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Thursday, November 11, 2010


Golf 101 & My Passion for the Fairways & Greens
By G.J.Lentz

Depending on the season and weather, I love to be out on the golf course! It is a sport/hobby I picked up just a year ago with my uncle, a sport I always thought was pretty silly and lame. Growing up I never cared for sports much, my father played with his work buddies, my grandfather was passionate about it, having visited many courses around the country, but I just didn't "get it". That is until one day my uncle invited me out to go with him, to drive the cart while he played. After a few holes I was intrigued and wanted to give it a whack myself! It was addicting, a lot of fun, good exercise, and it's a great way to have some fun an test your skills!

Here in Battle Creek, Michigan we have many wonderful courses to choose from, public and members only. It really isn't too costly to start and play, but it an be if you go nuts for it. However, if you're good and Tigeresque, you could make millions in the pros! Or at least become a local legend...

When the weather turns south, like now as winter comes, the courses close up until spring, unless your fortunate enough to live in laces like Florida, Arizona, or California, as an example, where the climate allows for year around golfing. Or if you have the time and money, you could always travel out of state and even out of country to experience great golfing anytime of the year. It is my dream to hit the courses of St. Andrew's in Scotland, as well as others around the world.

I am not a pro, and I am not particularly skilled, but in just a year I have come a long ways. I am not the most knowledgeable on the game, and I don't really follow the pro sport, but I like to catch some of it on the Golf channel now and again to see how the pros play and what courses they play, that I have "played" on the Tiger Woods PGA Tour franchise for the PlayStation. If I'm low on cash or the weather is sucking, I always have my Tiger Woods on the PlayStation. And you know what? You can actually learn a lot from it, and I do believe it has helped my own game. Still, there is nothing to compare to real world experience. Practice makes perfect!

Courses locally and worldwide are designed with great beauty and challenges to the player. There is an element of skill, luck, and physics to the sport. One of my biggest challenges is learning to judge distance and striking the ball. It's not too hard on the PlayStation as there are a lot of aids, which has helped me to improve my real-world game, but out on the course it can be tricky. I just have a poor judge for distance, naturally, and judging the power of my stroke, and I have yet to learn how to strike the ball in different ways for spinning it left, right, forward, back...the game offers many challenges to players of all learning and mastery levels.

Basically in golf you are hitting a little ball with a stick! That is how the sport first was started back in the 15th century by sheep herders in Scotland. They knocked around a rock with a stick or their staff along natural trails and obstacles. Over the centuries it as evolved and science even plays a great role in the sport nowadays as courses and equipment are designed for optimal play and challenge.

The basic rule of golf is to hit the ball well, get it close to the hole, and to "putt" the ball into the hole with as few strokes as possible. Each course has 18 holes, that is standard, though smaller area courses may just be 9 holes, or larger courses may offer 2 or more courses, each with 18 holes, for beginners, amateurs, and the more experienced. Each "hole", which means from start to finish, has a scoring "par". Ever us or hear the term, "Par for the course"? Par means a definitive number or amount, equally no more or less than stated.

In golf, each hole has a par of strokes, the number of times you should hit the ball before getting it in the hole. There are Par 3's, Par 4s, and Par 5's, meaning respectively, on a Par 3 you should hit the ball no more than 3 times, making your hole on the 3rd hit...4 times for a Par 4, and 5 times for a Par 5. There are penalties for hitting it more than your "Par", and t be a better and great player, it is always good to make it "Under Par", that is making your hole in less strokes than required. Official course rules allows for a standard Par of 72 for an entire game of 18 holes. To make Par for the course, you should score exactly 72, making par every hole. Making Under Par throughout the course is great, while Over Par is not so much!

Golf s a game where you play against the course, against nature and the design of the course, against yourself, and you can also play against a friend or many others. You can team up, and there are variations to the rules to make for more challenging or fun games. As with many other games/sports there are handicaps for different levels of players and the courses. No 2 holes are exactly the same, as you have to take into count the levelness of the ground, the weather (wind, rain), the distance and design of each hole, and such things as obstacles (trees, rough ground, tall grass, sand bunkers...)

Courses all over the world are designed in many different ways, but with standards as dictated by the PGA, the Pro Golfers Association. Some courses have a PGA rating, because they meet or exceed certain pro sport standards for the course, but a course can be made and played by anyone, in any fashion.

A course is designed for aesthetics and challenge of the game. Many courses around the world, and even locally, are a showcase of the area's naturally beauty, and man's creativity. Great thought and care is taken to create and maintain a course, using special types of grass, elevations, and "routes" from the Tee position to the Green, where the Flag/Pin and Hole is. Each hole, and the course as a whole may use several different types of grass that hold up to wear and tear, and the seasons, and utilize the natural beauty and obstacles of trees, brush, rocks, or man made creeks, sand bunkers, etc...

Your basic equipment are clubs and balls, and there are many different brands designed to aid the player both amateur and pro, but knowledge, skill and luck are really more important. I have been playing with a cheap club set that cost about 100 dollars, and I generally buy a handful of used balls from the course I play, or a cheap box of balls from the local Meijer/Wal Mart. You will want "tees" which are wood or plastic like "picks" that you stick in the ground, they are like pedestals for the ball to sit on and be struck from. They come in a range of colors ad styles for player preference, some are designed for beginners to allow a "perfect" tee position for your drive. Gloves are also used, you need just one depending on whether your a righty or lefty, to aid in grip, some people prefer to use two. You can purchase your club set with a carrying bag, or choose individual clubs and buy the bag separately. You can walk the course with your bag, very good exercise, you may buy/rent a caddy which you can wheel your bag easier while still walking (club bags can be a bit weighty) or you may rent a golf cart and ride around (I'm lazy I always ride, lol). Besides, when you hit a bad ball it's much easier to ride about to find it, and I always feel (being an amateur) that I don't want to hold up someone else's game behind me as I am constantly searching for my vagabond balls.

You start your game at the Tee Box, or the Drive. You commonly use the Driver club, designed to really whack the hell out of that poor ball! Depending on distance, the Fairway, and obstacles, you may club-down to a 3 or 5 Wood, or a 1 or 2 Iron. Each club is designed, in principle, for different distances, height, and shot types, to be determined by the players skill, style, or the lie of their ball. This is what the Caddy does if you ever watch a game of golf, they too are good players, and help chose the right club for the occasion, for the player. This is one of my faults in the game, as I have yet to master knowing what club to use, and what my skill is for each club. A great way to test this is using a Driving Range, where you can practice striking the ball with each of your clubs, with varying power and distances, to get a feel for what you will use on the course. I go now and again, but I prefer the experience and practice on the course, myself.

Teeing off, or driving your ball is important, but not ALL important. Some players go for maximum distance, others for for a compliment of both. There is a great satisfaction in hitting that ball hard and well. To hear the whack of the club head against the ball...I love it! Even better is to see it soar sky high, and land in a very good position up on the Fairway. Your drive is determined by your power of the swing, your form of the swing, your speed of the is also is determined by wind speed and direction, the lie of the Fairway, and the elevation of the course. Many factors to learn and master, but it is fun, its a game of games within the game.

Players have different styles by which they an hold and strike the ball, it's important to try and learn them and practice them, to find what works best for you, and what is best for the condition of where your playing and what you want to achieve. Sometimes accuracy and laying-up is more important than taking out your frustrations by "killing" the ball. It just depends on what you want to achieve. My drives are generally pretty low and not too far, though I get some pretty good ones now and again. I practice to improve getting my ball higher, and further, but also straighter. I hate missing the Fairway to left or right, especially when I loose a ball to the woods, deep brush, or some creek, pond. Where your ball drops, rolls, and comes to lie will greatly determine your next shot, what club, and how easy to make par or better, or worse.

The Tee position often has at least 3 different positions, the furthest back from the fairway is the most experienced golfers position, allowing for a longer hole, and for those who are power hitters. Many courses have a map of each hole and tells you the distance from that tee to the flag/hole. The middle tee is for the average golfer, and the shorter tee, closest to the Fairway, commonly called the Woman's Tee, for beginners and those who do not hit very far. I have worked my way from the Women's Tee to the middle Tee! The Tee area is made of a different grass than the rest of the course, it is very short and hardy, as it is trampled and gouged by club swings, called divots. Good etiquette here is to replace the divot if you see the chunk of sod you drove with or instead of the ball, lol, but many places offer a bucket of dirt and seed that you can place and tap with your foot, to help maintain the course. After all, if maintenance prices increase, so does the cost of your game! Also, you should be quiet when someone is taking their stroke, be behind the player to not inhibit their drive, or for safety in-case of an errant ball flies back and to the side (it happens and could be lethal). You never drive a cart upon the tee grass, take a good look at it, you can see the difference.

After your Tee drive, you should be in the Fairway. The Fairway is made of one or more grass types, different from the Tee, the Green, and the Rough. The Fairway is the stretch of green grass, cut very short, like astro turf in baseball/football, by which you always want the ball to be landing. To be outside the Fairway is a bad shot, most often you would be in the Rough, which is longer, thicker grass, sometimes the natural grass of the area, other times designed, there may be rush, bushes, trees, or rocks...creeks, can be bad, but sometimes not too bad...but still it may cost you an extra stroke or a harder approach to get to the Green. I don't know what the official PGA standard is, and some courses offer their own standard, but a certain distance outside of the Fairway may be considered Out of Bonds, lie in football or baseball, and you will take an automatic 2 stroke penalty, OUCH! I know water shots, where you loose your ball to a creek, pond, is an automatic 2 stroke penalty. On a Drive, you commonly re-drive your ball from the Tee if it is out of bounds. On a water shot, you would either shoot again from your spot, or take a drop near where your ball went in the water. I usually strike again from wherever I am. On a drive, it is good etiquette that you take what ever shot you have, unless lost to deep woods/brush/water, then it is common to take a new shot. Courses don't like you playing "best ball", something I frequently do if no one is really behind me, because I don't want to take up someone else's time.

The Fairway may not always be flat land, it can have elevations and dips, it may carry the ball to the left or right, it mind wind its way to the Green like a snake...Many courses, if you look closely, and this is true on the PlayStation, the Fairway grass looks banded with lighter and darker you might see of some peoples lawns. This is done to show the direction of the Fairway, the ball will generally follow that line, but this isn't something all courses have, or that can be completely dependant on. Depending on your lie, the position of the ball, and the distance to the Green, your next shot will be the Approach shot, meaning you are approaching the Green, your goal to get it in the cup, the hole, or at least very close for a easy Putt. If your on a Par 4, this is your 2nd stroke, you should be able to make the Green or very close. On a Par 5 you will be taking a 3rd stroke to reach the Green, unless your very good. On Tiger Woods PGA for PlayStation I am THAT good. In real life? A Par 5 is like a Par 10 for me, lol!

Club choice depends on the wind, the lie, the distance, and your skill. At the very least you want to stay in the Fairway, if you can't make the Green. You may have to negotiate things like rough, brush, trees, rocks, sand bunkers or water hazards before getting to the green, it isn't always a straight shot. Your ball might be laying downhill, uphill...the wind may be blowing to your back, face, right, have to judge these things and make your call. Bunker shots, the sand traps, are not good. They are a harder shot, that's why they are called traps, lol. They are doable, but it takes skill and always luck. It's very, very good to just learn to avoid them, which sometimes means you should lay up, or hit the ball to land shorter than you would like, but safer. Better to be safer than sorry.

You should always be careful and aware of what is going on around you. A stray ball can be deadly. Don't strike if people are still on the fairway. It's usually okay to drive if folks are on the green, but better form to just wait. Most courses have these holes lying alongside one another, so a stray ball is always possible, you must yell out, FORE! as a warning, if it appears your ball may be heading in the general direction of others. This warns them to watch out, take cover! It happens, else there wouldn't be a word for it!

After your approach shot you may not be on the Green, but you could still gt the ball in the hole, or very close if you are skilled and lucky. I use my Pitching Wedge when I am this close, a firm shot, following through with my must gage distance, lie, wind, and your power of the stroke. I always try to not miss the hole by much, that is my goal. I am often on one side of the Green, and then on the other! Grrrrrrr! You have Chip shots, which a shorter bouncing shot, and you have shots like Pitch and Flop, which are higher and flop down.  You just have to learn them and practice them. If your in the sand, you would use a sand wedge. As with teeing off, you will want to rake the sand, to fix the marks you have left with your feet and stroke, because you may cause voids that another players ball may get stuck in. Usually there are sand rakes nearby the trap for you smooth out your mishaps. The same goes for the Fairway, if you create a divot, you should find that clump you displaced, and tap it back into the ground to help maintain the course.

The Green is where you want to end up, close to the hole if not already getting the ball in. Putting is where you're true test of the game is. There is a saying in golf, "Drive for show and putt for dough,". All your shots to the green have amounted to getting you to make Par, hopefully, but putting can really kill your game. Many courses offer a putting practice zone where you can practice. And don't think for a minute that Miniature Golf doesn't help. It actually can.

The Green is made of different grasses, it is very short like carpet. Some green may be soft, some ma be hard. This means your ball may plop down and lie down dead, it may bounce and roll away...The Green area may be elevated above the Fairway, it may lie down from the Fairway. The Green itself is a game unto itself. It may have twists and curves, you may be putting uphill or down, you don't always luck out with a straight even shot to the hole, or the cup. But that is your goal, to get it in with few shots, hopefully just one if it didn't skillfully or luckily roll in on your approach for a Birdie or Eagle, or a god-shot: the Albatross.

Par of course is getting the ball in the hole on the 3rd, 4th, or 5th shot depending on the requirement for that hole. A Birdie is getting it in one shot under the par: 2/3, 3/4, or 4/5. A Eagle, a very good scoring shot, is two under par: that is a Hole in One, or an Ace if it is a Par 3, or 2/4 and 3/5 respectively. An Albatross is one of those OH MY GOD moments...getting the shot in the whole as a Hole in One on a Par 4, or on your 2nd shot of a Par 5.

When putting you use the putter, a special club designed just for that. It all depends on the lie, the speed, your luck and skill. Taking more shots than par results in a bad score, Bogey for 1 Over Par, Double Bogey for 2 Over Par, Triple Bogey for 3 Over Par, and so on with a cut off of 10 strokes. You never really have to count or take a score past the tenth, if its not in, by that 10th shot, your taking a 10 over, which equals: 13 for a Par 3, 14 for a Par 4 and a 15 for Par 5. Playing outside of official games you should keep putting, if no one is waiting for you. This gives you practice with different lies and distances. My goal is to always get it to at least stop right next to the hole, if not going in. I hate, but commonly over shoot the hole.

On a Par three your ultimate goal and right of passage is to make the HOLE IN ONE, getting that ball in the cup/hole on your first swing. I have yet to do it, but my shot is getting better, I'm at least making more Greens than not. You at least want to try and get your ball on the Green, for a Birdie Putt, if not as close as possible, on any approach regardless of Par.

My uncle says it is a game you love to hate, and it is true. It can be very frustrating, but the challenges are also what makes it interesting. Your playing outside, under different and sometimes uncontrollable conditions to test your skill and luck. It's great way to spend a morning, afternoon, or evening on your own, with a friend, or a small group; fresh air, nature, friendship, exercise...FORE!

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