How To Play Golf: The Rules and Format Explained for New Players

Golf is an awesome way to spend an afternoon. Get some exercise, take in some fresh air, and spend time with new and old friends. How many other games can you play from the age of 5 to 105?

But golf can be intimidating at first.

Special equipment is required, there are dress codes, and way too many rules.

Are you interested in learning the game, but don’t know how to play golf?

Did you get an invite to join some buddies on the course, but don’t want to embarrass yourself?

Good news – We can help. Our first piece of advice; if you receive an invite to play golf, say “YES”. The first step is being willing to try something new. To step outside of your comfort zone. In no time you will be teaching someone else how to play golf!

how to play golf

How To Play Golf: Prepare for Your Round

One of your neighbors or friends has asked you to join them next week for a round, now what? Have no fear, we can get you ready.

Equipment Your Will Need

All sports and games require equipment. Golf is no different. But you don’t need to rush out and spend hundreds of dollars on new clubs. Start simple.

First, check with friends and family to see if someone has a set of clubs you could borrow. This gives you a chance to try the sport before spending a bunch of money.

how to play golf

A standard set has 14 clubs:

A driver, 3-wood, 5-wood, 3-iron, 4-iron, 5-iron, 6-iron, 7-iron, 8-iron, 9-iron, pitching wedge, sand wedge, lob wedge, and putter.

As you learn how to play golf, you can alter this configuration. For example, some players carry a 2-iron instead of a lob wedge.

When you are first learning how to play golf, you don’t need 14 clubs. You can play with a simpler set if that is all you can find.

You will need some other basic equipment to play:

You will need golf balls and golf tees. As you are learning the game, go with cheaper golf balls – there is no reason to pay a premium price to play the same ball as Rory or Tiger.

Many golfers wear a golf glove as well, but you can play without one.

Quick Trip to the Driving Range (Learn Your Clubs)

how to play golf

If possible, plan a trip to the driving range prior to your round.

This is a great way to learn your clubs. Why do you play with 14 different clubs? The idea is that they all travel different distances and are used in different situations you will encounter on the golf course.

For example, you will use your driver for your first shot on most holes. Tee the ball up high (using a golf tee) and swing hard with you driver. This is longest club in your bag. Use the driving range to figure out how far you hit your 7-iron versus your 9-iron.

The trip to the driving range will allow you to learn how you hit the ball. You can try out different swings to determine what works the best for you. Don’t get frustrated – when you are learning how to play golf you will hit some ugly shots. Focus on the good ones!

What Should Your Wear

Golf is infamous for being a stuffy sport with silly dress codes. The good news is that the game is starting to relax some of these old traditions.

The game is becoming more casual, but we know you don’t want to look out of place at your local country club.

Keep it simple. Wear some nice shorts/pants and a collared shirt (golf shirt).

While not required, most players do tuck in their shirt and wear a belt. Pay attention to other golfers at the course to help you understand how casual you can dress the next time you visit.

Related: Good Golf Etiquette – 11 Pointers To Be a Good Golf Partner

How To Play Golf: Time to Tee it Up

how to play golf

The day is here – it is time to play. Don’t be nervous – it is just a game.

Pre-Round Warmup

Most golfers will arrive at the course 45-60 minute prior to their tee time. Use this time to talk with your playing partners, try out the practice putting green, and hit some range balls. Do some stretching and get your body ready.

Figure Out the Plan for the Day

Talk to your buddies to ensure you understand the plan.

When you play a round of golf you typically play 18 holes, but it is possible you are only playing 9 holes.

Is your group to going to walk the course or ride in a cart?

When you are learning how to play golf, we recommend you go with the group. If you do decide you want a cart, you visit the Pro Shop to request and pay.

Playing Golf – How To Start The Game

how to play golf

Time to head to the first tee.

Place a golf ball, a few tees, and ball marker (this can be a coin) in your pocket.

Good luck and have fun.

Taking Turns – When Should You Hit Your Shot?

The typical rule is that the player furthest from the hole should hit, but many golfers play “ready golf”.

This simply means that if you are ready to hit a shot and no one else is currently hitting, go ahead and smack it.

The normal rule on the tee box is to pay “honors”. This means that you play in order based on how you scored on the last hole. The better score goes first. This is not required when playing a casual round of golf.

For the most part, just follow the lead of more experienced players in your group.

Always be ready to play when it is your turn.

One thing to keep in mind when you are first learning how to play golf. Once your ball reaches the green, you should mark it with a coin or ball marker while other players putt. You simply place it behind your ball and pick your ball up.

Keeping Score

how to play golf

Every time you swing at the golf ball counts as a stroke.

Your score on a hole is how many strokes it takes you to finish the hole.

Your score for the round is the total of all 18 holes.

A few things to keep in mind when you are learning how to play golf.

First, a ‘whiff’ (missing the ball) does count as a stroke.

Second, if you struggle on a hole, it is ok to pick up before you finish and take a “maximum score”. You can discuss with your group what maximum score they want to play.

You will hear certain golf terms related to scoring.

Every hole has a par (typically a par 3, par 4, or par 5).

If you make that score on the hole, you made a par. 1 less (better) than par is a birdie and two less is an eagle. You probably won’t make any of these during your first round of golf.

If you finish the hole in one more than par, it is called a bogey.

Two over par is a double bogey, 3 over is a triple bogey.

When you are first learning how to play golf don’t get too focused on your score.

Rules of the Game

How To Play Golf: The Rules and Format Explained for New Players 1

The rules of golf can be very complicated if you are playing in a competitive event but keep it simple during a casual round with your friends.

Count your strokes and ask one of your more experienced playing partners if you encounter an odd situation – for example, you hit your ball in a lake or can’t find your ball.

If you want to read about the rules of golf in detail the USGA (United States Golf Association) has some great resources.

Pace of Play

We love playing golf, but no one enjoys waiting on the course due to slow play.

As you are learning how to play golf you will have to hit more shots than experienced players. That doesn’t mean you have to hold up your group or the course.

Simply pay attention to your pace of play.

A few simple pace of play reminders. Be ready to hit when it is your turn. Take only one practice swing before you hit the ball. If you are struggling on a hole, pick up and take the maximum score.

Show your playing partners that you can play quickly, and you will get invited back!

how to play golf

How To Play Golf: Enjoy Your Day

Learning how to play golf is marathon, not a sprint. No one picks up a golf club for the first time and can immediately hit perfect shots. It takes time and experience to get good at golf. The challenge to improve is what makes golf so addictive.

Manage your expectations. Instead of focusing on your score, think about the good shots you hit or the holes you were able to finish. Stick with it. Even when you play poorly, you got to spend 4 hours outdoors with friends.

Be patient as you learn how to play golf. You will never regret it. Have fun and enjoy your stroll down the fairway!

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Thomas Watson is an ultra-runner, UESCA-certified running coach, and the founder of His work has been featured in Runner's World,, MapMyRun, and many other running publications. He likes running interesting races and good beer. More at his bio.

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