How to Play Golf – A Coach’s Guide for Beginners

Here we’ll cover a beginners guide to golf. How to play golf, where to play golf, the basics of the golf swing, the equipment you need, and most importantly – tips for getting better and having fun.

We’ll start with the best way to learn the game before we dive into the swing and equipment.

Each section has links to more in-depth articles on each topic so I hope this guide acts as a one-stop-shop for your golfing journey. Use the menu below to jump to any deeper section.

Where to play & practice golf

There are three main places you can learn to play golf:

  1. Driving ranges
  2. 9-hole pitch and putt courses
  3. 18-hole courses

Best way to learn golf

The best places to learn the game are the top two.

Driving ranges often allow you to hire out equipment, meaning you can turn up, grab 50 or 100 balls and just have a go at hitting the ball. I would certainly recommend having a few attempts on a golf range before heading out to the golf course – it helps if you can consistently make contact with the ball!

Here is a quick guide to help you master your time at the golf range if you want to learn more.

Once you’ve hit the range, try out a local 9-hole short course, or pitch and putt course. These provide a great next step for learning how to play golf, the shorter holes take the pressure off being able to whack the ball 300-yards and allow you to learn the basics of chipping and putting.

Once you’ve mastered the two steps above, consider heading to a full 18-hole course. However, don’t feel you need to mark a full scorecard, the best approach is to treat your first few rounds on 18-hole courses as learning experiences – have a hit, find your golf ball, do it again, then pick up and move onto the next hole when you’ve had enough.

This approach takes the pressure off having to hit great golf shots and can keep you and your friends playing at a decent pace. On that note – don’t worry if golfers are behind you, just ask if they want to play through on this hole or the next – this means you can relax and enjoy your time on the course.

Learning how to play golf and score

The aim of golf is to get the ball in the hole in the fewest amount of shots possible. Beginner golfers normally fall into two camps when starting the game:

  1. Get me out onto a course and let me swing at it.
  2. I’m going to stay on the range until I perfect my swing, then I’ll get on the golf course.

If you want to get better at the game it is best to blend these approaches. Some time spent on the golf range really helps you build up the feeling of swinging a golf club and allows you to start making consistent contact with the ball.

However, don’t be fooled into thinking hitting the ball perfectly on the golf range will make you a great golfer. Range time is useful, but make sure you get out and play on a 9 hole short course when you can.

On the course, you’ll suddenly find the ball in 6-inch deep grass and a tree blocking your backswing – this will be the first time you realise golf is not just about making perfect swings on the range.

Getting onto a golf course also allows you to develop broader skills of planning where to hit your golf shots, how to aim and controlling the distance of your shots. We call these course management skills, they are a big part of helping you score well.

Learn the basics of the swing

golf swing basics, top of swing and downswing of golfer

Golf swing mechanics can seem very complicated when you dive into the theory, but the game doesn’t need to be this complex. Your aim is to:

  1. Get the ball up in the air.
  2. Get the ball travelling in the right direction.
  3. Control how far it goes.

Golf lessons for beginners

If you want to improve your golf game, find a local pro that makes learning the game fun.

There is some great information online but having in-person coaching allows a pro to see exactly what you are doing and will speed up your progress. Group beginner lessons are a great way to meet fellow beginner golfers and find some new golfing buddies.

Below we’ll go through a few basics of the golf swing to get you up and running. If you want a more detailed guide on how to swing a golf club, check out this link.

Golf swing basics

The golf swing is a sequence of events, how you set up to hit a golf ball is one of the most important aspects of the game, and where 90% of beginners go wrong. If you can get your setup correct hitting a golf ball becomes a lot easier.

There are three simple steps to master that can be remembered as G-A-P

  • Grip
  • Aim
  • Posture

If you get these three golf swing basics correct, you’ll be on a very good path to hit some great golf shots.

Golf grip

Your golf grip is the only thing that connects you to the golf club, so it is pretty important! For a full, in-depth article on the proper golf grip check out this link. Or for a quick guide follow the pictures below.

First, place your left hand on the club as shown below.

learning how to grip a golf club, showing the left hand golf grip

Next, wrap your fingers around the grip and place your right hand on below. Your hands should end up wrapped over one another, with the golf grip feeling as if it is mainly in your fingers. This will feel strange but allows you to properly hinge your wrists during your golf swing.

showing a sequence of the golf grip, and important golf swing basics

The biggest mistake I see when coaching beginner players is a weak golf grip, which results in golf shots slicing/fading and a loss of power.

Aiming

The aim is the point beginner golfers worry about most, but are actually very good at. We’re naturally pretty good at aiming at targets and golf is no exception.

A nice visual guide is to imagine you are standing on a train track. Your golf ball and clubhead are on the righthand track and should point along the track towards your target. Your feet and shoulders are on the lefthand track and point parallel to your target line.

golf swing basics alignment picture

Why did your golf shot go 40 yards right / left even though you were aiming straight? Either:

  1. You did hit the centre of the club face – if you hit the edge of the golf club, where you aim will matter very little.
  2. Your club face was pointing in that direction at impact. Where your club face points at impact dictates 80% of the direction of your golf shot (if you satisfy point 1 above).

If you have a problem with the first point, keep reading, posture is key. If you feel the problem is the second point, double-check your golf grip.

Posture

The last point in mastering the basics of the golf swing is posture. A great golfing posture keeps you balanced throughout your golf swing and allows you to strike the ball from the floor with little effort.

The video below gives you a simple, but easy way to get into a great posture for your golf swing.

Most beginner players over-flex their knees and don’t tilt forward enough from their hips. This results in more of a baseball swing posture and the club wanting to travel above the golf ball.

It will feel weird, but getting this flex from the waist will really help you strike your golf shots consistently. For a more complete guide on posture and the golf stance check out this article.

Extra beginner golf tips for learning to hit the golf ball

Here are a few more top tips for building a great golf swing.

Golf tips for beginners #1

Swing smooth and focus on a great strike. From my experience beginners hit 1 in 20 shots truly out the centre of the golf club. When they do, they are staggered by how far the ball travels. Focus on a positive, smooth tempo and learn to hit the centre of the clubface consistently. Distance is rarely an issue when you find the centre of the club (sweet spot).

Golf tips for beginners #2

You’re supposed to hit down on your iron shots. This is the bane of many beginner golfers, they try to help all their golf shots up into the air, but this is incorrect. Irons and wedges are designed to strike down on the golf ball, allowing the loft to help them up into the air.

showing Tiger Wood striking down on the golf ball

Ideally, you’ll take a small divot (a piece of grass) after the golf ball. This downward strike compresses the golf ball and helps impart energy and spin into your golf shots.

Yes, it sounds strange, but hit down to get your iron shots up in the air. Drivers and fairway woods have less loft and are designed to be swept off the tee or ground.

Golf tips for beginners #3

Master a balanced finish. If you can hold your finish until your golf ball lands you were likely balanced through impact. If you are balanced through impact, you are likely to hit the ball out of the centre of the club.

As a result, trying to hold a balanced finish is one of the simplest and most effective swing thoughts when learning to play golf.

Short game: learning to chip and pitch

As you get closer to the green you’ll need to use a smaller swing to control the distance your shots travel. Within 15 yards of the green, you can chip the ball.

A chipping swing is a short swing back and through aiming to brush the grass under the golf ball. Just like the longer iron shots, this action allows the loft on the golf club to do all the work and pop the ball up into the air.

golf chipping technique
Aim to brush the grass under the ball and keep the clubhead moving low and forwards.

Check out this guide on chipping tips for more on learning the basics of chipping.

Pitching

Pitching is anything that needs a bigger swing than a chip but isn’t a full golf swing. There is no clear point where pitching begins, but generally, we’d consider a shot a pitch, rather than a chip, when the ball travels 20 yards or more through the air.

Many beginner golfers struggle with pitching, here is a great pitching guide to get you going. If you can practice your pitching you’ll soon see the benefits feed through into your full swing. A better pitching swing leads to more control and consistency for your longer shots too.

Learning to Putt

Putting is a simple action, but one where many beginner golfers struggle. To be a great putter you need to achieve three things:

  1. Read how the slope will affect the route you ball will take to the hole
  2. Start the ball on your desired line
  3. Start the putt with your desired pace

For the first point, you can check out this article on how to read greens. I’ve also put together this article on putting stroke mechanics, but the first in your journey to becoming a great putter I would urge you to quickly check out this article to master your putting grip.

proper putting grip face on - Once you have your left hand in place, the right mirrors it. Note how both thumbs point down to the club face. This grip, with an extended left finger is called the vardon reverse overlap.
Once you have your left hand in place, the right mirrors it. Note how both thumbs point down to the clubface. This grip, with an extended left finger, is called the Vardon reverse overlap.

Yes, you’ll notice a theme here, just like the long game, how you hold a putter is really important for your performance and affects everything that happens in your putting stroke.

Golf equipment for beginners

In this section, we’ll cover the frequently asked questions around beginner golf equipment. In golf you’re allowed a maximum of 14 clubs, the clubs get progressively longer and have less loft – making the ball travel further.

The idea is that you can make roughly the same swing with each and the golf ball will travel further, or short depending on which club you select. This is the case when you hit the centre of the club every time, but it takes practice, so begin with beginner golfers often don’t see a consistent difference in how far each club hits the ball.

What do the different clubs do for a beginner?

Driver

Your driver is a big, low-lofted club that you hit off longer holes. Unless you are Tiger Woods, it’s probably best to only hit a driver off a tee. Having the ball teed up off the ground allows you to make an upward swing sending the ball high into the air and hopefully a long way down the fairway.

Drivers tend to hit the ball a long way and are forgiving if you miss-hit them due to their big clubhead size and sweet spot.

Men’s drivers tend to range from 9º – 13º of loft and ladies 12º – 15º. I would recommend most beginner men buy a driver with 10.5º – 12º and women 12-14º of loft. A driver with a loft below 10.5º is slighter harder to hit and can lead to shots that hook and slice more than higher lofted drivers.

What is the best driver for beginners?

If you want to learn more about the best driver for beginners check out this article.

Fairway woods & hybrids

These clubs are really useful for beginner golfers. They are used to hit the ball a long way off the ground (generally for the 2nd or 3rd shots on par 4’s and par 5’s). They can also be used off the tee as an alternative to hitting your driver.

As you improve at golf you’ll likely find fairway woods and hybrids are a more accurate choice off the tee. Fairway woods and hybrids tend to crossover with regards loft and how far they hit the golf ball. Some complete golf sets favour more fairway woods, others will give you more hybrids.

What is the difference between fairway woods and hybrids?

Fairway woods are a little longer than hybrids in length and have slightly bigger club heads, but essentially these both do a very similar job. 

The key detail to look for is the loft of each club. Most beginners will only need one or two of fairway woods or hybrids. I would recommend one club around 15-16 degrees and another between 19 – 24 degrees for an ideal beginner set.

Good clubs for beginners have easy to hit fairway woods and hybrids

Irons & wedges

Your irons are used to hit shots off the ground towards the green. They don’t go as far as your driver but have more control. They are numbered 3-iron up to a 9-iron, then the wedges run from a pitching wedge, sand wedge and sometimes an additional wedge.

The number of the iron tells you the loft on the golf club – the higher the number, the more loft a golf club has.

  • 3-iron (21-degrees loft) goes low and will travel a long way.
  • 7-iron (34-degrees loft) goes mid height, doesn’t roll as much on landing.
  • Sand wedge (56-degrees loft) goes high, not very far, stops quickly.

Here is an example set of clubs and their loft

The idea is to make roughly the same golf swing with each golf club and the ball will automatically go varying trajectories and distances.

Do I need to buy a 3 or 4-iron?

No, is the short answer. Most golfers find these clubs tough to use, and actually, only require them one or two times a round. These days you’ll find 5-woods, 7-woods and hybrids are better replacements, as they are easier to hit.

Your woods and hybrids don’t have to match your irons or other woods, so feel free to mix and match these when adding to your golf club set at a later date.

What is a gap wedge / approach wedge?

Modern golf club sets have stronger lofts compared to historical sets (from the 1970s and 1980s). The issue is that we need to keep high lofts on our wedges. The result is an 8-10º gap between manufacturers 9-iron and pitching wedge.

Most manufactures solution was to create a new club to sell to you – called a gap wedge or approach wedge. Click here to read more about wedge lofts.

What are the best wedges for beginners?

Most full-set and iron sets come with a pitching wedge, and some come with a sand wedge. This is plenty for when you begin the game. As you progress you may want to look at adding an approach (gap) wedge, but this is not a necessity.

When should I use a putter?

A putter is a flat-faced club that is used for rolling the ball into the hole once you are near or on the golf green.

Many golfers think putters have no loft, but they actually have 2 – 6º of loft to help get the ball up above the grass and begin rolling. Cheaper beginner sets often save money by including a putter that has little engineering or design. The result is a putter that has limited feel and ability to roll the golf ball on the greens.

If you are after buying a lower-cost set you may wish to consider buying a new putter as you advance as a player.

What types of beginner putters are there?

Beginner putters tend to come in a classical blade design or a mallet design. Both are ideal for golfers who are new to the game. Bladed putters have more weight in the toe and help the clubface open and close throughout your putting stroke.

Mallet putters can also be called face-balanced putters. These putters are suited to a straight back and through putting style. Both bladed and mallet designs are highly forgiving.

As you progress you may want to switch your putter to suit your preferred putting style. You may also find a style of putter easier to aim, but both styles are fine for beginner golfers.

What is the difference between men’s, women’s and senior golf clubs?

Women’s clubs are a 1/2 inch shorter and have slightly lighter shafts. They suit most women but are also a great option for juniors in their teens and senior golfers.

Check out our article on the best women’s golf clubs for beginners

Senior clubs are the same length as men’s but have a lighter shaft, similar to women. These too are a great option for taller juniors, who are not strong enough for men’s clubs. They are also a great option for taller women.

Custom fit clubs

I’m tall/short, do I need custom clubs?

When you’re buying a beginner set of golf clubs, more often than not standard length clubs will be fine.

The key measurement is not height, but rather wrist distance to the ground. If you are tall (6’2″+), but have long arms you may be best with standard or even shorter length clubs. 

Here is a bit of a long video, but has lots of detail for you.

Why do I need clubs specifically designed for beginners?

The short answer is you don’t, you could pick up any set of clubs. However, there are two advantages of buying a complete beginner set.

Firstly, beginner golf club sets contain all the clubs you need to begin and often come with a golf bag. Buying the golf bag, irons, woods, driver and putter separately can get expensive.

Secondly, if you buy a set aimed at beginners, you know the clubs will be made with forgiveness in mind. There are many other forgiving drivers and forgiving irons, but there are also clubs that are harder to hit.

Sticking to beginner sets should ensure you’ve got the right type of gear, making the game as fun as possible.

What golf clubs do I need

When you first start playing around a 9-hole pitch and putt course a 7-iron and a putter will do. As you move onto a longer golf course you will need a driver, 5 or 6 irons and a putter.

Most beginner sets offer these as a basic selection, and some sets have packages where you can add in extra fairway woods and wedge-like the Callaway Strata sets.

My top tip is to buy fewer clubs of a higher quality. Try to avoid the $199 sets with 14 clubs, a bag and everything you need, these are often poor quality. Instead, find beginner sets where the price may be the same but you only get a set of irons or 9 clubs in total.

You can always buy a driver, extra woods and wedges later on. The one part of your set that needs to match is your irons, as the loft on a given iron does vary between sets and manufacturers, and it is best to keep ~4º loft gap between each iron so you have a consistent gap throughout your set.

Golf balls for beginners

All golf balls should go straight. The expensive feature to manufacture is a golf ball that 1) travels a long when hit with a driver, but 2) spins a lot when struck with a short iron or wedge. Golf ball manufacturers achieve this by building golf balls with multiple layers (cores) – it is this design process that often makes some golf balls more expensive than others.

These Srixon golf balls and similar options give you a golf ball that goes a long way, feels soft and doesn’t cost too much. If you want to treat yourself check them out. If not, you can just buy second-hand balls to start with.

As you get better try to use a similar make and model of a golf ball. For a 15-yard chip shot, you’ll find a 3-5ft difference in distance for how far a hard and soft golf ball may travel. The softer ball will spin more and grab as it hits the green, whereas harder golf balls have less spin and roll further.

Both options are fine, just try to stick to one type as a preference.

Golf bags

There are three main types of golf bag you can buy:

  1. A cart / trolley bag
  2. A carry bag
  3. A Sunday / mini bag

If you plan to use a trolley or golf buggy to play then opt for a cart bag and obviously a carry bag will be best for carrying and comes with a popout stand. The key difference between cart and stand bags is how soft the bag casing is.

Cart bags have a solid structure, which stops them from slipping when strapped onto a trolley or cart, but makes them a pain to carry. Stand bags are soft and light making them great to carry, but they slip, twist and fall off a cart.

There are some hybrid bags like the Sun Mountain bag below which try to cover both but choose a bag based on what you plan to do 70% of the time.

ideal golf bag for beginner

Golf shoes

When you first head to the golf range or a pitch and putt golf course you’ll be fine in trainers, but as you want to play full golf courses you’ll likely need some golf shoes.

Golf shoes have small spikes on the sole that provide great grip as you swing and stop you from slipping. They are also designed to flex and twist across the sole, which means your feet will stay in contact with the ground as you swing back and through.

You can opt for spiked or spikeless golf shoes, just remember that spiked golf shoes will perform better when the ground gets wet and soft. Check out this article for more info on the best golf shoes.

How to play golf – What is next?

I hope this guide has helped, any questions you have leave them below and I’ll get back to you and update this article. I’d love to make this as guide useful as possible.

Your next steps, find a local golf range or 9-hole course and get in touch. See if you can hire some clubs and have a go!

If you can find a local pro offering beginner group lessons I would say that is a great option to learn the game, have fun and meet some fellow beginner golfers. Or, if you want to get better quickly try a few individual lessons with a pro, these will cost more, but 1-to-1 coaching will really speed up your progress.

Happy golfing – Will @ Golf Insider UK

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A PGA golf professional, with a PhD in Biomedical Science and MSc in Sports Biomechanics & Psychology. I currently spend my time lecturing part-time at Leeds Beckett University and working with elite athletes. In my spare time I build Golf Insider UK.

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