10 Golf Course Management Tips to Shoot Lower Scores
Golf is so frustrating sometimes… You can warm up well at the driving range, hit it great on the course, only to end up with a score that doesn’t reflect your swing for the day.
Not reaching your potential is one of the most infuriating parts of golf. But playing great golf is more than just creating a sound swing, it’s learning to get the ball in the hole and score by navigating the course strategically.
If you want to play better golf, you don’t always have to keep working on your swing at the driving range. Sure, a consistent swing helps, but it’s not everything.
One of the most important fundamentals in golf is proper course management. Or, as I like to call it, learning to play wicked smart golf.
10 Golf Course Management Tips
When you play wicked smart on the course, you get the most out of your game on any given round. Even on poor ball striking days, you can still manage a decent score with sound course management.
Here are 10 course management tips from my latest book, Wicked Smart Golf to help you think your way around the course more effectively.
1. Play the Right Equipment
The first course management tip happens before you actually get on the golf course. Instead, you need to make sure that your equipment matches your swing. Otherwise, you’re just going to make a hard game even more difficult.
Specifically, I recommend all golfers do three things in terms of equipment:
- Buy a rangefinder with slope. It’s worth the extra money to know the slope to each green as you’ll likely hit more greens. While you can’t use slope in tournaments, it’s great for practice rounds and casual rounds. Knowing your distances make it easier to hit more greens and shoot lower scores.
- Play clubs that match your game. Don’t make a tough sport harder by playing clubs that don’t match your game. Whether you need forgiving irons, an extra hybrid, or graphite shafts, play equipment that matches your swing.
- Swing the right shafts. Finally, don’t forget that your golf clubs need the right shafts too. Most golfers only think about the clubhead and settle for any shaft. But the shaft needs to match your swing speed to optimize distance, trajectory, and shot shape.
2. Analyze Every Shot
If you want to become a wicked smart golfer, you need to set yourself up for success on each shot.
What does that entail?
Giving your mind a clear picture of what you want to accomplish; whether it’s a tee shot, approach shot, chip, or putt. This will help you get your mind and body connected and improve the chances of executing any given shot.
As Jack Nicklaus said, “I never hit a shot, not even in practice, without having a very sharp in-focus picture of it in my head.”
For tee shots, make sure you have a small target in the distance. For approach shots, make sure you calculate your carry number, target on the green, and how the lie will affect the trajectory.
3. Club Up on Approach Shots
If you think of almost any golf course you play, I bet you’ll find that almost all the trouble is short of the green. Rarely, is trouble looming long of the green.
Have you ever wondered why that is the case?
Because course designers know that most golfers don’t take enough club on their approach shot, so they position the trouble accordingly. Instead, take more clubs if you’re between two, here’s why…
If you hit the shot perfectly, you will end up long of the green and should have an easier chip shot than being short in a tough spot. If you don’t hit it 100% (which most amateurs don’t), even an 80 or 90% strike will get you on the green. Which should lead to more birdie putts and lower scores.
Related: Golf Swing Basics to Improve Consistency
4. Don’t Trust Tee Markers
Another common mistake that so many golfers make is aiming in the direction of the tee markers. While a lot of them are pointed at the fairway or green, some of them aren’t (whether it’s intentionally done by a greenskeeper or not).
But this can lead to big issues off the tee and make it hard to score consistently. For example, if the hole doglegs right, but the tees are aimed right center of the fairway, it’s easy to get in trouble fast.
Make sure to pick your target and check your alignment instead of following the path of the markers.
5. Hit Fewer Full Wedge Shots
If you want to play like the pros, quit trying to hit wedges with 100% effort. If you watch golf on TV, you’ll see that the majority of the time, pros don’t hit full wedges; instead, they prefer knockdown shots.
Because a knockdown is more predictable and overall, a higher percentage shot.
Choking up on the golf club and hitting a knockdown shot will make it fly lower (which is great with wind), hit the green, and stop quickly. Rarely, does a knockdown get backspin as you’re taking a less than full swing.
A choke up, knockdown wedge is also easier to hit in the sweet spot as you’re choked up and taking less than a full swing. It’s more predictable, easier to hit consistently, and should improve your proximity to the hole.
6. Hone Your Pre-Shot Routine
One of the common habits of all elite amateurs and professional golfers is a consistent pre-shot routine.
Helen Alfredsson described the importance of a pre-shot routine in the book A Good Swing Is Hard to Find. She stated, “A pre-shot routine helps you build a cocoon around yourself. This is the mysterious zone that athletes refer to longingly. But there’s nothing mysterious about it.”
A pre-shot routine will help you build confidence, calm your nerves, and help you get in the zone. But this doesn’t happen magically on the golf course; it comes from deliberate practice on the driving range.
If you don’t have a pre-shot routine you use for all shots, create one now. Then, practice it over and over again at the driving range so you can become automatic on the golf course.
7. Love the Middle of the Green
Most everyday golfers play too aggressively with their approach shots. Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing my approach shot attack the flag, but unless you’re inside 100 yards, it’s probably not the right play.
Because it will lead to short siding yourself more often than not… which can lead to bogeys, or even double bogeys. Not to mention, kill the momentum in your round.
Look at some averages from the PGA Tour in terms of proximity in the 2021 season:
- 100-125 yards: 20’1”
- 125-150 yards: 23’2”
- 150-175 yards: 34’1”
- 175-200 yards: 42’0”
- Greens in Regulation Percentage (all distances): 65.14%
Remember, these are the best players in the world and they only hit about 12 of 18 greens. Not only do they miss greens often, they aren’t nearly as close to the pin as you might think.
Unless you’re inside 100 yards, the data suggests aiming for the middle or fat part of the green. Give yourself more birdie putts and I can almost guarantee you will shoot lower scores more consistently.
9. Swing Freely Off the Tee
Do you have a hole or maybe even an entire golf course where trouble looms off the tee and you try to guide it? Trust me, I’ve been there myself. But let me ask, how often does a timid, cautious swing actually lead to better shots?
Instead, you need to learn to swing freely off the tee and give up on trying to “guide” it in the fairway. As Raymond Floyd said in The Element of Scoring, “Good drivers swing with trust. Once your basic swing has proved that it can produce relatively straight shots, the way to give it its best chance to do so is to have faith in the centrifugal force of a freely swung clubhead.”
Being able to swing freely comes from three things:
- Practicing with your driver on the range. Specifically, work on a “go-to” shot that you’ll use almost every time off the tee. Whether it’s a cut, straight shot, or draw, find a shot pattern that feels easy to hit without trying to manipulate your swing.
- Picking a good target. Once you’re on the tee, you need to give your mind a clear target of where you want the ball to go. Some golfers might actually see a yellow line of the ball flight like you’re watching TV. Other golfers might feel it in their practice swings as each golfer comprehends information differently. Make sure that you’re 100% committed to your lien and target off the tee.
- A good pre-shot routine. Finally, to swing freely, even on tight holes, you need a good pre-shot routine. This will help you focus on the shot, relax with a few deep breaths, and make confident practice swings.
10. Manage Your Misses
The final golf course management tip is to manage your misses on the course. As Ben Hogan said, “This is a game of misses. The guy who misses the best is going to win.”
Whether you’re a 20 handicap or a scratch golfer, misses are part of the game. Even though I’m at +1 handicap, I still have plenty of head scratching misses in any given round. But most of my misses are “good misses” and don’t get me into too much trouble.
Managing your misses plays a big role in your approach shot strategy. The goal with any approach shot is to not leave yourself short-sided if you do miss the green. The less often you’re short sided, the better golf you will play.
As you go through your pre-shot routine and analyze your shot, always try to find the “good miss.” This will help you avoid trouble and hopefully still be in a good enough position to get it up and down for par on a missed shot.
Remember, playing your best golf doesn’t mean being the best ball striker. Instead, it’s learning how to navigate the golf course and make the most out of any given day.
I’m confident that these 10 strategies will help you wear down your competitors and play better golf.
Want even more tips to become a wicked smart golfer and shoot lower scores without swing changes?
Click here to learn more about Wicked Smart Golf on Amazon now (Kindle and paperback available). When you make this small investment in your game, you will learn 111 ways to play better golf without changing your swing and become a wicked smart golfer.