Playing Your Best on a Golf Trip

Take Your Game on the Road

As the snow begins to melt, many golfers are getting geared up for spring golf trips.  And as much as we say we’re keeping expectations low at the start of the year, we all want to play well.  Whether you’ve been committed to off-season improvement or need to shake the dust off your set, this lesson will help you play your best on the road.

If you prefer listening to reading, I have a podcast on this topic HERE.

This Lesson Is For You If:

You’re planning a golf trip

You’d like to play well on your golf trip

The Obstacles to Playing Well

Golf trips are awesome, but they also present unique obstacles to playing well.  Some of the biggest ones are:

-Fatigue and soreness

-High expectations

-Being outside your routines

-Lack of course knowledge

-Hitting a lot of bad shots

I’m going to take these on one at a time and give you a plan for overcoming them.

Fatigue & Soreness

The most in-your-face problems that golfers deal with on a golf trip are physical.  We can ignore the effects of poor sleep or shaky psychology, but a sore leg or sprained wrist can’t be denied.  Thankfully, these are also the easiest issues to prevent.

To start, take a look at your itinerary.  Are you going to be playing 18 each day?  36?  54?  More important, are you going to walk or ride?  If you’re going to walk and you’re not in the habit of exercising already, you need to start walking daily.  You will be sidelined in a hurry if you go from sedentary to walking 36 a day.

Even if you’re going to ride, you need to get your body ready for swinging a club every day.  You don’t need to hit 100 balls a day, but try to create a regular practice routine.  Even if it’s only practice swings, it will get your body acclimated to experiencing the stress of the golf swing daily.

Finally, when you’re on the road, stay hydrated and well nourished.  Avoid running from the breakfast buffet to the first tee.  Give yourself time to warm up before you play, and take time to cool down and stretch afterward.

High Expectations

Golf trips are often the highlight of our year.  Whether we’re playing at a bucket list course or a regular retreat, we’re with our friends, and we want to play our A game.  This can lead us to feel pressure and stress that may lead to worse play.

As long as you’re a human, there is no perfect cure to these kinds of issues.  That said, there’s plenty you can do to improve your situation.  You can start by simply realizing that there are no significant stakes to what you’re doing.  Even if you don’t get a single shot off the ground, your friends will still be your friends.  You won’t lose your job or your home.  You may feel embarrassed or disappointed, but that’s all that will happen.

I’d also strongly recommend the books by Dr. Bob Rotella.  He has a small library of titles, but the message is generally the same across the board.  They tend to be short and easy reads, and I’ve yet to meet a golfer who didn’t benefit from checking one out.

Bad Sleep, Fried Food, and Adult Beverages

Golf trips are often synonymous with various forms of self-abuse.  Late nights, cigars, alcohol, and all-you-can-eat buffets are just a few.  And while some of us may play better after a drink or two, no one is at their best with two hours of sleep and a hangover.

I don’t have a cure for this.  If I did, I’d be very wealthy.  Instead, I’ll just offer a reality check.  If staying out late and drinking a lot are a critical part of your golf trips, leave your expectations about great play at home.  There’s no judgement whatsoever, but you can’t have your cake and eat it, too.

Where’s the Range?  Where’s the Hole?

When you play at your home course, you know the routine.  You know when to show up, where to check in, and where the range is.  Equally important, you have loads of local knowledge about the course.  You know that the water looks out of reach on #6, but there’s a little piece of lake on the right that will snatch your drive.  You know that being short on #12 is dead.

When you travel, you don’t know anything.  That starts from the moment you show up.  How do you get into the club house?  Where’s the restroom?  Is there a starter I need to check in with?  All these little differences suck up time and mental energy and can put you into a stressed out state.  Now add to that all the on-course tricks that you aren’t aware of!

Playing on the road is never going to be like playing your home course, but there are things you can do to give yourself an edge.  First, check out the course’s website and read some reviews.  From these sources, you can learn a lot of the little things like where the range is – if there is one.  For course knowledge, you have a few options.  Some courses, such as Bandon Dunes, have unbelievable flyover videos that you can use to learn the holes.  You can also consider buying yardage books to study in advance.  Finally, consider Google Earth.  If you want to know exactly how far it is from the green tees to the water, nothing is better.  This option requires more effort on your part, but it’s the best choice if you really want to give yourself the best chance to score.

The Cycle of Playing Badly

I’ve never seen anyone else talk about this issue, but I think it’s a huge problem for many golfers.  For most of us, if we hit a bad shot, we get a little tight.  That boosts the chances of hitting another bad shot, and we can end up in a vicious cycle.  If we’re playing our weekly game at our home course, this probably isn’t a huge deal.  Eventually we’ll get to that one hole that we always play well, and we’ll break the cycle.  Worst case, we grind out the round, go home, forget it, and come back fresh next week.

On the road, there’s no reset button.  In fact, things can get worse.  If you hit a few bad shots and start panicking, there’s no “safe” hole coming to save you.  In fact, you might roll up to the signature hole where you really want to hit a great shot, but you’re playing bad, and you end up in a mental tailspin.  And when you get to the end of a bad round, there’s no week off because you’re playing again tomorrow.  Now, you’re not only playing badly and stressed out, you might also dig into your vault of swing thoughts and really lose control.

There are three roads around this problem, and you can use them all.  First, know your swing.  Understand your misses [more on that HERE], know your tendencies, and know your feels [complete lesson HERE].  If you own your swing, your chances of being surprised by something going wrong are very slim.  Second, control your pre-shot routine.  It’s easy to rush after you make a bad swing.  A solid pre-shot routine keeps you from doing that and boosts your chances of following a bad shot with a good one.  Third, take hold of your mental and emotional state.  If you feel yourself spiraling, slow down your breathing.  Close your eyes, take a minute to yourself, realize that there are no consequences for bad play.  Recognize that you’re playing a game, and hitting good shots is just a bonus.  We will never eliminate bad shots from golf, but we can control how we react to them.

What are your keys for playing well on the road?

Share your tips in the comments section.

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Matt Saternus

Founder, Editor In Chief at PluggedInGolf.com
Matt is the Founder and Editor in Chief of Plugged In Golf. He's worked in nearly every job in the golf industry from club fitting to instruction to writing and speaking. Matt lives in the northwest suburbs of Chicago with his wife and two daughters.

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8 Comments

  1. Peter Simshauser

    Great topic and all good points, Matt.
    In my experience, I generally have better success at “away” courses when I leave significant extra time — more than for a “home” round — to use the range and (especially) practice green. It helps calm the mind and body, and the time passes quickly.
    P.S. Your invitation to play Brae Burn in Newton MA remains open!

  2. Very worth while reading and thought processes to put yourself through before a travel round. All of this is just plain facts. Those of us that know all of this is potential. And we do it because we just love the game! I’m very impressed by your fore thoughts!
    Fairways and greens!

  3. Kevin Coughlin

    The timing of this article is perfect because I going on a golf trip to Hilton Head, SC next week. Its been a long cold winter here in NY, I plan on going to an indoor range here 2 times before I leave. All the thoughts and suggestions you gave in the article will be helpful. I enjoy your websites articles every time they come out. Thanks

  4. Michael Pasvantis

    I hate to admit this but some of my best rounds I’ve ever played have been on a little to no sleep and extremely hung over. Don’t ask me why but my guess would be that I was so out of it on those days that my mind was completely blank and I just swung the club lol

  5. Gerald Barton

    My best advice is to break each hole down shot by shot. Keep it simple. Don’t get caught up in the “I need to hit this drive a mile or else thinking.

    My favorite course to play and where I have had my most success is Pacific Dunes. When I look at the holes it’s very easy for me to see the lines and understand how the holes are playing.

  6. Excellent article Matt; much thanks

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