New to Golf? The basics of golf explained
For the uninitiated, the game of golf may appear difficult to master and mired in a complex rule book. Below is an abridged version of the basics of the game explained, courtesy of the website, golfgaga (www.golfgaga.com)
The game of golf
Golf is a precision club-and-ball sport, in which competing players (golfers), using many types of clubs, attempt to hit balls into each hole on a golf course while employing the fewest number of strokes.
Golf is one of the few ball games that does not require a standardised playing area. Instead, the game is played on golf ‘courses,’ each of which features a unique design, although courses typically consist of either nine or 18 holes.
Golf is defined, in the rules of golf, as ‘playing a ball with a club from the teeing ground into the hole by a stroke or successive strokes in accordance with the Rules.’
Golf competition is generally played for the lowest number of strokes by an individual, known simply as stroke play, or the lowest score on the most individual holes during a complete round by an individual or team, known as match play.
A golf course consists of a series of holes, each with a teeing area that is set off by two markers showing the bounds of the legal tee area, fairway, rough and other hazards, and the putting green surrounded by the fringe with the pin (flagstick) and cup. A typical golf course consists of 18 holes but nine hole courses are common and can be played twice through for 18 holes.
Every round of golf is based on playing a number of holes in a given order. A round typically consists of 18 holes that are played in the order determined by the course layout.
Making a stroke
Playing a hole on a golf course is initiated by putting a ball into play by striking it with a club on the teeing area (also called the ‘tee box’ or simply ‘the tee.’)
When this initial stroke (or ‘shot) is required to be a long one due to the length of the hole, it is usual (but not required) for a golfer to suspend (or ‘tee’) the ball on a tee prior to striking it. A ‘tee’ in this last sense is a small peg which can be used to elevate the ball slightly above the ground up to a few centimetres high. This elevation is at the discretion of the golfer.
When the initial shot on a hole is a long-distance shot intended to move the ball a great distance down the fairway, this shot is commonly called a ‘drive.’ Once the ball comes to rest, the golfer strikes it again as many times as necessary using shots that are variously known as a lay-up, an approach, a ‘pitch,’ or a ‘chip’, until the ball reaches the green, where he or she then putts the ball into the hole (commonly called ‘sinking the putt’).
The goal of getting the ball into the hole (‘holing’ the ball) in as few strokes as possible may be impeded by obstacles such as areas of long grass called rough (usually found alongside fairways) which both slows any ball that contacts it and makes it harder to advance a ball that has stopped on it, bunkers (‘sand traps’), and water hazards. In most forms of game play, each player plays his or her ball until it is holed.
The exact shot hit at any given time on a golf course, and which club is used to accomplish the shot, are always completely at the discretion of the golfer; in other words, there is no restriction whatsoever on which club a golfer may or may not use at any time for any shot.
Penalties are incurred in certain situations. They are counted towards a player’s score as if there were extra swing(s) at the ball. Strokes are added for rule infractions or for hitting one’s ball into an unplayable situation. A lost ball or a ball hit out of bounds result in a penalty of one stroke and distance. (Rule 27-1) A one stroke penalty is assessed if a player’s equipment causes the ball to move or the removal of a loose impediment causes the ball to move. (Rule 18-2) If a golfer makes a stroke at the wrong ball (Rule 19-2) or hits a fellow golfer’s ball with a putt (Rule 19-5), the player incurs a two stroke penalty. Most rule infractions lead to stroke penalties but also can lead to disqualification. Disqualification could be from cheating, signing for a lower score, or from rule infractions that lead to improper play.
Golf clubs are used to hit a golf ball. Each club is composed of a shaft with a lance (grip) on the top end and a club head on the bottom. ‘Long’ clubs, which have a lower amount of degreed loft, are those meant to propel the ball a comparatively longer distance and ‘short’ clubs, a higher degree, a comparatively short distance. Typically, the actual physical length of each club is longer or shorter, depending on the distance the club is intended to propel the ball.
The ‘driver’ is the largest-headed and longest club. Other woods are slightly shorter but still comparatively large-headed clubs, used for long-distance fairway shots. Woods are now typically made of metal; the traditional name ‘woods’ remains in general use but is gradually being replaced by the term ‘fairway metal.’
Next shorter in length are the irons, the most numerous and versatile class used for a wide variety of shots. Hybrid (golf) clubs which embody characteristics of both woods and irons in varying degrees, are increasingly being used in preference to long irons in many places because they are easier for the average golfer to use. Last but not least, putters are used to roll the ball across the green into the cup.
Number of clubs permitted
A maximum of 14 clubs is allowed in a player’s bag at one time during a stipulated round. The choice of clubs is at the golfer’s discretion, although every club must be constructed in accordance with parameters outlined in the rules. (Clubs which meet these parameters are usually called ‘conforming.’) Violation of these rules can result in disqualification.
The golf ball
Golf balls are spherical, usually white (although other colours are allowed), and minutely pock-marked by ‘dimples’ that decrease aerodynamic drag by decreasing air turbulence around the ball in motion, thereby allowing the ball to fly further.
A tee is allowed only for the first stroke on each hole, unless the player must hit a provisional or replay his or her first shot from the tee.
Many golfers wear golf shoes with metal or plastic spikes designed to increase traction, thus allowing for longer and more accurate shots.
A golf bag is used to transport golf clubs. Golf bags have several pockets designed for carrying equipment and supplies such as tees, balls, and gloves. Golf bags can be carried, pulled on a two-wheel pull cart or harnessed to a motorised golf cart during play.
The golf swing
Golfers start with the non-dominant side of the body facing the target. At address the body and club are positioned parallel to the target line. The feet are commonly shoulder width apart for middle irons and putters, narrower for short irons and wider for long irons and woods. The ball is positioned in the centre of the players’ stance for short irons and putters, more to the front for middle irons and even more for long irons and woods. The golfer chooses a grip. The golfer chooses a golf club and stroke appropriate to the distance:
- The drive is used on the tee box to tee off long distances.
- The approach is used in long to mid distance shots.
- The chip is used for relatively short distance shots around the green. The goal of the chip is to land the ball safely on the green allowing it to roll out towards the hole.
- The putt is used in short distance shots on or near the green. The goal of the putt is to get the ball in the hole or as close to the hole as possible.
A hole is classified by its par; the number of strokes a skilled golfer should require to complete play of the hole. For example, a skilled golfer expects to reach the green on a par-four hole in two strokes (This would be considered a Green in Regulation or GIR): one from the tee (the ‘drive’) and another, second, stroke to the green (the ‘approach’); and then roll the ball into the hole in two putts for par. A golf hole is either a par three, par four or par five.
The key factor for classifying the par of a hole is the distance from the tee to the green. A typical par-three hole is less than 250 yards (225 metres) in length, with a par-four hole ranging between 251 and 475 yards (225–434 metres), and a par-five hole being longer than 475 yards (435 metres). At tournament professional level, it is not uncommon for par four holes to stretch beyond 500 yards (450 metres).
The gradient of the course (uphill or downhill) can also affect the par rating. If the tee-to-green distance on a hole is predominantly downhill, it will play shorter than its physical length and may be given a lower par rating; the opposite is true for uphill holes. Par ratings are also affected by factors such as the placement of hazards or the shape of the green, which can sometimes affect the play of a hole by requiring an extra stroke to avoid playing into hazards.
Eighteen hole courses may have four par-three, ten par-four, and four par-five holes, though other combinations exist and are not less worthy than courses of par 72. Many major championships are contested on courses playing to a par of 70, 71, or 72. Additionally, in some countries, courses are classified according to their play difficulty, which may be used to calculate a golfer’s playing handicap for a given course (golf handicap).
In every form of play, the goal is to play as few strokes per round as possible. A ‘hole in one’ (or an ‘ace’) occurs when a golfer sinks his ball into the cup with his first stroke (a drive from the tee). Common scores for a hole also have specific terms.
In stroke play, the score achieved for each and every hole of the round or tournament is added to produce the total score, and the player with the lowest score wins. (Stroke play is the game most commonly played by professional golfers.) If there is a tie after the regulation number of holes in a professional tournament, a playoff takes place between all tied players. Playoffs are either sudden death or employ a pre-determined number of holes, up to a full 18 as in the US Open. In sudden death, a player who scores lower on a hole than all of his opponents wins the match. If at least two players remain tied after such a playoff using a pre-determined number of holes, then play continues in sudden death format, where the first player to win a hole wins the tournament.
A handicap is a numerical measure of an amateur golfer’s ability to play golf over the course of 18 holes. Handicaps can be applied either for stroke play competition or match play competition. In either competition, a handicap generally represents the number of strokes above par that a player will achieve on an above average day (i.e., when playing well).
In stroke play competition, the competitor’s handicap is subtracted from their total ‘gross’ score at the end of the round, to calculate a ‘net’ score against which standings are calculated. In match play competition, handicap strokes are assigned on a hole-by-hole basis, according to the handicap rating of each hole (which is provided by the course). The hardest holes on the course receive the most handicap strokes, with the easiest holes receiving the least handicap strokes.
Handicap systems are not used in professional golf. Professional golfers often score several strokes below par for a round and thus have a calculated handicap of 0 or less, meaning that their handicap results in the addition of strokes to their round score. Someone with a handicap of zero or less is often referred to as a scratch golfer.
The majority of professional golfers work as club or teaching professionals (pros), and only compete in local competitions. A small elite of professional golfers are ‘tournament pros’ who compete full time on international ‘tours’.
There are at least 20 professional golf tours, each run by a PGA or an independent tour organisation, which is responsible for arranging events, finding sponsors, and regulating the tour. Typically, a tour has ‘members’ who are entitled to compete in most of its events, and also invites non-members to compete in some of them. Gaining membership of an elite tour is highly competitive. The most well-known professional tours are the PGA Tour, the European Tour, the Asian Tour, the Sunshine Tour and the Australasian Tour.
There are six principal tours for women, each based in a different country or continent. The most prestigious of these are the LPGA Tour based in the United States, and the Ladies European Tour (LET). All of the principal tours offer ranking points to establish the leading world order in the men’s and women’s games.