Golf is a popular sport—nearly 25 million Americans were playing it as of 2020, an historic high—and an excellent way to get fresh air while being physically active. Still, it can be intimidating to take up for those who have never played before—deciphering which clubs to use when, navigating nine-plus holes, and assuming proper etiquette are all par for the course.
The good news is that many people successfully start playing golf as adults having never swung a driver before. “It’s one of the only sports you can start at any age,” says Charlie Carswell, PGA, owner of Carswell Golf in Waynesville, North Carolina. “No matter if you’re five or 55, golf is a game that doesn’t have nearly as many physical limitations as other sports.”
Plus, as much as golf is a game you may choose to play against opponents, it’s really an individual sport “Sure, you may be playing with other players, but how you play does not affect them,” Carswell says. “You can have fun with it and be in competition only with yourself.” Translation: Don’t worry about whether the grass is greener on someone else’s fairway—just focus on you and building new skills.
What are the benefits of golf?
The benefits of playing golf go beyond just having fun and enjoying the fresh air. “From the physical aspect, walking the course is a great way to get your steps in for the day,” says Dustin Irwin, PGA, club director at Omni La Costa Resort & Spa in San Diego, who adds that carrying your golf bag and clubs around further increases your energy expenditure. “From the mental aspect, the quality time you spend in nature, and with friends and family are priceless.”
Do you have to be fit to play golf?
In a word, no. Golf is a relatively low-impact sport that isn’t particularly taxing on your cardiorespiratory system. That said, mobility and strength will make playing golf easier and more fun, so working on increasing your range of motion, speed, and strength can help you advance.
But if you’re just getting started on your fitness journey, or if you have physical limitations, there are ways to make the golf game more approachable and less physically demanding. For example, you can ride in a golf cart rather than walk the course, and you can play nine holes instead of 18. “If you’re not in optimal health and need some accommodations, you can opt for a golf cart over walking or tee off closer to the hole,” Carswell adds.
“Ultimately, you get to decide how much energy you exert and how you physically swing at the ball,” he says. “Unlike other sports where you need high endurance to perform optimally, you can start where you are and get more fit as you practice and progress. Golf can actually be a really fun way to propel you onto your fitness journey.”
Exercises to improve your golf game
While you don’t need to be fit to play golf, focusing on flexibility, mobility, and strengthening exercises will go a long way toward reducing the risk of injury and improving your golf swing. “There are many exercises you can do that do not require a gym membership or any equipment,” Irwin explains. “Push-ups, medicine ball core rotations, bent-over rows using dumbbells or cables, and hand walkouts are a few that can be done from the comfort of your home.”
For more guidance, you can start with this quick, full-body mobility workout:
Carswell also suggests looking into golf training programs like Orange Whip, and emphasizes the importance of stretching prior to teeing off. “A simple tricep stretch, doing lower back twists, and using the golf club across your upper back and shoulders while doing hamstring stretches are all great, inconspicuous stretches to do at the course,” he says.
Common mistakes beginners make when playing golf
1. Swinging clubs too hard
Carswell says this is one common mistakes new golfers make thinking that power will improve their performance. “That will make it harder to play the game of golf and is a good way to get injured,” he explains. “All beginners need to do is have a nice smooth tempo and the ball will go just as far.”
2. Using clubs that are too stiff
A more flexible shaft would be better, but this is a tricky mistake to home in on when you’re new and still figuring out your flow and form, Carswell says. “Unfortunately, it’s somewhat of a catch 22, because while it does make a big impact on swing, when you’re new to the game, you don’t really know that it’s the culprit—you just know that you’re hitting it bad,” he explains. So if everything else seems to be correct, consider your clubs.
3. Taking your eyes off the ball too soon
Seems obvious, but Carswell says a lot of people look to see where the ball is going before hitting it. “Instead, golfers should keep their head down until just after making contact,” he says.
4. Not sticking to beginner courses
It can be tempting to want to level up faster than your skillset allows, and Irwin says he sees many new golfers trying to play advanced courses and distances that aren’t appropriate for beginners. “If you are new to skiing, you’re probably not going to hit the black diamond trail on your first run—same thought process for golf. Crawl, walk, jog, run,” he advises.
Golf tips for beginners to improve your form
When it comes to upping your golf game, Irwin says his best advice is to “seek out your local PGA professional to get acquainted with the game and etiquette to ensure you get off on the right foot.” One of the first things they’ll likely teach you is the importance of the acronym BPGA if you want to become a better golfer. It stands for:
Longer clubs are played closer to your front foot and work toward the middle of your stance for the shorter clubs. Using alignment rods can help.
Hinge slightly at the hips, bend your knees a little bit, and allow your arms to hang naturally.
“The only part of your body that touches the club are your hands, so grip is very important,” explains Irwin. “I recommend a slightly stronger grip (for a right-handed golfer) to help square up the clubface.”
“You can hit a perfect shot, but if your alignment is incorrect, you will not hit the target,” Irwin says. “Use alignment rods to help you with your aim and ball position.”
Something else that’s important for beginner golfers to keep in mind, according to Carswell, is to start closer to the hole and then move back as you feel like you’re getting better. “When I teach first-time golfers, we start learning the basics of putting and chipping. Then as they get that part of the game down, we move farther from the hole to 50 yards, then 100 yards, then 125 yard, and so on,” he explains. “The reason for starting close and working your way back is that almost 70 percent of your score comes from 100 yards or closer to the hole.”
Golf is one of the most popular sports in the U.S. and part of that reason is that anyone—at any age—can start playing. It’s low-impact and a physical activity you don’t already need to be in shape to start playing, though the walking it involves will likely help improve your fitness.
In terms of golf tips for beginners: “Have fun, and go in with the right expectations,” Carswell says. “You are not Tiger Woods…yet. Join a beginner golf clinic to get the basics of a golf swing and then join a nine-hole league to meet new people and put your skills to use. As with anything, practice makes [you] better, and practicing the game of golf is a great way to get outdoors, move your body, learn something new, and connect with others.”
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