To optimise the rate of your golfing development you need to practice. However, knowing how best to practice is a tough problem. It appears there is much conflicting advice. In this post I will help you understand how to structure your golf practice games. I will teach you the underlying aspects that affect your rate of learning, then I will give you three great golf practice games to help you improve your long game.
What are golf practice/skills games?
Many golfers love to spend time working on their golf technique. However, golf is a game that involves you getting the ball into the hole. Technique is important, but let me ask you this question – How much time do you dedicate in your practice schedule to developing your golfing skills? How often do you set technique to one side and just let your body find a way to get the ball as close as possible to your target?
If your answer is very little, don’t worry you’re with the golfing majority. Many golfers spend an unhealthy amount of time refining their backswing position, and far too little educating their swing to execute golf shots.
This in a nutshell is what golf skills games are. They aim to develop your golfing skills.
“Focus far less on your movements, and far more on getting the ball to your target”
What makes a great golf practice/skills game?
Practice by itself doesn’t make us better at golf. This sentence will confuse many golfers, but let me explain. For us to develop our golfing skill our bodies have to make many changes in response to stress.
It is this underlying response to stress that leads to us developing ‘golfing skill’. Therefore, golf practice needs to be specifically designed to induce stress and the changes we desire.
Great practice should 'optimally stress' specific areas of your golf game. This may be refining your club face at impact, your distance control, or your decision making process.— Golf Insider (@golfinsideruk) April 30, 2018
As you improve, ensure your practice becomes more difficult to continually induce optimum stress.
Below are the underlying points which are critical in great golf practice games:
1. Golf practice games needs to be specific
Just as going to the gym and doing bicep curls will not make your legs stronger, the mere act of practice will not create change. Instead golf practice needs to be specific in what we wish to target. Golf practice games should not only be broken down into sub-categories such as putting, chipping, driving… but also into specific attributes of that area. Golf putting distance control, golf putting start line optimisation, golf putting reading breaking putts.
You should pick the golf practice games you play each week with a specific aim in mind.
2. Golf practice games needs to be suitably challenging
Just like our gym example, golf practice needs to be suitably challenging. It also needs to become continually more challenging as we learn and develop our golfing skill.
3. Golf practice games for shot execution and decision making
Every golf shot you hit relies on a large volume of information being process, and many thousand decisions being made at a subconscious level. You should play golf practice games that stress this decision making process, as well as games that focus on refining shot execution.
4. Golf practice games should maximise volume and realism
The more high quality receptions you can make, the more learning will occur. However, golf practice games should also be realistic to the competitive environment where we play.
Here we have a trade off. The golf range offers a great number of repetitions within a given time frame, but a very unrealistic practice environment and practice structure. Practicing on the golf course provides us with a more realistic practice environment and structure, but far less repetitions within a given time frame.
Neither are bad ways to practice. Both should be included, with clever ways to improve the realism of the golf range and the number of repetitions on the golf course.
5. Golf practice games should give precise feedback
Feedback in learning is commonly misunderstood (I’m currently thinking I need to write a geeky post on the topic). Great golf practice games should give you really precise feedback on your shot outcome. They should also be adapted to give you precise feedback on your movements that led to that shot outcome.
This isn’t easy to achieve, but the use of props, training aids and videoing can all add to feedback on your movements. Great coaching also will develop your understanding of how to process this feedback.
When you are deciding how to practice, it is these factors you need to consider. These are the factors which decide how much learning you will gain for any golf practice game. Below is a handy wrap up of the key factors.
So without further ado, let us fire through three great golf practice games to help improve your long game.
Practice game 1 – Will’s range challenge
As the name suggests this is a skills game for you to play on the range. This skills game has 6 stages to complete. You have to complete the previous stage before you can move onto the next. Take 40 range balls and see how far you can get.
Set up: Create a 20 yard fairway on your range using two targets. Find/create or imagine small greens (approx 10 yard diameter) at 100, 150 and 200 yards. Then complete the following stages in order:
- Hit two drivers in a row that land in your fairway.
- Hit two shots with a fairway wood that land in your fairway.
- Hit two shots with a long iron that land in your fairway.
- Hit two shots in a row that land on your 100 yards green.
- Hit two shots in a row that land on your 150 yards green.
- Hit two shots in a row that land on your 200 yards green.
Here is how the game ranks based on the factors we discussed above.
Aim: Refine accuracy throughout long game.
Decision making: 4/10
Feedback precision: 7/10
Practice game 2 – Hugo’s range challenge
A second range challenge was created by a dear friend of mine (and serious player) Mr. Hugo Dobson. Again, you’re allowed 40 golf balls to see if you can complete this challenge.
Set up: Pick a 15 yard wide target on your golf range. Make it 10 yards wide if you’re feeling cocky and 5 yards wide if you like feeling pain.
Begin with the shortest club in your bag (a wedge of some sort) and aim to land the ball within your target area. Once you achieved this, move onto your next shortest club (let’s say a PW). Follow this process until you finish the game with your driver.
14 clubs means 14 stages to complete. Mark how far you can get, by how many clubs you can get through with your 40 balls.
Aim: Refine shot accuracy with irons and woods
Decision making: 2/10
Feedback precision: 7/10
Practice game 3 – Mid iron challenge
I love this skills game. It does take some effort to play, but you must try it out. Head onto the golf course when it is quiet. Your aim is to play 9 holes of this skills game, but feel free to combine it with knocking a ball round.
Set up: On each hole drop a ball at 140, 155 & 170 yards. You play each of these into the hole as if each is a par 3.
If you’re very fortunate this will give you 27 attempts, however on most courses you’ll get 21-25 attempts, due to lakes, bushes etc.
You aim is to see how many pars you can make from each distance. A total of 27 pars are up for grabs. If you don’t make a par, just pick up and move on. Feeling like a pro? My professional players mark down birdies only – warning this is tough! 6 birdies out of 24 is the best I’ve seen recently.
Aim: Develop mid-iron decision making, distance control and execution.
Decision making: 9/10
Feedback precision: 8/10
How you should use golf practice/skills games?
So there we go, now you have three brand-spanking new ways to practice your long game. You should still practice you golf technique, but these games should be played alongside your technique practice.
As you can see from the ratings above the range challenges focus on your shot execution. Where as the mid-iron challenge really stresses your decision making. The mid-iron challenge also provides your far richer feedback on where your shots are finishing and is more realistic to the demands you will face in competitive golf.
Having a combination of skills games that challenge your shot execution and decision making is key if you wish to reach your full potential.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this article on golf practice games. If you would like these posts sent straight to your inbox each week just sign up for the golf insider weekly post.