Gordon on Golf

Don’t be intimidated by golf

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ST ANDREWS, UNITED KINGDOM - JULY 29: A view from behind the green on the par 4, 12th hole with the 11th green in the distance on the Old Course at St Andrews venue for The Open Championship in 2015, on July 29, 2014 in St Andrews, Scotland. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

Who was the first person to be intimidated by golf? Hint: It wasn’t you.

Little-known fact: He was the second person to take up the game about, oh, 600 years ago in Scotland.

“Och, Geordie, I could never hit that stone as far as you can with your shepherd’s crook. Look, it’s almost in the rabbit hole in one stroke! Why are you walking so fast? I can’t find my stone! Who is that behind us?” Versions of those plaintive bleats have echoed down through history and continue to be heard today, in one fashion or another.

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Nov 1997: General view of the Swilken Bridge on the 18th hole of the Old Course at St Andrews in Fife, Scotland. Mandatory Credit: Paul Severn /Allsport

There is no denying that golf can be perceived as intimidating, especially for beginners who may whiff, foozle and shank their way around the course, unaware of the basic rules and etiquette.  Most likely, especially if they are adults, they are very conscious of two things: They are most definitely not having fun and they are holding up the group or groups behind them. And chances are that those groups are making their displeasure known at every opportunity.

Whose fault is that? There is enough blame to spread around when discussing the intimidation factor in golf, believe me.

First, it is an inescapable reality that many beginners who complain about being intimidated on the golf course must shoulder some of the blame. Expecting to do well the first few times they step onto a course is unrealistic. Hallucinogenic, actually. If they want to make golf a regular part of their lives, a few lessons should precede that first round, or at least several visits to the driving range with an experienced golfer. Once that first step has been taken, choose a course that is appropriate for your basic skill level and play the most forward tees.  Try to avoid peak times when the course is busy.

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MIYAWAKA, JAPAN – OCTOBER 02: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY) Momoko Ueda of Japan shows dejection after missing the birdie putt on the 8th green during the second round of the Japan Women’s Open Golf Championship at the Classic Golf Club on October 2, 2020 in Miyawaka, Fukuoka, Japan. (Photo by Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images)

Many courses offer inexpensive beginner lesson packages and clinics. It is money well spent. If your spouse plays, find a couples’ “nine-and-dine” outing and make it a date night.  More and more courses have “family nights” where basic instruction is followed by a few holes on the course. Most of the time, these are scrambles where the onus is on fun, not competition. Don’t even think about score until you can hit the ball more consistently. Focus on fun, the beauty of the course, the company of friends, and the opportunity to enjoy a nice meal and a beverage after.

Second, more experienced golfers have to give their heads a collective shake. All of you were, at one time, beginners and no doubt intimidated. Although it is difficult, think back to how frustrated and, perhaps, embarrassed you felt then and how much you appreciated some understanding from other golfers.  As old hands now, it is your responsibility to welcome new players into the game that has brought you so much pleasure.

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PEBBLE BEACH, CA – FEBRUARY 12: Tiger Woods reacts after hitting his second shot on the 14th hole during the final round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am at Pebble Beach Golf Links on February 12, 2012 in Pebble Beach, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Intimidation is not unique to golf and it should not be a reason to give up or never take up the game.

For example, when you join a gym, you do so to get more fit or build muscle. Even though you may be “intimidated” by some bulked-up specimens working out there or by that annoyingly athletic person who runs the treadmill for hours, you stick with it, because you are focused on improving. And, eventually, with persistence, the results are obvious and well worth the effort.

Think of golf in the same way: As a process.

Believe me, it remains a lifelong process but one well worth pursuing.

(There are lots of options to ease your intimidation factor like The First Tee junior program, Golf Fore the Cure and many more. Check online or go to your local course to get into the game for a lifetime.)