double eagle." Scoring directly off the drive, a rare occurrence, is a "hole-in-one" or an "ace." Scoring 1-over for a hole is a bogey. Scoring 2-over is a "double bogey", scoring 3-over is a "triple bogey" and so forth. Professional golfers routinely shoot under par. A golfer who regularly shoots par or better is considered a "scratch" golfer. In amateur golf, competitors are graded with a handicap based on how many strokes over par they average. When amateurs compete, the golfer with the higher handicap subtracts a stroke or two from certain holes to keep the competition fair.

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