Photograph of the Congressional Country Club by John Mummert/USGA
When the world’s best golfers descended on Bethesda’s Congressional Country Club for the US Open in June, they generated a lot of excitement about the sport. If you’re interested in picking up the game, here’s what you need to know.
“The problem with golf in general is that it’s very counterintuitive,” says Pat McGuire, director of instruction at Raspberry Golf Academy in Leesburg. “You hit down on the ball to make the ball go up.”
That’s why lessons are important for beginners. Most cost $70 to $200 for an hour of private instruction; group sessions cost less and are available at most private and public courses.
The PGA’s Play Golf America program has a directory of local courses that offer lessons for beginners. Many area pros teach in the organization’s Get Golf Ready program, which normally costs $99 and includes five group sessions covering everything from etiquette to teeing off. Visit PGA's website for a full directory of PGA instructors—including some who work at private clubs that offer lessons to nonmembers.
WHERE TO PLAY
As important as lessons and practice are, it’s also good to get out on the course and enjoy playing. “It’s really a buddy game,” says Bob Dolan, head golf pro at Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase.
If you’re looking for a group of like-minded beginners to get on the course with, try the Young Professionals Golf Association. Organizer Luisa Sevilla puts together golf outings at courses around Washington.
You may want to start out playing par-three or executive courses. Here are some recommended local courses to try out with a group:
East Potomac Golf Course
972 Ohio Dr., SW; 202-554-7660
East Potomac Golf Course includes a nine-hole par-three course as well as a nine-hole executive course with par-fours and a regular 18-hole course.
All of these courses have beginner-friendly nine-hole courses. Northwest and Needwood also have 18-hole courses.
Northwest Golf Course
15711 Layhill Rd., Silver Spring; 301-598-6100
Needwood Golf Course
6724 Needwood Rd., Rockville; 301-948-1075
Sligo Creek Golf Course
9701 Sligo Creek Pkwy., Silver Spring; 301-585-6006
Paint Branch Golf Complex
4690 University Blvd., College Park; 301-935-0330
Hilltop Golf Club
7900 Telegraph Rd., Alexandria; 703-719-6504
Hilltop Golf Club is a nine-hole executive course that includes a good mix of holes.
Herndon Centennial Golf Course
909 Ferndale Ave., Herndon; 703-471-5769
Herndon Centennial Golf Course is a regular 18-hole course but offers lots of events for beginners.
WHAT TO BUY
Pros say new golfers often make a mistake by buying expensive clubs before they’ve learned the basics of the game.
A starter set—it can cost as little as $100—is all you need when you’re a beginner. It usually includes a driver, a five-iron, a nine-iron, and a putter. You can then add to your bag as your skill grows.
Most pro shops sell club sets, but you also can go to stores such as Modell’s Sporting Goods and Sports Authority.
Some specialty stores, including Golf Galaxy, offer lessons and fitting services and have golf pros on staff:
12975 Fair Lakes Shopping Center, Fairfax, 703-563-3960
12087 Rockville Pike, Rockville, 240-833-4102
After learning the basics, you may want better clubs. Most PGA professionals offer club fitting along with lessons. Some use technology to measure everything from club speed to ball spin and then use that information to help you find a good set of clubs.
The driving range is where you can try to work out the kinks in your swing. When practicing on the range, Northwest Golf Course pro Martin Zadravec says, try slowing down your swing, hitting shots at 60-to-80-percent strength. That will help you avoid swing flaws.
It’s important to learn the proper grip and to let the club do the work. “The typical mistake I see new golfers make is to strangle the golf club with tight hands and to swing with their arms,” Stonewall Golf Club’s Erika Larkin says. “Relax and swing more with the body, using your legs to transfer your weight.”
A NOTE ON ETIQUETTE
One of the cardinal rules of golf is don’t hold up the group behind you. If teeing off from the back tee box is too challenging, don’t be afraid to take your first shot from the ladies’ tee or even from a manageable distance on the fairway.
When you’re starting out, play what golf pros call “it’s okay” rules—meaning out on the course don’t worry about all the rules of golf. Just keep learning, keep moving along, and have fun.
This article appears in the July 2011 issue of The Washingtonian.