Golf courses can be an intimidating place, especially if you're a nervous new golfer on the first tee of a challenging hole with onlookers milling about.
I've made a huuuge mistake!
If you live in a large metro area, chances are there is a course near you of just about every shape, size, price and exclusivity. Some of these facilities are going to be more suitable golf courses for beginners than others. The last thing any of us in the golf industry wants is for a new player to show up and feel out of place. But there are private courses and others that are geared more towards serious players.
In this guide I want to share with you how and when you should book a tee time, as well as provide some tips on the types of courses you should look for.
First off, is the golf course private?
Roughly 25% of the courses in America are fully private. And in 2020 as golf participation surged, some semi-private courses (courses with members but also take in limited public play) filled their membership rolls and closed off public access entirely. The first thing you need to determine is which courses in your area allow guest and public play and which do not. Our Course Guide here at GolfPass designates courses as Private, semi-private, public, municipal and resort. If the course is semi-private, you'll just want to check for online tee times and call the shop to find out booking restrictions.
How to book a tee time at the golf course
There are three ways to book a tee time:
Phone: The first option is to pick up the phone and call the pro shop. You'll tell the person on the phone what day you want to play and what time, how many in your group, and they will share availability for that day and settle on a time. You will typically not receive a confirmation text or email, and you usually don't have to pay until you get there (although some courses will ask for a credit card deposit). Like many golfers, I've been making tee times online more and more now, and I've noticed that on the rare occasion when I do call the shop, I start to feel a little anxiety about whether they put me down for the right time and date since there is usually no confirmation email or text. Also, you can only call the shop during working hours, whereas online tee sheets are open 24/7.
Online: The second way is to book online using a computer or mobile app. You can go to the golf course website (incredibly, a small number of golf courses still don't take online tee times) or browse marketplace sites such as GolfNow, TeeOff or Supreme Golf. These websites let you filter by day and time and it will show you all courses within a given location you search in. Marketplace sites are a good way to quickly compare green fees and availability. When you book online, depending on the tee time, you will need to pay up front or at the course.
When booking online you usually need to pay a $2-5 convenience/booking fee (GolfPass members receive free cancellation and no convenience fees on GolfNow. Browse all GolfPass member benefits).
Walk up: Lastly, you can just show up to the course without a tee time. I would discourage this for several reasons, especially in the COVID-19 era. You may arrive and there is no room on the tee sheet, there may be an outing or the course is closed for maintenance purposes (often on Mondays or Tuesdays). Some courses do not even accept walk-up play due to COVID-19 to keep the amount of foot traffic in and around the pro shop to a minimum. If you get to the course and the tee sheet is full, you can put your name on the walk-on list and wait for a no-show. If that fails, just buy a bucket of balls if they have a driving range or work on your putting for awhile. And maybe make a tee time for your next round while you're there.
How far in advance should you book a tee time?
Each course has a different policy when it comes to opening up their tee sheet. Most local public or municipal courses only post their tee times 5-7 days in advance. For nicer courses that book more tourist play, that window might stretch from 14-90 days in advance. Resort courses can often book tee times up to a 6-12 months in advance. The bottom line: If you want to play at peak times it's best to find out when the tee sheet opens and reserve the time ASAP. For the busiest courses in the country, tee times can fill up within minutes.
Keep in mind that, just like a restaurant reservation, it is proper etiquette to cancel your tee time as quickly as possible if you know you can't make it so the course can fill the spot.
What if I get paired up?
Most golf courses only accept four players per tee time (some permit five). If you do not have four in your tee time, you may be paired up to fill out the group, especially if it's a weekend. It's common for beginners get nervous getting paired up with golfers they don't know who are comparatively experts and assume these players are more advanced than they are and will be impatient if they play bad. Any experienced golfer has played with newbies before. I can't tell you how many times that, upon introducing myself to a golfer at the first tee, they warn me about how bad they are. Frankly, I'm typically too tied up in my own game to even notice your poor shots as long as we're keeping the pace. And just remember, even tour professionals hit shanks, top tee shots and chunk wedges.
If, after a few holes, you feel you're holding them up or they aren't being friendly enough, you could check with an on-course ranger to see if there is any room on the course where you could play alone.
How to pick the right golf course for beginners
Some golf courses are better for beginners than others. As you browse the options in your market (check out our Courses Near You landing page to find the most convenient options), here are a few elements to look for:
- Find a scorecard online and look at all the teeing options. Most courses these days have three or more sets of tees. As a beginner, you should want to play one of the forward sets that is usually between 4,500-5,500 yards. Anything longer than 6,000 yards is starting to get pretty tough. A slope/rating under 70.0/120 would be a good place to tee up from. If you're really worried about playing a course that's too hard, you could look up the course overhead map and see how wide the playing corridors are (or if houses line many fairways), how many bunkers and forced carries there are.
Even better, look for a short course or executive course. These courses are great because you can get in a lot of holes in less time and they are usually more affordable to play. As a beginner, there really is no sense in playing a tournament-caliber, $75-100 golf course yet - they're usually just tougher, longer and have faster, less forgiving greens. Short courses on the other hand are affordable, welcoming, quick to play and you should still get in all the shots you need to practice. I particularly like them for short game and approach shot work.
- Read reviews on GolfPass and you can actually filter reviews by handicap and type of golfer. Using our Advanced Filter on any course guide page, filter for high handicappers (20-24 and 24+ handicaps). You can also filter for other attributes of the reviewer like age and gender. These golfers should be able to provide a good perspective of whether the staff was accommodating to them and the course layout was manageable for their level.
- Also, you'll want to determine what their golf cart and walking policy is. Some courses are walking only and others are golf cart only (most offer both). Walking rates are usually more affordable by $15-25.
- Keep mind also that anyone who wants to come with you but not play (ride in the cart or walk along) may have to pay a riding or trail fee. Other courses prohibit non-golfing spectators. The vast majority of golf courses do not allow dogs. As a busy dad, sometimes I bring one of my children along for a few holes, but I do so at non-busy times (typically twilight weekdays) and confirm with the course staff in advance if they allow it.
- Loyalty programs: Pretty much anything these days from airlines to sandwiches come with loyalty programs. Golf courses may offer repeat golfer perks, or, if you plan to play a lot of different courses in your town and beyond, you can sign up with the GolfNow loyalty program and earn $10 towards golf after every 100 points (GolfPass members earn points faster See details here.)
I hope this tee times primer helps, and feel free to ask me in the comments below or on Twitter @brandontucker if you have any more questions about golf courses for beginners or tee time tips. After a few times to the course, you should have the process down. Once you've arrived, the real fun begins! In the article below, I've outlined what you need to know about your first trip to the golf course: