By Scott Guthrie
Local golf courses reported less traffic Memorial Day weekend than in years past, reflecting a national trend indicative of the game’s decreasing popularity.
“We were [only] down about 20 rounds,” said Tom Donovan, general manager at Robert A. Black golf course in Chicago. “But it’s nothing to scoff at.”
Since 2011, an average of 137 courses have closed each year according to the Pellucid Corp., a company that tracks golf industry trends.
High costs and large time commitments are two key factors keeping people away from the course. An afternoon of golf can easily cost more than $50 and can consume upward of four hours.
That’s a considerable investment for a difficult sport that can leave people perplexed and frustrated. But golf doesn’t have to be expensive, time-consuming or disheartening.
Here are some suggestions:
Make a plan that works for you and commit to it
Golf is a lifetime sport. Professionals who have been playing their whole lives are still unsatisfied with parts of their game. It is a process. Don’t try to tackle it all at once, but don’t ignore practice either.
“I can count on one hand how many instructors have said their people practice too much,” said McCartin.
Designate one or two days a week and set aside 15-30 minutes to go to the nearest driving range and work on your game. Consistency is key.
If you start feeling golf isn’t for you, “remember what got you out there originally and keep that momentum and happy feeling when you go play,” said Gay Crain, teaching instructor at Cantigny Golf in Wheaton.
Driving ranges in the area include:
- Diversey Driving Range – 141 W. Diversey Parkway, Chicago
- Skokie Sports Park – 3459 Oakton St., Skokie
- Sydney R. Marovitz Golf Course – 3600 N. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago
Set an end goal
Sticking with golf will be easier if you have a feasible objective in mind.
Make a goal to be able to play 18 holes by the end of the season. If you are ambitious, set a goal for a certain score you want to achieve.
Small goals can be effective also. Practice with one club until you are comfortable and then start working on another.
“I may have [a beginner] start with putting and then chipping and then move to 100 yards,” Gay Crain. “Start from the green and work back.”
Don’t waste money on equipment
Beginners are often lured to the expensive, flashy clubs the pros use. Clubs themselves won’t make you a great golfer though.
Used clubs are a great, economic option, and several stores in Chicago sell them. Most golf shops also sell new, 10-club beginner sets.
“You can find a pretty decent one of those [beginner sets] for under $300,” said McCartin. “I would rather have beginners do that and be able to play, than pay too much for clubs and not be able to afford to play or practice.”
Don’t worry about getting fitted. For a beginner, getting fitted for clubs is “overkill” according to Crain.
Places to buy beginner sets or used clubs:
- Proline Golf – 925 W. Chicago Ave., Chicago
- Play It Again Sports – 3939 North Ashland Ave., Chicago
- Golfsmith – 2782 N Clybourn Ave., Chicago
Get some help
Group and individual lessons are available throughout Chicago. Getting a group of friends to share lessons can help split the costs and make the lessons more enjoyable, according to Crain.
“When learning a motor skill, it’s very nice seeing other people doing the skill,” said McCartin. “And when you do struggle a bit, it is really reassuring looking next to you and seeing someone else is struggling also.”
Individual lessons work well for someone who has been playing a few years and has something specific he or she wants to work on, according to McCartin. Just make sure you are comfortable in the learning environment you select.
“People should learn confidence, it’s a difficult game. It’s going to be tough,” said Scott Hogan, a Chicago-based swing coach.
For great deals on lessons check out:
- Cantigny Golf – 27w270 Mack Road, Wheaton
- Chicagoland Golf Academy – multiple locations
- Scott Hogan Golf – 925 W. Chicago Ave., Chicago
Find a close and affordable course
Don’t spend more time driving to and from the course than actually playing. This will make golf start to feel like a chore.
As a beginner, you don’t need to play the best courses in the area. Instead, just find a nice course that allows you to work on your game. There are several public courses in the Chicago area that have affordable greens fees and are easy to get a tee time.
Also, look for twilight deals — late afternoon tee times — as they are often cheaper than morning or afternoon time slots.
A few great deals in the Chicago area include:
- Harborside International Golf Center – 11001 South Doty Ave., Chicago
- Cog Hill Golf and Country Club – 12294 Archer Avenue, Lemont
- Robert A. Black Golf Course – 2045 W Pratt Blvd., Chicago
Play Within Your Limits
If you aren’t ready to play a full 18 holes, don’t. Playing 18 holes can take roughly four hours. Golf is supposed to be enjoyable. If you aren’t playing well, four hours can feel like eight. If your playing experiences are frustrating, you will be less likely to want to play again. Don’t torture yourself if you don’t have to.
Find a par-3 course, or just play nine holes. Both will be great practice and less time- consuming. Once you are comfortable playing these, then venture onto a full 18. Hit from a closer tee box if needed and, Crain said, don’t worry about using every club in your bag as some are difficult to use and may leave beginning golfers disenchanted with the game.
“I wouldn’t even bother [beginners] with hitting a driver or wood,” said Crain.
Par 3 courses in Chicago:
- Winnetka Golf Club – 1300 Oak St., Winnetka
- Nickol Knoll Golf – 3800 N. Kennicott, Arlington, Heights
- Zigfield Troy Golf – 1535 75th St. Woodridge
Understand what you want to gain
Whether you want to win the U.S. Open, chime in at the water cooler or spend more time with loved ones, it’s crucial to determine why you want to learn golf.
Once you know why you want to learn, it will be easier to determine the commitment level you want to make, and to properly set your expectations.
“It’s a very challenging and very difficult game,” said PGA Director of Instruction John McCartin of Chicagoland Golf Academy. “You need to realize going into it that once you hit one really good shot, that’s not the standard, that’s the potential.”
Photo at top: Golf club and ball ( Urbanowicz_Krysztof