Spring is well and truly in the air. The smell of freshly cut grass sticking in the nostrils. A grand old stretch in the evening allowing for a few holes after work.
Tis a great time to be alive, and even better if you’re a golfer. Lift, clean and place will soon be no more. Clothes will be delayered within reason and the world handicap system will once again be the talk of the town. But for all the excitement ahead of a new golf season finally getting into full swing, there are those among us who’ve never experienced a competitive round of golf. New faces to our fairways still learning the ropes, and the never ending rule book.
I’ve enjoyed taking a friend of mine somewhat under my wing since he joined a club for the first time last year. To say this lad was a bit green when it came to the rules of golf was an understatement, but by god I’d hate to be the ball when he hits it, a lifetime of shifting steel in the gym serving his swing speed well.
Still, when it comes to plotting your way around the golf course, there’s plenty that a driving range won’t teach you, and until someone educates you about the ways to go about things, how would you ever know?
Pace of play was the most obvious issue with my pal Ruaidhrí as he got to grips with the game. He’d spent so much time watching the pros on Sky Sports that he adopted a pre-shot routine to match, incorporating so many practice swings that by the time he got over the ball he forgot why he addressed it.
Once we had him getting off the tee at a reasonable pace, we focussed on getting him to the next one quicker. Forget the honour system, measuring distances to flags to determine who’s next. Golf’s formal reputation had preceded it for my mate, so much so that he was never set to hit whether it was his turn or not, paralysed by non-existent repercussions in case he played out of it. Ready golf was soon his best friend and having cut down practice swings and wait time, and with them the voices in his head, his game reaped the rewards of rhythm.
If only his golf bag followed suit.
A carrier of his clubs, if the next tee was off the back right of the putting surface, you could be sure his bag was sitting short left when it came to exiting the green. A swift getaway is half the battle and there’s no surer way of aggravating the group behind you than by traipsing unnecessarily back across the green to retrieve your clubs time and time again. If you’re new to a course, identify the next tee before you set your clubs down to putt. This one’s a cardinal sin in my view, and totally avoidable.
Much like the Ts&Cs of a contract, nobody reads all the fine print of the rules of golf, but there are certain ones players should know. The practices around white, yellow and red stakes, when to play a provisional, punishment for lost balls etc. are all basic rules that most golfers take for granted but could petrify a newbie. Competitions are intimidating enough without fearing a faux pas with the rule book, and the low marker of a group could take some responsibility and pressure off a high handicap here.
Take my pal. He’s made a few howlers amongst our fourball that brought our precious fiver into disrepute. Perhaps he was watching too much Patrick Reed when I caught him building sand castles in the bunkers. It might seem obvious to you but not everyone will know you can’t ground your club in the sand. Afraid of his life to ground a club anywhere after that, I explained to him that you actually can ground your club in the penalty area these days, whereas before you couldn’t. The rules are often updated, so who am I kidding, we all need a refresher at times. That said, I’d like to think I wouldn’t catch too many experienced players down on all fours flattening the grass behind the ball with their palms to clear the runway to a clean strike.
“What are you doing?” I laughed when I saw this horticulturist at work in the high hay.
“What ya mean?”
“You can’t do that!”
“How? I’m not improving my lie. I just don’t want the club to catch in that shite on the way back.”
“By definition that’s improving your lie!”
“I’m not touching the ball though…”
That was an actual conversation we had last year. My friend was rattled after it, and so was I, thinking how the same scenario would’ve played out had he gone about his bit of gardening under the watchful eye of a stranger. I’d hate to think that my mate of sound integrity, though blissfully ignorant, could somehow be labelled a cheat.
Far from it, he’s now absolutely flying with the game of golf, putting his name down alongside strangers and finishing 18 holes as friends. Where my clubs hibernated for much of winter, his game has passed me by. Bitten by the golfing bug, the game now has him for life. Let’s hope all the fresh faces golf has welcomed in recent times are feeling the same way.