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Equipment and Culture of Golfing

11:00 AM - June 30, 2016 by Dr. Daniel Quek

This article provides an overview of the equipment and culture of golfing.  

If you have never bought golf clubs before, you can refer to my special section on the purchasing process. The section is titled “Smart Tips for Buying Clubs for the First Time”.

For more information on the different kinds of golf clubs available commercially, refer to the section “Types of Golf Clubs”. To find out what affects your performance when you use certain kinds of clubs, please see “Club Play Factors”. 

If you have signed up for golf lessons as of late, you will benefit from reading my take on golf lessons which can be found in “Maximizing the Benefits of Golf Lessons”. I have also prepared a special section that will teach you the basic etiquette when golfing. These guidelines can be found in “Navigating Golfing Culture”. 

Introduction 

My first exposure to golf was in my teen years. My dad and I would tee off during the weekends when the weather was good (or not so good, he didn’t really care). 

It was a form of close bonding for us and he also didn’t care if we didn’t have the newest and most expensive drivers in the market. We had a set of old clubs and that was enough for us. 

What really made our golfing trips memorable at that time was the fact that my dad and I weren’t really familiar with all of the rules of the sport. We also weren’t that familiar with the best practices of golfing, so we ended up spending a lot of time guessing how to best end a game. 

This was my inspiration for the book - I wanted beginning golfers to have the expert advantage so they won’t have to guess if they’re doing everything they can to improve their game. 

This book is primarily about techniques that will make your game of golf more exciting and progressive. Golfing is a skill, so you have to really practice the different elements of the golf swing to improve. 

Since this book is about technique, we will be focusing first on the elements of the golf swing and then we will touch upon other related topics later on. It is my sincere hope that this book will be able to help those who want to begin their golfing journeys on the right track. What happen if your have a really bad golfing handicap? Keep practicing! 

I assumed you already knew something about the game and the basic rules. We will not spend a lot of time going into the technical details of the game. Instead, we are going to spend more time exploring more interesting and exciting stuff -mainly, the stuff that will improve your game. 

To say that golfing is hard is an understatement. The game is simple in its mechanics but it can be maddeningly difficult for the novice golfer who has already been bitten by the golfing bug but doesn’t know where to start his education as a golfer. 

As with any endeavor, any starting point is a good place to start. If you want to become educated as a novice golfer then just read - that’s what I did and it has rewarded me immensely. I hope that your own journey in golfing also rewards you with great experiences. 

There’s always something new when you play a new round and nothing is more satisfying than being able to improve your game (even a little bit) whenever you decide to visit the course once again. 

Golf Balls Galore 

As with any sport, buying equipment for golf can be an exciting and frustrating time if it’s your first time. There are a lot of options out there and if you haven’t had the time to consult with other golfers, it’s easy to get lost when you are shopping for equipment like golf balls. 

There are dozens of brands out there, each clamoring for attention. If you read all of the features of the balls, you will be able to get a feel of the general standards for specific varieties. 

However, general standards will not really reveal to you how such varieties perform out in the green. There are three main categories of golf balls in the market: the one piece ball, two piece ball and three piece ball. The second variant is hands down the best choice for novice golfers.

Two piece balls provide just the right amount of control and speed for beginning golfers. One piece balls are not really desirable especially if you are just learning how to swing. Leave one piece balls to small courses that are on a budget. 

If you want golf balls that aren’t that pricy but at the same time are perfect for beginners, go for two piece balls. What about three piece balls? Three piece balls are durable and are definitely the choice of pro golfers. However, three piece balls emphasize the need for heightened ball control. 

Such balls may play against you on a course if you are just getting the hang of handling a golf club. So yes, three piece balls can give you good results if you are already an expert player but they may not be the best choice if you are still practicing your putt. 

Standard Golf Ball 

A standard golf ball that is accepted by most golfing associations and competitions has the following characteristics: 

1.    The maximum size of a golf ball is 4.27 cm. in diameter. 4.27 cm. is just the right size for a ball that is supposed to travel hundreds of meters in a single swing. 

The size standard is based on basic physics - the bigger the ball, the more mass it has and this affects the speed and distance of the ball once it is hit by a golf club. 

2.    The maximum weight of a standard golf ball is 45.93 g. Again, this is the ideal figure for a golf ball. Heavier balls will travel at a much slower speed. Lighter balls have a much higher risk of being blown off course. 

3.    The standard, maximum attainable speed for a golf ball is no more than 78 m/s. Golf balls that exceed this speed are not fit for professional tournaments. 

This ensures that golfers will not gain an unfair advantage because their golf balls can travel more distance than other golf balls. It sounds a little inane but when you are playing against other golfers, a difference of 100 meters per putt definitely has an impact on your efficiency as a golfer.

4.    The longest distance that a golf ball can travel after a single swing has been calculated at 290 meters. Initially, the distance limit was tallied at 271 meters but due to further refinements in golf ball design, the maximum distance has been recalculated. 

5.    And finally, a golf ball must definitely have a round shape. It should roll around easily to maintain fair play during a tournament. 

Some manufacturers over the years have tried to ‘cheat’ the design so that golf balls will stay put once they reach the green. These are definitely illegal balls and will not be allowed under tournament rules. 

Compression Levels 

Golf balls also have different compression levels that you should take into consideration. Most pro golfers can hit any golf ball hard and true and get good results. 

The story is often different for novice golfers. Golf ball compression changes how a swing feels and also alters the desired trajectory of the golfer. In time, you will be able to develop a feel for different kinds of balls so it really won’t matter. 

However, if you haven’t played the sport for a long time, you will definitely feel the difference with each type of ball compression. 

Ball compression affects the hardness and softness of the ball, relative to a golfer’s swing. Here are some fast tips when you are out on the green and you have different ball compressions available. 

1.    If you want your golf ball to travel at a higher arc, your best bet is with a softer golf ball. Choose a golf ball with a compression of 80. This is the lowest possible compression for standard, legal balls. 

2.    If you want your golf ball to travel a lower arc with less power/effort on your part, opt for a hard ball - one with a compression of 100. 

3.    Some golf balls are designed to resist a high arc after a swing. These are called low-trajectory golf balls and they are excellent for novice players who are just getting the hang of controlling the direction of a golf ball after the face of a club makes contact. 

4.    Mid-level golf balls with a compression of 90 may be a sweet spot for novice golfers who wish to practice with both low arc and high arc swings. 


Smart Tips for Buying Clubs for the First Time 

Of course, you wouldn’t be able to play golf at all if you didn’t have clubs with you. There are three ways that you can get your hands on golf clubs. The first option is to purchase your own bag and set of clubs. 

This can set you back a few hundred dollars or a few thousand, depending on your needs. If you are simply curious about the game and would like to try it yourself after hearing many good stories from friends and family, then I wouldn’t recommend buying golf clubs just yet. 

Instead of buying golf clubs, I recommend renting a few from the golf course that you will be visiting. The reason for this is quite simple: not everyone gets bitten by the golfing bug. Sometimes, people dislike the sport and would like to never try it again. 

What if this happens to you, after you’ve purchased new golf clubs? You can try to resell your set of clubs, but that would probably slash half or more of the original value. 

You can also let your clubs languish at home, in the hopes that someday, you will be able to return to the sport. There is clearly a 50/50 chance that you will not come back to the sport and your irons and woods would end up rusting in some forgotten corner in your garage or closet. 

To avoid these scenarios, I really would like beginners to start off with rented clubs. Most golf courses invest in decent clubs and since you are not competing in PGA tours (yet), then it’s fine if you end up using clubs that are not as refined or advanced as the ones being used by Tiger Woods. 

Your second option for acquiring clubs is to borrow them from family or friends who play the sport. The only downside to this option is you have to be extra careful with the clubs because avid golfers will not like it if you lose or damage their clubs in any way. 

Your third option is to purchase them, if you feel that you are really into the game and you cannot stand the idea of having to rent clubs on your next trip to the golf course. If this is the case for you then this section of the book will help you understand the all-consuming question: what clubs should you buy or use? 



Types of Golf Clubs 

There are four main types of golf clubs, each with its own special traits that will enable you to navigate a course more efficiently: woods, irons, wedges and putters. Let’s talk about each type and see what they have to offer the average golfer. 

Woods 

?    The most common type of golf club. The average golfer has at least 3 woods in his bag. A wooden driver is a must. 

?    Today, woods are not actually made from wood. They used to be, back in the day, but most “woods” manufactured today are made from titanium alloys, which gives you the advantage of intrinsic durability and lightness. 

?    The driver club is the most challenging club for novice golfers because of its length. However, it is one of the most important in your set of clubs so it would be best to familiarize yourself with this type of club - all forty-five inches of it. 

?    Some woods have club heads made of steel. Yes, these are cheaper but they are definitely a bit heavier than woods with club heads that are made from titanium. 

?    The distance achieved by a fairway wood is dictated by its gradation. The lower the number, the farther your ball will travel (theoretically). The average distance that can be reached by a strike of a particular golf club is called the ‘loft’. 

?    1-woods are definitely out of the question if you are just starting out because of the obvious challenge of using a long club.

?    Instead of using a 1-wood, start off with a 3-wood or 5-wood because these fairway woods are designed to be shorter. 

Practicing your swing will be that much easier if you leave the 1-wood driver alone for now. However, if you feel confident and are up to the challenge then by all means, try out a 1-wood! 


Irons 

?    Irons are designed to send golf balls far while spinning. The spinning of the ball is possible due to the design of iron club heads. Manufacturers add special grooves to the face of iron club heads, which makes it easier for golfers to send their balls aloft while spinning. 

?    Irons that have relatively flat club head surfaces are for intermediate and advanced players. If you are just starting out, you need irons that have a “cavity back” design. 

If you are buying from a store, ask the sales staff for irons that were designed specifically for beginners. You can improve your game more quickly if you skip advanced clubs in favor of beginner clubs. Remember, at this point you aren’t competing so there is no pressure to use advanced clubs.


Wedges 

?    Wedges are used to attain a much higher loft/orbit when you strike a ball off the green. 

?    It is common for stores and players to refer to wedges by the average loft they can achieve (e.g. sixty degree wedge). 

?    As the name implies, sand wedges are specifically designed to accurately send a golf ball out of a sandy area (also called bunkers). You will find out that sand can slow down your game because it takes a bit of experience to quickly overcome a sand bunker. 
Putters 

?    In terms of frequency of use, putters are definitely the club to have if you want to enjoy your golf game. On the average, people use putters in excess of thirty times per game. 

?    The minimum size of a putter is thirty two inches. The maximum length is thirty six inches. As you can see, they still don’t compare to the forty-five inches offered by your 1-wood driver. This makes them excellent for people who want to practice their golf swing! 

?    There are no hard and fast rules when purchasing putters. It really depends on the golfer himself. If a particular putter feels great on the hands and allows the golfer to practice more easily then that’s the best putter for him. It pays to test different putters (even handling one can give you clues) before buying them. 


Club Play Factors 

Let’s face it - golf clubs are intrinsically confusing because they look very similar to each other and they don’t come with detailed instruction booklets. When you set out to buy golf clubs, stores generally expect that you already know what you want to buy. 

Of course, this is not the case most of the time especially when it comes to beginning golfers. But here’s the good news: even if you do not have very specific knowledge of how specific golf clubs work, you can still pick out really good ones by taking into account “play factors”. 

Play factors have a direct impact on a golfer’s performance. Use these play factors to determine if a new golf club is right for you. This applies most especially to people who have saved their hard-earned cash to buy their own golf clubs. 

Take note of these play factors and use them to find golf clubs that will help you master the basic skills needed to play a good game of golf. 

1.    Is the grip just right? - Each golf club has a specific grip size that suits specific players. Professional golfers can use different golf clubs and get more or less the same results because they play so often.

However, if this is your first time to play the game then you must be aware of the ideal grip size for any golf club. 

The most ideal golf club for beginners has a mid-sized grip that allows the tips of the middle and forefingers to lightly touch the thumb when the golf club is held tightly for a swing. 

If you feel your nails on your palms or the base of the thumb when you grip your golf club, then your club is probably too thin. 

Then there are clubs that are just too thick - these will prevent you from controlling your swing accurately because you will not be able firmly hold onto the club before, during and after a swing. Does this mean that slim clubs are the best? 

Not necessarily. Slim clubs are ideal for golf players who like making small, expert adjustments to their hand positions before putting the ball. 

Novice golfers have yet to master these subtle hand adjustments so it is possible that you will miss the ball more frequently because it’s so easy to move the club up, down and sideways. 

A mid-sized club will give you just the right degree of control so you can focus on hitting the ball the way you want.  


2.    Is the shaft of the club ideal for you? - The shaft of a golf club can either be too long or too short for a golfer. The only way that you will be able to tell if a club is just right is if you use it for practice swings. 

The length of a golf club’s shaft should match the height of the golfer. If you are taller than average then it would be best to find a longer golf club with a mid-sized grip. 

If your golf club swings back too hard when you putt the ball, you need to make sure that your golf club is durable and stiffer than your average golf club. 

Inversely, if your golf club is almost perfectly parallel to the ground during the upswing then there is no need to buy more specialized clubs as the more widely available ones will do just fine. 


3.    Are the club heads appropriate for your skill level? - The size of a club head definitely has an impact on the quality of a novice golfer’s play. 

If you use golf clubs with small, slim club heads, chances are you are going to miss a lot of golf balls on the downswing. So my advice would be to find clubs with larger club heads so even if you miscalculate during the downswing, you will still be able to send your golf ball aloft. 


Maximizing the Benefits of Golf Lessons 

If you have signed up for golf lessons to speed up your progress and improve your overall performance on the green, there are a couple of things that you should always keep in mind to maximize your learning process: 

1.    You can sign up for exclusive one-on-one lessons or for less expensive group golf lessons. I recommend the latter because seeing other beginners play will help encourage you to continue with the sport. Too often, new players feel that they are not fit for the game simply because they commit common errors. 

When you see others committing the same errors and learning from a seasoned golf teacher, you will feel that you are not alone in this and like others in your group, you can improve with time. 

Now, to say that every golf teacher is perfect would be completely false because teachers have different personalities and teaching methods. 

If you have already signed up for a class and are not comfortable with the way that the teacher is handling the group, I highly recommend that you find another golf teacher. 

Why? Because you will be wasting a lot of time trying to please a teacher that doesn’t have a strong and meaningful connection to you. 

A good sign that you have found the perfect golf teacher is you are comfortable and at ease while learning the basics. 

Enjoyment is also an intrinsic and inseparable part of the learning process. If you are learning and advancing your skill, enjoyment will be a natural product of the whole process. 

However, if you are miserable and frustrated 99% of the time, then there’s something wrong because there are hundreds of other novice golf players out there who are in the same situation as you are, but they are having fun putting away under the sun. 

2.    Disciple should definitely be number one on your priority list as an aspiring new golf player. 

Golf is a sport and although it is not as physically demanding as basketball or hockey, it is still a professional sport that requires time, effort and discipline. 

If your golf teacher or instructor gives you ‘homework’ in the form of exercises and drills, don’t delay accomplishing them. 

Accomplish them as soon as possible and keep practicing. More often than not, instructors give their students the bare minimum for skill progression. So if your instructor tells you to practice your swing at least twice a week, practice three or four times a week. 

Go beyond what your instructor expects you to do and you can be guaranteed more advanced lessons and your teacher will also feel inspired to share with you secret golfing techniques that he uses himself. Who knows? 

You must also inspire your teacher to teach you more than the usual, average golfing knowledge. Every bit of extra expert knowledge can refine and hone your golfing skills. 

3.    Golf courses are designed to look opulent and beautiful. Truth be told, I’ve caught myself daydreaming of hanging a hammock and sleeping away at the clubhouse when I am at my favorite golf course. Of course, this is a horrible attitude when you are a beginner and you drove all the way to the golf course to learn the basics of the sport. 

It’s not enough that you are there and listening to your golf instructor. Your mind and heart have to be in the game, too! Forget about all your stresses and worries when you enter a golf course - they will still be there when you leave, so why carry them around while learning how to swing properly? 

All your mental processes should be geared toward golf and the improvement of your golfing skills, nothing else! Practice this tiny tip and you will see that your skill level will radically change in the coming months. 


4.    What should you do when you commit common errors while playing? Should you feel frustrated? Should you blame the previous player for being so good that it distracted you? 

Definitely not! Instead of looking outward, trying to find something or someone to blame for your mistakes, use your mistakes instead. Blaming yourself or others will not help improve your game and will only make the game less appealing to you. 

When your instructor tells you that you are doing something incorrectly or if he says that you can improve something, stop and listen to his instructions. Remember the error that you committed and try to avoid the elements that made you commit the error in the first place. 

You can also begin a golfing journal so you can take note of important changes in your skillset as well as the errors that you commit so you don’t forget. 

Sometimes, it’s better to remind ourselves that we are committing certain technical errors through journaling because if you are a new golfer, everything you experience is also new. 

This can make the learning process a bit more difficult at first because you will be spending a lot of time and mental resources paying attention and experiencing the game for the first time. 

5.    Concentrating on a game of golf doesn’t mean that all your muscles have to be tense during the game. Keep your muscles loose and always remind yourself to remain relaxed throughout the game, even if you are encountering difficulties with more difficult swings. 

Exerting extra effort to be ‘serious’ by being tense will only produce negative results. Being tense will also reduce your enjoyment of the game, which is really the main reason why many people start golfing. They enjoy the game and they feel happy when they are teeing off on the green. 

6.    You will encounter swings and shots that you will absolutely detest. Don’t avoid these shots. Instead, embrace them because they represent the learning curve that you must surmount in order to advance in the sport. 

Practice, practice, practice! Remember: no one has ever said that they wished they didn’t practice their new sport! 


7.    Work with your golf instructor so you can set realistic goals for yourself. Don’t aim to be in the PGA tour next month - that is not realistic. 

Also, challenging a friend to a friendly tee-off isn’t wise if your friend has been playing golf for 12 years already. 

Be realistic and set small, achievable goals for yourself so you won’t run out of gas in the process. Setting too lofty goals will only discourage you from continuing with the new sport if you fail to achieve difficult goals. 

8.    Your attitude will have a big impact on your success in golfing. You have to stay positive even if you can’t stand making mistakes because let’s face it, that’s how we learn new skills. 

You’re going to make a lot of mistakes in the first few months and my advice for you would be to just laugh and learn along the way. 

If you adopt a negative attitude while golfing, you are going to feel exhausted and you are going to begin disliking the sport because you can’t see the enjoyable aspects of it anymore. 

9.    If your joints and hands are all achy, stop. Or at least take a breather. Don’t practice golfing if all your muscles are rebelling against another swing. If you continue practicing in this state, you will soon abandon proper form and you will start practicing bad golfing forms. 

This is a big no-no especially for beginners. The saying “rules are for squares” does not apply to golf. Sure, some pro golfers seem to have their own style when swinging. However, these people have had hundreds, if not thousands of hours of practice. 

There really is no comparison between a novice golfer and a pro golfer of any rank. Golfers who turn pro are able to do so because they have a natural knack for putting and swinging. They have a natural ability to judge distance accurately and plan swings that will make them competitive. 

So yes, they are allowed to break proper form if they have something more advanced in mind. But as for beginners and novice players, abandoning proper form will most likely result in glaring and frustrating misses or even misdirected balls. 

10.    Finally, don’t forget the value of self-criticism. Self-criticism does not mean you have to continually put yourself down every game. Self-criticism is actually a close analysis of your performance. Your skills and attitude will change over time and being aware of these changes will make you a well-adjusted player overall. 


Navigating Golfing Culture 

Golfing with friends or colleagues can be life’s greatest pleasures (or quite the opposite, if don’t understand the culture). 

This part of the book will attempt to introduce you to the proper etiquette when golfing and will also showcase important guidelines that will ensure that people will find pleasure in your company while teeing off. 

Take note that many of these guidelines were taken from the unwritten code of golfing, which varies a little from place to place. This would be a good place to start if you have no idea at all about golfing culture. 

1.    If you are planning to tee off in a popular public golf course, expect crowds to be there especially when the weather is nice. The only way to be first in line is to be there first thing in the morning. 

Some golfing families even arrive in the evening and sleep in their vehicles so they won’t have any trouble entering the course in the morning. 

I’m not sure if you are ready to sleep in your car just so you can tee off in the morning, but if you are, good for you. That’s the kind of enthusiasm that this game needs - and you are going to need a lot of enthusiasm during the first few weeks of playing! 


2.    Private golf courses have their own specific policies when it comes to accommodating golfers and other guests. Some golf courses are exclusive to club members; others allow non-members to tee off for a handsome price. 

Some private golf courses are open to everyone but require weeks or sometimes, a whole month of advanced booking. To avoid any confusion (or disappointments), visit the website of your target golf course and call them before scheduling a game. 

You will find that different courses can have wildly different policies. Opt for a golf course that is accommodating and has reasonable fees. If you can get into a golf course for $180, I don’t see any reason why you should choose another course that asks $500 from non-club members. 

Don’t be dazzled with the prices. Some small golf courses can charge as little as $25 for a game of golf. However, if you are playing on a golf course developed by one of the big names in real estate, expect a handsome fee in exchange for being allowed to play on their immaculately maintained greens. 

Again, it’s really up to you and how much are willing to spend for a few rounds of golf. Some golf courses even have an “honesty system” where you pay what you want to pay. 


You just leave your money in a collection bin or collection box before going home. Of course, the available facilities in this type of golf course can be quite different from what bigger golf courses can offer, for obvious reasons. 

3.    In exclusive/club-run golf courses, there is a dress code that applies to both men and women. Men are expected to arrive in collared shirts and pants, or at least in a decent pair of shorts that is a few inches past the knees. 

Women should also be attired appropriately - micro-skirts are definitely out of the picture! In the event that your attire violates the dress code, you will probably be informed by staff from the pro shop. 

4.    Your golfing host is there to ensure that you are able to play a decent game of golf with your friends/family. As such, you don’t have to treat your host to extra drinks at the bar. 

If your host is a regular club member, he probably doesn’t pay with cash anyway - everything that he consumes from the club is charged on a monthly basis. 

Don’t worry about your host. Instead, focus your energy on following the golf course’s policies and also, try not to be a drag to other players in the group. 


5.    I highly recommend that you only bring your equipment and as few additional items as possible when you head out to the green. This is the reason why there are locker rooms in golf courses - so you can leave your other stuff there. 

Street shoes are definitely a no-no when you are teeing off. Wear golfing shoes and leave your sneakers in the locker room, where they belong. 

Golfers are often immaculately dressed - don’t be that player that everyone stares at because you insisted in wearing less than ideal clothes during a game. 

6.    Act as naturally as you can when you are finally on the green and playing with others. The most important rule of golfing is to have as much fun as you can regardless of the outcome of the game. 

Sure, it’s no fun to drag behind three or four people in terms of your score, but it is not acceptable to complain every time you have a bad shot. 

Beginners are expected to commit mistakes, that’s just how it is. Also, other golfers are preoccupied with their own game. Complaining about your game will only make them like you less, because you are burdening them with your own game issues. 


7.    Beginners are not really required to post the outcomes of their games. Scoring is a standard activity in every golf game but if it is going to add extra pressure on you, then forget about it for now. 

You have many years ahead to worry about your scores. Right now the most important thing is that you have fun and you are able to practice what you have learned so far. 

8.    In golf, being a team player means you do not purposefully slow down the group for any reason. You can express this team spirit in a variety of ways. 

For example, if you accidentally drove your ball in a faraway sandpit that quite the distance from the general route of the group, don’t let others wait. 

Tell them that you will retrieve the golf ball on your own and they should continue with their game. Of course, you will get a lot of “are you sure?” questions when you tell them to proceed without you, but this is the beauty of the strategy: you will be showing them that you are a great golfer and a good sport and you are someone that they should invite again in their next game. 

9.    Analysis of your game should be done quietly and in private. After a bad shot, don’t say things like “I keep missing because this club head is too small!”. 

First, it’s distracting to other players and they have enough on their mind at the moment, trying to improve their scores. Second, other golfers really don’t mind if you are doing well/good as long as you are having fun. 

You should also avoid analyzing what the other golfers are doing. If someone gives you a tip, don’t try to over-extend the discussion. You can analyze the tip later, at home. Thank the other golfer for the tip and proceed with your game. 

As you can see, out in the green, the only thing that really matters is the game and nothing else. All other activities and interactions should be done later, when you are done with the course. 

In second part of this article we look at exercises and skill-building techniques.

 

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