July 18, 2023

Women Leading on the ‘Course’ – The Importance of On-Course Instruction

By Chelsea Soda

Golf instruction has been busier than ever in the past few years, and as golf instructors, we know there’s more than one way to create a great golf lesson. However, few places are as valuable as the golf course. Students will often “master” the range, short game facility and practice green, only to shoot scores on the course that don’t reflect their true ability. Since golf is the only sport where participants generally don’t practice on their “playing field,” learning on the course is imperative for golfers’ development. Not only are on-course lessons invaluable for the golfers, but they are also a great opportunity for the coaches to gauge the entire breadth of their students’ games.

Understandably, block practice and skill building are important – however, nothing can create the challenges and dynamics of being on the golf course. All areas of the game are exposed on the golf course: physical skills, decision-making, mental approaches and even nutrition. On-course lessons are not just for the competitive or serious golfer. Beginners can greatly benefit from getting access to the golf course early in their golf journey.

I am fortunate to be the Director of Instruction at Echo Valley Country Club, a private 27-hole golf club in Iowa, where we can almost always get on the golf course. EVCC had several new members join the club this year, many of whom are new to the game. Getting new golfers on the course early is advantageous for many reasons, specifically to introduce different types of shots and discuss proper etiquette. I started an “on-course clinic” series where we cover different topics each week on the golf course, but also answer any etiquette questions that may arise. This has been a wonderful program to help new golfing members get acclimated to playing on their own and has been an eye-opening experience for me and my students. We also allow social members to participate in this program, in hopes that they enjoy the game enough to advance to full members.

I often find that although my student’s skills have improved, they continue to approach the golf course the same way they always have. This year, there was a gentleman who came in for weekly lessons throughout the winter and worked very hard during the offseason and into the spring. Once he started playing outside, he noticed that he was hitting the ball better than ever, but was still shooting similar scores. When we set up an on-course lesson, I found that he was still picking the same targets and landing areas as in previous years, even though he had picked up significant distance with every club. Once he understood how to navigate the golf course with his new improvements, he understood how to transfer his skills to the golf course. We were able to identify his “missing link” and got him playing a style of golf that better suited his new skillset. After one on-course lesson, he has dropped about seven shots off his scores.

I create opportunities for my competitive students to get creative on the golf course. I’ll have them play “worst ball” or have them hit three different shots from the same place to the same target. This forces players to view these on-course situations differently and create shots that they might not normally consider. Most of the time, they will surprise themselves with the options that turn out the best. Getting competitive golfers on the course allows us to help them position themselves to avoid big numbers.

EVCC’s high-school program is a great example of why on-course instruction is so valuable to propel students to the next level. I’ll often ask them what their intent is for an upcoming shot and determine that they’re usually trying to do too much. Instead of going with a shot that suits their game, they sometimes try to work the ball unnecessarily, which leads them into trouble. Without that on-course engagement, it would be harder to determine why they’re posting the scores they are, which are not always indicative of their performance on the range and practice facilities.

As coaches, we need to find a way to bridge the gap between practice and play and ultimately lead to a better grasp of how to play the game. Golfers must understand that golf is a complex game, and we cannot expect to get better in a static practice environment. Sure, everyone wants to have a pretty golf swing, but golf is so much more rewarding when golfers become more efficient, independent and confident on the golf course.

Chelsea Soda is the Director of Instruction at Echo Valley Country Club just outside of Des Moines, Iowa, where she leads all instruction and player development programs. She grew up in Central Illinois and played golf at the University of Iowa. She is a GRAA Top 100 Growth of the Game Teaching Professional.