Between physical distancing and capacity limits, recreation opportunities have been tough to come by in the COVID-19 environment. While indoor recreation has struggled with closures and tight restrictions, outdoor recreation opportunities have provided much needed relief for Albertans looking to get out of the house. In the Edmonton area, golf has experienced a major resurgence with both veterans and eager new players.
From pros to newcomers to the greens, golfers of all experience levels are always looking for ways to fine tune their game. Murray McCourt, general manager and executive golf professional at The Ranch Golf & Country Club, has pointers for golfers preparing for the 2021 season.
“Many golfers head straight from their car to the first tee without a proper warm up. Spending some time stretching and hitting warm up shots on the driving range will properly prepare your body to play a game of golf,” McCourt says. “With the golf swing, the biggest issue I see is golfers not transferring their weight properly. Not finishing your swing with all of your weight on your front foot with your hips and shoulders directly facing your target causes the ball to go right; it causes you to top the ball and you end up not hitting the ball as far as you should.”
If there is one thing golfers are united in experiencing, it is frustration. Golf is not known for being an easy game, but as McCourt shares, it is an incredibly rewarding activity in which players can enjoy time spent in nature with friends and family.
“Golfers worry about their score more than they should. Just enjoy yourself and those you are with while you are out playing. The more you play and practice, the more your scores will improve,” he says. “Especially with all we have been dealing with over the past year, getting outside and getting some exercise while enjoying the company you are with is so important for mental health. Keep focused on that.”
Golf has provided many players with much needed relief from COVID-19 anxieties, but an outdoor game is not always accessible. In a province where snow and freezing temperatures have a habit of sticking around until late spring, it can be difficult to stay in the game. Fortunately for golf lovers, there are options available. Robb James, head professional at the Stony Plain Golf Course, explains how golfers can keep active during those long winter months.
“During the off-season, there are now more opportunities than ever before to maintain the progress made during the season with indoor practice centres and golf simulators. Try and avoid having a six-month off-season where the movements aren’t being practiced and the muscles involved aren’t being used,” James says. “I would recommend getting a ‘spring tune-up’ from one of the many amazing professionals in our industry to get the season started off on the right path. Develop a season-long game plan that includes practice sessions in between rounds, improving strength and flexibility as well as cardio.”
Hours logged in at the driving range aren’t the only factors for improvement. In addition to practicing and looking after one’s physical health, James notes having the right gear in your golf bag is a must.
“Properly fitting equipment can assist with improving your game. This doesn’t mean that it has to be the latest and greatest by any means, but make sure your equipment is the correct length, the grips aren’t worn out, and that you aren’t missing one of the integral clubs that are used often during a round,” James says. “I’m always amazed at the number of golfers who don’t carry a sand-wedge, and of course, struggle getting out of the sand!”
As James explains, a unique aspect of golf is its longevity. Players often range in ages and compared to high impact sports, golf can be played late into one’s life. Of course, the length of a player’s golfing career can be negatively impacted by injuries or strain.
“Running straight from the car to the first tee should be avoided if possible. Give yourself sufficient time to get the blood flowing throughout your entire body and try and get a bit of stretching in before your first tee shot,” he says. “Heading to the driving range doesn’t mean that you should just pull out your driver and hit it 120 times. Use those opportunities to practice with all of your golf clubs and start with your shorter, higher lofted clubs for the beginning of your practice sessions.”
Beyond topping the ball and landing in the sand, there is another element of the game that can stir up feelings of frustration: pace of play. Pace of play can impact the experience of everyone on the course and for new players, keeping up with more seasoned golfers can be challenging. Fortunately, James notes there are a few adjustments players enjoying slower-paced games can implement into their round to ensure everyone on the course has a great experience.
“Oftentimes, newer golfers feel rushed by the group behind them. Pace of play can be achieved easier when golfers are playing from an appropriate yardage,” he says. “Playing an alternate-shot or a scramble format within your group can reduce the stresses of individual performance and results. Golf is hard, so try and tackle the golf course from a shorter yardage and work your way back in length in future rounds. Once you have found a yardage that you are comfortable with and enjoy playing from, try to find a similar (or shorter) yardage when playing at a different golf course for the first time.”
Waiting on slower groups can make golf veterans groan and grumble on the green. After all, once you are in a groove it can be disappointing to have to stand around and wait for others to finish their hole; however, James encourages seasoned golfers to have patience and remember the challenges of being new to golf.
“Avid golfers need to be patient, understanding and recognize that the sustainability of the golf industry hinges on those players sticking with the game for future years. Now more than ever, we should all enjoy the fresh air when we are fortunate enough to get the opportunity.”
Whether you are a seasoned player returning to the green after another long winter or a newcomer to the sport, there is plenty of space on the course for everyone to get out and enjoy the fresh air. Getting out on the green is a great option for those looking for safe recreation activities. With a little practice and gleaning of tips and tricks from the pros, golfers can make this next season their best one yet.