Golf is one of the world's most technical athletic pursuits with what can feel like an insurmountable learning curve.
Even the world's best golfers top tee shots once in a while or hit a dreaded hosel-rocket. (I suppose the only sport that might be more intimidating to a beginner is rock climbing.)
So why on earth do we even try to hit these little balls with these silly clubs, anyways? Because once you feel the sensation of the sweet spot in your hands or hear the ball rattle around into the hole, the feeling is intoxicating to most of us and one that lasts a lifetime. Golf is so rewarding in part because it's tough! But also because can play golf with your kids or your friends or your grandparents. You can do it with seasoned golfers or newbies like you, and the health benefits are vast.
As you begin to think about taking the plunge into golf, sooner or later you'll begin to want some help with your swing. It's perfectly fine to go to the driving range or putting green or Topgolf with friends for fun, but before you really start to spend time intentionally trying to improve, or even before you buy a set of golf clubs, you should consult the experts. And there are plenty of them wherever you may be.
As you'd expect with such a technical game, lessons are a huge part of the golf business. A recent National Golf Foundation report found 4 million U.S. golfers took a lesson in 2019. That's nearly 17% of the golfing public. Probably a larger percentage of beginner golfers are in all likelihood getting advice from friends they know who play golf. These friends may shoot 85 for 18 holes but to a novice like you, they seem like a pro. They're not. I've had newbies ask me for swing advice and I'm typically wary of giving much. It's not because I'm mean. It's because I know better. GolfPass faculty member Martin Chuck, who also operates a golf school in Phoenix, Arizona, likes to warn beginners of the "well-meaning friend."
"They don't mean to send you down the rabbit hole of bad information," said Chuck. "Lessons from someone qualified to teach you are imperative to avoid certain pitfalls. A well-meaning friend might set up your grip in a bad spot that really limits your ceiling of development.
"Seek the advice of a highly regarded local teacher. See who is having fun with their teachers. It's fun first, information second."
The idea of one-on-one professional advice might sound expensive. It certainly can be if you have the resources. The Cadillac teaching option would be to get regular one-on-one lessons with a PGA Pro at a top club who not only fits you for your first set of clubs but that has all the latest and greatest video equipment and TrackMan available each time you come. You might even throw in some Playing Lessons, which are extremely valuable, but they are usually pretty expensive since it typically involves multi-hour blocks of time with a pro.
Before you totally commit and stroke a big check, you may be better off trying out some group lessons or less-intimidating programs. But ultimately it's your journey, and whatever you choose should invigorate you to keep playing, and that's when the magic starts to happen. Here are a few ways for new golfers to receive expert instruction.
Golf clinics are abundant and there's usually one on the schedule coming up, especially early in the season.
A well-known program that launched a few years ago and is a very popular program nationwide is the PGA of America's Get Golf Ready program. It launched as a series of five lessons for $99 led by a PGA professional. You don't even need clubs to start. They have some on hand. Check out this location portal and enter your state, city or zip code to see if there is a participating facility near you.
In addition to Get Golf Ready, I would recommend finding a driving range or public golf course near your house and subscribe to their emails or social handles. What you'll find is that they will begin offering free or very affordable beginner golf clinics (maybe $20 or so for an hour). These are some of the most low-pressure and low-cost ways to learn about the golf swing. Once you participate in a few of these and get the basics down like grip and setup, then you may feel ready to get more detailed with a one-on-one lesson.
A one-hour, one-on-one, in-person lesson with a PGA certified instructor will probably cost you anywhere from $50-100+ per visit depending on where they are located (a public course vs. a resort or private course) and the type of tech they use. Many instructors will sell multi-lesson packages that lighten up the per-visit cost.
Once you decide individual lessons are for you, I highly recommend booking a series of three or more and being sure to practice on your own or play one or two rounds between them. Getting lessons that include video or launch monitor numbers probably aren't necessary at first and could be more demoralizing than instructive. But if you're a visual learner, then it might help you improve more quickly. Golf Channel Academy locations are all led by expert instructors at top properties nationwide and feature a combination of group and individual lessons. | Browse Golf Channel Academy locations and schedules
Topgolf has become legendary for making the game accessible and fun by creating an almost bowling-like group environment for the game. Many people are taking their first swings at one as part of a corporate outing or date night. Keep in mind this is also a place that has partnered with the PGA of America and staffs teaching pros and offers lessons through its 'Topgolf Coach' program. You can choose between an individual lesson ($59 for juniors, $89 for adults), get some friends and do it together ($119-149 total), or join a 60-minute group class starting at $29.
Destination golf schools
Is your idea of a vacation an immersive golf school? You're not alone. There are destination golf schools all over the world and especially in the south, where northern golfers might come for spring break to fine tune their game before the snow melts back home. Martin Chuck operates the TourStriker Academy in Phoenix at the Raven Golf Club. His schools feature himself and four other teachers who see a wide range of students in every camp from accomplished players to new golfers. He says you shouldn't be intimidated as a newcomer. In fact, beginners in the vicinity of accomplished players creates an encouraging group dynamic, allowing novices to possibly pick up good habits from low handicappers. (Personally, I typically play better when I play with golfers better than I am. I usually draft off their course management, swing tempo and intentional pre-shot routines).
"They really feed off each others' successes," said Chuck.
There are many instructors with destination golf schools ranging from Jim McLean to David Leadbetter. Phil Mickelson's short-game guru Dave Pelz even operates a school based around the short game.
As indoor simulator technology continues to improve, golf simulator experiences are becoming staples in cities all over the world. GolfTec is one of the best-known companies in this space with more than 200 locations in six countries. They offer individual lessons and larger plans, some of which even go to a green-grass facility for a playing lesson. Swing evaluations start at $100 for 60 minutes, and they'll also do a club fitting for $100 (you can then buy from them or someone else). Other golf retailers with hitting bays, such as Golf Galaxy or PGA Tour Superstore, will do 45-minute lessons with swing and motion analysis.
Simulators are also becoming big entertainment concepts around the world. One growing franchise is X-Golf. Their concept is more relaxed and entertainment-focused with music, food and drinks. But they staff PGA professionals for individual and group lessons and their simulator technology has the launch monitor staples like ball speed, launch angle and club path.
The next step: Breaking 100
I've played with quite a few beginners over the years and my advice to them is to not worry about score very much at all. Rather than writing down 10s or 12s or Xs on the scorecard and generally getting discouraged at the big ugly numbers, only chart positive milestones. Write down fairways hit, bogeys or better, one-putts, getting out of the sand on the first try, longest drive, etc. It doesn't even have to be a golf milestone: write down your step count, calories burned, time off your phone, etc.
But once you've been playing golf a little while longer and are noticing improvement (no whiffs, losing fewer balls, more two-putts), the big goal will become breaking 100 over 18 holes. Among our many instruction series on GolfPass, PGA Professional Andrew Rice created this series to help golfers get over the hump and into double-digit scoring.
Breaking into the Game: Beginners
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Have you never played golf and are thinking about picking up a club for the first time? Been to the driving range a couple times but are looking to get more serious about it? Then consider Breaking Into the Game: Beginners the first big step on your journey in this great game. In this brand-new series, renowned golf instructor Martin Hall will teach you the basics of the golf swing in order to provide the perfect foundation to build a lifelong love of golf! | View the full series here on GolfPass
Brandon Tucker is the Sr. Managing Editor for GolfPass and was the founding editor of Golf Advisor in 2014, he was the managing editor for Golf Channel Digital's Courses & Travel. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and nearly 600 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker and on Instagram at @btuck34.