Playing a new golf course for the first time in a tournament is extremely difficult. This is why you need to schedule a golf practice round so you show up prepared!
Otherwise, if you don’t get a chance to play the golf course ahead of time, you’re not able to swing with Tiger Woods like confidence in the event. This is especially true if a course has a ton of golf shots over water, desert, blind holes, or tight fairways.
While playing new golf courses is always fun, it’s better to do it ahead of the event instead of happening during the first round. However, there is an art to playing practice rounds so you gain confidence but don’t set unrealistic expectations for yourself.
I’ve played in hundreds of practice rounds over the years and want to share my best tips with you today.
Practice Rounds in Golf
First off, what is a practice round in golf?
Practice rounds are a time to scope out the golf course ahead of time before tournament play (match play or stroke play). This is a good way to learn about the layout of the course, understand the greens, and prepare for an event.
Professional golfers and elite college golfers almost always play 1-3 practice rounds so they can hit different clubs, test out different lines off the tee, and better understand the greens. All in hopes for a better score.
- Hit a lot of bunker shots and short game shots.
- Practice rounds help you create a game plan for a competitive golf event.
- Don’t keep score in practice rounds (it can set unrealistic expectations of your game).
- Make sure to “practice” in these rounds and hit extra tee balls, approach shots, and putts.
Keep reading to strategize and game plan your competitive event like never before so you can hopefully go low!
Why You Should Play Practice Rounds
Before getting into hitting shots, let’s cover the biggest benefits of a warm-up round.
- Learn the green speed.
- Test out the commute time.
- Create a tee box strategy for each hole.
- Learn the terrain to determine if you want to ride vs. push vs. walk the course.
- Get comfortable at a new course to show up to the tournament with confidence.
- Check out the practice facility (putting green, chipping green, and driving range).
- See how the ball reacts on and around the greens with approaches and chip shots.
As Benjamin Franklin said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” A practice round gives you time to plan ahead so you can show up on game day with Tiger-like confidence.
How to Play Practice Rounds
Since 2017 I’ve played in more than 200 tournament days of golf; from USGA qualifiers, state competitions, mini-tour events, and even Q-school in 2019. Here’s how to play a practice round like a pro so you set yourself up for success.
Get to Know the Facility
One of the main reasons to play a practice round is to feel comfortable the moment you show up to play your best golf. There’s nothing worse than getting out of the car and feeling a little lost to start your tournament. Test out the commute time so you can plan what time to leave your house and not start the event rushed.
Spend Extra Time on the Putting & Chipping Green
On the day of your practice round, spend more time chipping/putting than at the range like so many golfers. While you should go through your normal warm up routine, don’t overdo it.
Instead, learn the green speed and test out the chipping green if they have one.
This will help you see how the ball reacts from the fairway, rough, and hopefully a practice bunker too. If they don’t have a practice bunker, make sure to drop some balls in them during the round to learn the type of sand.
Don’t Keep Score
Finally, before teeing off I advise you to not keep score as it can set unrealistic expectations for your tournament. Instead, try to hole out putts and make a few birdies if possible but don’t stress over 2–3 footers with a full pre shot routine all day. Keep it more casual and focus on learning about the course vs. trying to set the course record.
Create a Tee Box Strategy
One of the main goals with a practice round is to create a tee box strategy. I suggest hitting driver on every par 4 and 5 so see where your ball ends up. Since you’re not keeping score, it’s not a big deal if you lose a golf ball or two.
Hitting driver off 14/18 holes is recommended because you can always dial back to a fairway wood, hybrid, or other golf clubs in competition. But if you hit these clubs off the tee in practice you won’t learn if your driver can cover fairway bunkers or end up in trouble.
Play aggressively in practice so you can create a solid game plan for the event. Don’t be afraid to hit multiple tee shots with different clubs on hard holes as well – especially on risk/reward par 4s.
Understand the Green Complexes
Next, make sure you understand how the ball reacts on your approach shots. Do they hit and spin back? Hit and check up instantly? Or, hit and release even if you hit the shot perfect?
This will help with your approach shot strategy as you can learn if you need to play for more roll or spin. You also want to notate this around the greens too. Are there big slopes or tiers to avoid? Do your chips and pitches check up?
Just like with drives, don’t play one shot around the greens. Make sure to hit extra chips and pitch shots to better understand green firmness.
Learn the Green Speed
Finally, make sure you take notes of the green speed when putting. This is even more important if the golf course has grain too.
Putting can make or break your round, especially in tournament conditions. Make it your goal to master the green speed in practice rounds and hit plenty of extra putts.
Take notes of how certain putts break, downhill vs. uphill putts, and anything else that you notice. Plus, if you’re playing the course the day before, you might be able to find dots where the pins will be the following day. If so, drop putts around the hole to see how they’ll break in competition.
Want more tips on practicing on the golf course? Click here to read our full guide to learn more about on-course golf practice now.
Timing Your Practice Round
Another thing that is important to remember is when to play your practice rounds. For multiple day events I like to play mine 2–5 days in advance. That way I am well rested for the tournament and not adding an extra 18 holes of golf that week.
For single day events, it’s best to play the practice round the day before. This makes it easier to learn the current course and weather conditions so there aren’t any surprises.
For example, when I first started competing in US Open qualifying I didn’t realize how difficult they set the course up. I played my practice round five days in advance and it was a completely different experience during the event.
In those five days they barely watered the greens and didn’t cut the rough to make it as hard as possible. Now, I only play my practice rounds the day before and try to get near my tee time to match the course conditions.
Bonus Strategy: Use Google Earth
If you want to take your prep work to the next level, use Google Earth. I learned about this from fellow players and Scott Fawcett who created Decade Golf.
This gives you a birds eye view of the golf course in a way you can’t see on the ground level. This is something I wish I would’ve known about as a junior golfer when we didn’t always get a practice round.
You can use Google Earth to:
- Find the best places to miss on each hole
- Find any hazards or out of bounds on any blind shots
- Identify width of fairways to figure out which club to hit off the tee
- Identify width and depth of greens to figure out your approach shot strategies
Plus, this strategy also works great if you don’t have time to make it out for a warm-up round too.
No Time for a Practice Round?
As you can tell, there are tons of benefits when it comes to playing a practice round. But since our lives don’t revolve around golf like a PGA pro player, we might not always get time for one. If that happens, there are still some things you can do to prepare for the big day.
First, if possible go to the course to check out the facility and spend 20–30 minutes putting. Buy a yardage book if possible too.
This will help you get acclimated to the environment and learn the green speed. Then, go home and use Google Earth as mentioned in the previous point to check out the course from an aerial view.
If they don’t have yardage books, you can always buy one online too (Putt View has great books). This way you can easily confirm the holes on Google Earth and make a tee box strategy for each hole. Plus, some yardage books provide details about the greens so you can read putts easier and hopefully make more!
Finally, make sure you get to the golf course earlier than normal. This way you can spend extra time warming up, specifically on the putting and chipping green.
FAQs About Practice Rounds in Golf
Do you have more questions about preparing for a golf tournament? If so, keep reading to learn more now.
How do pros play practice rounds?
Using a lot of the strategies mentioned above. While I’m not a pro, I’m a +2 handicap and have played with a lot of professional golfers in practice rounds for mini tour events. They use the same strategies to help them prepare for the tournament.
Should you play a practice round if you’ve played the golf course before?
Yes, I think it’s a good idea if you have the time. Course conditions change constantly (especially before an event) so a practice round can help you acclimate to any changes. If you don’t have time for a full 18 holes, see if you can sneak in nine or at least practice at the facility that week.
How many practice rounds do pros play for each tournament?
It depends on the golf course and tournament. Some pros have been playing the same schedule of golf courses for years and might not need to see the course as often. It’s common for players to have 1-3 practice rounds for a normal tournament.
But for majors, pros tend to have more practice rounds as the courses are set up extremely difficult.
Should I go watch a practice round on the PGA Tour?
Yes, practice rounds are some of the best days to watch professional golfers.
First, the tickets are so much cheaper than normal and there are a lot fewer people. This means you can get a lot closer to the action and even converse with the players sometimes.
I like to watch them on the driving range and short game area too. I watched Justin Thomas chip and hit bunker shots for 30-minutes one day and felt like my short game instantly improved. You can learn a lot to take to your own game! Plus, don’t forget you can learn a lot from watching golfers on TV too.
Final Thoughts on Playing Practice Rounds
Practice rounds in golf are one of the most beneficial ways to set yourself up for success for a tournament. It’ll give you a better sense of the course and a one up on many players who didn’t schedule a round. But it doesn’t guarantee success so don’t set unrealistic expectations if you get a chance to play a practice round.
Instead, use these rounds to learn and take plenty of notes in your phone or in a yardage book. Then before the event decide which clubs you’ll hit off the tee so you can save mental energy on each hole. While you might need to change your approach based on temperature, wind, and other factors, it can save you a lot of time.
Also, don’t forget to not keep score when practicing! Instead, hit extra shots from tee to green to learn the golf course vs. trying to card a great round.