Playing your first golf competition? What you need to know.

First tee shot on your first golf competition

The golf competition bug always sneaks up on us. You have been playing golf for a while. Most likely with mates and maybe the occasional work related golf. You have had a couple of lessons and no longer shank every drive into the trees off the tee. You are feeling ready to play in your first competition. What do you need to know? Let us help you.

What you need to do before you turn up for your first golf competition

There are a couple of important basics that you need to know before you turn up for your first golf competition. Probably one of the most important is how many golf clubs you have in your golf bag.

You are allowed a maximum of 14 golf clubs in your golf bag, total. That is not 14 clubs and then your putter, that is 14 clubs including your putter. It is also worth noting that some clubs that you may use when playing with your mates are not allowed in competitions. Say what now?

Make sure none of your golf clubs are banned from being used in golf competitions

Some people use what me and my mates call a “chippy putter“. This is a club that looks like a putter but it has an angled face. You use it to chip onto the green when you are just a few feet away, or where you have a ridge to get over to get onto the green. They are fantastic clubs, but they are also totally banned from all golf competitions.

I had the Ben Sayers chippy putter that is shown below. I took it with me when i went to play my good friend Nick. When I got my clubs out he calmly removed it from my golf bag and put it back in the boot of my car. Very funny.

The rules on the chippy-putter may relax. Don’t forget, range finders were also banned when they first came out, and now most serious golfers use them. Basically, pop the chippy-putter in the garage just incase the rules ease in years to come.

Ben Sayers XF Pro Chipper - Chippy Putter £24.99 Amazon

You will need to have an official, recognised, handicap

Let’s be honest, if you are at the stage where you are thinking about playing in a golf competition, there is a strong chance you are already a member of a golf club. As a golf club member you will have probably already put in your three scorecards to get an official handicap.

Some clubs have clear guidance on what scorecards you can submit and who needs to sign your scorecard. The co-signer is usually another member. Sometimes you have to let them know in the pro-shop before you go out on a round where you want to submit a scorecard.

Once you have your handicap it goes up or down based on several factors. Competition results affect your handicap as does playing a round with a fellow golf club member who also has the England Golf app and an active handicap. Once you have a handicap you can play in competitions at most golf clubs. Just check to make sure that the competition you want to play in, if it isn’t at your own club, allows non-members to play.

Note, there are a few handicap systems in place around the world. In recent years the golfing gods decided to try and form one, overall, respected handicap system. This is called the World Handicap System. So when your golf club gives you a handicap, try to ensure it is on the WHS system. This will mean you can play in pretty much any competition anywhere in the world.

What else do you need in your bag for your first golf competition?

It is wise to take the normal golf accessories with you when you take part in your first golf competition. Thing like a pencil, a Sharpie, a pitch repair and a green marker are all essential. I also have my normal two golf towels, one of which I dampen so I can clean my golf club heads after I take a shot.

Make sure you clearly mark your golf balls

In golf competitions there is little worse than accidentally hitting the ball of one of your fellow competitors. To ensure this doesn’t happen to you, make sure that your ball is clearly marked. Some people write their initials on their ball using a Sharpie.

Some draw a line or put a marking on their golf ball. I have a fairly offensive golf ball stamp that my kids bought me. My ball really stand out because of this!

golf stamp for marking your ball
Golf stamp for marking your ball

What to wear during your first golf competition

This is pretty much down to you and what I say is more advice rather than the “rules”. Some competitions specify that you can only wear trousers. It is worth checking the rules on golf attire to make sure you don’t fail before you even start. I would think twice before joining a club where shorts are not allowed in golf competitions.

When I was still a fairly high handicapper, well, higher than my current 14, I turned up for a competition in my relatively new golf gear. I immediately got comments about looking like a pro. It put extra pressure on before I had even started.

You don’t need to turn up for your first golf competition looking like a tramp. Maybe just don’t rock up with brand new gear and tags still on. It will bring you unwanted attention.

Know and understand the format of the golf tournament that you are playing

There are so many golf formats out there in competition land that it gets confusing and I find it hard to keep up. You will need to understand the Stableford golf scoring system as a starting point. Fear not though, most golf apps on your phone work this out for you.

Some of the golf competition formats out there are things like Shotgun start (you all start at the same time across a range of tees) and Texas Scramble (you hit the best shot). Most are based on Stableford scoring system though, so get up to speed on that as soon as you can.

Know how to mark a golf scorecard

There is a good chance that if it is your first golf competition, one of your playing partners will take pity on you and mark the scorecard for you. That being said, it is worth asking to look at the scorecard at the end so you can see what you need to do for the next time.

Sometimes everyone playing needs to carry and complete a scorecard. You will also normally need to sign it at the end of your round and get it countersigned by your playing partner.

Have a chat with the pro shop or the club professional before the day

I remember being very nervous about taking part in my first ever golf competition. There were so many daunting factors and this was before also remembering you play from the white tees which are normally far further back. Chatting to the golf pro’s attached to the club gave me huge confidence.

They spoke to my playing partners to let them know I may need help and guidance which was a huge relief. Things like this go a long way to calming the nerves.

Know the playing rules for a golf competition

I was gutted when I realised there were no Mulligans during competitions. Joking aside, there are some rules to be aware of that you never come across when playing with your friends.

Don’t ask what club your fellow competitor has used to take a shot.

I am not sure if you get a one shot penalty for even asking, but I asked this once and got a very sharp and short reply. For me, I asked out of muscle memory because this is what I always ask my friends when we play. This is not the done thing in a competition.

Always mark your ball when on the green

If someone hits your ball when taking their putt, you get a two shot penalty. I know right! Seems harsh but they are the rules. Mark your ball spot using your green marker and pick your ball up. When you place it down again you can line it up with the hole.

This is a biggy though. I frequently forgot when I played my first golf competition and I could tell my playing partners were getting annoyed at reminding me.

Don’t stand directly behind the person who is on the tee

Again, I fell foul of this rule which did not trigger a penalty, more of an annoyed “you are in my eye line” comment. This is another where you naturally stand there when playing with your mates, most likely because they often lose their ball and you want to keep an eye on where it goes. Not in competitions. Just stand well back and out of the way.

Golf Slang and Golf Lingo Explained

Don’t stand behind someone who is putting to watch their line if you have a similar shot

I noticed that when I was playing putts where another player had a similar shot, they would ask permission to stand behind and watch the line of your putt. Out of natural politeness I always said yes. On a few occasions though, I noticed that some of the other player said no to such requests.

To be clear, I never asked to do this! I didn’t ask anything as I was too scared.

Always take a provisional off the tee if you are not sure where your tee shot has gone

Golf is like all other sports, it is subject to sh*thousery from fellow competitors. I found this out the hard way on my first ever competition. I hit a tee shot wayward and was going to hit a provisional when a playing partner (and competitor) said “I have been playing here for 30 years, we always find balls over there, let’s just crack on”.

We never found my ball and the same partner just said “oh well, you are out of this hole now”. Cue, laughter from the other two players in our four ball. Absolute sh*thousery at its finest. I look back now and laugh, a strong move by my competing elder statesman.

Don’t talk when someone is about to take their tee shot

This is an obvious one but people still do it. In a competition this will result in the tee shot player dramatically stopping their shot mid swing and staring at you. Nine out of ten times this will be another example of player sh*thousery as it will be one of your fellow competitors asking you a question just before the player on the tee is about to swing and it then gets you in trouble.

There we have it. I will keep adding to this article as and when I hear scare stories from other first time golf competition newbies.

The most important thing to remember is to have fun. Golf competitions are great fun and once you have danced through all the nerves before you tee off, you will love them and want to play in more and more!

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