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New golfers: You have to start somewhere, but where?

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By Staff Brunswick Beacon

Golf is a fabulous, wonderful sport. It’s played outdoors in all kinds of weather. There’s beautiful scenery and challenges aplenty for the expert and the beginner.

An 8-year-old can play; an 80-year-old can play. In fact, an 8-year-old boy can play a match against his 80-year-old grandpa. Name another sport where that can happen. Not basketball or tennis or baseball.

A golfer can play in a tournament with 120 other golfers, in a foursome of friends or by himself.

OK, OK. Golf is a great sport. You’ve seen it on TV, maybe you’ve even gone to a professional tournament and watched the pros. You’ve seen golfers on our area courses; maybe you even live on a course and wistfully watch the golfers go by each day.

You wonder about learning the game, but where do you begin?

I spoke with Jeff Davis, PGA golf professional at the Sea Trail Golf School. Jeff has been teaching the game of golf to men, women and juniors for more than 15 years and has some good advice on how to get started.

First of all, a golfer needs clubs, and these days you can spend a bloomin’ fortune on just a driver. What if a new golfer spends $1,000 on new clubs and finds that he doesn’t like the game?

“It’s better to find out if you like the game before investing in expensive clubs,” Jeff said. “Go to a yard sale or consignment shop. Many golf shops take in trades and will sell you a used set. You don’t need a whole set of 14 matched clubs if you’re just testing the waters. Just make sure the clubs are lightweight and easy to swing. If the clubs feel good, but the grips are worn, you can get new grips at most golf stores and pro shops.”

Many of the golf shops have starter sets for less than $200. They come in various sizes: men’s, women’s and juniors, with a golf bag thrown in for good measure.

The next step, according to Jeff, is to find a friend, someone else who is thinking of starting to play the game of golf.

“Two friends can learn the game together and have a good time,” he said. “If a pro charges $50 for an hour’s lesson, two friends can split the time between them and pay $25 each. Most pros will gladly teach a pair of golfers in that hour. In fact, it often works out better that way; each golfer can work on different aspects of the game. They can learn from each other, encourage each other and have fun.”

I’m not a pro like Jeff, but I will chime in here with my own advice. Do not, I repeat, do not take lessons from your spouse, even if he’s won 15 club championships and has a negative-3 handicap. I have heard too many couples hissing at each other on the course. Your sweet spouse can tell you that you’re swinging from the top, but when he says it for the 30th time, you’ll be ready to whap him with your wedge. Take it from me, see a pro. Advice you paid to hear never sounds hostile or confrontational.

Find a practice area, Jeff advises, and start hitting balls. There are several practice ranges in Brunswick County, but a little known secret is that the practice areas at most golf courses are public. You can get balls in the pro shop or bring a few of your own for putting and chipping.

Once you can get the ball airborne, go out and play, but make sure you play when there are not a lot of other golfers on the course. Late in the afternoon is a good time. Playing just nine holes is good in the beginning.

“Be kind to yourself,” Jeff advises new golfers. “Don’t even keep score at first. You’ll know when you’re ready to put down scores. Just get the ball in the air and moving forward. Enjoy the game, enjoy the friends you play with, enjoy the day. Always schedule lunch or dinner after you play. Make it a fun day for you and your friends.”

When you start keeping score, set goals and don’t be afraid to “X” out a hole.

“If you’re having trouble,” he said, “don’t frustrate yourself by hitting and hitting bad shots on the same hole. As a beginner, you can pick up and move on. Make a goal of getting a triple bogie on each hole, then as you improve, set a standard of a double bogey. Be kind to yourself.”

Today, Jeff believes that new golfers today can start by hitting the driver.

“The new drivers are big and light and relatively easy to hit,” he said. “Years ago, when drivers were small and heavy, very few pros started new golfers with their driver. That’s all changed. The big 13-degree drivers are great for new golfers.”

Learning the short game is essential, according to Jeff. “Chipping and pitching well will help a new golfer bring his scores down quickly,” he said. “Once you reach the green, a two-putt will bring those scores down even lower, so practice putting regularly.”

Sometimes a full-sized course is intimidating to a new golfer. A par-3 course is perfect when you’re first starting to play. South Harbor Golf Links in Southport is a fine place to start.

If you cannot get to a par-3 course, create your own short course. On par 5s, tee it up at the 200-yard marker. On par 4s, put your ball down at the 150-yard marker. If a par 3 is longer than 100 yards, just move your ball up. The secret is to get comfortable with your game.

Wear a glove to keep those blisters away. In fact, wear two gloves once you get into it and want to hit buckets of balls.

Sneakers or running shoes are perfectly acceptable on most courses. Years ago, when I had some back issues, my orthopedics doctor told me to play in sneakers for one whole summer because there was less torque on my back. Jeff wore them in the Carolinas Open two weeks ago.

Always keep a positive frame of mind. When you establish a handicap and it’s a 40, stand on the first tee and think “I’m 40-under par right now!” and go from there. Same with a 30- or 20-handicap. You’re always beginning the round with a minus score.

Golf is not ever perfect and even Tiger Woods practices daily, takes lessons and keeps learning. A golfer who breaks 100 will want to get down lower and break 90. A touring pro will shoot a 68 at the Masters and long for a 67. He’ll remember his missed shots and know he could have had a lower score.

So if you’ve thought about it, just do it. Get some inexpensive clubs, put on your sneakers and get out there. Hit balls, take lessons, find a friend, join a group.

Golf is the game of a lifetime and it’s time to start now.

GOLF GAB GROANER

“How did your annual physical go,” asked Lisa when her husband Irwin came home.

“Well, I’ve got good news and bad news,” said Irwin. My blood pressure is way too high, I’ve got to lose 25 pounds and because I’m so tense, the doctor wants me to take up golf.”

Lisa paused, then said, “And the good news?”