Driving ranges are great, but can unfocused practice actually hurt your golf game? (Michael Cohen/Getty Images)

Range danger: Are you getting worse when you go practice?

Despite living along the east coast of Florida, I'm not a big-time beachgoer.

But on the rare occasions when I put my feet in the sand, and the rarer-still occasions when I get in the water, I make sure of one thing:

That there's a lifeguard present.

Why, at 28 years old, am I disinclined to go swimming without a sunscreen-nosed, tan youngster overseeing things?

Because I'm not a particularly good swimmer, and I know it. If I go in the water, and something unforeseen happens, I want someone there qualified to drag my coughing, salt-nosed, foolish body out of the deadly embrace of the sea.

Granted, the stakes on a driving range are not life-and-death, but the sight of a full row of unsupervised golfers practicing their swings always gives me an uneasy, divided feeling.

On one hand, it's great to see golfers practicing for a number of reasons: the course is getting some needed extra revenue, people are enjoying a nice day outside rather than in front of a screen, etc.

On the other hand, a bogey golfer beating balls without a pro nearby and without a solid plan is likely just ingraining bad habits - an armsy, flailing lash at the ball; a rapidly solidifying slice; poor posture; awkward grip, etc.

I'm a low-handicap player myself, and I can't tell you how many range sessions I've had where I've left feeling like I'm no better a player than at the beginning. My practice habits might constitute the weakest part of my game.

It doesn't take much math education to reason that it takes less time to hit 85 shots in a round than 105, but at a time when there's such earnest desire across the industry for rounds of golf to speed up, many courses seem to be paying too little attention (read: next to none) to improving golfers' scores, and therefore moving them around the course faster.

I get it - teaching pros earn a living through revenue derived from giving advice on the golf swing. Golfer is struggling to lower his or her score, golfer seeks out pro, golfer pays pro for lessons, everyone benefits. I have no problem with maintaining the established value of individualized golf game help.

That said, at some point, leaving the mass of golfers - who will struggle throughout their lives to break 90 and are either unable or unwilling to set aside the funds to take a formal, private lesson - to fend entirely for themselves as they try to improve must start costing a course, club or resort money, both through the frustrations of long rounds and through attrition by players who eventually dismiss a given course as too difficult to be enjoyable.

What's the solution?

In a perfect world, every golf course would station someone - a rotation of the head pro and assistant(s) - with expertise on the golf swing at the range at all times. He or she would greet people practicing and offer quick advice - two- to four-minute mini-lessons or so - so that they could be working on something specific during practice sessions, rather than beating balls and further encoding major flaws into their swings. Nothing too in-depth - avid golfers should still have to pay for deeper advice - but these quick tips would take root, handicaps would go down and rounds would get shorter, leaving more time for hanging out on the patio or in the bar afterwards.

What's more, golfers who shoot lights-out after their mini-lesson might just end up scheduling a real lesson with the pro, generating the sort of revenue both the pro and the facility are looking for.

Now, without having first-hand expertise in running a golf course, I know that this is a pipe dream at all but the highest-end, biggest-staffed clubs. A couple such clubs that I have visited indeed do encourage their pros to chat and advise members about to head out for their rounds. Having that authority figure out among the golfers adds energy to the scene and heightens the whole experience.

Smaller-budget courses, naturally, have fewer staffers, and the staffers who do exist are often swamped with issues that keep them in the shop all day. In these cases, both employee and customer lose out. The pro doesn't get to do the work of actually teaching people to play better golf, and the customer misses out on that on-the-range interaction that will endear him or her to the pro and, by extension, the facility.

Is there room for compromise here? Could public and resort course pros hold "outdoor office hours" a couple times per week, where they would separate themselves from the check-in counter for a bit and roam the practice facility, glad-handing with golfers and salving swings?

How to make your range sessions worthwhile

Do you feel like you're merely treading water - or worse - in your range sessions? I asked top golf instructor Andrew Rice, a member of the Revolution Golf faculty of teachers, for his thoughts on the subject of practice. Keep these in mind the next time you head to the range, and you might just start making real, permanent improvement.

What do golfers need to be careful of when going to the range if there’s no pro or instructor around?

Andrew Rice: Be wary of only working on your golf swing! Each practice should include some swing work, but also a segment for skill development and some time dedicated to executing result oriented shots.

What should golfers do if they feel themselves getting frustrated on the range?

A.R.: Step away. Go and chip and pitch for awhile and then adjust their expectations. Frustration occurs when expectation does not align with reality!

What about quantity vs. quality? When might it be beneficial to hit a bunch of range balls in a session, and when might it be preferable to hit just a few?

A.R.: The key when practicing is engagement. If you can remain fully engaged for a few hours then have at it. Most often I would encourage shorter or more segmented practice sessions to stimulate engagement.

I've seen you sing the praises of the 9-Ball Drill (players hit 9 different shots with one club, high, medium and low draws, fades and straight shots). What do you like about it?

A.R.: Every shot is different and the golfer simply must be engaged and 'into' what they're trying to achieve.

What are the best cheap-and-cheerful range aids?

A.R.: Best teaching aid on the planet is an alignment rod! So many weird and wonderful uses.

Would you like to see pros and their assistants hanging out at their courses' practice facilities? Do you feel like your range time is possibly hindering your progress? Let us know below in the comments!

May 08, 2018

Join the conversation

Post a comment 

Darrel's avatar
Darrel wrote at 2018-05-10 16:23:13+00:00:

I think having pros on hand at the range on public or muni courses work be great and to their benefit. With the global concern over pace of play having pros offering rudimentary advice to high handicap golfers "could" aid in that goal.

Also, I am a big fan of dividing my bucket into 5s or 10s and working on specific goals with each grouping.

johnmcjannet's avatar
johnmcjannet wrote at 2018-05-10 15:27:19+00:00:

I don't understand Rice's answer to your very first question. Perhaps someone will explain it to me.

Dan's avatar
Dan wrote at 2018-05-11 02:22:26+00:00:

Andrew’s first answer is excellent, but I understand it might be tough to understand.

I believe he is saying that you should probably not spend the entire time on swing technique, where you put your focus on specific “swing thoughts” or mechanics. You should maybe spend 1/3 of the time on traditional swing technique. You should also segment time to focus on skill development such as getting a divot forward of the ball or hitting the center of the clubface or even hitting draws, fades, high, low; these are generally external cues compared to internal swing mechanics. Finally, “executing result-oriented shots” is another way of saying play shots or even test your results toward the end of practice. It could consist of playing the course in your mind on the range or challenging yourself to hitting 5 shots in a row between two targets or 5 in a row onto a target green. Andrew’s first answer really helps a player to transition from the range to the course, of all you do is work on your swing on the range, it will be tough to transfer to “play” mode on the course.

Gale's avatar
Gale wrote at 2018-05-10 15:24:41+00:00:

Excellent idea. As a former Country club player, now only public courses, I can see this working at the club level but probably not where I play now.

jimw81253's avatar
jimw81253 wrote at 2018-05-10 11:30:56+00:00:

it would be a great aid to have a quick 2 minute tip from a pro at the range. I try to practice with purpose, but like most, I try to apply what I see or read, often with little or no advancement in my game. A small tip here or there at the range would build confidence in the need for a lesson or two

Allen Togwell's avatar
Allen Togwell wrote at 2018-05-10 10:00:09+00:00:

I'm 81 and live in London UK. At the range I go to there was a teaching pro who had a roll up every Tuesday at 2pm. He charged seniors £7 for a one hour group lesson. It was great and there was usually only five of us and he would give us a few minutes with a simple instruction and the go on to the next guy and then back again to see how we were doing. Unfortunately he left. There should be more like this guy.

Allen Togwell's avatar
Allen Togwell wrote at 2018-05-10 09:43:42+00:00:

I’m 81 years of age and I would say In the UK there are more seniors playing golf mid-week than young players. Yet it is a market totally ignored, physically and on-line. Every week I get emails promising me how to hit a golf ball a country mile as if I was a young man. I see adds offering the latest in golf clubs as though I have a swing speed of 150 miles an hour. But I never see anything that will benefit a senior, be it a particular type of golf club, exercises, how to get the best out of a short back swing, how a senior can cure a slice, hook or stop topping the ball. We don’t expect to hit a ball like Bubba Watson all we want to do is keep the ball on the fairway and enjoy a game of golf. I go to the range 2/3 times a week for two reasons, a) to improve my swing and b)for exercise.

George 's avatar
George wrote at 2018-05-10 03:33:04+00:00:

Your idea would be good for all level golfers. It is also a good marketing conversation for the PGA pros and assistants to increase revenue and visibility.

William's avatar
William wrote at 2018-05-10 00:57:06+00:00:

That is a great idea. If people knew there would be some sort of pro at a range offering free quick advice, they'd probably go to that range more often.

kgrate's avatar
kgrate wrote at 2018-05-09 23:49:55+00:00:

My home course Monarch Bay Golf Club in East Bay Area of Northern California have a Player's Club where you receive two large buckets of balls each day but more importantly there's a free clinic twice a week for those wishing to get better and it is taught by a PGA teaching professional .

Dave's avatar
Dave wrote at 2018-05-09 23:44:37+00:00:

I like the idea of the pros and assistants hanging out at the range.

mike2700's avatar
mike2700 wrote at 2018-05-09 22:32:45+00:00:

Yes, not only pros and their assistants, but qualified laymen -- that is, good players who know how to communicate.

The pros know who they are. If someone were to explain to a beginner that the downswing is not about swinging the clubhead directly to the ball, but through a process that keeps the club on plane, that beginner would benefit immediately. After all, the swing is not intuitive. Or if someone were to explain to a beginner -- or more advanced player -- who was having trouble putting that she needed to use the shoulder and upper arm muscles and not the hands, she would immediately begin putting better.

These are basic lessons that almost any experienced golfer (doesn't have to be PGA or LPGA) could convey. A pro who was not self-centered would easily find these folks, determine their basic golf knowledge and communication skills and put them to work immediately. The result would be greater retention of beginners, more private lessons by the pro, greater revenue for the pro and the golf course. When can we begin?!?!

boudreaumj@gmsil.com's avatar
boudreaumj@gmsil.com wrote at 2018-05-09 21:52:28+00:00:

Our pros give grouplessons for$15 an hour on Sat am for 4 weeks.very well attended. I am going to suggest they do it 2 times a month .really gets you interested & meeting the pros.They then help u when they walk over the putting green

Scott's avatar
Scott wrote at 2018-05-09 21:15:19+00:00:

I think that is a great idea. I belong to a private club with several teaching pros. They also do administrative work as well and we have bagroom guys who are pro material. What a great idea for getting guidance from those who know the game. Right now we get advice from our buddy who just saw a tip from a magazine.

Also we have enough staff at our club that I bet they would appreciate giving pointers on the golf range than what they are usually doing.

sorenj's avatar
sorenj wrote at 2018-05-09 21:13:51+00:00:

I'm not sure you'll ever see roving instructors on the ranges (for all of the reasons stated); however, I think pieces like this - especially with tips like those at the bottom - have the potential to really help folks. I know my game has improved significantly since I stopped just whaling away at the range and started applying a purpose to each shot.

This is good stuff. :)

Nick 's avatar
Nick wrote at 2018-05-09 19:38:34+00:00:

You need to use your range time for practicing 1/3 and trying many different types of shots for the rest of the basket. Basically hand and eye coordination and posture . Try to get perfect strikes and yardage at designated targets

Related Links

Tim Gavrich

Senior Writer

Tim Gavrich is a Senior Writer for Golf Advisor and the Managing Editor of the Golf Vacation Insider newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @TimGavrich and on Instagram @TimGavrich.