10 simple rules to master course management, per top teacher

Pro hits shot at Augusta National during 2024 Masters

Improving your course management skills can lead to lower scores almost instantly! Here's how.

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You can have all the skill in the world, but if you don’t make smart decisions while playing golf, it can all go to waste and add frustrating strokes to your scorecard.

So once you’ve got the basic ability needed for golf, the next step is being able to take it to the course and manage it as best you can.

That’s where the importance of course management comes in!

Do this to improve your course management skills

Course management is all about playing smart golf. Sure, mistakes are going to happen and you’ll learn from them over time. But by best managing your game, you’ll take the next step toward limiting strokes and carding lower scores. Here’s how.

1. Get your tee shot in play

Hitting your tee shot in play is a huge key to any round — and it’s even better if lands in the fairway. When players struggle with tee shots, it can make the rest of the game more difficult as well, often leaving a player with harder second shots and longer approaches to the green.

I suggest practicing good technique while at the range, helping dial in your sequencing on tee shots.

2. Respect out of bounds

When you hit a ball out of bounds, it can add to your score in a hurry! A stroke and distance penalty is effectively two shots, so be aware of where OB is on a hole. You shouldn’t fear it, but you should respect it.

So always tee off on the side of danger and aim away from any out of bounds areas. And always remember to choose a club that you’re comfortable hitting so you don’t make things harder on yourself.

3. Avoid the hazards

We all want to be aggressive and go for hero shots that give us opportunities at birdies and pars, but do so with caution. Playing away from hazards may often be your smartest play unless you’re having a great day and confidence is high — and even then, always think about how and if you can execute the shot at hand.

Whether it’s a tee shot, approach, or wedge shot, avoiding hazards can help save you from blow up holes and high scores.

4. Adjust your club selection as necessary

Your confidence using certain clubs comes and goes, so do your best to control what you can by adjusting your club selection as necessary. For instance, if you’re struggling with fairway woods during a round, it might be better to take a longer hybrid and give up a bit of distance in order to build confidence and momentum.

5. React to the elements

Course and weather conditions change all the time during golf, so no hole ever plays exactly the same — even if you’ve played a course hundreds of times before. Things like wind, temperature, humidity and elevation all make a huge difference when it comes to your performance. Most golfers I see don’t react well enough to the elements, especially the wind.

The wind will always have a huge influence on the ball, especially if you hit the ball higher. So try to gauge the wind on the range if you can, trying to get a feel for the ball-flight you might need to use during your round. I suggested using about one club difference per 10 miles per hour of wind.

6. Putt whenever you can

I often say “putt when you can, chip when you can’t putt, and pitch only when you have to.” So if you’re a low-handicapper, you’re likely pretty good at all of those types of shots — meaning you often have more choices.

But for many amateur players, those rules don’t apply.

To eliminate risk when around the green, I suggest putting anytime you can — which includes using a “Texas Wedge” from off the putting surface if necessary. If you aren’t as comfortable putting from off the green, add it to your practice routine to help train yourself how to properly hit it.

7. The smaller the stroke or swing, the smaller the mistake

When you don’t make perfect contact, remember this nugget: Smaller strokes or smaller swings will always result in smaller errors.

For instance, bad contact with a three-quarter gap wedge will likely end up much more playable than a similar miss with a full sand wedge. This is also true of shots from closer to the green, where a player may substitute out a high-lofted wedge for a pitching wedge or even an 8-iron to use a smaller stroke.

8. Avoid your own personal ‘others’

Having discipline is key to lowering scores — especially after hitting a bad shot.

For instance, if you hit a tee shot that sliced into the deep rough, rather than try to force a low-lofted club through thick grass (which has a higher chance of a mishit), it may be best to go with a higher-lofted club and get back safely into play. This simple decision can help avoid the “other” on the scorecard — which is usually a double-bogey or worse.

9. Limit 3-putts

This may be more of a skill rather than sheer course management, but it’s still something worth noting.

Remember, you don’t always need to go for the cup when putting. In fact, in many cases, it’s nearly impossible to even think about sinking a putt — this is especially true of greens with lots of slopes (like at Augusta National) — so dialing in your distance control is crucial.

Focus on rolling your first putt close enough to make the second one as least stressful as possible. This is one of the quickest ways to lower your scores, and can be achieved by spending more time practicing this area of your game.

10. The round isn’t over until it actually is

This is your reminder to stay fully engaged until you sink your final putt of the round — which isn’t easy for many of us. So rather than get distracted with phones or conversation or tallying up scores in your head, require yourself to stay present until you’re walking off the last green of the day.

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Nick Dimengo

Golf.com Editor