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The term, “course management” is classic golf jargon and short for “managing yourself around the golf course for the best possible results.” Skillful and effective course management involves several things, but mainly it is about playing for position. You need to play shots that get you in the best position to make a good score, while avoiding hitting shots that wind up out of position. We must understand that golf course designers lay holes out with the most (and least!) desirable areas from which to play, thereby rewarding strategic play.
When you play for position, you’re playing shots that are going to make putting easier. Think of the greens on every golf course in terms of quadrants or sections. Most courses have a yardage book with a diagram of each green, often with numbered locations. (Our local courses do not yet have “greens books” per se.) You can even make your own sketches of the greens as a reminder for where you want your ball to wind up.
In most cases, the desirable play is to the center, or the “fat,” of the green, which allows for slight misses right, left, short or long, while still giving you a reasonable putt at the hole. As you get better, your target can narrow, to where you can zero-in on one particular section of the green. Of course, there are places on the green which are desirable, and there are locations where you are “dead.”
A dead spot, for example, is where you are on the putting surface, but with so much fringe to traverse that you’d be better off chipping than putting. Another important factor to consider with aim to the green is a “false front” and fall-offs on the sides or the backs of the greens, similar to what they have at Red Hawk.
Regardless of your handicap, what you should be working toward is playing shots that get you in a place on the green where you have a good opportunity to make a putt. Also, please realize that the closer shot is not always the best shot, since you want mostly uphill putts, rather than roller-coaster downhill putts, that have three-jack written all over them. For Ben Hogan, course management meant giving himself an uphill ten-footer for birdie. Do that and you will score well!
Another aspect of adept course management concerns your estimate of the probability of success on a particular shot, which will largely dictate your final club choice and shot selection. Decisions on the golf course frequently involve risk versus reward, leaving you with options.
Let’s say you have 220 yards to the front of the green for your second shot on a par-five hole, but there is a pond you have to fly your ball over with a carry of 200 yards. What to do? Well, how badly do you want (or need) a putt for eagle, compared to how much you would like to avoid a double bogey.
Golf lore is full of actual cases, like the scenario in the movie “Tin Cup.” And here’s where golf tends to reflect personality. In my case, I would rather avoid trouble than pull off a hero shot, but that’s just me, calculating the probabilities. Yet, for some, the occasional, rare rewards of a miracle shot are addictive, like a random big win at the casino.
For a lot of golfers, the most upsetting course management mistake is selecting the wrong club, mostly hitting too little club. You may think that you only know the “right” club only after you’ve hit the shot. If you don’t use both a laser and a GPS unit to get the exact yardage, you’re playing with an additional handicap.
We all can do a better job of determining the best club to hit for the effective distance for where we want the ball to end up. Are you getting older, and hitting your average shot a bit shorter? Are your misses mostly short of the green? When you regularly start hitting it long over the green, then you can adjust back to less club.
Here are three course management lessons in a nutshell: don’t fire at tucked pins; never leave a 10 foot birdie putt short; and always take plenty of club.
Dr. Charlie Blanchard is a licensed psychologist specializing in sports and leadership. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.