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A crucial part of playing good golf that is often overlooked is course management. Course management simply put is planning out each shot to give you the best opportunity to get a good score on a hole. The architects of golf courses design their layouts with certain course management strategies in mind and it is up to you to figure out how the course is meant to be played in order to shoot your best score. Here are a few tips to help out with your course management.

Before you even tee off
Before you even tee off it is a good idea to look at the hole in front of you and observe what lies ahead. Is there any water? Are there bunkers? Is this a long hole or a short hole? What’s the weather like that day? Is it windy? Did it rain last night? All of these questions can be answered in a very short amount of time and all of them will help you determine your next course of action… the tee shot.

The tee shot
Now that you’ve observed the hole its time to go, just grab the driver and swing away right? Not necessarily. If you hit your driver 250 yards and you noticed there are fairway bunkers 250 yards out, perhaps a 3wood off the tee will be the better play. Look at the green. Are there any bunkers around it? Are they on the right side, left side, in the center? If the bunker is on one side of the green, your best option is to drive the ball down the opposite side of the fairway to create the best angle into the green.

The second shot
Congratulations! You’ve found the fairway, get your distance and go at the flag. But on second thought, there’s a pot bunker short left and the flag is tucked back in the corner. You may not be able to carry that bunker and get that ball to stay on the green. In this case it’s better to play away from the bunker and place priority on hitting the green. You have a better chance of making birdie putting than from out of the sand.

Short game
You missed the green but that’s ok, you can still get up and down and save par. Where did your ball end up? Are you in a bunker, in the heavy rough, just on the fringe, or somewhere where you need a map to find the flag?
From the bunker: The most important goal when in the bunker is to make sure you get out. There are not too many worse feelings than leaving the ball in the bunker. The next goal is to get the ball on the green. If you’re on the green, you at least have a chance to make the putt. The final goal is to get the ball as close to the hole as possible. This is tough to do and takes a lot of practice but spending time in the practice bunkers will make this situation easier when you find yourself in it.
From the heavy rough: When in the heavy rough it is important to make sure your swing is steeper than normal so you create as little contact with the grass as possible. Prolonged contact with the grass will promote twisting and grabbing of the club head which will cause errant shots.
Need a map to find the green? It situations like this, it is important to make sure you have a distance and a direction. The distance can easily enough be found by sprinkler heads or walking off the yardage. The direction however may not be as simple. If the direct route to the green is not available, play the safe shot by getting the ball out into the open and leave yourself a chance to salvage the bogey. Don’t go for a shot that may cause a worse score than playing it safe.
If you leave yourself with a shot over water or a bunker you must make sure that you have confidence in whatever shot you plan on taking from there. If you’re afraid of hitting the ball heavy and leaving it in the bunker, perhaps hit around the bunker and play for the up and down.

Optimizing Misses
Remember, golf is all about having fun. You will have more fun playing golf if you learn to place your misses. On most golf holes you will find that there are bailout areas that can be utilized in order to give yourself the best chance of an up and down. If there is a bailout area over the back and you must carry water to reach the green, make sure you take extra club because playing for the up and down from behind the green is a lot better than taking a drop.

I hope next time you are playing a round of golf you utilize your course management skills. You and your friends will be impressed at how fast your scores improve just by working yourself around the course more efficiently.
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