When you first take up playing golf, if you’re anything like me then you’ll no doubt be determined to figure the game out on your own. At least to start with.
I can remember spending hours on the practice range, putting green and even on the course trying to improve my swing, my short game and my putting – often until I ran out of daylight.
My goal has always been to reach a single figure handicap, but after 18 months of ‘going it alone’ I only managed to move my handicap from a beginner’s 36 to 21 – and then it plateaued.
Which brings me to the question: can you teach yourself golf?
You absolutely can teach yourself golf. Anyone can swing a club, play a chip shot or make a putt with a little practice. But if you want to excel at golf, or become a low-handicap player, it’s likely you will need lessons with a professional golf instructor to fine-tune some of the technical aspects of your swing.
After getting frustrated at being stuck at a 21 handicap, I finally bit the bullet and booked in some lessons with a certified golf instructor (I’ve written an article on how to find a PGA professional that is right for you that I’d highly recommend you read).
I’m so glad I did, because after only a few months of lessons – and practicing what I learned – I shaved almost seven strokes off my handicap.
So, can you teach yourself golf? Of course you can. Hell, two-time Masters winner Bubba Watson claims to have never had a lesson in his life, so clearly it’s achievable.
But for most people, if you want to become an exceptional golfer, the chances are you will at some point need lessons.
Is golf difficult to learn?
Golf is an easy game to learn, but one of the hardest games in the world to get good at. There are so many moving parts to the golf swing – including takeaway, backswing, wrist position, downswing and impact – that it can take years to master. Not to mention, every club – from putter, to irons, wedges and driver – each requires slightly different techniques to hit well.
The basic premise of the sport is simple: get your ball into the hole in as fewer shots as possible.
Sounds easy, right? Well, it’s not. It won’t be long until you discover that for yourself.
To play golf well, you’ll need to learn:
- How to score
- Ball flight laws
- Club selection/changing lofts
- Reading greens
- Course management
Without overloading your brain, below is a quick summary of each of these key aspects of the game.
How to score
If you can count, then you can play golf – it’s as simple as that.
There are many different formats you can play – whether socially or in competition – with the most popular being ‘stroke’ (which simply involves counting every single time you hit the ball).
Other formats include stableford or par (which require you to hold a handicap in order to play), along with ambrose or four-ball (which are played in teams).
Each are played slightly differently, so it’s a good idea to read up and familiarise yourself with each – especially if you are considering joining a club as a member and entering in competitions.
Ball flight laws
You’ll soon realise that getting the golf ball to behave the way you want it to is extremely difficult, and can take years and years of practice to master.
Understanding ball flight laws (e.g. what happens when you present a closed or open clubface to the ball, in addition to what path you are swinging the club on) is another important aspect to becoming a good golfer.
We all have that friend who hits huge left-to-right slices and tries to combat it by aiming farther and farther to the left, only to make the ball curve more and more to the right.
If that friend understood ball flight laws, then they would know that is the completely wrong remedy to try and create a straight shot.
Below is a great video giving you a visual understanding of how your clubface angle and swing path, in relation to your target line, affects your shot shape.
Club selection/changing lofts
Golf, above all else, is a numbers game. The number of holes on the course. The number of strokes on your scorecard. The number of swear words you yell after hitting yet another poor shot.
But if you’re new to the sport, you’re probably wondering what the numbers are on the bottom of your golf club?
As a general rule, the higher the number of the club, the higher the loft it has – meaning your ball will fly higher into the air, but travel shorter in distance.
For example, a nine iron will fly a lot higher but travel a lot shorter than a four iron, which will have a flatter trajectory but fly farther.
Knowing how far you hit each of your clubs – commonly known as ‘gapping’ – and choosing the right club to hit depending on how far you are from your target is essential to shooting low scores.
Devices like laser rangefinders, which measure the distance to your target, can help give you extra information to decide which club to hit (we love the Sureshot PINLOC 5000ip Rangefinder because it’s super affordable and effective, and explain why in our review).
As the common saying goes: ‘drive for show, putt for dough’.
You may think the hardest part of golf is getting the ball to the green, but being a good putter can go a long way to helping you shoot low scores.
And to become a good putter, you need to learn how to read greens – whether it’s using the plumb bobbing method, or otherwise.
Below is a great video from PGA pro Rickie Fowler, who is one of the best putters on Tour, giving you some tips on how to read greens.
For beginner golfers, the term ‘course management’ is probably as foreign a concept to them as a T-bone steak is to a vegan.
But if you want to play good golf, then you’d better familiarise yourself with it.
In a nutshell, course management involves making good decisions on the golf course to give you the best chance of getting the ball in the hole in as least shots possible.
Here’s a scenario that best explains it:
You arrive at a short 265-yard Par 4 with a narrow fairway, and a water hazard located in front of the green. Your best drive will carry the ball 275 yards, but is a bit hit and miss in terms of accuracy, while your mid-irons are the strongest part of your game and you hit them consistently. Do you try and drive the green, or do you take iron off the tee?
A low-handicap golfer will assess the risk of trying to hit a perfect drive with a green surrounded by water and on most occasions will take iron off the tee (reducing the chance of bogey or more), while a high handicap golfer will often attempt the 1 in 50 shot by trying to drive the green (usually leading to bogey or more).
The former is an example of good course management, while the latter is an example of bad course management.
Learning good course management is the first step to becoming a better golfer.
So, how long will it take to learn golf?
You can learn the basics of golf – such as scoring, etiquette, how to swing – very quickly, but if you truly love the game, you will never stop learning. In general, it will take anywhere from 2-6 months for beginners to see noticeable improvement in their game, depending on how much they practice.
Once you get bitten by the golf bug, like I did, there’s a good chance you’ll want to learn as much as you can about the game.
Even professional golfers are trying to find new ways to get an edge on their competitors (just ask Bryson DeChambeau).
In terms of how long it takes to get good at golf, it all comes down to how much you’re willing to practice.
We gave a good outline on how often you should practice to improve your game in another in-depth article which I definitely recommend you check out.
What is the best age to learn golf?
Children can be exposed to golf as soon as they start walking (anywhere from 1-2 years old). The earlier you can start learning golf, the better. If you can engrain the foundations of a good swing while you’re young, you’ll have a huge advantage over players who took up the game later in life.
Typically, the world’s top players, such as those who compete on the PGA Tour, have been swinging golf clubs since they were toddlers – clear evidence that the earlier you start playing, coupled with a regular and dedicated practice routine, the better you’ll be by the time you hit your teens.
Can you start learning golf at any age?
Yes, you can start learning golf at any age. If you didn’t take up golf during your childhood, don’t fear! Many people have waited until their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s or later to take up the game and have still become very good players.
For example, I didn’t start playing the game until my mid-20s and am absolutely hooked. All I want to do is practice and play golf. I’m a full-blown addict.
Similarly, my dad just got back into the game (thanks to a little persuasion from me) in his 60s after more than 20 years away from playing, and now we both meet up for a round once a week.
Is it too late to learn to play golf?
It is never too late to learn to play golf! You can learn golf from as early as two-years-old, all the way to 80-years-old given it’s a low-impact sport than puts little wear and tear on your body. It’s one of the few sports worldwide that can be played by people of all ages.
One of the biggest barriers preventing people from taking up golf is being afraid of embarrassing themselves on the course in front of other players.
“I won’t be as good as them” or “I’ll just slow other players down because I’ll take too many shots” are two extremely common thoughts that will stop new golfers from becoming members at clubs and playing in competitions.
Trust me, I thought those exact things before finally signing up to my first-ever golf club.
But when you actually get that first competition round out of the way, you’ll realise that it’s not scary at all – and that there’s plenty of average golfers out there who are happy playing off high handicaps.
If you want to learn golf, don’t let anything stop you!
Are golf lessons worth it for beginners?
Golf lessons are essential for beginners to build the proper foundations of a good golf swing. A professional instructor will help correct any flaws in your swing before they become habit, and difficult to change. The earlier a beginner can get lessons, they faster they will improve.
While lessons can be expensive, there are no amount of YouTube videos that can substitute having a trained PGA instructor look at your swing and give you immediate feedback on how to get better.
We’ve written some really helpful articles on choosing the right golf instructor, and why golf lessons are definitely worth it which I highly recommend you read if you’re considering getting mentoring.
How many golf lessons should a beginner take?
While ongoing golf lessons are recommended to ensure no bad habits are creeping into your swing, 3-5 initial lessons is a great foundation for beginners. It’s best to stagger these lessons fortnightly to give you time to implement and practice the tips you’ve received during each session.
While this is only a rough guide from my own personal experiences with having lessons, your instructor should be able to assess your swing and recommend enough drills to work on during this time for you to see progress (but only if you practice what they have taught you!).
It’s important to remember you may not see results straight away.
Often amateurs will pay for a block of lessons and think that after completing them they’ll be hitting the ball like Tiger Woods.
Sadly, making improvements in your golf swing takes time and the only way to lower your handicap is through regular practice (coupled with lessons if you can afford them).
How can I get better at golf without lessons?
The best way to get better at golf without lessons is to practice regularly; seek advice from good players; develop a deadly short game; and become an excellent putter. Even if you aren’t a great ball-striker, you can significantly improve your scores by learning to chip and putt well.
While the pros can bomb it 300+ yards with ease, the average player often can’t – but the one area in which all golfers are equal, however, is their short game and practicing it relentlessly can take you a long way towards becoming a single-figure handicapper.
If you are determined to learn golf on your own, then power to you! Who knows, you may become the next Bubba Watson (who claims to have never had a lesson in his life).
There is endless golf instructional content on YouTube that covers the essential elements of the golf swing, including:
- Correct grip
- How to make a backswing
- How to make a downswing
- How to shallow the club in transition
- How to chip
- How to putt
- How to hit driver
Virtually anything you can thing of, you can find online. Some of the best online golf instructors, who have the best information/drills to help you with your game, include:
- Peter Finch
- George Gankas
- Mark Crossfield
- Rick Shiels
- Clay Ballard (Top Speed Golf)
- Chris Ryan Golf
- Me And My Golf
- Athletic Motion Golf
You should be able to find answers to every question on these channels – in the end, it all comes down to practice and getting to the nearest driving range as much as possible.
And if you don’t have a driving range nearby, you should definitely consider getting yourself a practice net – I’ve written another article explaining why they’re a great training aid, and how to get the most out of them when practicing.
So, coming back to the original question: can you teach yourself golf? The answer is a definite yes!
There is plenty of content available online to get you started and pointed in the right direction.
But in saying that, no amount of YouTube videos will ever substitute quality one-on-one time with a professional golf instructor, and I would definitely recommend seeing one if you are serious about becoming a better golfer.
It worked for me, and it will absolutely work for you too if you put in the hard work, and practice what you are taught.