Thoughtful Thursday: What do golfers really want?

This is a question I believe all golf clubs, coaches, club manufactures, pretty much anyone and everyone in the industry should be asking. Perhaps more importantly, as golfers, it is a question we should be asking ourselves.

I have been around golf and golfers for longer than I can care to remember and have worked in the industry for over thirty years but I’m struggling to recall when I last heard golfers across the board and around the world being asked what they really want.

Club and ball manufacturers appear to believe we all want to hit the ball for miles if you listen to their marketing. Every newly released driver, iron and golf ball promises greater distance assuming that is what we want. Now for some that may well be the case. Not many golfers want to hit it shorter but will hitting our drives five or ten yards further really make us happy.

If you spend any time searching for “golf tips” on the internet or social media, it would appear that golf coaches assume you want to possess “the perfect swing”, whatever that looks like?! I see lots of before and after golf swings being posted on social media but rarely do I see before and after golf shots. I always question what motivates coaches who post images of “massive improvements with Dave on the range this afternoon.” Are they giving Dave or themselves a pat on the back? Yes, that is a rhetorical question.

Do we really want better swings more than better shots? While we would all love to look as elegant as Adam Scott, as powerful as Rory McIlroy and as intimidating as Tiger Woods on the course, let’s face it, the likelihood of achieving one, never mind all three of these is pretty remote. Do we want to play better shots? Absolutely, so let’s focus on shots rather than swings.

The golf industry as a whole is great at telling rather than asking us what we want.

I think and hope I can speak for the majority of golfers when I say that what golfers really want is an enjoyable experience. We want to feel good before, during and after our game. If we hit the odd drive 10 yards further, that might make us happy for all of about thirty seconds but it is unlikely to be the deciding factor on whether we enjoyed our day out or not.

While we can influence and control some of our experience, the golf club, course and people we meet along the way should, in my humble opinion play a massive part in making a memorable impression on us.
From a personal standpoint, my ideal day of golf would look something like this –

  • I want to wake up and be grateful for the opportunity to play the game I love and appreciate every moment.
  • Arrive at the club at least an hour before teeing off to be greeted by someone who is genuinely pleased to my playing companions and I.
  • Enjoy a cup of tea and some breakfast in a relaxed atmosphere in the clubhouse.
  • The ability to hit a few balls on the range to warm up, do a bit of short game and hit a few putts on the putting green to get a feel for the pace of the greens.
  • Play an interesting golf course that looks good but more importantly asks good questions and provides a variety of challenges. High shots and low shots etc…
  • I want to have options off the tee and into the greens.
  • I want to be able to decide what is the best option for that particular shot and moment in time. Is is a draw, a fade or a straight shot? Is it a high pitch shot through the air or can I run it in along the ground? I might not be able to execute every shot on command every time but I would like the option to choose.
  • I want to play the occasional risk and reward short par 4.
  • I want to play par 3 holes of varying lengths but not 230 plus yard ones.
  • I want the rough to make me ask the question of “will I get a flyer from here?” NOT “will I be able to find my ball?” I do think there should be some light rough off the fairways but not the knee high stuff that contributes to lost balls, slow play and angry golfers.
  • I want to be able to pay attention to what I am doing on the golf course and not worry about emails and other notifications distracting me from playing golf.
  • It would be a real treat to play golf in good company. To play with people who know and understand the rules and etiquette of the game. People who know how to fix pitchmarks on greens! People who love the game.
  • It would be great to play at a reasonable pace and complete 18 holes in 3 hours.
  • I want to smile more than I swear after every shot.
  • It would be nice to play my best ever round of golf but accept that if I don’t, my whole life won’t come crashing around me.
  • I do not want to be consistent. Consistency is a myth and not one player in the history of the game ever achieved it. Consistency eliminates the spectacular and the memorable.
  • I want to get better at playing golf through creating a variety of different shots.
  • I want to be able to control my golf ball and focus on what I want it to do rather than what I don’t want it to do.
  • Essentially, what I really want is to play a well designed, well prepared golf course with good people in glorious sunshine. Ok, the sunshine bit would be a bonus but we are talking about what we really want here.
  • On completion of my round, I would like not to have any aches or pains.
  • I would love to sit in the bar afterwards, have a nice lunch and a couple of “adult refreshments” while my chauffeur waits patiently in the car park before driving me home. We can all dream can’t we?!
  • I do not want to hear about every shot my playing partners hit on every hole. I was there! I saw each and every one of them, good and bad!
  • As I leave the clubhouse, I would like to be asked if I enjoyed my day, when I plan to come back. Soon I hope!

That pretty much sums up what I want as a golfer but what about you? What do you really want?
Until next time, please don’t take for granted how lucky we are that we are able to enjoy the opportunity to enjoy this great game and everything it offers.

Thoughtful Thursday: Have golfers become more mindful since lockdown?

Am I seeing things through rose tinted glasses or do golfers appear happier than they ever were since returning to the game after lockdown?

From my own personal experience, pretty much everyone I have seen or spoken to appears to have a new enthusiasm and appreciation for the the game. Virtually everyone, myself included, is expressing a greater appreciation for the opportunity to simply get out playing again.

Over and above that, I see fewer unprepared pitch-marks on the greens, more divots being replaced and footprints in bunkers are virtually non-existent. That has certainly been the case on both courses at Archerfield when I have played the last few Monday mornings.

I would like to the think that is a pattern forming at courses around the world and that golfers will adopt a more mindful approach to course conditions and fellow players long into the future.
We all want to play golf courses in great condition but are equally quick to complain when they don’t meet our (sometimes unrealistic) expectations.

Greenkeeping teams around the globe are doing a fantastic job and I hope that the golf community A) appreciate that and B) continue to take responsibility for pitch-marks and divots etc…

Getting back to my original question – “Have golfer’s become more mindful since lockdown?” It seems like our relationship with course maintenance and presentation has improved, but what about the game itself?

Is gratitude for the chance to play still top of your priority list or have the nasty old habits of bemoaning your bad luck and poor technique after missing a fairway, green or putt returned with a vengeance? Hopefully for your sake, they haven’t.

I recently took part in a fantastic online Mind Factor Mindfulness practitioner’s certification course organised by Karl Morris, my co-another of “The Lost Art” books. Karl and Vin Harris who amongst other things, is a founding member of The Mindfulness Association, created an incredibly insightful and entertaining programme.

The reason I mention this is that while mindfulness can and should be applied in all walks of life, this particular programme was fairly golf specific. The sense of community that this has created amongst the course participants is something none of us really expected but the interaction has been nothing short of phenomenal.

We are in regular contact with the group through WhatsApp and the sharing of success stories has been truly inspirational. That sense of community is something that has been missing from a lot of our lives due to the current COVID-19 situation. Community is perhaps something we have taken for granted in the past but now that courses are open and clubhouses may open soon, that sense of togetherness within clubs will return.

From a personal point of view, I sincerely hope we can learn some lessons from this period in time. Lessons we can apply not only to our daily lives but our golf game and golf clubs going forwards.

In order to survive and thrive, golf clubs need to engage with their members and guests but members also need to engage with and support their clubs.

If you are someone who has adopted a more thoughtful and mindful approach to the game and all that goes with it, good for you. If you haven’t, perhaps the time is right to do so.

Until next time, keep fixing pitch-marks, replacing your divots but most importantly of all, keep enjoying the great game of golf and continue to be grateful for the opportunity.

Gary Nicol.

Thoughtful Thursday: Are you working on your technique or working on your game?

First and foremost, I hope you have enjoyed and appreciated the opportunity to get back out playing golf again. I know I have.
On each of the last three weeks, I have had the good fortune to get my week off to a good start with a game on a Monday morning at Archerfield. Playing great courses in first class condition has been an absolute pleasure. Walking off the course by 11.30am, having played 18 holes is an added bonus.
Thankfully, I have seen my play improve on each occasion but to be honest, playing my best ever golf hasn’t really been my main motivation. Yes it’s nice to play a bit better but the real advantage has quite simply been playing golf and appreciating the opportunity to experiment and learn.
My playing companion on each occasion has been European Tour Pro Grant Forrest, one of the longest hitters on Tour, so social distancing has not been too much of an issue!!
Grant is a very impressive player who loves to play golf, so would I if I played like he does! Like most professionals, he is somewhat of a perfectionist, always striving to improve. He works hard on his fitness and his technique as he does with every aspect of his game.
He is smart enough to identify weaknesses (relative term) and to do something about them. He has put in a lot of good work to integrate the swing changes he has made with his coach over the last 12 months, his short game is sharp and his putting is improving all the time.
He is also smart enough to be able to separate working on his technique from working on his game. Technical work is done away from the course, working on how he plays is done on the course. Something that a lot of amateur golfers might want to think about for a minute or two.
All too often, I see amateur golfers “working on their swings” (rolls eyeballs) on the golf course. Checking this position and that position. The more they do that, the more detached they become from the task at hand, which is creating the appropriate shot for that precise moment in time.
The golf course, regardless of how often you play it and how well you think you know it, is continually asking you questions. The main one being “what is the shot right here, right now?” It is NOT asking you where the club is at the top of your backswing or if you can keep your left arm straight. It never has asked those questions and never will.
Understand the question being asked and you will greatly increase your chances of coming up with good answers and better solutions.
The golf course is not the place to be working on your swing, keep that for the range or the net in your back garden. The golf course is for playing golf and learning how to play the game.
While there is little or no competitive golf available at the moment, this is the perfect opportunity to play golf to learn rather learn to play golf.
  • Learn how to shoot a score when you might not be playing your best.
  • Learn how to cope with the uncertainty and anxiety that we all face on the course from time to time.
  • Learn how to create different shots.
  • Learn how to get up and down for par.
  • Learn how to plot your way round the golf course.
  • Learn how to shoot lower scores and enjoy the process.
  • Learn the art, or perhaps the lost art of playing golf.
Basically, we have been presented with an opportunity in time where we don’t need to worry about our swing looks like, who cares anyway?! We don’t need to concern ourselves with “protecting handicaps” and our fragile egos. If nothing else, this time has given us the perfect chance to work on how we play golf on the golf course.
Time is precious. Time is limited. Use it wisely.
Until next time, keep playing, keep learning and keep enjoying everything this wonderful game offers.
All the best,
Gary Nicol.

The Lost Art of Golf Podcast – Visualisation

In the sixth and final episode of the series, Gary, Karl and Dan discuss the power of visualisation and how it can help you on and off the golf course.

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Has your return to playing golf lived up to your hopes and expectations?

After weeks of everyone talking about how much they have missed playing golf throughout the lockdown period, I wonder if your return to playing has lived up to your hopes and expectations?
What was it exactly we all felt we were missing out on?
Was it booming your longest career drive 20 yards past your playing partners?
Was it that feeling of a beautifully struck iron shot from the middle of the fairway?
Was it pitching over a bunker from a tight lie or holing a putt on the last to take the money after a close match?
OR was it quite simply being back out in the fresh air and appreciating the opportunity to simply enjoy a game of golf in the company of friends?
For me, there are no right or wrong answers here. We all play golf for our own personal reasons, or at least we think we do.
From the numerous people I have spoken to at Archerfield, where I have to say the courses are looking and playing as well as I have ever seen them, the thing that most people have missed have been none of the reasons mentioned above. The vast majority have missed out on the social interaction, albeit from the recommended safe physical distance.
The ability to actually speak to someone from outside your own household appears to be something we have pretty much all missed the most. The sense of community and the opportunity to catch up with actual people and not just a voice on the other end of the phone.
Golf is an under rated form of exercise, especially when you can nip round 18 holes in under three hours. Physical exercise is obviously essential to our well being but playing golf can also be hugely beneficial to our mental health.
Being largely confined to barracks for weeks on end may or may not have helped contain and minimise the effects of the covid 19 pandemic, only time will tell. Being stuck indoors for the best part of 10 weeks has given us time to think, or perhaps overthink what the future might look like. The uncertainty that brings can allow our minds to wander off to all sorts of dark places, a scenario very much like the game of golf itself.
Escaping those thoughts and the four walls we have been staring at for too long, is something I believe we should all be thankful to golf for.
Yes, we all want to play the best we possibly can but sometimes we place too much emphasis on the outcome on our shots and scores and run the risk of missing out on the moment and the sheer pleasure that can offer.
Was whatever you thought you were missing out on a reality, or was it something else entirely? Having played early the last couple of Monday mornings, I know there are numerous things I have enjoyed that probably weren’t too high on the list of what I thought I was missing.
Let’s hope that whatever golf gives you in terms of enjoyment doesn’t disappear as our opportuntities to play increase over the coming weeks and months.
Golf is many things to many people. What you think it will bring you isn’t necessarily what transpires in reality but I would like to think we are all in a better place from being fortunate enough to once more play the game we love.
Until next time, I’ll leave you with a quote from the late, great Bob Torrance, the godfather of Scottish golf coaching, “These are the best days of your life. Make sure you enjoy them.”
Gary Nicol.

The Lost Art of Golf Podcast – Green Reading

In the fifth episode of the series, Gary, Karl and Dan discuss the importance of green reading and how you can approach the greens now you can return to the course.

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Thoughtful Thursday: What have you learned since returning to golf?

Hopefully you will have had the opportunity to get back out on the golf course and perhaps reflect on what you have learned since.

Earlier this week, I dusted off my clubs (literally) and headed out for my first game in over a year. There are numerous reasons for my lack of play, mostly down to coaching and book writing commitments but the main thing is, I have missed it more than I had realised.
Admittedly, had you seen my play over the first two or three holes, you might have had a hard time believing it. Suffice to say, my ball striking was not exactly impressive. However, after a few holes, I soon began to remember what I really enjoy about playing golf.
Armed with a half set, I thought I would break myself in gently, I knew I would have to be creative to hit certain shots, including second shots with driver off the deck on a couple of par fives. I had forgotten how much fun that is, especially when you hit it properly! That alone was worth throwing my pencil bag over my shoulder again.
I’m not going to bore you with details as I am not arrogant enough to think anyone would be remotely interested. However, I did have great company on the Dirleton Links at Archerfield in European Tour player Grant Forrest.
Grant is a prime example of what I would consider to be the modern professional golfer. The key word in that sentence is professional.
He works extremely hard on his fitness and is smart enough to know which aspects of his game he needs to work on in order to get to where wants to go. He goes about his business in a very unassuming, very orderly and very impressive manner.
I learned many things from our 3 hours on the course, which looked and played like a true links, fast, firm and bouncy in places. It really was a treat to play that kind of golf again, especially in the Scottish sunshine.
One of the biggest things I took away from our Monday morning stroll was that playing 18 holes in 3 hours is easily achievable, even if your playing companion wants to play from the very back tees. We won’t go into details about how far Grant hit his driver past mine but as Bobby Jones famously said about Jack Nicklaus, “He plays a game with which I am not familiar.”
Of the many things I learned from our time on the links, I thought I would list a few to see if any resonate with you –
  • Playing golf is fun and at the very least, an excellent form of exercise.
  • While my ball striking needs work, I haven’t forgotten how to play the game.
  • Golf constantly asks you great questions. I just need to come up with better answers.
  • Golf tests you in many different ways. Very much like life.
  • I appreciated the opportunity to play on an excellent, beautifully presented golf course. Do not take that opportunity for granted.
  • A well struck shot is still enormously satisfying.
  • My attention has a tendency to wander to some odd places on the course but skills I have recently learned enabled me to bring it back.
  • Bad shots happen. Accept that and move on.
  • You can still enjoy the game even if your play isn’t fantastic.
  • I am still a pretty good putter.
  • I am very much looking forward to playing at Archerfield next Monday morning.
  • The golf course is without doubt the richest learning environment and that is where I plan to do most of my coaching in the future.
Golf has been good to me over the years and for that, I am eternally grateful. Playing good golf is great and very satisfying when it comes around but even the best in the world don’t play great golf every time they tee it up. Understand and accept that and your time on the course will be far more satisfying and gratifying.
Ultimately, remember why you play the game and truly appreciate every opportunity you get.
Until next time, keep playing at a good pace and enjoy the moment.

Gary Nicol.

The Lost Art of Golf Podcast – Line and pace

In the fourth episode in the series, Gary, Karl and Dan discuss the importance of line and pace and how you should think about it when on the greens.

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Winning Golf Podcast: Gary Nicol – Performance Principles

Gary Nicol joined Mark Pearson on the Winning Golf podcast to discuss a variety of topics surround performance principles.

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Thoughtful Thursday: Golf courses are ready for play, are you?

While we have all been desperate to get back out on to golf courses around the world, please think about the above question.

Most of us have been doing as advised and staying at home for the best part of the last 10 weeks. That is not necessarily the case for green keepers, some of whom have been working tirelessly in our absence. I know that is the case at Archerfield Links, (where I am based) with Steve Cram’s team who have been doing some outstanding work.
By and large, green keepers are the unsung heroes of the golf industry and as far as I am concerned, they deserve all the plaudits they receive.
Rarely have I seen any course look better prepared for the lucky members. Not a pitch mark in sight. Long may that continue.
When I was growing up learning to play the game, my late father, who was a stickler for the rules and etiquette, always reminded me to fix my own pitch mark plus one more. Something I still do to this day. Some might say I have pitch mark OCD!! Fixing ball marks on greens is the responsibility of golfers, not green keepers. Pitch mark rant over.
When any golf course looks and plays well, those playing it tend to think “Well so it should, that’s what we pay our subs for.” However, if there happens to be a minor blemish or the slightest imperfection, there are always one or two who can’t wait to complain. I have seen this all over the world for the last 30 plus years.
Have you ever stopped to thank the greens staff? Have you ever written a letter to say thanks for all their hard work? If so, good on you.
If not, maybe it’s time you did. I know for sure that they would definitely appreciate it.
Trust me, the green keeping fairies do not visit your local golf course to sprinkle their magic dust over the tees, fairways and greens when we are all tucked up in bed at night.
Most of the best green keepers I have had the good fortune to spend time with over the years take enormous pride in their work. They work longer hours than they are paid to and rarely complain about it. They are a rare breed indeed.
Next time you play golf, wherever and whenever that may be, take a minute or two to look around and appreciate the hard work that goes into preparing a golf course. We all know how difficult it is to even keep a garden looking half decent, so can you even begin to imagine what it takes to present a golf course in magnificent condition?
Golf course prepared and ready – ✔️
While the golf course may be ready for play, are you?
Have you managed to stay active and keep moving through this crazy and worrying time? Whether you have or not, please be careful when you do get back out playing again. Yes, you want to smash your first tee shot down the fairway but if you haven’t or even if you have been exercising the muscles required to play golf, just be careful you don’t do yourself an injury in the process.
Take a bit of time to warm up. If the range is open hit twenty or thirty shots with different clubs, once you have warmed up your muscles and loosened off any stiffness in your joints. If not, please take time to warm up sufficiently. I am no health professional, so I won’t be prescribing a warm up routine, I’ll leave that to the experts. You might want to check out www.18Strong.com for some advice in that department.
Have you used this time away from golf wisely to learn more about the game and what it means to you? I don’t mean watching hundreds of confusing and conflicting YouTube videos about how to fix your slice or hit it ten yards further. In my experience, jumping from one quick fix to the next is the fastest way to make sure you never get any better at this game. Why? Quite simply because these videos do not know your golf game or you as a golfer. Some online advice is great if it’s specifically designed for you but some of it is, well I’d rather not say as my language may become somewhat colourful.
Prepare yourself mentally as well as physically and be prepared to deal all this wonderful game throws at you. Embrace the chaos that is almost certain to ensue sooner or later.
Ask good, simple questions. What is the shot here? Is it possible this shot could be the best shot I have ever played? What does a good shot look like? What is the golf course designer asking of me here? Ask good questions and you will come up with good answers.
Ask bad questions and I think you know what will happen there…
If you are as well prepared as the golf course you are about to play, you might just play the best golf of your life.
To find out more about asking good questions, visit – www.thelostartofgolf.com where there are a couple of books and digital download videos that may well help your on your journey to enhanced performance and perhaps more importantly, enjoyment.
Until next time.
Take care, stay safe, play safe and appreciate the opportunity.