Five Revealing Questions to Ask a Golf Course You've Never Played Before

Thanks to John O., Dave S., Tommy G., and the 27 others who commented on last week's post about, "getting burned by golf resort hype."

Today I'd like to cover what you can do to prevent getting burned in the first place, particularly at golf courses that might not have been reviewed yet by Golf Odyssey's secret shoppers.

Sure, a course's website is a good place to start, but I recommend using this "online brochure" only to screen for what you're looking for -- the factual stuff such as your preferred yardage/difficulty, if there's a practice range, a restaurant, locker rooms, etc.

If you really want to know what the overall experience will be like the day you play, take five minutes to pick up the phone and ask the shop clerk or one of the pros the following questions:

1. How are things going today?
This one is purposely vague and potentially bothersome to a busy employee, so their response can speak volumes about how you'll be treated on site. Do they sound happy to be talking to a potential customer, or do they just sound rushed and annoyed?

2. How are the conditions out there? Are there any maintenance issues I should be aware of?
You told me you hate when golf courses don't disclose poor conditions or maintenance, so ask them about it directly. And of course, if the quality of the turf will be reduced the day you want to play, ask if the greens fee will be, too.

3. What is your pace of play like?
Less is more here. In my experience, the more a course has to say about its pace-of-play policy, on-course timers, rangers and such, the more of a problem it is, not that they've corrected it. Be sure to ask about any outings on your target date, too, as they can drag down a normally brisk pace.

4. Are carts required and, if so, are they allowed in the fairway?
Most golf courses love renting carts, so they're often silent about you not being obligated to do so (or that you have the option at certain times of day). If you must take a cart (or you simply prefer it), ask if you can drive to your ball, which makes a world of difference vs. being stuck on the path.

5. Are there any ways to play at a discount?
I purposely leave this one for last. At this point, you have hopefully developed a rapport with the person you're speaking to, and they are more likely to tip you off about their website special, their coupon in the local paper, or even to extend to you the twilight rate if your tee time is "close enough." Note: you're not asking to be given a discount; you're merely asking if they're available. It's a subtle but important difference that often achieves the desired result.

By the way, during your entire exchange, pay attention not only to what the person is saying, but how they're saying it -- how quickly and confidently they respond to your questions or if they hesitate and use a lot of "ers" and "ums." The latter can signal they're searching for adequate answers to sore subjects.

What do you think are the best questions or ways to size up a golf course you've never played before?

Please share your thoughts or read what others are saying below.

Craig Better is one of the founding editors of Golf Vacation Insider. In addition to traveling to 15 foreign countries, he has twice traveled across America to play golf courses in all 50 United States. Prior to joining Golf Vacation Insider, Craig was a freelance writer who contributed to GOLF Magazine, Travel + Leisure Golf, Maxim Magazine,, and co-authored Zagat Survey’s book, America’s Top Golf Courses.
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one more:
do I get back to the clubhouse on the 10th tee?

Quite important, if you decide, not to continue behind a chaotic flight or just simply need something to drink or a toilette.

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Craig, maybe you got so few responses because some of us have become cynical due to the misinformation (or downright lies) we've received over the phone (and sometimes in person) from golf course personnel. At Harbor Shores, Michigan, I have been told there's no maintenance scheduled, only to arrive and find out the greens were punched a few days before. The manager I spoke to told me to call him next time in the area and he would make it right- when I called and left messages for him, he never even called me back. At Kiawah, the reservationist told me there were free replays- upon arrival, I was told there's no such thing, they wouldn't do it, and I was asked who told me that? as if I would remember the name of the person I spoke to weeks before. I can think of other examples but these are top shelf courses and not even they can be trusted, what does that say for the industry as a whole?

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Whats the course record? Is there a replay discount? How do you handle singles?

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Are there any holes where there are blind hazzards that you only usually find about after you have hit your shot into the hazzard (like water crossing the fairway over a hill for example)

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As a mediocre female player who travels with better golfers all over the world, I need to decide which days/courses I play and which days I sit out. On-line reviews re: playing speed and course conditions are helpful but often out of date. Your questions superb!
Unfortunately phone treatment in Europe can be different than treatment once you arrive - which is often quite indifferent :(

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If you ae renting clubs, be sure to ask about the brands / ages of rental clubs available. I ended up with 12 year old clubs which didn't add anything to my game.

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Do you have a drivimg range and whats' the cost? What is the policy of replays and cost?

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Outstanding questions! If I will only remember them when I book my next Tee time. ;-)

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Ha! Can't believe I forgot about that one, Paul. It's the most important question of all!

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Is there a beverage cart? If yes, all else is irrelevant.

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Five Revealing Questions to Ask a Golf Course You've Never Played Before