Anytime a pro golfer is going to compete on a new course, you’d better believe they go out there early and get to know the lay of the land. You may not need or want to do the same level of scouting — going to a course several times in the days leading up to your tee-time and walking the whole thing with your coach, and your finger out testing the wind. But it’s pretty rare to play your best shooting blind on a new-to-you course.
You don’t have to play your best game ever to have fun on a new course, but there are a few things you can do to mitigate any pre-game jitters and set yourself up to play your best golf possible, even when it’s your first time playing a particular spot.
1. Do your research
Study the course a bit before you even get there. Naturally, the best place to start is the course’s website. Here you can find general information about the course, and any particular house rules, etiquette or signage. You can even make sure this is a good course for your skill level.
Many websites list their difficulty of play using course rating system (CR) and slope (S) — but don’t stop there. Websites like Golf Advisor allow you to read real player reviews, and get insider tips from regular or people who have played the course before. Is the green extra fast? Do the putts not break as much as you think on the back nine? Now you know.
2. Conduct some on-site reconnaissance
Once you arrive at the course (making sure you leave time to warm up, obviously), hit the pro shop and ask about any unusual quirks or signage. For instance, sometimes a course won’t have yardage signs out on the holes, but they will have a shrub or a course feature that regulars know marks 150 yards. They may use a course-specific marker or plaque for doglegs, etc.
Think about buying a yardage book if they have one available. Or better yet, get a range finder. At a minimum, make sure to grab a scorecard that has yardage and rudimentary hole maps. This can save you from driving straight into any hidden hazards. You will want to warm up with 20 or so balls on the driving range, where you can ease into your swing and test the wind conditions. But don’t forget to leave time to try a few putts. This is an often-overlooked step, but provides you with the perfect opportunity to read the speed of the greens before you start keeping score.
3. Lay out a conservative strategy
There is no need to be aggressive when playing a course for the first time. Sure, it often pays off to take risks in a tournament. But if you’re golfing for fun and practice, there’s no reason to overplay your ball. It will always be safer to hit the ball to the green, or just short of the green, than to overshoot the hole. For one thing, do you know what the course looks like behind that hole? Not really. Even if you have a detailed course map of hazards and the like, you still won’t be sure what the slope is like, or even the condition of the grass.
4. Hire a caddy
Even if you normally golf with just a cart, a buddy and a six-pack of beers, it’s still a smart move to consider hiring a caddy if you’re at a club that employs them. Besides the typical bag service, it’s hard to overstate how useful it is to have someone’s input on your club choice for a new course. Caddies know a golf course better than almost anyone, since it’s their job to walk it over and over, assisting lots of different golfers all playing the same holes. They get to see which strategies work out the best under different kinds of conditions. They get to learn the best through-lines, and the shots that are harder than they look. Plus, you can focus on your game, not your sore shoulders from carrying a bag.
— Cammy Pedroja