What to expect when you’re expecting to play golf

I successfully went out for my first golf outing in nearly a decade. It was a bit like riding a bike, but there were several things I was accidentally prepared for that I want to share for anyone new to golf.

How do I prepare for a round of golf?

Generally there are four steps leading up to a round of golf:

  • Get the right equipment
  • Book a tee time
  • Show up early and check-in
  • Be ready at the first hole tee box before your tee time
Get the right equipment

It is critical to make sure you arrive with all the necessary equipment or resign yourself to buying from the pro shop at your course. At the end of the article I provide recommendations for how to find and some affiliate links.

What you need Why you need it
Bag of ClubsIdeally you can hit farther than you throw.
Golf glove for your off handProtect your hand from blisters and callouses from swinging.
At least 10 golf ballsYou will likely lose balls to hazards on the course.
Giant bag of teesYour tee shouldn’t break on a hit. But it will.
Green repair toolA well placed shot will leave a dimple on the green. You use the green repair tool to ‘lift’ the compressed dimple.
Ball markerOn the green you’ll replace your ball with a coin or other flat marker until it is your turn to putt.
Optional EquipmentWhy you might want it
Club BrushClean the dirt and crust off of clubs as you go. You at least need to clean your clubs afterwards.
Bag TowelClean the dirt of your clubs. Wipe or dry your hands after fishing your ball out of the mud. Be an exemplar frood.
Rain coatSometimes it rains. Rain can be the best excuse for your score.
CashYou’ll be able to purchase snacks and beverages from the beer cart, but likely it will be cash only. Don’t forget to tip!
Book a tee time

You’ll need to find a course or club locally that allows non-members to golf. Municipal golf courses are often cheap, reasonably maintained courses great for a beginner golfer to cut their teeth on.

Call or use the chosen course’s website to book your tee time. Be aware that if you aren’t booking for four there is a likelihood you’ll be paired with another group.

Show up early and check-in

I recommend showing up at least 30 minutes early. This is enough time to check-in then hit a bucket of balls.

To check-in find either the ranger at the first tee or check-in with the staff in the pro shop. If you don’t see a ranger at the first tee I suggest going into the pro shop. A declaration such as “I’m wanting to check-in for my x:xx tee time, and I’m hoping to hit a small bucket ahead of time,” if said to someone who actually works at the course, will likely lead to an explanation of how to check-in and how to buy range balls at the course. If you booked with a cart they’ll likely hand you keys. If you are walking you may be able to rent a hand cart.

I’ve seen three systems for getting range balls:

  • Staff member hands you balls in the pro-shop
  • You buy credit on a card that you swipe out on the range.
  • You buy tokens that a coin machine takes on the range.

The perk of the card and token systems is that you can swing by anytime, swipe or drop a token, and get your range time in without talking to a single human being.

Be ready at the first hole tee box before your tee time

We’ll save range warm ups and practice for another article. Once you are finished at the range or at least 15 minutes before your tee time grab your cart or hand cart and queue up at the first tee box. If there are only a few folks around it could be worth saying hi and seeing if you’ll be forming a group with anyone else teeing off at the same time. Hopefully there isn’t a huge queue. If there is then likely there has been a backup. If you can muster it socialize with folks away from the tee box quietly to understand the total delay time.

Under delay, I kindly advise you to not be an ass. No one likes waiting, the ranger didn’t likely write the tee off schedule, and no one else came to the course today to listen to you complain. If, with repeated visits, a course never seems to be able to manage their tee times then vote with your feet: just golf somewhere else.

At some point it will be your turn to golf. Hopefully at the agreed upon time. By now you’ve potentially made new friends. Your group is sizing each other up. Be honest with yourself; be honest with your group. If it is your first time, or first time in a while, tell them. Some folks will be sour, but at least their expectations will be set. Most golfers will welcome you, offer encouragement, and probably offer one too many tips to improve your game.

You are now playing golf

Teeing off

Most tee boxes will have at least three sets of markers they are often blue, white, and red.

  • The blues: farthest from the hole, used in competition and by low handicap golfers.
  • The whites: middle of the tee markers, used by the average and below average golfer.
  • The reds: traditionally called the “Ladies’ Tees” although this naming is falling out of favor.

In modern golf one should choose the tee distance appropriate for your skill level; however, there are still social expectations that should not surprise you as a new golfer. It’s socially acceptable for the very old, very young, and women to use any tee box they’d like accounting for the impact of speed of play and their own skill level. It is not socially acceptable for a young or middle aged man to hit closer than the whites, but feel free to buck expectations especially if you are among friends.

Having chosen where you’ll hit from declare it to the rest of the group. When it is your turn approach the appropriate markers, place your tee in line or behind the markers, and tee off!

A word on ‘Honors’. It is common practice that whoever has the lowest stroke count on the previous hole tees off first on the next hole. On the first hole this can be settled by ‘nose goes’ or any other method deemed appropriate by the group.

A brief word on provisional balls

The rules of golf say that if you are unable to find your ball within five minutes you must return to where the stroke was made, drop a new ball, and attempt another stroke. On a busy course the appropriate action, instead of looking then returning, is to hit a provisional ball.

Any time you’ve likely lost the ball, whether it be you hooked it into the woods or hit straight into the lake, you should hit a provisional ball. Declare to the group that you think you might have lost your first shot. In the tee box you should re-tee and try again. Anywhere else in the course you should drop the ball into the same condition. If you’re unable to find your original ball you will take a one stroke penalty. If you are unable to find either ball I personally suggest shrugging and dropping a ball near where they should have been. For more details on actual rules I suggest reading Rule 18 on the USGA site.

Ready Golf or Farthest First

Traditionally, after the tee shot, whoever is farthest from the hole hits first. As a way to encourage faster play many courses ask that you play ‘Ready Golf’. The idea of Ready Golf is that each player should approach their ball and hit when ready until you’ve arrived at the green. When playing ready golf don’t approach your ball if it is directly in front of someone else’s ball in the group. Choose an appropriate club and wait until they’ve taken their shot. Conversely, if you would feel uncomfortable swinging with someone approaching their ball within your cone of likely bad golf strokes tell them before you bean them with the ball. If they choose to approach their ball anyway it will make the shot so much sweeter.

Once you are on the green plan to switch back to ‘Farthest First’ unless someone else is still looking for one of their two balls. You might ask if anyone minds if you just putt it out while you wait.

Divot Repair

Most courses require you to repair divots. Place a light amount of sand, retrieve your grass, and press it back into the divot. When in doubt repair your divots.

Miniature Golf: Origins

You have arrived at the green. If you made a divot on the green repair it with your green repair tool. Play farthest first until you hole out.

That’s It!

This is all there is to golf. You’ll play the front nine holes ‘out’ where it is common to take a brief break at the pro shop before teeing off to play the back nine ‘in’. Keep count of your strokes after each hole including penalties. Have fun. Stay hydrated, wear sunscreen.



P.S. A Word on Equipment

Below I’m providing affiliate links to the equipment described above or making a suggestion about where to find them.

What you need Where to Find Them
Bag of ClubsIf you are buying new clubs then see a golf pro to get fitted. For used clubs try a used sports shop or check local, social marketplaces.
Golf glove for your off handYou’ll wear the glove on your non-dominant hand; this hand takes most of the shearing pressure in your swing. Pay attention to small vs standard glove size. (Affiliate Link)
At least 10 golf ballsIf you are a beginner I suggest buying used balls. Many used sports shops sell cheap balls rescued from nearby courses. Your inability to get under the ball is costing you more distance than the elasticity of your ball. (Affiliate Link)
Giant bag of teesA giant bag of tees (Affiliate Link)
Green repair tool, ball marker, and club brushI suggest this multipurpose tool with divot repair, ball marker, and a club brush. (Affiliate Link)
Optional EquipmentWhy you might want it
Bag TowelA three pack. Because you’ll never remember to wash them.
(Affiliate Link)
Rain coatI’ll suggest a raincoat that fits your lifestyle. I’ve never had good luck with the semi disposable raincoats so I won’t recommend one.

2 responses to “What to expect when you’re expecting to play golf”

  1. […] P.S. I’ve published an article on getting ready for your first time playing golf. […]

  2. […] the question “What if I wasn’t terrible at golf?” and offered my advice on “What to expect when you’re expecting to play golf.” I implied and intended to follow up with stories of practice, range time, and personal […]