If you’re like me and this year has resulted in much more working from home than normal you’ve probably been thinking about ways to practice your golf at home.
And for our long game a practice net is an obvious answer.
But since you can’t tell where your golf balls go after you hit them into a net is it really good practice?
‘Deliberate practice’ sessions hitting golf balls into a net is good practice for all golfers. The convenience of nets allows more frequent practice while the lack of distraction of seeing where golf balls go enables players to focus better on ‘feeling’ how swing changes affect their ball striking.
But when the subject of whether hitting golf balls into a net is good practice is brought up I often hear the following comment – “Well, it can’t hurt especially if there’s no alternative.”
But that attitude to practicing with a golf net misses the point.
Done correctly hitting balls into a net can lead to significant improvements in your game and indeed has some key advantages over a normal session of hitting balls on the practice range.
You Can ‘Feel’ the Difference Hitting Golf Balls Into a Net
Practice as every golfer knows is crucial if you want to improve.
But although a lot of practice is always required to make a lot of improvement it’s how you practice that is equally if not more important than the volume.
Standing up and just hitting 50 or 100 balls into a net without thinking about it is not good practice.
However a structured session hitting balls into a net which is taking account of the principles of ‘deliberate practice’ will undoubtedly reap rewards.
‘Deliberate practice’ is a concept pioneered by Anders Ericsson, an internationally recognised professor in the psychological nature of expertise, and in summary states that to improve practice requires the following:
- Goal setting – you need to set goals for a practice session or you will waste your time.
- Focus – a sustained focus on every shot you hit into the net. After all doesn’t every shot in golf count?
- Feedback – Without feedback you will not know what you are doing right or wrong and therefore what you need to change to improve.
- Expert coaching – expert coaching from proven professionals is another key factor if you want to improve your golf practice sessions.
- Getting outside your comfort zone – We all prefer practising shots we are good at and it’s often tough to work on things we are not good at. But if you really want to improve you need to make sure your practice is specific to addressing your specific weaknesses.
Deliberate practice is the ‘gold standard’ of all practice sessions.
To achieve it in every practice session is clearly very difficult and Professor Ericsson and his team’s focus of study has been the practice habits of the elite of golf and other sports and skills.
However if we think of these principles when we’re hitting golf balls into a practice net and use as many of them as we can each time we practice with a net those sessions will undoubtedly lead to improvements.
Because golf net practice has two clear advantages over normal practice on the range:
- Improved ‘feel’ of your ball striking – at first thought not being able to see the ball’s flight and where it lands after hitting into a net can seem like a disadvantage of practicing into a net. But it is actually an advantage compared to your normal sessions on the range. And this is because you do not have the ‘distraction’ of looking at where the ball ends up you can focus in much more closely on how your strike ‘feels’ when you swing in different ways. Whether you are working on something specific about your swing or just experimenting with different swing set ups and movements hitting the ball into the net will let you ‘feel’ how any changes affect the strike. For the simple reason that you don’t have anything else (ball flight, where it ends up etc) to distract you. Good ball striking is key to playing good golf – you will not find any good player who does not strike the ball well consistently – therefore deliberate practice sessions hitting balls into a net can reap big rewards. You’ll start ‘feeling’ what a flushed shot sounds and feels like and with continued well-structured practice you can start to ingrain the swing that delivers that into muscle memory. And with any luck that good swing will become so ingrained you’ll stop having 18 different swing thoughts in your head every time you play!
- Convenience – I don’t know about you but the thought of throwing the clubs into the car, driving to the course or a nearby range, hitting some balls and coming home doesn’t always appeal. Particularly after a long day working or if the weather looks a bit unsettled. And with a busy family life often there just isn’t time for that. A practice net however in the back yard or garden is clearly much more convenient and can allow you to fit more practice sessions in more often. 15-20 minutes out the back is usually much easier to find than an hour or maybe 2 heading to hit balls at the range. So the convenience of hitting balls into a practice net is another key advantage it has given it helps you use more windows of spare time to work on things that you need to. Being more able to hit shots every week, every other day or even every day will make a massive difference to your game.
For golfers also who’s golf club doesn’t have a range, or for players who simply don’t have easy access to a practice facility or course, a golf practice net is a great piece of equipment to get a useful practice session.
Good deliberate practice sessions hitting balls into a net is definitely good practice.
Are Golf Hitting Nets Worth it?
While hitting golf balls into a net can unquestionably be good practice the follow up question of whether they are worth it or not inevitably leads us to talk about money.
And also the effort of course required to set it up.
So is the price and effort of getting a golf hitting net worth it?
Golf hitting nets are worth it for any golfer looking for a convenient way to improve their swing. Good hitting nets start at $150 and provide more opportunities to practice. They also force golfers to focus on swing technique and ball striking without the distraction of seeing where the ball goes.
More expensive nets by comparison though can get up closer to the $600-$700 dollars mark.
And don’t forget also that if you want to use a hitting mat you are going to probably want to buy a hitting mat also with it.
Unless of course your family are going to be happy with you taking chunks out of the lawn on a regular basis!
Again you can go crazy on these and spend a few hundred dollars on the best quality ‘full size’ ones which aim to be as close to grass as possible but you can also pick up a small mat that is perfectly usable for $30-40.
So based on those costs and the space you’ll need to give up to the net the question of whether they are worth it for an individual player can simply come down to how serious they are about their golf and how much they want to improve.
If you are keen to get better then a golf hitting net is worth the investment as it can provide a comparatively inexpensive way to add a lot of extra hours of practice time to your schedule.
By comparison if you are happy to just keep knocking it around the course as you do now and don’t really want to give up a couple of hundred of bucks and some space in the yard or garage for a golf net then it is not likely to be an option for you.
If you want to invest the money and space into a golf hitting net however it can lead to great improvements in your swing and ball striking providing you practice right.
And for those of you who want to go ahead and start looking at them here the key elements to think about when it comes to practice nets:
- Size – A net that is too small is not going to catch your golf balls when you hit them so size is obviously important. The bigger the distance you stand back from the net the bigger you’ll need it to be but a good size is between 8-10ft wide. If it’s important your net can fold down and is portable how small the size it folds down to is obviously going to be a key factor. Given how important safety is though with golf nets be absolutely sure it’s made of good enough quality materials if you want it to fold down also.
- Net frame – If your golf net is going to be left outdoors make sure the material it is made of is durable and won’t rust. Carbon or aluminium nets are what you are looking for. The cheaper ones by comparison will likely be made of fibreglass and can move around after each shot which can get a bit annoying after a while.
- Net thickness – Thickness of golf nets measured in ‘ply’ which equates to the number of layers used. If you’re going to be using real golf balls don’t use anything less than 4-ply and obviously the higher the ply the better from a safety point of view. Certain nets are also double-netted which helps if one net breaks as it can still be usable. The strength of the net is also affected material used.
- Net mesh & durability – There are two main types of mesh netting used in golfing nets. Knotted and knotless. Knotless is stronger and more durable so it’s less prone to damage. On the downside though if knotless nets do get damaged they can’t be repaired. Durability is also affected by the net material. Nylon is stronger and more durable than polyester so if you have the choice go for nylon.
- The Extras – The more expensive golf hitting nets on the market will have some add-ons so if you’re looking at the higher end of the market you may want to go for something with some of the following features. Side barrier netting is added to some nets to make sure those especially wayward shots don’t do any damage. Some also offer a ‘roll-back’ feature for convenience and also to try and help save some space. Others intended for indoor use will offer a ‘double-layered’ base to protect the floor from damage.
One additional benefit of getting a practice net is that it can allow you to start to build towards a more sophisticated set up in the future if you want to.
You definitely do not need a launch monitor for example to take full advantage of a practice net but if you decide you want to keep adding to your home practice set up in the future you can easily combine the two later on – i.e. using the launch monitor together with your net to get even more data on how you are striking the ball.
Ideas for How to Practice Hitting Into a Golf Net
If you have a golf hitting net whatever you do please do not just start bashing balls endlessly into it.
As we’ve already discussed ‘deliberate practice’, where you have a clear ‘goal’ to focus on ideally using some feedback from a video camera or smartphone is what you are aiming for.
Simply hitting ball after ball into a net without any purpose not only gets boring pretty quickly but it can also harm your game more than it hinders it.
Remember practice makes permanenent rather than perfect so if you are consistently practicing the wrong things it will simply ingrain bad habits making your game potentially worse rather than better.
So here are a few simple ideas to think about adding into your next ‘net’ practice session:
- Hit in groups of 5 balls – if you are working on something in particular about your swing (e.g. practicing your takeaway) use the first 2 balls to focus solely on the drill which you are using to get things right. Then for the other 3 balls in the group play a game to test it out. For example, you could try hitting a specific small target on the net or use lines created by three alignment sticks or lines on the net to try and hit one ‘draw’ (ball should go between left line/stick and middle one), one ‘fade’ (ball should go between right stick/line and middle one) and one straight down the middle (ball should hit the middle stick or line).
- Perfect your pre-shot routine – Process goals are very powerful and they are one of the few things on a golf course you are in total control of every time you hit a golf ball. One such process goal is your pre-shot routine and a session at the hitting net is the perfect place to get yours nailed down. Focus intently on doing the same thing every time you step to play a shot into the net. Pre-shot routines become more important when the pressure is on and if you have one you are more likely to hit the shot you want. Look at the pros closely on TV the next time you are watching. Every one of them will have one and that’s no accident.
- Always aim at a target – When you hit into a net always make sure you are hitting at a target. Some nets may have targets already on them for you to aim at but even if they don’t you can easily add ‘targets’ on to your net by simply using coloured tape for example. Or if you can see the fence or a tree or the neighbours when you look through your net you can always just pick something on the other side of the net to aim at. What you aim at will change depending on what loft of club you are practicing with but just make sure you are aiming at something every time.
- Use tape to get some ‘feedback’ – Sticking a piece of tape on the sole or face of your clubs when you are practicing hitting into a golf net is a great way to get some ‘feedback’ on your practice. A consistent mark on the tape around the club’s sweet spot is obviously a good sign. But when a mishit shows up on the tape think about what happened to create that poor strike and see if you can pinpoint what changed between the good strikes on the tape and the bad ones. Using your smart phone to record your swings as you practice is another great and straight forward way to get some feedback on your swing when you practice with a golf net. And if you have a golf teacher who’s happy to work with you this way you could even send them the videos to let them give you some feedback before your next session at the net.
While golf hitting nets can lead to improvements in any golfer’s game and are indeed used often by professionals, there are potential downsides to using it if you are using a practice mat to hit into it.
Most of us are not going to be hitting off the grass in our yard when we practice into a net so a mat is a necessity.
There are some great ‘full size’ mats out there which let you both stand on the mat and hit the ball of it like you would at the range.
This ensures you are standing on level ground with the ball when you practice.
But these mats, and especially those ones which are as close to grass as it possible to get, can be expensive and it’s more likely and more convenient for alot of golfers to use a smaller mat.
A short coming of these smaller mats though, which tend to be not so grass like, is that you can hit well behind the ball and not always know it.
That is because the material of the mat allows the club to slide into the ball disguising that fact that you hit behind it or ‘fat’ as you would see on the golf course.
There are ways around this however, such as putting a lie board or towel behind your ball so that you know if you hit those objects rather than the ball it will give you clue that on grass that shot would have been fat.
In addition because you are standing on the ground and hitting off the mat you need to try and do your best to make sure the ball is as level as possible with your feet as possible and as it would be on a normal practice range.
Bear in mind also that smaller mats tend to move around after each shot you hit into the net which can get a bit annoying if you are constantly having to adjust it each time.
Stay Safe When Hitting Into a Golf Net
One of the key aspects when it comes to practicing hitting balls in to a golf net is safety.
The last thing anyone wants to do is to hurt themselves or worse anyone else simply because they didn’t take the right precautions when setting up their golf net.
Golf balls can do alot of damage as we all know.
And the thought of sending a ball into a net after which it then flies through to hit heaven knows what is enough to give any golfer a few nightmares.
Anyone who has hit a few hundred balls into a golf net will also know weird things can happen.
Sometimes you can hit a ball and it seems to just disappear for a second or two before it somehow ends up on the opposite side of the net to where you hit it!
So are golf nets safe?
Good quality golf practice nets, properly set up, are safe. Nets with a thickness of 4-ply or more are advised and extra strength is given by nets using ‘knotless’ mesh. Double-netted nets with side barriers provide additional benefits from a safety perspective. Nylon nets are also the most durable.
From a setup perspective here are an additional couple of things to think about to make sure your practice net is a safe as possible:
- Choose the least risky spot – A good golf net will not let a golf ball go through it. However it always best to look for the least risky area to position your net in the event of a bad miss. No matter how good you are there is always an outside chance of a mishit.
- Give yourself plenty of room – A very common query is around how far you should stand from a golf net? You want to be far enough away so that you don’t hit the net with your follow-through but if you are too far away you are more likely to miss the net and cause some damage. It clearly depends on the space you have however manufacturers often recommend hitting from about 10ft. You will probably be ok from 7ft up to that distance if space is at a premium but it’s worth leaving 1-2ft behind the net also to allow the impact of the ball to be fully absorbed. If you are indoors 6ft behind the ball to make a backswing seems to be a good distance but height is also clearly something to watch out for depending on how tall you are.
Safety is clearly as the top priority when it comes to setting up a golf practice net and if you are worried even if you think you have everything covered build up slowly to full shots to give yourself confidence everything will be ok.
And for those players who want to try the low budget options using bed sheets, old doormats combined with poles or clothes rails please make sure you don’t injure yourself or anyone else!
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