Course Management


June 2009


By: J.L. Lewis



For players of all skill levels, course management is an effective asset that will improve scoring ability.  Course management is the ability to make on-course choices which will give the best opportunity to shoot the best score.  Golfers should be aware of course management from the first shot on the tee to the final putt on each hole.

The following techniques show many options golfers have on each shot and how those choices affect their chances of success. Awareness of course management also keeps golfers in present time and thinking only of the shot at hand. Jackie Burke once said when he was leading going into the final round of a tournament, "I will make sure to place the tee in the ground, then get the ball to stay on the tee." This means he would not be thinking of anything in the past or the future, but only of what was happening in the present moment. This is what every successful golfer professes as the secret to winning execution.

Tee Shots

The tee shot has long been considered the most important stroke in golf. Ben Hogan listed the tee shot, then the wedge shot, and then putting as the order of importance in relation to scoring. There have been others who would place putting as first or second, but without a well placed tee shot, it is much more difficult to make a low score on a hole.


The first thing to consider on the tee is club selection. If the hole is long and wide open, then the choice is obviously a driver. On holes with doglegs or landing areas that narrows at longer yardages, think of where the next shot ought to be played from. For example, on a hole that is 450 yards and requires an accurate tee shot to a tight landing area, determine what percentage of the time you will end up in the fairway using a driver. If this number is less than 60%, using a 3 wood is the correct choice because you will hit 10% to 30% more fairways with a 3 wood than with a driver. Everyone wants to be long, but the truth is you will score better form the fairway on par 4s and par 5s than you will from the rough, bunkers, or trees. You may have a slightly longer shot into the green, but equipment advances have made a 175 yard shot a lot easier than it used to be.


Whatever club you select, take into account your strengths and weaknesses and play to your strengths. Kenny Perry plays a draw on every shot with every club. If your best shot is a draw then play a draw on all of the tough holes and on any other shot where a draw makes you feel more comfortable. The same goes for a fade. If a fade is your best shot, play it whenever you are faced with a tough situation. When you are planning to curve the ball be sure to look where you want the ball to start, not where you want it to end up. This will give you a positive picture of the type of shot you are playing and help you to execute more effectively.


On par 3s the tee shot is very important as it directly relates to scoring. Since par 3s are generally longer approach shots than you will face on par 4s and par 5s, you should make the best effort to aim at the wide side of the green and work the ball toward the pin. Again, consider your strong shot, if a draw is chosen, aim to the right of the pin and make the swing. For a pin on the left side of the green a draw fits perfectly. For a right pin placement, aim at the pin and your draw should end up in the middle of the green. The same principles apply for a fade. For a right pin aim at the middle of the green and let the ball work toward the hole. For a left pin, aim at the pin and your fade should end up in the middle of the green.

Approach Shots

The only difference between par 3 tee shots and other approach shots is the flat lie on the tee box and the ball on a tee, whereas on par 4 and par 5 approach shots the lies will vary. Possible lies for par 4s and par 5s are uphill, downhill, ball below the feet and ball above the feet. On uphill shots and ball above the feet lies, the ball should move from right-to-left more than a shot from a normal flat lie. On downhill shots and ball below the feet lies, the ball should move from left-to-right more than a normal flat lie shot. This may seem like a lot of information to remember, but with experience you will know how to negotiate every situation. Be aware of what the optimum ball position is to putt from for each pin position. Select the shot shape and club that has the most opportunities to end up in the best location to putt from on the green. This will increase the number of birdies and pars you make, while decreasing the number of bogies.

Short Game

If you miss the green, the first thing to consider is the amount of carry and run that is required to get the ball close to the hole. Always consider the speed of the greens when chipping or pitching, and remember if putting is an option, your worst putt will usually be as good as your best chip or pitch. When chipping or pitching, pick a spot to land the ball on the green and let it roll to the hole.

Reading Greens

After striking the approach shot, begin to look at the green from a distance and notice the general layout of the land, the high spots, and the low areas where the water drains. Like water, the ball will roll toward the low areas. First read your putt from below the hole for the best perspective of the slope, and then look from other locations if needed. Speed is always the most important aspect of putting so look at the line, while focusing on the speed. Learn all you can from watching other players who putt before you, and keep your eye on the ball as it goes past the hole when you miss. This will show the break on the next putt. Work on putting from long distances to increase speed control. This will help to eliminate three putting.


Course management skills can be learned no matter what level of talent you may have. This is the mental aspect of the game and is a determining factor in a player's ability to reach their potential. Tournaments are won and lost every week by good or bad decisions. A wrong club selection, a misread putt, and letting emotions cloud perception are all factors prio to the shot being played that can put you at a disadvantage. Notice how great players almost always put themselves in a position to succeed.  Their ability to manage their game and create more scoring opportunities gives them an advantage over their opponents and enables them the best chance to shoot low scores. Become aware of course management to make sure you are getting the most out of your game.