How Long Does it Take to Get Good at Golf?

Introduction

Golf is undoubtedly a very tricky game to play well. In spite of massive improvements in the forgiveness of equipment, course conditioning and coaching over the past quarter of a century the average handicap hasn’t moved all that much. 

You may be wondering how long it’s going to take you as a beginner to reach a reasonable standard of golf.

There are many variables involved most notably:

  • what you consider “reasonable golf”
  • your own physical abilities
  • how much time that you have to dedicate to practice
  • whether you can you afford lessons

It’s not unrealistic however that you could become “reasonably” good at golf in six months or so.

How long does it take to get good at golf

What is Reasonably Good at Golf?

How are you going to measure your level of success? Purely in terms of your score or are you more worried about how well you can strike a golf ball?

In scoring terms, beginners often consider breaking 100  for 18 holes as their first step on the ladder to success. Up until the last few years the maximum handicap for men was 28 so you would need to shoot around a hundred or just below at most clubs to get that handicap.

If you manage to improve to the point where breaking 100 is no longer a problem then you might look to break 90 or even 80 as the next target. According to statistics from the USGA less than ⅓ of golfers have handicaps in single figures although more than ¾ have managed to get their handicap to 19 or below.

You may be less competitively driven so being able to keep the ball in play most of the time may be sufficient if you’re only planning to play once in a while.

Will it Take 10,000 Hours?

The 10,000-hour rule is often quoted from Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers”. It was suggested by the author’s research that it would take around 10,000 hours of intense practice to become an expert at a particular skill.

As a beginner, I think you’ll be pleased to know it shouldn’t take you 10,000 hours to become reasonably good at golf. However, it may take that long if you want to play at an elite level (e.g. scratch or better).

Practice Makes Permanent, Not Perfect 

When trying to learn any skill it’s not only about the amount of practice you put in, it is just as important to practice the right things. It’s no good spending five hours a day, seven days a week at the driving range hitting balls if your grip and other fundamentals aren’t very good. It will almost certainly lead to poor ball-striking and leave you frustrated. Golf can be a frustrating sport at the best of times so don’t waste time working on incorrect swing mechanics.

Practice With a Purpose

You should always have an objective for any practice session. Just mindlessly hitting balls isn’t going to improve your game and possibly could hurt it. One way to think about practice is to try to figure out which is the worst part of your game and then practice improving that until it is no longer a weakness. Keep repeating this process on different aspects of your golf and your overall game and scores should improve.

Don’t necessarily assume you need to go to the golf course or driving range either, there are some aspects of your game you can work on at home.

Gene Sarazen lesson to the golf fans of Washingtons Potomac Park 1
Harris & Ewing, photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Should I Take Lessons?

Getting the fundamentals right is important in golf and for that reason, I would suggest taking lessons right from the outset so you are not ingraining bad habits. Even if you can only afford a couple of lessons early on that should be sufficient to give you a foundation to work from.

Another aspect where a PGA professional can help you at the start is in making sure the equipment you are using is right for your game. As a beginner, you may not want to invest a fortune in clubs straightaway but most pros will point you in the right direction of what to look for when you’re starting out.

Understand Ball Flight

It’s important to understand that the golf ball doesn’t care what your swing looks like only how you present the clubface through impact. Get a handle on the ball flight laws so you can identify what’s happening in your swing primarily from how the ball reacts.

Play Golf Not Golf Swing

Playing golf is all about getting the ball in the hole in a few strokes as possible. Having the best-looking golf swing is not the primary goal. If you look at the professional ranks then you can see there is a wide variety of swings but the common factor is they can return the clubface consistently at impact to a position that generates a good strike. You wouldn’t find many teachers trying to get you to swing the same as Jim Furyk, Matt Wolff or Eamon Darcy but they certainly get the job done!

Does my Equipment Matter?

It certainly can do. Trying to learn golf with a wooden-headed driver from the 70s and blade irons from the same era is probably not going to end well. Try to stick to more modern equipment such as cavity back irons and oversize woods. These will give you a better chance of producing reasonable results more quickly. As your game improves you can always trade up to newer equipment that better suits your game at the time.

Fitness

While there are plenty of examples of unfit golfers down the years fitness is now a big part of a professional golfers’ practice regimen. I’m not suggesting that you as a beginner need to spend hours in the gym but you may find, depending on your strength and flexibility, that it is difficult to swing the club in the way you would like. Working on some basic stretching exercises to improve and maintain your range of motion may be sufficient to help you improve your golf.

Mental Game

The mental side of golf is often overlooked by beginners but as Bobby Jones said “Golf is a game that is played on a 5-inch course – the distance between your ears.”

It’s also part of the game that you can work on pretty much anywhere at any time. Work on your visualization techniques or think about how you need to adjust your strategy to suit your standard of play.

Patience is also one virtue that you will need in abundance when playing golf. Even the very best players can still hit poor shots. You can also hit a shot down the middle of the fairway only to find you have finished in a divot. Learning to take the rough with the smooth is part and parcel of learning to play the game.

Etiquette

Golf is one of few sports that still places a value on sportsmanship and good manners. Before venturing out onto the course you should really get some idea of what’s expected of you. Understanding when it’s safe to play and when to shout “fore”. Leaving the course in good condition by raking bunkers, repairing divots and fixing pitch marks is also an important part of playing golf.

Enjoy Yourself

The most important thing is to enjoy your golf. If you’re not enjoying the experience you aren’t going to want to commit time to play and practice. Ideally, team up with another beginner so you can share compare your progress. If you already know people that play golf then even better since playing with golfers of a better standard usually forces you to raise your own game.

How Long Does it Take to Get Good at Golf: Conclusion

The amount of time it will take really depends on how much time you’re prepared to commit and your own natural sporting ability. Unfortunately, there’s no substitute for hard work when it comes to improving your golf. In order to keep the timeframe as short as possible, you should at least have some lessons on the basics so you are working from a stronger foundation. It may also be worth having regular lessons to make sure you are not drifting off track with your development.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

How often do you need to play golf to improve?

Personally, I always found I needed to play or practice at least twice a week in order to maintain my game. I think when you’re starting out you may need to consider practicing as often as four or five times per week. Don’t forget there are many aspects of your game that you will need to work on: putting, chipping/pitching, irons and woods, driver.

How many hours a day should I practice golf?

It all depends on your goals. If you’re happy shooting around 100 for 18 holes Then practicing once a week for an hour or two will probably be sufficient. If you are looking to break 90, 80 or 70 then that will require significantly more work.

How long will it take to get to scratch?

According to the USGA only around 2% of golfers with a handicap manage to get down to scratch or better. If you add in all the people that play golf but don’t have an official handicap then you’re probably looking at less than 1% of the golfing population. I think that tells its own story. It is pretty difficult to get that good at golf and the vast majority of people won’t have the time or ability to achieve it.

You will most likely have to practice every day and for quite some time, probably years. Even then there is no guarantee that your handicap will come down as you may not be working on the right things to reach a handicap of scratch.

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