Not every golf course is built for every player. Courses can be too long for certain players, certainly too hard, and in some cases, too easy. The last is rarely a problem, because who doesn’t like shooting lower scores.
Most golf experts will tell you the first place to start is to play a course at the proper length.
“If you can’t reach the greens in regulation, you’re playing the wrong set of tees,” says Brian Phelps, director of instruction and player development at the Golf Club of Avon (Conn.).
But are the right set of tees for everyone always available?
For some, especially recreational golfers with driver clubhead speeds of less than 75 mph, that might mean a set of tees that plays 4,500 yards or shorter. But many courses simply don’t offer those tees. A lot of older courses have very little differential between the back set and forward set of tees, often because they’re all on the same tee complex. And some of the newer courses are so long that the forward tees might be as long as 5,300 yards or longer.
So players who probably need a course that’s around 4,000 yards or so, might want to do a little research before they play a course for the first time. They might even be able to find a course with "family tees," which could be shorter than 2,000 yards.
But length is only one consideration. If you spray the ball, you’re going to want a more wide open course. Tree-lined or desert courses might not be enjoyable. Parkland or links would be more your style.
If you don’t carry the ball very far in the air, then you’re going to want a course where you can play the ball on the ground. Again, a links-style course (like the seaside courses in Great Britain and Ireland) would probably be more fun. But beyond that, you’re going to want to find a course where the greens have openings to run the ball up on the putting surface. Courses with greens completely surrounded by bunkers or courses with lots of water, especially water that needs to be carried to reach the putting surface, could prove very frustrating and nearly impossible for certain players. And courses with elevated greens or difficult Donald Ross, push-up style of greens can be very frustrating for high handicappers as well.
On a flip side, if you’re a good player and looking for challenge, you might want those sorts of characteristics, like the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra, Fla., or the No. 4 Course (Dubsdread) at Cog Hill Golf & Country Club near Chicago. Both of those layouts, with their forced carries, narrow fairways, length, bunkering and water features, challenge low handicappers and professionals, no matter what tees they tackle. The good thing about Cog Hill, for example though, is that it has three other courses with varying degrees of difficulty and all easier than No. 4.
So how to do you find the right course for you? You can ask people who have played it, and those people would include the PGA Professionals at the course. Or you can do a little research online. Most golf facilities’ websites have some sort of course diagram on them, Or you can go to a site like GolfLogix.com, which has detailed course maps for nearly every course and every hole in North America.
What you want to look for is overall yardage, placement and severity of penalty areas, width of fairways, size of greens and how many sets of tees there and how long are they.
On a side note, you don’t have to play one set of tees. Many players use a combination of tees to best suit their games, so that’s always an option, too.