Going the Distance? How Far Should Beginners Hit A Golf Ball?


How far should a beginner hit a golf ball

As soon as you start playing golf it is natural to start to want to compare yourself against other players. And the most obvious comparison all beginner golfers typically start with relates to how far they hit the ball. We therefore did some research to establish how far beginners on average hit a golf ball.

So how far should a beginner hit a golf ball? Beginner golfers with handicaps of 21+ hit the golf ball the following distance with their driver:

CLUBBEGINNER MENBEGINNER WOMEN
Avg. distance
(Yards)
Longest distance
(Yards)
Usage Avg. distance
(Yards)
Longest distance
(Yards)
Usage
Driver190278.891.4%138.3216.798.1%

Distance is obviously not the only measure of the game and beginners will often be told to forget about distance and focus instead on learning how to strike the ball consistently well.

That is, of course, easy to say for existing golfers or teachers who do not need to worry much about making contact with the golf ball never mind hitting it a long distance. The fact is, at a basic level, all golfers like humans, like to watch things fly and so it should come as no surprise that beginner golfers are keen to quickly improve to the stage where they can launch the golf ball a good distance into the air.

The good news for beginner golfers is that over the last 20 years or so they are part of the group who have made the most advances, compared to other handicap groups, in hitting the ball further than they did before.

Beginner Golfers Are Hitting the Ball Further Than Ever Before

How far golfers hit the ball clearly depends on a lot of factors and beginner players are no exception. Distance is affected by factors such as gender, height, age, your fitness levels and athleticism, the clubs and balls you are using, the weather and course conditions, swing speed, timing and so on.

Despite these multiple variants, all golfers are now hitting the ball further than at any time in the past. Over the past 30 years, in particular, there have been huge technical advances in the manufacture of golf equipment – for example, the development of oversized drivers and multi-layered golf balls – which have resulted in both amateur and professional golfers hitting the ball ever greater distances.

Average golfer driving distance by handicap category
Source: The R&A’s Driving Distance Report shows a clear link between driving distance and handicap

Such have been the advances made during this period that the games governing bodies – The United States Golfers Association (USGA) and The Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews (R&A) – have adopted joint principles since 2002 to monitor closely the effects of advancing equipment technology on the playing of the game and on occasion introduced new equipment Rules to restrict the performance and dimensions of golf clubs.

The great news for male beginner golfers however, who inevitably form part of the group of golfers with the highest handicaps, is that these Rules have not stopped them being part of the group who have the biggest advance in driving distance over the past 20 years or so.

While in 1996 the average male golfer was recorded to be hitting their driver a distance of approximately 206 yards this had increased to 217 yards by 2018 giving an increase of 11 yards. By comparison however the largest distance increase over the same period was observed with highest handicap golfers with handicaps of over 21 where an increase of 22 yards was observed – an average drive of approximately of 168 yards in 1996 had become an average drive of 190 yards by 2018.

This increase was also seen alongside the biggest increase for players with handicaps of 21 and over in how often they used a driver. While only 54% of this high handicap category used their driver in 1996 this had increased significantly to 91% by 2018.

While not all players with a handicap of 21 and over can be categorised as beginners given all beginner players are almost certain to start their playing career with the highest handicap possible. It can therefore safely be assumed that according to the Annual Driving Distance Report issued by the R&A and USGA beginner golfers are not only driving the ball further than ever before but also getting closer to the average player.

The dataset available for women golfers is by comparison still developing and it was not possible to draw similarly detailed conclusions. What was clear however was that the like-for-like driving distance for female amateur golfers is considerably shorter than for their male counterparts.

“For pros, driving distance is more important than driving accuracy. For amateur golfers, driving distance is even more important for scoring than driving accuracy.”

Mark Broadie, Columbia Business School professor, author of ‘Every Shot Counts’ and pioneer of the ‘strokes gained’ metrics first adopted by the PGA Tour in 2011

That said the Annual Driving Distance Report made clear how important distance is for both men and women amateur golfers in the modern game. The report made showed clearly that as all amateur players’ handicaps improved the distance they hit the ball with their driver also increased.

So while it is often argued beginners should not obsess about how far they hit the ball the statistics are clear that on average the longest hitters have lower handicaps than shorter ones.

How Far Should Beginners Hit Each Golf Club

How far should a beginner hit a golf ball

While the Annual Driving Distance Report gives clear data on how far golfers hit their drivers there is no comparable official data for how far beginners hit other clubs.

Our research has however found estimates of how far the average golfer hits each golf club. And based on the fact that the Annual Driving Distance Report recorded a 14% difference for men and 7% for women in how far beginners with a handicap of 21 and over hit their driver compared to the average player we have applied that same difference to the other clubs.

We have therefore estimated that beginners on average hit the golf ball the following distance for each club:

ClubBeginner Men –
Average distance (yards)
Beginner Women –
Average distance (yards)
Driver190138.3
3-wood174126
1-iron / 1 Hybrid / 4-wood163
2-iron / 2 Hybrid / 5-wood 153115
3-iron / 3 Hybrid / 7-wood 143105
4-iron / 4 Hybrid / 9-wood 13397
5-iron / 5 Hybrid / 11-wood 12488
6-iron11580
7-iron10772
8-iron9863
9-iron8955
Pitching wedge (PW)8047
Gap wedge (GW)6740
Sand wedge (SW)5833
Lob wedge (LW)4825

With the ever-expanding variety of modern-day golf clubs, and some sets of clubs having strong lofts on them and some woods now coming with weaker lofts to make them easier to hit, estimating average distances for clubs is increasingly difficult to do.

This table however should give you a rough idea of how far other beginners are roughly hitting the ball with different clubs.

How to Measure How Far You Hit Your Golf Clubs

Although comparing how far we hit the ball compared to others is always fun and interesting to know what is most important is knowing how far individually hit each club. If you have 128 yards to the green for your next shot it does not really matter what club the average player should use.

All that matters is knowing what club you normally hit that distance most consistently. A guess is not really good enough if you really want to improve your game and your scores.

Thankfully measuring golf shot distance for each of your clubs is not difficult today, particularly with the number of technical options available which can make it even easier.

The best way to measure how far you hit your clubs is to follow these 3 simple steps:

  1. For each of your clubs hit 10 shots towards a target
  2. Measure how far you hit each one
  3. Finally, calculate the average distance you hit the 10 shots and keep a note.

If you hit a really bad shot though as one of your 10 shots simply do not count it and if you can use the same ball for all the shots that is absolutely ideal.

For the most accurate measurement of each shot you can use a laser range finder, smartwatch or GPS measuring device. If you do not have such a device though don’t worry – you can simply pace out the distance of each shot.

If you want to get even more detailed and professional about your approach to distances you can also keep a note of the longest and shortest distances you hit each club. This will then give you a distance range you hit each club and more club options for that important next shot.

If this process isn’t easy for you to do though or seems a bit too much you could try simply hitting 3 balls for each club at your local driving range and use the yardage markers to give you a rough idea of how far you hit each club.

This will be less precise of course but if you are currently relying solely on guesswork for choosing what club to hit for your shots it will be a small improvement.

5 Quick Tips on How Can Beginners Hit the Ball Further

Although learning to hit the golf ball consistently well and straight is obviously more important for beginners it is not always fun when you are starting to play golf watch everyone else hitting the ball a long way past you.

Every beginner golfer at some point gets the itch to hit the ball farther and for some players that desire never stops. And why not? It feels great to watch a drive fly into the distance and if you are hitting shorter shots into the green you are more than likely going to hit more greens and therefore improve your scores.

So to help those beginners who are desperate to start hitting the ball further as quickly as possible here are 5 quick tips to focus on:

  1. Change your ball – Golf balls have 3 main elements to them – the cover, layers and compression – and different manufacturers will make different combinations of each in different golf balls and some are specifically designed for distance. Lower compression golf balls are best for out and out distance and the good news is they are typically recommended for beginners.
  2. Watch your ‘grip’ – Grip in general is a key part of golf and critical to helping players swing well and hit the ball solidly. So to make sure you are giving yourself the best chance to hit the ball as far as you can take a look at both your golf club grips and golf shoes. Worn out grips make players hold the club tighter than they need to and this is likely to restrict the length and speed of your swing – 2 key elements when it comes to hitting the ball further. Poor grip on the ground from your golf shoes is also bad for distance as it will again lower clubhead speed. So make sure you’ve got a grip if you are looking to hit the ball further.
  3. Tee the ball higher – If you watch any golfer who hits the ball a decent distance you can be sure that they will not have pushed their tee peg a long way into the ground before they hit their driver. A more upward hit on the ball at impact is the friend of hitting it further as it both increases the ball’s launch angle and reduces backspin. So the next time you tee the ball up make sure you are teeing the ball up high to give yourself the best chance of getting those few extra yards.
  4. Choose your straightest club off the tee – Missing the fairway off the tee is one of the main enemies of hitting the ball further. Research has found that a ball that lands on the fairway will roll three times as far as those that land in the rough. That can translate to up to 18 yards of lost roll for the average player. So consider hitting your straightest club off the tee to maximise distance. Hitting your trusty 5 iron down the middle of the fairway may end up going further than a driver hit straight into the rough.
  5. Turn those shoulders and move those hips – Hitting the ball a long distance does not correlate directly to the size of the golfer. Ian Woosnam, the former Masters Champion and European Ryder Cup Captain, stands only 5ft 4 inches tall but throughout his career was one of the longest hitters in the game. To explain this it is important to understand the power in a golf swing comes from. Most amateur golfers when trying to hit the ball further will typically try to use their hands and arms more. But the key to generating power in the golf swing and therefore distance comes from the shoulders and hips. If you turn your shoulders at least 90 degrees and then lead with your hips as you start your downswing you will allow yourself to use your twisting momentum to generate faster clubhead speed. A faster clubhead speed means more distance.
Final Thought

It is difficult for all golfers, and especially beginners, not to worry about how far they hit the ball. ‘How far are you supposed to hit each of your golf clubs’ is one of the most asked questions in golf and we all want to hit the ball a certain distance.

Some golfers care more about distance than others but the honest answer is that how far players hit the ball depends on a multitude of factors and therefore distances between golfers will vary greatly – one golfer’s 9-iron distance can easily be another’s 6-iron.

As soon as you start playing the game you will quickly get an idea of whether you are a long or a short hitter compared to those you play with.

The trick is to focus on ‘your’ distances rather than those of your friends or the top professionals on television. There is no such thing as a ‘wrong club’ distance, there is only ‘your’ distance, so try to avoid hitting a certain club because you think that what you ‘should’ play or because that is what your friend is playing.

Hitting the ball a long way does not mean you will automatically shoot a low score. So get to know your own yardages as early as you can – as you play more and improve you will likely start to hit the ball further and further – and always remember that hitting it straight onto fairways and greens rather than far will typically mean you score better.

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Graeme Hay

Graeme Hay is the owner of GolfingFocus.com. Graeme started playing golf when he was only 4 years old and has loved the game ever since. A single figure golfer all of his adult life he lives in London and still enjoys playing whenever he can with friends and family.

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