First round checklist

10 things to remember when playing golf for the first time this spring


(c) Robert Mizono

March and April aren't just a time for basketball madness and the start of baseball season. They're also, for most above the Mason-Dixon, when you're ready to make a return to the golf course after a long, and dreadful, hibernation. Throw in the anticipation of trying out new equipment that was gifted during the holidays, or the mere joy of being outside for the first time in forever, this round is one of the more anticipated of the year.

However, this is not your average outing. Far from it, and it should be treated as such. Before shaking off the cobwebs, here are 10 things to keep in mind before your first round of golf this spring:


It's colder than it feels

Let's call this the "Weather Relativity" rule. In September, coming off a sun-scorched summer, a cloudy, 50 degree day feels like you're visiting Hoth. But after three months of winter, those same conditions translate to a trip to the beach.

Don't be the knucklehead who shows up to the first tee in shorts and a golf shirt. While your body may tell you it's warm, trust the forecast and dress appropriately.


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Stretch out on the driving range

The golf swing uses a unique muscle combination and memory, one that's hard to replicate in the workout room. Making your first swing of the year on the tee box is a recipe for a disaster. Golf Digest fitness editor Ron Kaspriske says it's important to "prime your muscles before athletic activity," so prior to heading to the first hole, make sure to swing and stretch on the range.

Slow and simple, stupid

Not only at the range, but throughout your inaugural round, tempo should be your primary focus. Chances are your swing is going to be rusty. Trying to smash your new driver or taking a hard whack from the rough will only aggravate any kinks. According to teachers Lynn Marriott and Pia Nilsson, establishing tempo means giving 70 percent of full effort on a swing. This will help you keep your swing under control.

In a sense, you should view this round as a practice session. Like football's mini-camps or baseball's spring training, you don't see players going 110 percent in their first foray of the season. It's about returning to a rhythm.

You're going to stink

One of the best golf-related tidbits we've read came from Geoff Ogilvy and Martin Hall, as the pair extolled the virtues of not keeping score in our Happiness issue a few years back.

"You're spending your hard-earned money to do something that hopefully you enjoy, yet so many people come off the course miserable," says teacher and Golf Channel host Martin Hall. "I stopped keeping score years ago. I enjoy the look of a ball going through the sky the way I think it should, the feel of a chip I've nipped just right. I get pleasure out of the shots when I hit them rather than from a score at the end."

Added Ogilvy, the 2006 U.S. Open champ: "Stroke play is a nonsense game; I don't see why anyone would do it who didn't have to."


That's easier said than done; moreover, a majority of golfers like keeping score, viewing the practice not only as a challenge but as a barometer of their game.

But at this juncture of the season, the words of Ogilvy and Hall ring especially true. You're swing needs work, your feel around the greens won't be there, and the course itself isn't in prime scoring condition (more on this in a moment). Keeping score in March serves one purpose: Jacking up your handicap.

And if that's your reasoning, the hell with you, sandbagger.


Don't use new, expensive balls

If you were lucky, a loved one gifted you some golf balls for the holidays. While everyone enjoys putting new ammo into action, this isn't the time. Not only will your shots be going all over the map (at least more than usual), but the course is likely in a soggy state, meaning plenty of plugged, mud-smothered balls.

Go through whatever rocks you have left in your bag from last season, even buy some cheap new balls at the counter. But keep your "gamers" at home.

Brush up on the rules!

You may have noticed the wave of drama regarding the new Rules of Golf introduced a few years ago—putting with the flagstick in, tapping down on spike marks, grounding clubs in penalty areas, etc. It's never too late to brush up on the rules, especially as you prep for a new seasosn For a comprehensive review of the latest iteration of guidelines, click here.

The course won't be in great shape

Look out your front yard. See the yellowish hue and dormant state of your grass? Expect the same from the course's sod. While the fairways should be nice thanks to the divot respite, most of the grass will be a tad froggy and likely wet, and the greens won't be rolled or cut at a fast length. Not anyone's favorite elements to play in, especially with the pristine images of California and Florida PGA Tour venues fresh in our minds.

However, don't let these conditions sour your outlook on a course or its summer outlook. This is simply what Mother Nature looks like this on this spot on the calendar.



Walk at all costs

Though golf course owners may cringe at this advice, superintendents are nodding in approval. Courses are in such a vulnerable, fledgling state in spring, and the smallest amount of damage can have long-term implications. Carts aren't great for a course's health once you take them off the path. Do your part in preserving the course by putting the bag on your shoulder.

Plus, let's be honest, you need the extra exercise after sitting on your couch all winter.

There's likely no beverage cart service

It's either still too cold for the cart person to be circling around the course, or—as most clubs hire high school or college students to man their carts—the course doesn't have an employee in that position. Stock up on snacks and drinks before the round and at the turn.

Keep perspective

Just to recap: You're not going to score well, your game is going to be off and the course won't be aesthetically pleasing. Why even bother, you might ask.

Why? Because, in spite of the less-than-ideal environment, it's still going to be a damn good time. Spring golf may not be the game's best iteration. But first rounds, in any walk of life, rarely are; they pave the way for better things to come.