Golf Course Management – How To Make Good On Course Decisions

Most mid to high handicap golfers pay little to no attention to golf course management. The majority of high handicappers are under the impression that golf course management doesn’t matter unless you can hit the ball consistently long and straight, this can’t be further away from the truth. 

With good golf course management players of all skill levels will be able to improve their scores simply by making good decisions out on the golf course. Below we are going to take a closer look at what golf course management entails including tips that will help you with making better decisions out on the golf course. 

Golf Course Management Explained

Golf course management refers to a player’s decision-making out on the golf course. Decision-making is part of the process with every shot a golfer hits. How far is the shot? What club should I hit? Will the wind affect the ball? Is there water or a bunker that I need to avoid? These are some of the questions that a player needs to ask and answer before every shot that they hit. 

Amateurs and high handicappers in particular are guilty of not paying enough attention to these questions. For instance, if a player is faced with a 150 yard shot over water to a front flag hitting your 150-yard club will add unnecessary risk to the shot. If the strike isn’t out of the middle of the clubface your ball will end up in the water, and let’s be realistic, for most high handicappers that perfect strike with their irons is few and far between. 

The Importance of Golf Course Management

Good golf course management is important for different reasons. First and foremost good decision-making will limit risk which in return will lead to lower scores. In addition to limiting risk, good course management will also ensure that you hit every shot with confidence. Knowing that you have made good decisions in terms of the club that you are hitting, where you want the ball to finish and the ideal shot type that you are wanting to hit is half the battle won. 

Good decision-making when you are out of position and on and around the greens in particular are two areas where amateur golfers can save at least a couple of shots per round. Good golf course management requires discipline and focus, but don’t be deterred by that, the results at the end of the day make it worth the effort. 

Golf Course Management Tips

Off the Tee

Good course management starts on the tee box. For high handicappers and beginners choosing the correct club that gives them the best chance of hitting the fairway is half the battle won.

If the tee shot is protected by either bunkers or a penalty area make sure to hit a club that will either keep you short of the trouble or that will take you past the trouble. Hitting a hybrid for your approach shot is a lot easier than a 5 iron from a fairway bunker. 

Advanced players that have better control over their golf ball can take their course management off the tee one step further by aiming to the part of the fairway that will give them the best approach angle to the green. If the flag is on the right side of the green hitting your approach from the left-hand side of the fairway will give you a good look at the pin. 

The key with course management is to not overthink it and by no means should you feel like you are playing defensively as a result. Once you have chosen the club that you want to hit make sure to swing with confidence. 

To learn more about how to make better decisions off the tee watch this video from the founder of Decade Golf Scott Fawcet.


Lay-up shots are normally associated with a second shot on a par 5, but if you find yourself in trouble off the tee on a par 4 hitting a lay-up shot in that hole is possible. The main objective of a lay-up shot is to leave yourself in the best possible spot for the next shot that you have to hit. 

In addition to laying up to your favorite distance, avoiding trouble is equally as important. If your favorite yardage is 100 yards it might be that the 100-yard marker is in the narrowest part of the fairway on a par 5. If that’s the case, laying up to 120 yards or a wider landing area is recommended. 

In addition to lay-up shots on a par 5, laying up can also be required if you find yourself in trouble off the tee on a par 4. If you are out of position either in thick rough, a fairway bunker or in the trees the first priority is to get the ball back in play. Chipping out sideways or wedging the ball out of a bunker or thick rough might not be as satisfying as hitting that nearly impossible shot over and around a tree, but in the long run, this approach will save you countless amounts of shots. 

Approach Shots

On approach shots, course management is key for a variety of reasons. Distance, your ideal landing area, and finish line all need to be accounted for in addition to allowing for wind or elevation. 

Always look at the position of the flag on the green. If the flag is in the back of the green playing for 5 yards short of the pin will be the best option, vice versa when the flag is in the front, unless the green has severe undulation and slopes that need to be accounted for. To keep it simple, always think about how far you have to hit the ball to give yourself a putt, even if that putt is from 30 or 40 feet, that’s still a lot better than a 15 feet chip or short-sided bunker shot. 

In addition to distance aiming away from trouble such as a deep bunker or penalty area will also eliminate risk. Playing away from trouble will make it difficult to make birdies, but it will also help with keeping big numbers off of your scorecard which is what beginners mid handicappers want.  

Chipping and Bunker Shots

When it comes to chipping the first rule to remember is that you don’t want to chip twice. This seems obvious but there is a good reason behind me saying this. Beginners and mid handicappers in particular fall victim to this by trying to hit a fancy flop shot over a bunker or to a short-sided pin. 

The chances of you pulling that shot off to perfection are slim and risky. Great if it works, but if it doesn’t all sorts of bad things can happen including you blading it across the green or dumping it into the bunker in front of you. Eliminate risk and hit a normal chip shot to 20 feet past the hole, 2 putts from there and you will be happy leaving the green with a bogey instead of a triple bogey. 

The same rule of thumb applies to bunker shots, step one is to get out of the bunker and for your next shot to be a putt even if it does leave you with a long putt for par. 

Good golf course management means nothing without the ability to hit the shot that you want to hit.


Putting is the great equalizer in golf. Hitting a 300-yard drive is great, but if you can’t sink that 3 footer for birdie those long drives aren’t that much of an advantage. When it comes to putting and golf course management the most important aspect is to limit 3 putts.

Line and speed are both very important, if a putt is on a good line but it doesn’t have the correct speed holing it will be impossible and vice versa if your line is off. On longer putts speed, in particular, is vital to keep those 3 putts off the card. 

As you are walking up to your ball look around and get a good feel for the green, is the putt uphill, downhill or flat? Will it be breaking from the right or the left? Make sure to ask yourself these questions by looking at the putt from a couple of different areas. Once you have made a decision on your line and speed make sure to pick a very distinct target and focus on starting the putt on that line. 

Amateurs often rush when they are on the greens and they only realize that a putt was downhill instead of flat once they go to the other side of the hole to line up their 10-foot return putt. 

In the market for a new putter? Click here to read our The Best Golf Putters article. 

Final Thoughts

When you watch the pros play on tv it might look like course management comes naturally to them and It does to some extent but pros spend hours and hours working on course management. Don’t worry we aren’t saying that you have to mimic what they are doing, what we can learn though is that it is important and with small adjustments, the results will follow on course. 

By making conscious decisions out on course unnecessary mistakes will be a thing of the past all thanks to good course management. 

This article was last updated on May 11, 2021 .

Bertine Strauss
Written by
Bertine Strauss
The Golf Blog