The Course Strategist - Some Tips & Tricks

Playing golf is a highly personal experience, and your strategy probably looks very different from mine. Anyway, here is what I do, and I hope you can grab something from it and incorporate it into your game plan. If you haven’t read my texts before, I'm basically a club-level golfer who plays for the challenge of beating par and achieves it every now and then.

(check out the golf technique change guide for a deeper story on who is writing)

Over the years, I have subconsciously played by a rulebook crafted from experiences gathered through thousands of rounds. What I write below is what helps me the most out there. It's essentially a derivation of a risk-reward concept constructed through extensive golf play.

I call my concepts:

  • Where's the sh*t
  • Swallow your ego in wind
  • Use the tee-box to your advantage
  • Don’t aim for the fairway…
  • Most green bunkers are buddies
  • The long drive
  • Drop the putt

Where’s the sh*t

This is what I ask myself for any tee or approach shot. I start by ruling out what I shouldn’t do. For a tee shot on a par 4 or par 5, I focus on where I shouldn’t place the ball. I won’t mention obvious hazards like water or waste areas; those are self-explanatory. Instead, I discuss aspects known from playing the course multiple times, elements I can use to my advantage. This mindset significantly helps me avoid double and triple bogeys (normal bogeys, well, they seem to come no matter what I do, so I've stopped worrying about them…).

First example: On a 340-meter par 4, there's a bunker at 200 with a high ridge, and at 240, there's a treeline from the right, narrowing my landing zone. My good drive carries 250, an okay drive 240, and a poor drive 230. My good spoon carries 230, okay spoon 220, and poor spoon 210. I consistently carry my hybrid around 210 but sometimes around 200. This makes the decision easy: the drive is not an option, and the hybrid requires a consistent strike. Spoon it is.

Second example: On a 140-meter approach to a par 4, there are bunkers before the green that seem moderately challenging. Past the green, there's a slope for 15 meters, essentially a semi-rough. The green is 25 meters deep, and the pin is at the front left, 6-7 meters from the front. I usually play a push draw with these shots, and with a slight headwind, my 8 iron travels about 145. Where's the trouble? I know that my miss tends to be a bit too spinny, straight without any curve, and this shot happens quite often. This miss, taken by the wind, gains altitude quickly and likely leaves me with a plugged lie. The bunker is the trouble. I choose a 7 iron, intending to hit it 5-10 meters too long with a good strike. A poor strike will leave me just past the bunkers or the front edge of the green, while a semi-good strike will likely provide a nice look.

Now that I know what not to choose, my shot-making routine becomes much easier, and it suddenly feels more committed. 

Swallow your ego in wind

In golf I believe ego to be a very good thing. It keeps you positive and keeps you with the mindset that you can achieve whatever you set out on achieving. But it’s also a tricky thing in golf because the course will not deal with any nonsense. It will punish you if you are out of line.

In south Sweden we play in a lot of windy conditions. We also have roughly 6 months of golf season with pretty low temperatures. On the TV we see Rory hitting an eight iron into a 195 yards par 3. And we swing roughly as good right? Right. 

If I have a 150 meters (163 yards) approach and in non windy summer conditions I would hit an 8 iron. Now all of a sudden I have 8-9 mps head wind and I’m playing in seven degrees celsius. I know that with good striking it’s roughly one more club per 3 ish meters per second (or 1% longer per mph wind, e.g. 100 meters with 10 mph head wind plays 110). That should be a 5 iron then right. Ok, so that’s with a good strike. And I also know that the range that I hit my clubs with is diminished in the wind. Normally I have a 10-11 meters difference between my clubs. In this type of wind it is probably 6-8 meters or something. This basically means that my long shot won’t be as punished.

At this shot where I also have bunkers before the green and nothing of big danger behind it I would hit a 4 iron on a 150 meters shot. A club that normally carries about 190 if well struck. My 1/10 perfect strike will take me to the far side of the green and possibly just over it. My normal 6/10 strike will be roughly pin high and my crap strike 3/10 (in wind I swing worse) will likely just make the front edge of the green. (or if I’m solid with my punch shots I would go about hitting a gripped down punch 5 iron here)

Maybe this sounds like “not a thing” but  I can’t explain enough how many people I have played with are hitting either a hard 8 or maybe a 7 iron here. Swallow your ego, no one cares what club you hit. 

Use the teebox

Most coplayers I’ve had over the years try to get as close as humanly possible to the line between the teeboxes. Most of the time the ball is probably already getting a head start. This seems to be the most important thing but why? 

You have two whole club lengths of area to use and where you peg also influence the feel for what you wish to do. If you are draw biased, then pegging up on the left side of the box is a great feeling and vice versa for fade biased, but more importantly, use the best possible spot on the tee box to your advantage. Walk back 1 or 1,5 meters and you have unused turf with deep footmarks etc. It’s even, it’s unused and its sweet. Test it out.

And also, going back a bit on the teebox personally puts me in more of a shot hitting mindset rather than a distance chasing mindset. 


Don’t aim for the fairway…

Of course you want to land on the fairway but try this. Move away from the fairway as a landing zone and think about the entire area you can land on that will give you a nice approach opportunity. Do you really hit that much better from the fairway than the semi rough? 

If you do this and pretty much know your course you now know that you don’t have the 30 meters of fairway to aim for but it’s often something like 60 meters in diagonal. Personally, this frees me up and makes me less result oriented which in my case produces a better process and a better swing.

Take a course guide, mark out your landing zones and see how it feels for a full round.

Many times I have heard that you NEED to have a really solid course strategy where you aim small to miss small and plan very well to have the best approach possible etc. On this hole you need to play it to the right side of the fairway to have the right angle to the hole etc…  Honestly, it’s not often that I can’t (given that I perform a decent swing) get within e.g. 5-6 meters from the flag from any part of my landing zone. I mean, after all, you carry the ball right? Ok, if you don’t carry the ball but roll it up, then it’s a different story.


Most green bunkers are your buddies

I’m no great bunker player. I’m decent. Maybe scrambling 40% of my visits or something like this. But I’d much rather have a normal bunker lie over a harder chipping lie. The chip needs a way better technique and you are much more prone to facing lies that will make scrambling harder than from the bunker.

If I have a normal green in normal winds (not strong head wind) then I most of the time see bunkers as ok misses. I hit maybe 6/10 iron shots the way I roughly want it. The other 4/10 I miss in some way. If I apply some smart strategies some of the misses will land on the green and some will land somewhere else. And personally, missing the green I prefer to be sand bourne.

Then it’s a pretty easy short game practice for you. Train bunker shots 10 meters ala Phil Mickelson (David Pelz, Mickelson’s Short Game Mentor, says that something like 90 % of all bunker shots are 10 meters).

Also, another great feeling of befriending the sandy beauties is the second shot approach to par 5 holes. Most of the time I’m looking something in between 190-230 meters for my approach and creating a type of “landing zone thought” where the bunkers are ok really frees me up to perform this shot. That’s personal but I have heard other people expressing it as well.


The long drive

For most holes that don’t demand loads of distance I’m hitting my three wood. For the holes where you actually have an advantage being long the long drive is a really nice tool to have in your toolbox.

My normal drive is maybe 245 carry if I hit it pretty good. My long drive, where I have a massive landing zone, is maybe 260 carry.

It’s not like I just became a superman but I see it as an actual challenge to pound it out there as far as I can. This focus creates a great task that often leads it to being somewhat straight as well… In my experience I can only do this 2 or 3 times per round. It’s like my brain says, that’s it buddy - no more super power for you. But if I conserve myself and save this shot for e.g. three of the four par 5s then I think it’s a big benefit for my game.

How to do it? Just basics. A bit wider stance. Tee up the ball a bit more and push it forward in your stance a bit. Feel like you climax later. That’s it, nothing more. Of course, it helps to actually train your “hard shot” sometimes in your training schedule.

Finally, the advantage of hitting this 2-3 times per round is that it makes the other normal shots feel a bit easier. And that’s a great feeling.


Drop the putt

Growing up on very fast greens I once received the tip to just try to make the ball fall in the cup. No attacking the back edge or something like that. Make it drop. I have used it ever since. It’s a great way of just playing all the breaks on the course and if you miss you leave yourself with a tap in. 

The intention is always to sink every putt I have but with this intention I get my lag putting training for free. The visualization of the putting line also becomes easier. I don’t know if you have ever seen the multiple lines they show on TV for different paces of the putt. I don’t mess about with any of that. My pace is set and there is nothing more to it.

Putting is supposed to be simple and this make it even “simpler”. Try it out if you haven’t.


If you are interested in even deeper game guides, then check out our "How to Break Par in Golf" Guide.

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Good luck out there!

Petter Tärbe

Co-Founder at snöleo


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