The pros on tour generally show up on the Monday before the event gets underway on Thursday. In between a likely sponsor event, the pro-am and cocktail parties, they spend available days between Monday and tee-time researching the course.
What’s more, they’ve got help! Their caddie walks the course on Monday and Tuesday, collecting yardages and refining data from the course guide. By Thursday both player and caddie are confident about the necessary game plan to tackle the various course characteristics.
Unless you are joining the ranks of the PGA Tour sometime soon, then you will need a shorter, surefire routine that will have you ready to attack a new course for the first time. Here are some ideas:
1. Do your homework
A cursory search online uncovered hole-by-hole and scorecard data for the last five British Open courses. Three of the five most recent U.S. Open courses have similarly detailed data online. The remaining two have scorecards and other information.
The PGA website has a comprehensive section on course reviews. It links directly to thousands of courses across the U.S. In the digital age, there is no excuse for not getting your hands on a scorecard or a hole-by-hole analysis. Better still, try and locate the course guide or yardage book online and print it out for review prior to your game. If nothing else, you will have some course sense before arrival.
You might also ask your playing partners beforehand if they have played the course. Agree to share the drive there to enable you to pick their brains about the course. And if you don’t have a SatNav, grab a map printout — getting lost en route is embarrassing!
2. Check the home rules
It can be worth checking on any idiosyncrasies of the club that you are visiting. Some clubs have highly pernickety dress codes, including the donning of a jacket and tie if you intend to quench your thirst at the end of the round.
Scotland’s Muirfield, for example, will insist that you shower and bring a full change of clothes, including a jacket, tie and “dress” shoes. At Royal Troon, don’t attempt to parade your Loudmouth polka dot shorts — they take a dim view of any shorts, in fact. Other courses will insist you use motorized carts or caddies, or ban metal sprigs, so being forewarned is best.
Conversely, some courses are quite insistent about you walking the course. The breathtaking Streamsong courses in Florida (Red and Blue) are walking courses. And while carts are available, they have restricted times and they’re only available with the use of a forecaddie. If you have mobility issues, this would need to be investigated sooner rather than later. Some clubs insist that you bring a letter of introduction from your home club, confirming your playing handicap and attesting to your good character!
3. Head to the course early
Get to your new course in plenty of time. You want to give yourself a chance to drop your bags, park, check-in with the pro-shop staff (including getting your card, slope rating and handicap sorted) and organize practice on the facilities. This includes taking as much time as you can to understand the greens. And if time permits, make good on the chipping facilities or use the range.
If it is a “bucket list” course, then all the more reason to arrive with sufficient time to soak up the atmosphere. You can admire the trophy cabinet and historical artifacts or perhaps take some photos. Selecting your souvenir shirt or ball marker can also be done before heading out. The pro shop might be closed when you come in or your thirst might take priority over an intended shopping spree.
4. Check starter protocols
Make sure you understand the starting tee protocols. Will you be called to the tee via the loudspeaker? Do you need any paperwork to show the starter? Is the first tee near the clubhouse or a lengthy walk?
Get to the starter on time and introduce yourself. Starters know the course very well — ask them for pointers in general terms and specifically what to look out for on your first time. The starter might also explain how they would like you to manage divots. This could range from hacking in with an iron, carrying sand to fill the mark or doing absolutely nothing (as the course personnel attend to such matters at the end of each day).
Ultimately, sensible preparation prior to playing a new course will soothe the nerves and bring some confidence to your arrival and start. Get there with plenty of time to spare and with a reasonable understanding of the course and its facilities. This will enable you to focus on the game. You’ll be able to master the course and come away exhilarated by your performance!
— N. Incoll