Tips for playing a Golf Course for the First Time

How to Play on a New Golf Course for the First Time

If you’re like most golfers, you probably love playing new golf courses. But how many times have you finished the round and thought, “Man I would love to play that again.”

Because playing a new golf course is a ton fun but also extremely challenging. While you get to experience new holes, new greens, and maybe some awesome views, it’s not easy to make tons of birdies on a new course.

The one bad thing about teeing it up on a new course is that a lot of times you have no clue how to play each hole. Oftentimes, when you’re relaxing on the 19th hole, you look back and think what it could have been.

But before you beat yourself up too much, understand that very few golfers actually play their best round on a brand new course. It’s pretty difficult to shoot low scores if you don’t know your way around the track. Plus, if it’s a course with blind shots, elevation, or tricky greens, scoring is even harder than normal.  

While you probably don’t have enough time to always play another 18 and get your revenge, I have some tips to help you play better than normal on a new course. 

Keep reading to learn the ten best tips to play a golf course for the first time. I’m confident if you use these strategies, you will have less regret after the round and hopefully, a much lower score as well.

Playing a New Golf Course – 10 Rules to Shoot Lower Scores

1. Create a Game Plan for the Course

Before you even get to the course, spend 10-15 minutes researching the course online. I recommend using Google, Youtube, forums, and the course website to do a little research ahead of time. Check the course website to find a scorecard and see if there are any photo galleries to preview the track. This will help you get a feel for the type of course you get to play.

Plus, a lot of courses now have hole by hole flyovers on the website so you can actually check out each hole ahead of time. While it might take away some of the suspense of playing a new course, I know it can help you create a better course strategy as well. 

Lastly, make sure to confirm how long it will take you to get the course and ensure they have practice facilities so you have time to warm up before the round. You can also contact them to know if shorts are allowed, dress code, and hours of operation.

2. Get Your Golf GPS Ready

Whether you have a golf GPS or golf watch, make sure to double-check that the course is uploaded to your device before going to the course. While most devices come with 40,000+ golf courses, you need to ensure it’s downloaded to your device. This will also save your battery life as well.

You also want to make sure it’s fully charged or bring a cable or portable charging unit so you don’t get stuck playing blind. There’s nothing worse than having your battery die mid-round and have to make educated guesses on a tough new golf course. 

Playing a New Golf Course

3. Get There 30-60 Minutes Early

If you want to play great golf on any course, it rarely happens when you arrive for your tee time 15 minutes before the round. Not only does it make it harder to play good, but it’s also rude to the course to keep everyone on time. So instead of hitting a few balls on the range and running to the first tee, make sure to get there early enough.

I recommend at least 30 minutes but prefer for one hour for your swing. This will allow you plenty of time to check-in, grab a snack, and have plenty of time for a good warmup. This way you have time to get loose on the range and spend plenty of time on the putting green.

One of the biggest reasons that most golfers don’t score well at a new course the first time they play is because of the greens. While it’s more exciting to hit golf balls on the range, make sure to spend an adequate amount of time on the putting green. 

Make sure every moment you spend on the green is intentional too. Grab a few balls and practice long putts, mid-range putts, fringe putts, and short putts to get acquainted with the speed and breaks.

Also, don’t forget to hit some chips, sand shots and pitches to see how much the greens roll out. Even if you’re swing isn’t great that day, a solid short game can cover up a bad day of ball striking. Get a good feel for the green before heading to the first tee box.

4. Find Help Before Teeing Off

Let’s face it, while we all love golf I think we also realize it’s the hardest sport in the world. When you add in a new golf course you’ve never seen before, the game gets even harder. Use one or several of these methods to get some extra assistance before teeing off.

Local Caddy

The first way to get extra help on a new golf course is to hire a caddy. While this isn’t an option at 90% of courses, it’s worth mentioning if the option presents itself. Anytime I’ve had a local caddie at a new course, he always seems to save me and my partners a few strokes. Usually, they can help with:

All of this should help improve your score.

Playing on a Golf Course for the First Time

Depending on where you’re playing, this could be $50 or could be two or three times that amount. But if you are playing a thrilling new golf course and can afford it, I always suggest getting a caddy. It’s also exciting to learn about the history of the course and have someone else tote your bag.

Yardage Book

Before leaving the pro shop after paying for the round, I recommend checking if they have a yardage book. If it’s a high-quality course, they might even have two yardage books. One is a more general beginners book for everyday golfers and another book is an advanced one that shows even more features of the course.

Unless you’re breaking 80, I recommend sticking with the beginners yardage book. These books will generally show you an overview of the hole, tees, distance to hazards, local rules, and a brief summary of the greens. These are usually between $10-$15 and well worth every penny. During the round you can also notate clubs, distances, and other stuff so you’re more prepared for future rounds too.

The more advanced books require more work on your end but have a ton of great information. They usually have the distance for each sprinkler head, carry distances on bunkers, and some even include a topographical layout of the greens. These can help you find breaks that you might not see on your first go-round. But again, I wouldn’t recommend these for beginners as there is a lot of information to understand.

Click here to learn how to use yardage books.

Cart With GPS

If they don’t have any yardage books or caddies, check to see if each cart has GPS features built-in. These are very similar to handheld golf GPS devices and help you create a game plan for every hole. Unfortunately, fewer courses have these in each cart as handheld devices and laser rangefinders are becoming more popular.

But if each golf cart is equipped with them, I think it’s worth the extra $20 or so to ride and learn more about the golf course. Plus, if you’ve never played the course, it might be challenging to walk as well. Make your life easier and more comfortable by taking a cart on your first time out.

5. Tee It Forward

Unless you’re a scratch golfer who always plays the back tees, I feel that teeing it forward if it’s your first time laying eyes on the course. Playing the right tees will make the course shorter and allow you to have fewer hybrids and fairway woods into the green. Not only will you score better, but you’ll probably enjoy yourself more based on the right set of tees.

As you become more familiar with the track, you can always go a tee back or play a combination of split tees. Plus, teeing it forward will probably help you play faster and keep the group behind you happy with the pace of play.

Don’t make the game harder than it already is by playing a course that exceeds your current ability. This can lead to a frustrating round that isn’t nearly as enjoyable for playing partners and is bad etiquette.

Finally, playing the right tees means means less rules questions, fewer lost golf balls, and a better experience for beginners.

6. Have a Strategy For Every Shot

Hopefully, you have a yardage book, golf GPS, a cart with a GPS or someone who’s played the course before. If you have one or several of these options, you can create a plan for each hole on the tee box. Check your yardage book or GPS before each swing.

To give yourself the best odds to shoot low scores, I suggest creating a game plan for each shot. Here’s how… 

Tee Box Strategy

Before grabbing your driver on every par 4 or par 5, make sure to go to the tee box and think about the best way to play the hole. When you’re on the box, notice if there are fairway bunkers, water hazards or spots that can make your life more difficult.

Then, figure out where the best spot is to hit your tee ball and the right club. This doesn’t always have to be a driver! 

Once you find the ideal tee shot, think about the swing you need for your shot. Next, you really want to hone in on your target.

Remember, aim small, miss small. 

Don’t just say the target is the left or right side of the fairway. Instead, pick a tree, powerline or other feature in the distance to set your sights on. I feel this will help your mind set up and swing correctly to get the ball toward the target.

Approach Shot Strategy

After you hit your tee shot, next up is figuring out the best approach shot strategy. Similar to the tee box, you want to make sure and survey the green before grabbing a club. Find the distance to the flag and then figure out the best spot to miss and the worst spot. 

When finding the best aiming, remember that in general, most greens slope from back to front. This means that ending up a few yards short of the pin generally leaves an uphill putt. While this isn’t always true, having more uphill putts than downhill putts can help lower your score.

Once you have all of these variables figured out, select an iron that will give you the best chance for a birdie putt. As I’ll show in the next point, the middle (or fat part) of the green is almost always the best place to aim.  

7. Aim For The Middle of the Green

I remember as a kid in high school, our golf coach would make us practice without the pins. He said that this would make sure we don’t go pin hunting all the time and instead hit toward the fat part of the green. I would guess 80% or more of the time as a team, we always scored better by simply aiming at the middle of the green.

This is a simple principle that you should use for your game, especially when you’re playing a brand new golf course. Unless you’re breaking 80 regularly, I suggest taking a more conservative approach instead of going after every flag. While some shots will warrant it, like a wedge, especially if the pin isn’t tucked, too many people go after each flag. 

The problem with flag hunting 18 times during the round, is that you will end up short-sided a lot more often. While you might get a few closer birdie putts, you might also get more bogeys or even doubles as well. If you’re playing a new golf course, the odds increase even more.

Instead, play it safer and hit toward the center of the green. This will give you more birdie putts, fewer lost balls, and more chances for a tap in par. Not to mention, fewer tough chips, pitches, and flop shots over bunkers.

Plus, you will likely avoid rules questions and keep up pace of play. Remember, par is always a great score.

8. Stay Patient During The Round

If you’re like most golfers, you always want to shoot your best round every time you tee it up. I’m the same way, trust me, I get it. While it’s awesome to play new golf courses, you should also give yourself some forgiveness if you don’t’ card your best round of the year.

Instead, make a concerted effort to stay patient during the entire round. You might hit a shot that you think is perfect but it ends up in some nasty rough or even OB because you’ve never played the course before. Sometimes the golf Gods don’t always reward a good swing.

If something like this happens, you can’t get mad at yourself. This will only make it harder to have the right attitude over every shot. 

9. Keep The Round Casual

As I’ve mentioned throughout this post, playing a new golf course is exciting but it’s usually challenging as well. Here are a few ways to keep it casual so you can enjoy the round.

Skip The Scorecard  

While this might be hard for a lot of you competitive golfers reading this, don’t feel like you have to always keep score. If you’re playing a new course that has a reputation for being notoriously difficult, maybe play for the experience and enjoy your first time out.

Choose Match Play

If you’re too competitive of a player and can’t imagine not keeping score, another strategy is to do a match play format with a buddy. With match play rules, you don’t have to finish the hole out if things are going south. This match format is helpful when you’re going to make a snowman or already lost a sleeve of balls and ready to move on.

I feel match play is a good way for players to experience a course and still have a great time first time out. Plus, match play allows you to play more aggressive and take more risks as you can only lose by one shot on every hole. 

10. Enjoy The Round

Remember, playing a new golf course is supposed to be fun.

Even if you don’t play your best round, make sure that it’s still a great experience with friends and family. There’s nothing worse than having playing partners who gets mad and accepts Tiger-like miracles during the first round on a brand new courses.

And if you’re planning to play a tournament or competitive match at a new course, I always recommend getting a practice round in. That will make it a lot easier to shoot lower scores as you will already have a game plan for each hole. 

Wrapping Up

Start using these ten tips to set yourself up for success the next time to get to play a new set of links, even if you’re a beginner.

Don’t get me wrong, I love playing new golf courses but I understand that it won’t always be easy. There’s something special about seeing a brand new course and seeing how your game matches the layout and difficulty. But having the right attitude before you ever hit a shot is crucial to playing your best golf.

In most cases, I find that I’m much more focused than a normal round of golf at a course I play regularly. A little extra focus will help you find the best strategy for each hole and ensure you go through your entire pre-shot routine as well.

Most importantly, have a great time!

Golf is still a game, even though we all want to shoot our best round yet. I’m confident these ten rules for success will help you look like a course pro even if it is your first time out. 

Which of these tips are your favorite?

Let us know in the comments.

2 thoughts on “How to Play on a New Golf Course for the First Time”

  1. I like how you mentioned playing the right tees first so you can score better. I’m trying out different golf courses to find a country club that I feel comfortable with. Looks like I need to do more research before choosing one.

  2. It’s difficult to settle on one since virtually all are spot-on. Thinking about my better rounds on new courses (or even courses I play infrequently); they generally come when I play with a sense of calm and enjoyment to be there.
    That typically means I got there early enough for a relaxed warm-up, my electronics are working, all the equipment is present and accounted for, and I’m playing w/o a need to prove something.
    Subsequently, there are multiple tips you’ve mentioned that apply. Thank you Charlie for another great post!

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