Course Management Basics – Part 1

Get More Out of Your Game

We’ve all had that experience of playing against a guy who scores better than he “should.”  His swing isn’t polished, the ball flight isn’t beautiful, but he piles up par after infuriating par.

You’ve probably seen his polar opposite too: the guy with a beautiful swing, hits lots of greens, and turns in scores in the 80s.

In this series on course management, I’m going to help you become more like the first guy.  When your swing is on, golf is going to be easy.  When your swing is off, you’ll still post respectable numbers.

This Series Is For You If:

You want to shoot lower scores with the swing you have

Trouble, Trouble, Trouble

No matter how good your swing is, no matter how conservative your targets are, you will find yourself in trouble from time to time.  You’re going to fire a tee shot into the trees.  You’re going to find a greenside bunker.  It happens to everyone.

The difference between good course management and bad course management is how you deal with trouble.  That leads us to Rule #1: When you get in trouble, get out of trouble.

Practical Applications

Here are some real world examples of Rule#1.

If you’re in a bunker, get out of the bunker in one shot (and hopefully on the green or fringe).  Don’t worry about modifying your technique to get close to a pin that’s very close or very far away.  Play to the fat part of the green, get the putter in your hand, and try to make a putt.

If you’ve driven it into the trees, get out of the trees.  Do not try to play through a tiny opening so that you can get closer to the green.  You don’t always need to pitch out sideways, but don’t take the chance of playing two consecutive shots from the woods.

If you are in a tough situation around the green, just get on the green.  Don’t take on the flag if it’s on a skinny part of the green.  Don’t take a line that requires you to carry a hazard.

If you’ve hit it into the water, don’t feel that you need to attack the flag with your next shot.  Yes, your score will be worse for having dunked a ball, but hitting a low percentage shot to a tucked pin is not likely to make it any better.

Easy to Say, Tough to Do

Rule #1 sounds simple, but it’s not.  The reason it’s tough is that it forces you to swallow your pride and accept that you’re probably not going to make a par.  But recognize this: bogeys aren’t going to kill your score.  You can make seven bogeys and shoot in the 70s!  It’s only when you compound mistakes and post doubles and triples that your score gets out of control.

For those low handicap players who don’t want to accept any bogeys, consider implementing the 80% Rule when in trouble.

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Matt Saternus

Co-Founder, Editor In Chief at
Matt is a golf instructor, club fitter, and writer living in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. Matt's work has been published in Mulligan Magazine, Chicagoland Golf, South Florida Golf, and other golf media outlets. He's also been a featured speaker in the Online Golf Summit and is a member of Ultimate Golf Advantage's Faculty of Experts.

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  1. This is something I need to work on. I think I’m getting better in this regard, but when I’m wild off the tee, I tend to start compounding the problem. Part of playing smart, for me, would be to ditch the driver and suck it up and put a club I can better handle in my hands for tee shots.

  2. It’s funny to me that you included the term “swallow your pride”. If most men were capable of this, the golf world would be a tremendously better place.
    1) Weekend Warriors wouldn’t foolishly tee up from the “tips”
    2) They wouldn’t care if the four-some they’re part of, had some players playing different tees based on their playing ability and current handicap index
    3) Everyone else on the golf course would play a quicker round, since “Duffer #1”, hasn’t hit a GIR on a par 5, because his 200 yd drive and 150 yard 5 iron, is leaving him 200 left to the green. #TeeItForward #SwallowYourPride

  3. Great reminders….especially the one about getting out of trees the first time. So easy to go after the “gap” only to walk off with triple.

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