Is Golf Hard to Play? Well … it’s Complicated

You are very unlikely to break a sweat when playing golf.

The golf ball does not move any time you try to hit it.

Your opponents are also required to stay perfectly still and quiet when you are playing and are not permitted to try to block or stop your shots.

Given all that is golf hard to play? Golf is a hard sport to play consistently well. The golf swing is a series of movements that need to be repeatedly combined together, and timed well, with a small margin for error. Golf also presents a number of mental challenges and requires a large amount of time, and often money, to master.

Although golf is hard to play consistently well it is also fun and can be addictive.

Hitting a great shot, however infrequently, feels great and golfers often become addicted to seeing if another brilliant shot is coming up with their next stroke.

Understanding why golf is hard is also an important step to getting better at it and there are also a number of ways to make it easier.

The 3 Main Reasons Golf is Hard to Play

There is little argument among golfers that it is a hard sport to play.

And 3 of the main reasons for this are:

  1. Golf presents a series of tough mental challenges to players
  2. The complexity of the golf swing itself, and
  3. The time, and often money, required to make major improvements.

Golf can play havoc with the mind.

The scoring system, which sets a ‘scoring par’ on each hole, means the average golfer will likely have to face up to having technically ‘failed’ on every hole.

The fact also that every shot counts makes it hard compared to other sports.

A tennis player can have a 2nd serve, a batter at baseball or cricket can ‘foul’ or miss a ball and get another go without penalty while a soccer, American football or rugby player can miss a tackle without it automatically resulting in an opposition goal, touchdown or try.

In golf every shot counts without exception.

Golfers also spend a tiny fraction of the amount of time out on the course actually hitting the golf ball – only a few minutes over a 2½ -4 hour round – so to maintain concentration, and repeat an already complex golf swing consistently, is tough to focus on and achieve.

The golf swing itself meanwhile is an un-natural and complex series of muscle movements that need to be combined together and timed well repeatedly.

Flexible and strong, upper and lower body, muscles are needed and must be merged with hand-eye co-ordination to keep a consistent swing.

And there is also a small margin for error.

The smallest change to your golf swing, which you also can not look at while you are doing it to check if you are doing anything wrong, can cause disastrous scoring results.

In addition, and like everything in life, if you want to get better you need to practice.

But golf can be particularly time-consuming in this respect.

Not only can it take up to 4 hours to play a round but professional players can spend more than 6 hours a day just practising.

Others estimate that it takes players between 3-4 hours a day of practice to reach a scratch handicap.

That is an awful lot of practice and playing time to fit in around a busy family life.

Add to that the money required for clubs, balls, course fees and occasional lessons and the steps required to make significant improvements to their game can be unrealistic for the average player.

Golf is Hardest on the Mind

It is argued that golf is the hardest sport mentally for players to play.

As we have noted above the scoring system and concentration required provides key mental challenges to golfers throughout their round.

But consider this also.

Sometimes one shot will count as one plus another one as a penalty so your next shot will actually be your third.

So without even doing anything else after you have hit a shot you can be penalised another one.

In addition, it can be tough to deal with the fact that one shot which travels over 200 yards counts the same as one which goes just over a centimetre.

There can be nothing more frustrating than hitting 2 great shots over 400 yards on a long par 4 to within a couple of feet of the hole to then miss the following putt and be required to count the 2 putts which travelled a matter of inches the same as the previous two which covered hundreds of yards.

Sir Nick Faldo, one of the greatest golfers of all time, once described the tricks golf can force on your mind as follows.

He talked about how golfers often repeatedly tell themselves not to do things rather than reinforce positive instructions and compared it to how we rarely do this in everyday life.

“Do not hit the ball into the water, do not hit the ball in the trees, do not hit the ball into the bunker …. ” is a common inner monologue of golfers.

And by repeating this to ourselves over and over he said that our brain often translates that as a positive instruction to hit the shot straight into the hazard we were telling ourselves not to.

He then compared this to driving a car and asked his audience how often they get into their car and say to themselves over and over …… “Do not hit that traffic light, do not drive into that person over there, do not drive into that car to the left?”

We do not (or certainly shouldn’t!) and so we drive the car safely within the lines on the road.

The Physical Dimensions That Make Golf Hard

The physical requirements of the golf swing make it a complicated thing to do repeatedly well as we have considered.

The small margins for error within this complex movement also make golf hard combined with the fact that there is no one model swing that players can simply copy.

Each golf swing is unique and very different ones can be equally as successful.

Golf requires a ball of only 1.68 inches in diameter to be put into a hole which is itself only 4.25 inches in diameter

Jim Furyk and Nick Faldo have both won one of golf’s major tournaments and they have used very different swings to achieve their success.

The basic dimensions of what the sport involves also help to emphasise why it is so tough to play well.

The golf ball itself is only 1.68 inches or 42.67 millimetres in diameter and can weigh no more 1.62 ounces or 45.93 grams.

The game then requires this ball to be put into a hole which is itself only 4.25 inches or 107.95 mm in diameter and which can often be hundreds, sometimes over 600, yards away.

Only a squash and table tennis ball is smaller than a golf ball and they are not required to travel nearly as far and have a far bigger target area to hit.

Consider also all the elements of a golf course the ball has to successfully navigate past – bunkers, rough, water, trees, the occasional severe slope and bad lie – and you can get a glimpse why golf can be hard to play.

And that’s before you think about the impact the weather can have as the rain and wind sometimes gets involved in attempting to stop the golf ball going where you want it to.

3 Ways to Make Golf Easier to Play

Although golf is hard it is not impossible.

Every golfer will have hit a great shot at some point and it is the aim to try and repeat that shot and associated feeling that drives many golfers to play for years and years having a lot of fun along the way.

And it is also important to remember that there are a number of ways to make the game easier and here are a few to consider.

  1. Play from tees that match your ability – This will mean a player will play a course as it designed to be played by golfers of their standard and so is less likely to result in them spending hours looking for balls in the rough and getting increasingly frustrated with ever-increasing scores. There is also strong evidence to suggest that if golfers play from tees that suit their standard of play it increases their enjoyment.
  2. Take advantage of advances in golf equipment – over the past 30 years in particular there have been huge technical advances in the manufacture of golf equipment. Many of these have helped make the game easier and where possible and affordable golfers should take advantage of these. For example, ‘cavity back irons’ and ‘hybrid clubs’ are specifically designed to be more forgiving and therefore make it easier for players to hit shots. So make sure you pick golf clubs, and golf balls, which make your golfing life as easy as possible.
  3. Play easier formats of the game – One of the great things about golf is the number of different types, or formats, of the game you can play on the same course. Strokeplay, where golfers are required to hole out to have a valid score, is the hardest game to play. But there are others that make the game easier and do not require golfers to finish every hole to play and compete. Stableford and match play golf for example, do not always require players to have to complete the hole to either have a valid score or win/lose a hole. So, when you can think, about whether you want to choose a golf game format that will make the game a bit easier.

Golf is without doubt hard to play consistently well but when you do it’s great.

The game is supposed to be about enjoyment and spending up to 4 hours with good friends can be a great way to spend an afternoon.

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Related questions

Is golf the hardest sport to play? Golf is a difficult sport to play consistently well. It requires thousands of hours of practice and play to become highly proficient. Although not nearly as physically challenging as many other sports its’ scoring system and high skill requirements provide unique mental challenges to players.

Do golf balls matter for a beginner? It is recommended beginners use a surlyn cover, two piece golf ball with low compression but a player can choose any type of ball they wish. Players should avoid consistently changing the type of ball they use however as this gives them little chance to assess which ball best suits their game.

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 and a member of Royal Troon Golf Club he lives in London and still enjoys playing whenever he can with friends and family.

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