The 10 best course-management tactics to instantly save you strokes
One way every golfer can improve their game is by mastering course-management tactics. While the best golfers in the world are capable of incorporating such strategies, for amateurs, it’s not always so simple. But learning to do so is a major factor in saving strokes and lowering scores.
In addition to shaving strokes, better course management will also eliminate potential stress during a round, as shots will be in more favorable positions rather than troublesome locations.
It can take years of playing, lots of practice, and plenty of trial and error for good golfers to understand course-management tactics. But by following the guidance below, even the most average golfers can begin to see a difference on their scorecards.
10 best course-management tactics to save strokes
1. Tee shot: Use the angles
Your tee shot sets the stage for the rest of the hole — and often the round — and can make every shot thereafter easier. So having control over your first shot on each hole is critical.
Don’t assume that teeing off in the center of the tee box is more likely to produce a center-of-the-fairway result. Often, teeing off on one side of the tee box or the other can lead to a better angle to the fairway. The more you start on the right side of the tee box, for example, the more likely you are to aim left, and, the more you tee off on the left side of the tee box, the more likely you are to aim right.
You can also see this on the range. As you angle more toward the center of the range, your alignment will tend to adjust. Also, you can use this tip to avoid having to go over hazards or to make the fairway potentially look wider, as you may be able to get trees out of the way.
2. Tee shot: Angle into the wind
The wind can be a huge factor on all golf shots, so it requires a golfer’s attention regardless of its severity.
By using a better angle on your tee shot, you’ll be able to minimize the effect of the wind on your golf ball.
If the wind is left to right, start on the right side of the tee box and angle into the wind. If the wind is right to left, start on the left side of the tee box and, once again, angle into it.
3. Fairway wood: Default to your favorite
After a successful drive to the fairway, it can be daunting staring down a second shot that’s still a long way from your target. While it’s common for amateur golfers to grab the lowest lofted fairway wood, it can also lead to less consistency and lower confidence.
Instead of defaulting to the lowest lofted wood, start with your favorite fairway wood. If you’re able to hit it pure with good distance and accuracy, you’ll build confidence for future long shots.
Eventually, you can switch to a lesser lofted club later in the round.
4. Approach shot: Play the percentages
When approaching the green, remember to play the percentage side of the green. This means looking for the path or area of least resistance, fewest obstacles or potential difficult locations.
For example, if the pin is tucked over a bunker and on the far right side of the green, it may make the most sense to aim for the center of the green, rather than try to carry the bunker. Sure, it’s possible, but it’s a tricky shot, so it’s best to avoid it unless you’re playing your best golf.
5. Aim where a straight shot will not get you into trouble
No golfer seeks obstacles on the golf course. Avoiding shots from behind trees or on downhill lies around the green will make a round more enjoyable. So angling away from these areas is important — just remember to avoid going too extreme.
Never aim where a straight shot will get you into trouble, even if you have to take a shorter club to do so. This will save potential penalty strokes or more difficult situations.
If you are playing a course you’re unfamiliar with, it’s important to avoid unnecessary penalties by intelligently managing your game. Using an app like GolfLogix (our sister company) can be a helpful resource. Not only does it offer tour-quality green data, it also provides players with exact distances to hazards and locations on the golf course.
6. Approach shots: Leave yourself some green
When approaching the green, it’s extremely important to not short-side yourself. Do this by hitting your ball on the opposite side of the pin location, giving yourself some green to work with for your short-game shot should you miss the green.
Short-siding yourself will require you to hit a more difficult pitch shot, and not allow you to chip. This strategy is even more important for players who don’t hit the ball solidly with enough consistency.
7. Know your favorite approach distance
If you don’t quite have enough power to get to the green with your approach shot, it might be best to lay up and leave yourself with a more comfortable shorter shot. There’s no shame in doing this if it leads to greater success.
For example, if you need to carry a bunker to get to a green, it may be easier to leave yourself a greater distance, where you could make a slightly larger swing, helping launch the ball higher in order to carry the hazard and have a chance for it to sit down without much roll.
Since smaller pitch shots have less speed and spin, they tend to roll a bit more. So determine your favorite chipping and pitching distances, and aim for those spots when you’re laying up.
8. Have short game choices
When all three short-game shots are working well, golf can be fun. But it’s not every round that your putting, chipping and pitching will all be on point, so it’s important to recognize which shots are on and off so you can adjust.
For instance, on days where your chipping is letting you down, be smart enough to adjust, opting to use your putter from farther off the green than you normally would.
Play to your strengths each round, rather than having a set club for each scenario. By adapting your short game choice to what’s working that day, you’ll save strokes and minimize stress.
9. Bunkers need respect
Fairway bunkers can quickly add to your score — especially ones with a higher lip.
As for greenside bunkers, each course is different, so each one presents challenges. When you find yourself in a difficult greenside bunker, it may make more sense to play for the center of the green, or to a location that doesn’t require you to carry a longer distance to get to the green. Sometimes, just being on the green is the best plan — even if it means two-putting.
When playing from a bunker, you’ll want a sand or lob wedge that has enough bounce to glide, based upon your swing technique.
I personally love my new Ping glide wedges. They have a lot of bounce, and they glide through the sand without digging or getting stuck. This allows me to take a lot of sand as I strike the ball, giving me confidence that I won’t hit my shot too thin — which often goes too far.
10. Have a Plan B swing
While everyone is different, I think the average golfer would be surprised that even the best golfers in the world don’t strike the ball well most of the time. They just react better and know how to get the most out of their games due to their experience.
When your swing feels off, I want you to have a plan B swing. This can be something as simple as a smaller swing that helps you make more solid contact. While you may be sacrificing some distance, at least you’re making some type of contact and are capable of getting through the round
Another option might be a knockdown shot. To do this, keep your weight a bit more on your forward foot throughout your swing, and use a slightly limited backswing. By doing this, it will lower the number of moving parts, helping create more predictable and reliable contact.
Utilizing course-management tactics can save tons of shots and stress. While many of these tips may seem obvious, I think there can be a lot to be learned when you play and make mistakes. It’s all about finding what’s most comfortable for you — and what’s the most effective.
By learning from previous mistakes and better managing your game, you’ll be playing better golf and having more fun.