So you want to learn about golf. Fantastic! The following information is here to help you gain some familiarity with the game, from the way the golf course runs right on down through what to do when playing with someone else for the first time. Reading this may help increase your comfort level and understanding of the game, so here we go.
ARRIVAL AT THE GOLF COURSE
First thing first, if you are coming to play golf odds are that you or a friend of yours made a "Tee Time". While it isn't always necessary to have a tee time at every golf course in the world, it is always wise to call ahead and make sure the course has room for you to play when you have the desire to go. Some of the higher class courses do require you to have a tee time though. Give your desired location of play a call and they will generally be happy to fill you in on all the particulars
One important thing to remember, tee time is when you are expected to be hitting your ball down the fairway from the first tee, not when you enter the parking lot with your car. Check into the Pro Shop at least 15 minutes before your tee time, even sooner if you want time to warm up. Also, keep in mind that the golf course owns the tee time, not you. If you do not have a foursome, they are likely to put somebody with you if it is a busy day. Often a twosome or threesome will demand to go by themselves, but doing so costs the golf course the revenue for the missed time. If you book for four people and only show up with three, many courses will charge you for the fourth person anyway because you have cost them money in doing so, and you are liable for that amount of money. Knowing this early in your golf career can save you money, anger, and embarrassment in your future.
Let's say you are a twosome of beginning golfers and you are not comfortable playing with others yet. Call the golf course and ask when light traffic times occur so you can get out as a twosome and play alone, most courses are aware of this situation and will gladly offer solutions to help you out. PLEASE! Under no circomstances book a time on a busy day and demand to go by yourselves, or just go by yourselves without the group the Pro Shop paired you with. This is very rude as it backs up the course behind you for the length of your tee time, and that back up may last hours. Effectively you have caused a problem that will make everyone who tees off behind you mad, and everyone in the Pro Shop mad at you because they have to listen to the complaints.
YOU'VE ARRIVED, NOW WHAT?
Check into the Pro Shop as soon as possible and pay your fees. If there are any snafu's in the order of play that day, knowing who is there gives the Pro Shop as much time possible to adjust and still get you out early or on time. Trust me snafu's happen, weather delays, late arrivals, poor tee sheet management, impatient customers, and a host of other reasons make keeping tee times flowing difficult at times.
Many courses have bag drop areas out front where you can drive up and unload your golf bags. If the course has a player service department, someone may greet you there and help you unload and carry your clubs for you into a golf cart staging area. If so, you just need to go in and pay, the staff will have you set up on a cart by the time you are done paying in most cases. Be sure and flip a dollar or two their way if they give you good service. If the course doesn't have a player service staff to help you get loaded up, you may have to do it yourself. Bags go on the back of the cart, and while it may seem obvious to many of you that the straps are there to hold it in place, I've watched enough bags fall off the back end of carts to know that you need to remember to secure the straps that hold the bag. The golf carts operate simple enough, they have a gas pedal and brake, the brake has a parking lock on it that I recommend you use any time you get out of the cart. Pushing down on the parking lock will secure the brake, and pushing on the gas pedal will disengage the brake. For liability reasons most courses demand that the driver of the golf cart have a drivers license. These are not toys and they cost $6000, don't let your kids drive them and don't drive them erratically, doing so will likely get you kicked off the golf course if an employee see's you do it. Many people are injured and killed every year because of horse play with a golf cart, don't be one of them.
Being early gives you the option to practice and get warmed up. Most courses have some kind of warm-up area like a driving range and putting green for practice. You can usually purchase a basket of range balls to get warmed up with. Keep in mind you want to buy a basket big enough to get warmed up, but not so big you will late for your tee time because you don't want to pull yourself away from the driving range when the Pro Shop calls your name. Use of the putting green generally does not cost anything.
TIME TO GO GOLFING!
Generally when you are checking into the Pro Shop and paying your fees, the Pro Shop staff will let you know if there is a starter on duty. If there is, they will direct you to the starter and he or she will inform you when it is your turn to tee off. If there is no starter, most of the time the Pro Shop will be calling names on a public address system to get your attention and tell you when to go down to the first tee. Listen carefully, and when you hear your party's name, head on down to the first tee and be ready to go. When the group in front of you is no longer in range to be hit by a shot from everyone in your group, you may tee off.
Do your best to keep up with the group in front of you throughout your round, but don't hit a ball near them. Wait until they are completely out of the way to hit your shots, let them get loaded up in their cart and on their way rather than risk injury and an almost sure confrontation by landing a ball near the group in front of you. Keep in mind the group behind you is also anxious to hit their shots, when you are through hitting a shot or putting on the green, immediately start moving to your next location as to get out of their way. There are a couple things you can do to help keep traffic moving on the golf course. First, be ready to hit your shot when the time comes. Pick out your club ahead of time, and stand at the ready by your ball, take your practice swings while you are waiting. When it is your turn, GO!! Typically the person farthest away from the hole has the "honors", hence they go first. However, if someone loses a ball everyone else should hit their own ball first before helping the person who has lost theirs. Second, park your golf cart in effecient locations so you are moving away from the group behind you as soon as possible, for instance behind the green instead of in front of the green. Doing so allows the group behind you to hit sooner and that will cause them less frustration.
READY GOLF - This is an option more groups should consider while playing recreational golf, doing so will speed up the round for them and other groups on the golf course. In ready golf we do not worry about who has the honors, basically if someone in the group is READY, they go ahead and go. This can be a real time saver, especially if you have a particularly slow person in your group that everyone has to wait on frequently. The object is to have fun and this is not the PGA Tour. Be ready, go when you can, keep the pace of play up, and have fun.