I have a friend who often daydreams. I said to him one day, “Hey, I’m talking to you. What are you thinking about over there?” He grinned and said. “I’m just doing what I always do. I am running through all those wonderful shots I made on the driving range yesterday because I know I won’t be as good on the golf course.” I knew just what he meant. It’s one of the oldest debates in golfing circles, driving range vs golf course.
The most common concern is that which my friend raised. We all seem to be better on the driving range than on the golf course. It’s frustrating. Every golf coach has seen endless numbers of clients who come begging to be taught the secret of how to take those skills from the driving range to the golf course.
In this article, I am going to find out the truth.
The myth of the brilliant driving range player
The truth is, you are not a better player on the driving range. You think you are because you are in a different mindset and trying to achieve a different goal.
The consequences of a bad shot are much more significant when you are out on the course. You mis-hit, and the ball flies off into the rough. Now you are in trouble, and it will take a couple of shots to get out. That doesn’t feel good.
If you mis-hit on the driving range, you think differently. You may say, “Well, that went wrong. I need to work out why that happened and try again.” You use mis-hits as a learning tool. There is nothing wrong with that. But it is very different from when you are out on the course. On the golf course, there is more pressure. You cannot repeat your shot to get it perfect. You have to move on to the next hole. As you move around the course, you will be faced with new challenges.
On the driving range, you can practice the same shot, in the same conditions, over and over again. You can spend a whole session on just one shot. You can focus on only one target. This is very different from play out on the golf course.
On the course, you are going to change your club more. You are going to cope with different terrains and changeable weather conditions. The ground is varied. The lies on the course are likely to be harder to play than on the driving range.
We are not comparing similar things when we talk about the golf course vs. the driving range. The obvious question which follows is, “Why should I bother with the driving range?” There are a lot of reasons. One is that you cannot get out on the course every day. Another is that each shot is focused practice. Getting that one shot right is something you want to do.
Here are some golfing rules to help you get the most out of your driving range practice.
Every golf shot matters
Don’t let your attention lapse just because you are on a driving range. Get into a mindset where you treat every shot you make as if it’s the match-winner in a tournament game. This will see the benefits straight away. You will get used to dealing with tension and with stress. You will improve your competitive edge.
Recreate a golf game
Often when we practice, we concentrate on one shot. This can be very effective. But I would advise all my golfing buddies to spend a lot of their time on the driving range doing something different.
Recreate a real game. That means practicing your short game as well as long drives. It involves varying your shots and using all your clubs. If you are not used to drilling this way, you can start by developing a plan. Remember what you did when you were out on the course and then go onto the driving range and do it again. Notice how different that feels to your usual practice routine.
Restrict your time on the driving range
This might sound odd. Surely the longer you practice, the better you get? Actually, that is not true, and not just for golf. In nearly every field, there is an optimum amount of time for practice. If you do more than this optimum, then you will find you cannot concentrate.
Our range of concentration is usually between an hour and an hour and a half. Within that, we have ups and downs (often in a cycle that lasts about twenty minutes). Work with this rather than against this. Do one thing for twenty minutes, then move on to something else. If you want to stay on the driving range for longer than a couple of hours, take a break after ninety minutes. When you resume, do something different.
Blocked practice and random practice
Blocked practice is where you do the same things time and time again until you are perfect. It has its benefits, especially when you know you have a weakness in one shot in your game and want to improve.
There is a danger when you get on the driving range. The tendency is to do only blocked practice. I bet you have done this, and I bet you have seen other people doing it. You take one club, often a seven or a five iron, and aim at a target. You keep hitting with the same club with the same goal in mind. That is limiting your improvement and making it hard for you to retain what you have learned.
If you vary your practice, you will find it easier to maintain your concentration. You will find it easier to remember what you have learned. And, most importantly, you will see that long walk from the driving range to the golf course much more manageable. Your practice will be more similar to your game, and this will help.
Vary the target and think about it. If you keep hitting the same shot with the same club, you will stop thinking about what you are doing quickly. As we all know, golf is mental as well as a physical game. Proper planning of each shot is crucial to playing a good game. If you doubt this, watch Rory Mcllory.
Vary your shots, and you will have to plan each one. This is the best practice you can get. You may be wondering what sort of variation you can introduce. Here are some ideas.
- Select a different target for each shot
- Rotate your clubs frequently
- Chose a different flight path for your shot
- Use different swings, some full, some partial
- Do not forget your short game.
When you are out on the course, you have to make decisions every few minutes. You do not know where the ball will land, so each new shot is a new problem. This is what makes golf so sometimes challenging, so frustrating, and often so much fun.
You can use your time on the driving range to hone those planning skills. Memory is important here. You might recall that you needed to make a recovery shot. You chose your club; you lofted a wedge shot, the ball traveled too far. So, practice wedge shots until you have the technique where the ball lands and stops. Then you will be improving your game.
Attention to your body
As you play golf, there is a lot to think about when you hit a golf ball. Your stance, your grip, how you hold your head, your golf swing, the tension in your wrists . . . And much more. You know that these things are essential. You know that your game has got better when you have changed body positions that were not working for your game.
Getting familiar with how your body performs on the golf course takes time. One problem is that you want fluidity and mobility, and often if you overthink your stance, for example, you become stiff and clumsy.
The trick to paying attention to your body is to ignore it. This is what I mean. Rather than think about how you are standing, what your grip is, and all the rest, think about the target, then do a quick body scan, adjust and make the shot. Practice this enough, and you will end up with fluid and accurate movement right through the shot.
Don’t be afraid to do what is hard
Look around the driving range, and I bet you will see many golfers doing what is easy. Gentle swing, towards the target, repeat. On it goes. No wonder it feels hard when they get out on the course. The real world of the golf course is not like that. In any round of golf, some situations will be hard. You don’t want to crumble when you have to meet these challenges. So, practice doing what is hard.
Struggle on the driving range, and you will meet the challenges of the course.
Set yourself up some situations where you know you will find it difficult to make a good shot. When you fail, welcome it. Use your golfing brain to reflect on what you are doing wrong and then practice.
Keep doing this, and those real challenges out on the course will not be as stressful.
Should I limit my time on the driving range?
My short answer to this would be Yes. The complexity of the real game cannot be replicated entirely on the driving range. The more you can play actual rounds of golf on the golf course; the more your game will improve. Apparently, there can be all sorts of constraints here; cost, time, weather, your distance from the course all play a role. But if you can get an extra round of golf every week or even every month, then grab the opportunity. You will enjoy your game more, and it will come on by leaps and bounds.
What else should I do?
Think about taking some golf lessons. Do this in a focused way. I would suggest you concentrate on the weakest part of your game, then find a good coach to work on this. When the coach has given you the tools you need to improve, get out to the driving range and practice. Then book a round of golf out on the course and get out and play. Do it in this order. The lesson, driving range practice, play. Then move on to another weakness of your game. This structured approach will pay off.
Start with your longest clubs. This will reflect what you will actually do on the course.
Hit just one shot of each type. After all, that is what you do on the course. Start with one drive, one wedge shot, one putt. Then vary this. I bet you find that this is a more exciting way to practice.
Look and learn
Don’t get me wrong; you will get better with a golf club in your hand. However, there are other ways to learn. Read about practice routines. Watch videos of the shots you find difficult. Get some golf joy in your life by watching the professionals playing their best shots. You will learn a lot from them.
Improve your fitness
If you are healthy and flexible, your golf game will be better. You will also be less likely to suffer injury. Doing some strength-building routines or going to a gym to build up your stamina will undoubtedly improve your golf.
Driving range vs golf course: the verdict
Practice on the driving range can help you improve your game, but it is not the be-all and end-all. Nothing can compete with getting out on a golf course and playing some real rounds.
You can play golf competitively or just for fun. You will have a good time and get better. Try playing with players or different abilities. You can learn from those better than you and teach the beginners. Be social with your golf.