How to improve your golf game in 15 steps

Simon Lewis urges you to forget the excuses and get golfing this year.

1. Set Yourself A Challenge

You don’t have to be world number one Rory McIlroy killing time in first class to set yourself some motivational goals. The four-time Major winner revealed last week he always writes down his ambitions and objectives for the year ahead on the back of a boarding card en route to his first tournament of the season. Your golfing goals for 2015 may not feature a green jacket from Augusta National but any challenge is a motivating factor to improve your game, doubly so if you set yourself a date to achieve it by. Whether your objective is lowering a handicap, winning a tournament or mastering the hole that gets you every time, whatever it is, it will get you out on the golf course an awful lot more this year.

2. Go back to school

Feeling hemmed in by the short days and post-Christmas bank balance? Turned off golf by the cold weather? Why not sign up for a night class in golf and get motivated by the obligation for weekly attendance to get you through the dark months? Many secondary schools throughout the country offer golf for beginners and improvers on their adult education curricula alongside subjects in the languages, arts and crafts, business and computers. A representative course would be the 10 90-minute lessons for €100 offered by Douglas Community School in Cork, taught by PGA Professional Wayne O’Callaghan at his Fernhill Golf Club base.

“It’s a very affordable way to get lessons and with me, at least, the students have time out on the course, so it’s good instruction, they’re not just stuck on the range,” says O’Callaghan, who has been teaching night classes for 16 years at Douglas and Carrigaline schools. “We get a wide range of players, from beginners down to seven or eight handicappers who want to brush up in the winter months.

“They can also turn into social gatherings with the groups and we’ve found a lot of students go on and join the golf club as a result. It’s a definite way into golf without spending a fortune.”

3. Get a bang for your buck

Everyone loves getting value for money so shop around for seasonal membership deals which many clubs offer from time to time to give their coffers a boost. And by laying down some cash up front, human nature is such that you’ll want to maximise your investment. “From what I’m seeing, there’s an awful lot of people out there who don’t want to spend the big money on membership,” Claire Healy told the Irish Examiner in November. Healy owns Water Rock, a pay-to-play course in East Cork that has begun offering annual memberships for €350 with a Monday to Friday green fee of just €12.50 after that. “They’re complaining that every game costs them €100 because they don’t play that many times, so we’re giving them the handicap, they can play competitions but then they’re in charge of what they spend thereafter.”

4. Plan your approach

If you’re going out of town for a business or social appointment, try leaving a little earlier than normal and give yourself enough time to squeeze in a few holes or a session at a local driving range. You’ll get a new or different experience from your own course and you’ll be boosting your annual tally of holes played. And if your journey is by plane, it’s a great way to get the flight out of your system (or even counteract the jet lag), get some fresh air in your lungs and get you relaxed and ready for that important meeting.

5. Putt Before You Sup

When you’re planning a night out, make the golf course your meeting point instead of the pub or restaurant and play a friendly pre-event putting contest or nearest the hole competition. You can even get the proper night out started with a first drink in the clubhouse, and let the loser buy.

6. Play a par-three course

Or failing that, a three or four-hole loop. The Heritage Golf and Spa Resort in Killenard, County Laois, has a nine-hole par three course which resident PGA professional Eddie Doyle recommends as an ideal way to squeeze in a game and keep improving your game. “You can get round our par-three in an hour and a half or less,” Doyle says, “which is great when time is at a premium. And it is much more than a pitch and putt, it is a high quality course with great greens and all the spec. You can play shots from 90 to 200 yards, so most golfers need all the clubs in their bag.”

If there’s not a par-three that’s nearby, you can identify a playable loop of holes at most 18-hole courses.

7. Avoid Slow Players

Slow play is destroying golf as golfers wait patiently behind yer man who insists on using his expensive rangefinder but doesn’t know how far he can hit his ball. So when do the faster players play?

“The smart golfer gets out early,” says PGA pro Eddie Doyle. “You always see the faster players out at 7.30am on a summer’s morning and they’ll get around in three and a half hours. When people start at 9am they’re taking five hours. It’s no contest. I see so many starters at golf clubs around the place wait until 1pm to get going, but by then it’s too late. They should be there at 9am getting things moving along.”

In the meantime, set the alarm clock. Or...

8. Play Speedgolf

There’s no hanging about here, with the aim to play a round of golf with the lowest number of strokes in the fastest time. Ireland’s Rob Hogan, who owns the Hogan Golf Academy at Cregmore Golf Club in Claregalway, Galway, was 2013 World Speedgolf champion, who claimed the 36-hole championship at Bandon Dunes in Oregon. He shot a 13-over-par 154 with rounds in 39 and 41 minutes.

It’s a format that does not allow you to spend too long over shots with speedgolfers carrying six clubs on the run but Hogan says it is an attitude as much as anything. “I can play a course in 38 minutes but I can also go out with friends who don’t run and play a round in two hours. Slow play is getting worse and there’s more to life than spending your whole day on a golf course.”

Hogan is a Speedgolf evangelist, setting up a Speedgolf League in Galway in spring/summer and plans to stage an Irish tournament.

He is also keen to encourage others to do the same in other areas so anyone interested in starting up their own leagues can find out more on his facebook pages at Speedgolf-Ireland and SpeedgolfRob or give him a call at 086 4086069. On your marks!

9. Join a Society

One way to ensure you get out to play more in 2015 is to join a golf society. It could be with your local pub regulars, work colleagues or just a group of friends, and with the average society planning eight outings a year, the schedule should keep even the apathetic golfer out on the course regularly. Societies also tend to receive preferential green fee rates at courses you might not otherwise get to play and Eoin Francis of believes the social element of a society outing with the quality of golf on offer makes for an enjoyable mix. “Society golf is a fun way to meet people who share an interest in the sport,” Francis says. “Joining a society lends the opportunity to become part of a wider group of people who share the same love for the game, regardless of their handicap.”

Francis’s website offers a free booking service for societies and advice on how to form your own, with those wishing to register theirs online receiving a free copy of the Golf Society Bible.

10. Get competitive

There’s nothing like getting the competitive juices going to keep you interested in something and golf is no exception. So why not sign up for one of your club’s teams: you may even finish the year with an All-Ireland winner’s medal. It’s a long road to both the Irish Ladies Golf Union’s Inter-Club Championships in August and the Golfing Union of Ireland’s Cups and Shields finals in September, with club panels forming in the new year to practise and prepare for provincial battle. And it’s not just for the scratch players — trophies are up grabs for all range of handicappers and all age groups, both men’s and women’s.

And, says Greg O’Sullivan captain of Muskerry GC’s Barton Shield-winning team in 2014, your commitment to the cause will be rewarded with not just an improved game from the extra practice but the camaraderie that is created. “The friendship and the bonds that form over the course of the competition and before it even started is very special and it grows over the season,” O’Sullivan says. “There’s a lot of different personalities coming together from all walks of life with a common interest of trying to get the ball in the hole in the fewest amount of shots.”

11. Make it a family affair

Getting your children involved in the game you love is a sure-fire way to perk your interest in golf and you may find they’ll soon be nagging you to take them! It may even lead to everyone getting involved and perhaps to the wider clan so you can stage your own family championship — make golf the centre of a special day and enjoy the benefits of a family that plays together. Who knows? You may also wind up in one of those father-son, mother-daughter, father-daughter, mother-son competitions that are growing in popularity. And don’t forget the non-golfers. If you can’t be totally inclusive, play at a course that offers alternative entertainment for the golf-loathing family member, a destination where there’s something else to do for the few hours you’re out on the course, whether it’s a spa treatment, swimming pool or something less strenuous, you’ll still be heading out to the same place without excluding anyone.

12. Manage time better

You don’t need a life coach, efficiency expert or any other type of guru to tell you about the minutes that get wasted in front of the television, smartphone or computer. Those short chunks of time quickly add up to a whole lot of hours that you could be playing golf. So be strong, turn away from the screen and start banking those wasted minutes by getting on with what you should be doing, thereby freeing up the time for three, nine or 18 holes. It’s really just a question of discipline.

13 And that includes getting up earlier...

Got a busy day ahead or just want to buy yourself some time? Set the alarm clock and get out there on the course before everyone else. Getting up with the lark will get you plenty of extra time to play and as we suggested earlier, you’ll be playing faster golf as well in the mornings. Chances are you’ll be home with the whole day still ahead.

14 ...And staying up later

Okay, you’re not a morning person, we hear you. But what about a trip to your nearest floodlit driving range? There are plenty of them dotted around Ireland, their illuminated bays making an evening’s practice a possibility once the kids are in bed. Explore the bright side.

15 Plan ahead

Get the diary out and start planning your golf days well in advance. Don’t leave your time on the course to impulse, that’s not how most successful and efficient businesses run so why should your golf be any different?

Be methodical and allot space on your schedule and you may well find your playing time increases as a result. It will also give you something to look forward to during the cold winter months.


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