I think it’s been too long for /r/golf to not have a good beginners guide for new golfers, and given the lower numbers of new golf players as of late, I decided to make an easy-to-use guide. I hope it helps you enjoy golf as much as I do.
There are going to be a few elements in this guide that are more opinion than fact, but I believe the few opinions will be generally uncontroversial and reflect the majority opinion. If you disagree with anything in the guide, if you find a typo, have comments, or found that this guide was helpful, please feel free to comment or PM me. Thanks for reading.
Ok so you’re interested in playing golf or you want to know how to improve? That’s awesome. Golf is a very rewarding game. For many of us, it doesn’t get better than spending a sunny day with friends out on the course. Plus, there’s usually beer.
This guide is going to cover almost all of the information you’re going to need to effectively get up and running with golf while avoiding a lot of common mistakes.
Golf terminology. There's lots of lingo you'll need to learn.
Rules of Golf. There are a lot of rules in golf, many that are not so obvious. Unless you’re in a tournament or playing for money, most of them aren’t terribly important IMO. I play to have fun, but YMMV. You will want to read up on what to do with lost balls though. Check out these threads for more on rules.
What to Wear. Most courses require collared shirts (polos) for men, but have eased up that requirement for women. Shorts, pants, or a skirt are just fine. I’d recommend a hat, sunglasses, and sun-tan lotion as well.
There are a number of faux pas that you can commit on the golf course, so be sure to read this full list before going out. Some common mistakes include:
Not repairing your pitch marks. When the ball lands on the green, it can sometimes leave an in indent which will screw up putts. If you don’t repair it properly, you can destroy the root. Watch this video to learn how to repair your pitch marks. Also fix your divots and rake sand traps.
Not keeping up with the pace of play. Be ready to take your shot when it’s your turn.
Talking while people are taking their shot. Or talking loud enough that people putting or teeing off on other holes can hear you. Just be considerate.
Not picking up your tees. If it’s not broken, you can reuse it. If it is broken, just toss it in the garbage. If you're on a par 3, you can consider leaving the top of the tee for someone else to use.
Giving unsolicited advice. I almost never give advice on the course unless I’m with a friend who I know would appreciate and use it. And when I do give it, it’s only for high-visibility, easily correctable mistakes, plus I’ll start by asking if they want advice. Giving people unsolicited advice is in poor form and you might even hurt their game by making them think too much which can throw off their swing.
Hitting your ball near other people. If they could be in range, just wait. If you accidentally hit it near them, yell “Fore!” or something to warn them.
Not letting people play through. If your group is slower and the group behind you has to wait a lot for you to finish, let them play the next hole first.
Parking the golf cart or pull cart on the green. Greens are super sensitive and very expensive to repair so don’t risk damaging them.
Standing very close to the cup. The ground around the cup is not going to be very strong so if you stand near very close to the lip of the cup, you risk damaging it.
Walking or casting a shadow on people’s putting lines. Putting is hard enough as it is without other players distracting you.
Standing too close to a player swinging his club. Some people apparently need to learn this lesson the hard way.
Getting Golf Clubs
Starting out, your clubs will not matter very much. You’re not going to be hitting consistently and $1,000 irons are going to be completely wasted upon you. A lot of people will start golf by just using friends’ clubs or renting them from the golf course. That way you can decide if you like it enough to invest money in your own set.
If you're ready to buy, then I think your safest bet is going to be buying a used set on Craigslist or buying used clubs piecemeal. Buying a nice set of a clubs that are a few years old is a great way to get good stuff at a reasonable price.
I think many would recommend not buying a new beginner’s set as they are not generally considered to be of the best quality, and when you improve, you’ll definitely want to upgrade. So long term, you’re spending more than you would otherwise. And buying new, really nice clubs is not going to be the best use of money at this point.
Take the money you save by buying used and invest it in golf lessons, range time, and actual golf. That will serve you much better. Here's a post with some good info on buying clubs.
Other Golf Gear You'll Need
After you get clubs, here are some more things you’ll need:
Golf bag. Getting one that stands up automatically and has backpack straps is worth it IMO.
Golf balls. For a beginner, I would just use whatever is cheapest. Buying used balls online or in the $.50 bin at your course is fine. You’re probably going to be losing a lot of balls initially, so cheaper is better IMO. I've bought balls from Craigslist for pennies on the dollar.
Tees. I bought a bag of 500 a few years back for $10 which will last me practically forever.
Divot Repair Tool. You’ll occasionally need this to repair greens when your ball makes a divot upon landing.
Ball marker. You can use a coin, but at least have something small and flat to mark where your ball is on the green.
Two towels. One for your clubs and balls, and one for your face. Anticipate getting sweaty.
Golf shoes. Very optional. They definitely help when the grass is wet, but unless traction is an issue, you don’t really need them. When you do get them, make sure to get ones with plastic, not metal spikes as a lot of courses don’t allow metal spikes anymore.
Golf glove. I don’t personally use one. They do provide extra grip if your hand gets very sweaty and protect your hand from getting calluses. Many gloves tend to wear out quickly, and since sweat and calluses aren't an issue for me, I don’t bother. If you do go for a glove, don't cheap out. It'll wear out sooner and you'll spend more money in the long run. There's also some good comments about gloves below this post.
Approaching Golf the Right way
One of the biggest high-level problems I see is people approaching golf with unrealistic expectations. Unless you’re Kim Il Sung, you’re not gonna be shooting a perfect game of golf (18 hole in ones), nor are you going to be shooting anywhere near par every hole. It’s just not gonna happen anytime soon. Even the pros regularly hit well over par and they have tens of thousands of hours into this game while you probably have close to zero. Remember that on TV, they only show you the leaders in the tournament and then highlights from other golfers. They're only showing you the best of the best of the best.
Read this article to get an idea of how unrealistic many golfers' expectations are. With putting, even the pros are missing around 5% of the time from 5 feet and their success percentage decreases exponentially from there. So many of my friends get so upset when their putt from 20 feet was off by like 6". That shot has like a 1% chance of success even for the pros so you should be stoked, not angry!
This is a worthy read of an older guy who regrets not enjoying the game while he could.
I am not trying to get you down, you just need to understand two things:
Golf is not a game of perfect.
You cannot win golf.
I and many others have observed people playing golf with the idea that every shot should be perfect, and getting angry and frustrated when that doesn’t happen. I think it leads people to love/hate the game, rather than just enjoying the process even if the end result isn’t a great score.
Golf Sucks at First
Golf is really not very fun when you’re whiffing 80%+ of your shots. I’m not talking about when the ball doesn’t go exactly where you want. I’m talking when you completely screw your swing up and hit the ball who-the-heck-knows-where, or when you top it and it goes 10 feet, or when you just completely miss the ball. That’s just not fun.
But…it does get better. You’re just going to have to suffer through some of that, but once you start hitting that ball with a nice loft and distance…oh man. Feels good, brah. With this guide and conscious practice, I believe you’ll minimize the shitty period.
Remember: Sucking at something is the first step to being sorta good at something.
All right, let’s finally start talking about actually playing golf. Here are the basic first steps for establishing a swing. There are LOTS of videos on golf out there, so don’t feel like you only need to go by these:
From there, the sky’s the limit both when it comes to improving your swing and the resources available for doing so.
You Should Almost Definitely Take a Lesson
Taking a lesson from a golf pro is highly recommended. Having someone show you in-person the basics makes a big difference. Expect to pay $50-100 per hour, but private lessons can go to $500+ (You don't need a lesson from Tiger to learn the basics). I think almost all golfers would agree that an initial lesson or two is well worth the money and will offer an extremely high return on investment. It’s better to pay a little now to get good habits ingrained than pay a lot later to try to fix a bad habit.
One or more of your local courses will almost assuredly offer lessons. Once you’ve got a basic swing down, you can consider having your swing analyzed online via video (there are lots of online coaches, mind you) for 25-75% cheaper or even posting it to /r/golf for analysis.