Play-based golf lessons are much better than standing on the practice tee all day. Your students will gain a great appreciation of the course, your vision for them, and the game.
When it comes to teaching course management, knowing your client is critical. Make it your mission to discover who they are when a lesson is booked. A junior, beginner, competitor, etc. all have different needs and goals. Go in knowing what they are.
Your students booked lessons with you because they are looking for “something,” and it is up to you to understand what that “something” is before taking them on the course. Your goal is to match your instruction style and technique to meet their needs, and to develop a plan that will help them navigate their way around the golf course in the best way possible.
When working with junior and adult beginners, I utilize the Operation 36 program. This is a “learn to play” program that focuses on “playing” golf. Operation 36 is one of the most effective developmental programs that includes the use of technology. It is “play based” with progression through yardages, and offers an easy, effective and efficient way to introduce and guide golfers to and through the game.
This program is not overwhelming, making it an excellent choice for these students as it keeps the game simple and requires only a few clubs. Using Operation 36, you will focus your instruction on how best to work around the greens. This lifts the burden of worrying about tee shots and hazards.
Begin by helping the student understand why they don’t want to hit into the bunkers or above the pin, as the green speed is much faster putting downhill. This gets them to relax and absorb the concept of why the short game is so important. Start from 25 yards away from the green, and have your student graduate to the next yardage after they achieve a score of 36 or better for 9 holes.
Play-based lessons for high-, mid-, and low-handicap players will be somewhat like the junior or beginner student experience. The key difference with this more-seasoned group, though, is that you must understand their current strengths and weaknesses.
After you have that information, your students will need your assistance to develop a game plan on how to play each hole. Learning about their shot shape will allow you to map out the course in the appropriate way for them.
For instance, if your student is a fader/slicer (left to right), you will want to tee them up on the right side of the tee box and have them aim down the left side of the fairway, thus opening the entire fairway to them. You will do the exact opposite for the player who hits a draw/hook (right to left).
When approaching a green, you want your player to learn to play to their strengths. Remind them that the flag is not always the target. The center of the green is always a good option.
On a par 5, players need to understand how to lay up to their favorite distance for their next shot. The only time you might not want them to do this is if there is a hazard in that area. If this is the case, play short of the area or past it, to take it out of play. The better the player, the smaller the target area can be. Encourage each student to play to their level and not try to be perfect.
Around the green, remind your students to play wisely, by trying to give themselves the chance to make a putt for a birdie or par or to save bogey. The shot they never want is the same shot they just had. If they are in a bunker, they want to make sure to get out. If they are chipping, the goal is to get it on the green. This is how scores start to drop and players become more consistent.
One of my favorite resources on course management is the book “Playing Lessons” by Butch Harmon. It takes you through an adventure over 18 of the greatest holes in golf with a high-, mid-, and low-handicap player. Throughout the book, Butch explains how each level of player should play the hole, and why. It’s a very interesting read.
Remember, play-based lessons are much better than standing on the practice tee all day. Immerse yourself in your element by getting out to enjoy teaching on the course. Your students will gain a great appreciation of the course, your vision for them, and the game.
Matt Kilgariff is a PGA professional who spent much of his career working for Butch Harmon and the Harmon Family. He is currently the Director of Player Development at The Bridges at Rancho Santa Fe in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. Prior to joining The Bridges, Kilgariff was Director of Player Development at The Olympic Club in San Francisco. Matt has also been part of TaylorMade’s National Advisory Staff since 2012.