The Proper Balance of Practicing vs Playing

How much time do you put into your practice time versus your playing time? Depending on your skill level, it makes a big difference.

With golf being a very personal game, the answer as to whether it’s better for a golfer to improve their scores by playing or practicing comes down solely to what they want out of the game. Let’s face it, the real reason that most of us play golf – is that we like playing the game of golf.

I would tell a beginner golfer that before you go out to play on a golf course,  you need to work on hitting 7 out of 10 balls in the air. You will not be enjoying yourself if you are struggling with getting the ball airborne. I would also tell them to learn the basic rules of golf including etiquette, which we will cover in a different article.

Trouble is, those of us who have played or taught the game for some time, know that to improve most golfers performance at the game requires them to spend some time on the practice area refining what skills they have, checking the basics of their golf swing, and  pre-shot routines, figuring out the distances they hit the golf ball, working on that shot that didn’t go so well last week.

We don’t live in a world like that and taking into account that most of us have limited time during our week just to fit any golf in at all – it’s more likely that most golfers are going to play the game if they have the chance.

However, if you haven’t been playing so well lately or you have decided that this year is the year that you really improve your game – here’s some things to consider next time you try to decide whether to play golf or practice golf.

A golfer whose aim is to compete at a high level is probably going to have to spend a significant amount of time on the practice area building up the repetitive skills and stamina that’s required to compete while under tournament conditions, whereas a golfer whose main aim is to play well in the odd club competition every couple of months isn’t going to have the same need.

Do you play golf simply to escape life and enjoy the walk, do you play because you like spending time with your golfing friends or is it some deep seated quest for perfection or absolute mastery of the game that drives you?

After you have decided what type of golfer you would like to be, then – you can map out your game plan. Everyone needs practice time. When you go the range you will see all skill types. Beginners will be working on repeating their golf swings so they can get a feel for muscle memory and balance. They need to work on their short game – putting, chipping pitching and sand play to get an idea of  when and why you would use one technique over the other. You can’t practice this out on crowded golf course. When I started playing golf, I used to go to Bethpage State Park. They have 5 courses there. I took the last tee time on whatever course was available and I would stay on the first couple of holes and practice different shots. No one was behind me so I cold drop a few balls from different spots on the course and practice.

The more experienced golfer, once who has played and is very familiar with different shots they have to execute on the course, may be at the range practicing the shots that he or she didn’t execute well on the course and they are at the range to reproduce that shot and to ingrain the proper feel for what is right.

The top level golfer will be on the range  working on very specific parts of their swing, maybe tweaking something in their swing because something did not feel right. They play a lot by feel. They work on the mechanics on the range and turn that into feel and then take it to the course.  When they play it’s pretty much all feel. They are very in tune with their swings and know when someting is off in their swing.

So which one are you? If you are a beginner, you need to spend more time on the range. I’m not saying don’t ever go to the course; no – you need to experience the golf course. If for example, you have 3 opportunities during the week to work on golf – then spend 2 at the range. Learn to get that ball airborne and that will greatly enhance your playing experience.


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