The term golf course management describes the set of choices that you make during your game, at every hole, every shot, and every swing.
It’s all the decisions that you make to execute your game strategy and to achieve your golfing goals.
Many golfers are overly focused on perfecting their swing. However, bad decisions can cost you many more strokes than bad swings. Selecting the wrong club or wrong line, for example, can quickly cause a double bogey or worse.
Intrigued? Then read on as we run you through the meaning of golf course management, why it’s important, and 7 ways to improve yours.
Let’s get into the swing of it.
What Is Golf Course Management?
Golf course management is all about knowing how to play the game. It has almost nothing to do with your golf swing.
These decisions will have a direct impact on your score. And this collection of decisions – that is called your golf course management.
Every hole you play is different and requires you to make different decisions. The more “smart” decisions you make, the better your golf course management.
The goal is simple. Make the lowest score possible on each hole. The key is understanding your game.
What shots can you consistently hit? When should you be aggressive versus when should you play smart?
Watch the Professionals on TV and listen to their conversations with their caddie. Pay attention to how they discuss the next shot.
Together, they are deciding the “right shot” to play. This is golf course management and it happens before you ever touch the club.
Related Article: 7 Golf Recovery Shots To Save You From Trouble On The Golf Course
7 Tips To Improve Your Golf Course Management
Golf course management is multifaceted, and perfecting it takes focus and awareness of a few different aspects of your game. Below, we’ve outlined the seven big ones.
#1: Approach Shot Club Selection
We define an approach shot as when you hit the ball with the intention of landing it on the green.
Picking the correct club is a critical decision if you hope to hit the green. How do you make that decision?
When picking the right club for your shot, you need two pieces of information: How far are you from the hole? How far do you hit your clubs?
For this to work, you must know your yardages. How far do you hit an 8-iron versus a 6-iron? If you aren’t sure, use your next trip to the driving range to figure it out.
You can calculate the distance to the flag using yardage markers or by “shooting it” with a rangefinder.
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After you’ve answered the two aforementioned questions, the final decision to make is – do you think you will hit this shot perfectly?
This is where golf course management can cost you or save you strokes.
Shot Scope data shows that 80% of approach shots that miss the green miss it because they are too short. So, moderate for this when choosing your club.
For example, if you have 150 yards to the hole and your perfect 8-iron goes 150 yards, which club should you hit?
Unless you are perfect, the correct answer is probably a 7-iron. If you miss-hit it slightly, your ball will still find the green.
#2: You Don’t Have to Hit Driver
Simply because you are teeing off on a par 4 or par 5 doesn’t mean you must hit driver. Proper golf course management is to consider the hole before you select the club.
Consider the length of the hole and potential trouble (out of bounds, hazards, etc.) before grabbing “the big dog”.
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For most golfers, a 3-wood, hybrid, or long iron will be straighter than their driver.
If the hole is short and you can hit one of these clubs and still have a short iron to the green, why risk hitting the driver? There isn’t much to gain.
If you are playing a par 5 that you can’t hit in two, why hit the driver? The driver is a risk vs. reward club.
Is the reward of hitting the ball farther worth the risk that you might hit the driver out of play?
The answer will be different for every player and on every hole. Good golf course management means you are considering your options before making a decision.
#3: Play Away From Trouble
Trouble can mean different things on the golf course. Out of bounds, creeks/lakes, and deep bunkers can all be considered trouble.
The first step to avoiding trouble is to assess your next shot. Where is the trouble and can you safely avoid it? Here are a couple of examples:
- Example #1: You notice a deep bunker right of the green and the pin is tucked on the right side.
Instead of aiming for the flagstick, settle for the left-center of the green. Execute a quality shot and you still have an easy 2-putt for par.
- Example #2: You are teeing off on a par 4 and notice OB (out of bounds) just left of the fairway
Instead of aiming down the middle of the fairway, try to hit your shot to the right edge. Pushing your shot in the right rough is playable and doesn’t include the 2-stroke penalty that comes if you hit the ball OB.
You do need to pick your spots when you want to be aggressive, but play away from trouble when you can.
#4: Recovery Shots – Don’t Be A Hero
We all hit bad shots. Golf is not a game of perfect. There will be times your ball will end up in a tough spot.
You may find a deep fairway bunker or end up in the woods. You can’t do anything about the last shot, but you do control how you recover from it.
Recovery shots can save a round – but they can also derail it.
All golfers would prefer to save par, but bogey is much better than a double or a triple.
Golf course management is all about playing the percentages. What are the chances of you pulling off the hero shot and saving par?
Be honest with yourself. If you don’t like the odds, play it smart. Take your medicine, get your ball back in play and live to fight another day.
#5: Middle Of The Green On Par 3s
Even for the best players in the world, par 3s are the hardest holes on a golf course.
Of course, we all love to make birdies, but you should always be happy when you walk off a par 3 with a par.
Golf course management for par 3s is quite simple. Ignore the pin. Aim at the middle of the green.
If you execute properly you will still have a reasonable birdie putt and you are always a 2-putt away from a par. Don’t fall for the par 3 “sucker” pin!
#6: You Don’t Have To Go For Par 5s In Two
Most golf course management mistakes happen on par 5s. The idea of making birdie or eagle leads to silly bogeys and doubles.
What is your favorite yardage for an approach shot? What club do you have the most confidence in?
For most golfers, it is a wedge shot from 100 yards. This is a shot that you can consistently hit the green and have a chance for birdie.
Related Article: Golf Wedges Explained: Which Should You Carry?
Unless you are confident you can reach the green in two (fairly rare), play par 5s to make your 3rd shot from your favorite distance.
This means you may not need a driver off the tee. If the shot looks tight or doesn’t suit your eye, hit a 3-wood or long iron.
You also won’t need to “max out” on your second shot. Determine the club you need to hit to leave yourself with that yardage you love.
You don’t need to try and overpower a par 5. 3-wood, 5-iron, and wedge may give you a better birdie putt than trying to hit the green in two.
The other “par 5 mistake” is getting too close to the green in two. Half-wedge shots require touch and accuracy.
Always try to leave yourself a full shot into the green.
#7: Learn To Lag Putt
Golf course management doesn’t stop once you reach the green. It can be frustrating to play a hole well and give away strokes with the putter.
Just like hitting a driver, you need to consider the risk vs. reward of aggressively trying to make a putt.
The best advice – give your first putt a chance to go in, but leave it within a couple of feet of the hole. This can be easier said than done.
Before hitting your first putt on each hole make a decision. Is this a putt you are trying to make or simply 2-putt?
This decision should be based on the length of the putt and how much break you read.
Your success criteria changes depending on this decision. If you are simply trying to 2-putt, anything inside 2-3 feet is great! Who cares if it comes up short.
Your speed control is more important than your aim when you are lag-putting.
If you decide the putt is makeable, then you want to give it a chance. You want the ball to finish past the hole. In this case, you need the speed and the line to be accurate.
Think Your Way Around The Golf Course
Golf course management is all about strategy and playing percentages. Learn to think your way around the golf course and watch your golf handicap drop.
Next Up: Establish golf goals and make a plan to improve.