Golf Essentials For Beginners – What You Will Need To Get Started

Written by Michael VanDerLaan 

Written by Michael VanDerLaan 

Updated

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Golf has often been considered a less accessible sport, in part because of the number of things necessary to play the game. That begs the question, what are the necessary essentials for getting started playing golf?

We are going to take you through the absolute necessities for playing the game when yo'u are first starting. We’ll also cover a few things that you might think are mandatory but really aren’t, plus a few bells and whistles from experienced golfers that might upgrade your game or style on the course a little bit.

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Golf Clubs

The first thing that comes to mind if you want to play are, of course, golf clubs! Whether rented, begged, borrowed, handed-down, or bought new, clubs are the epitome of essential in the game of golf. Keep in mind, the rules of golf dictate that a golfer cannot carry more than 14 golf clubs in their bag for a round.

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From that point on a golfer and their relationship to their clubs usually takes on a life of its own, with some never letting go of their ole faithfuls and some changing clubs out every few months (or even rounds!). In any case, golf clubs are rarely perfect and do not need to be, especially for beginners, but they are definitely key to getting started.

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Driver

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Golf Essentials for Beginners - Driver

Almost every golfer has had a love-hate relationship with their driver at some point. As a beginner, it actually might not be the most important golf club in your bag. Finding the right driver for you will set up your entire golf game. While it’s a weapon for most competitive players, if you’re just starting out taking lessons and learning the game, a lot of times hitting the driver off of every tee is not optimal.

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As far as picking out your driver, if you have one that was made less than 10 years ago chances are you will not see a dramatic difference in performance, despite what every advertisement and paid promotion will tell you.

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There have been a lot of technology upgrades throughout the years, but anything less than 10 years old could be considered a “modern” driver and will allow you to learn the game. The extra $500 for a brand new driver would be much better spent on lessons for the first couple of years of playing.

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As a beginner, you should choose as driver with plenty of loft. The more loft, the easier the driver will be to hit. Look for drivers in the 10.5 - 15 degrees of loft.

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Irons

Golf Essentials for Beginners - Irons

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An iron set is the cornerstone to any golf bag. Irons are also the clubs you will learn to hit the most often and build your game around.

When looking at an iron set there are 3 basic components to check out and see if they are right for you: the club head, the shafts, and the grip.

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Let’s take a look at each:

Club Heads

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The main point here is to avoid getting “blade” club heads if you are a beginner, with the exception maybe being wedges. Club heads come in different styles and blades are the least forgiving. Even amongst professional players it is becoming rare to see players not taking advantage of some degree of perimeter weighting or “cavity back” club heads throughout their bag.

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You can choose if you want more of a players cavity back that will teach you to strike the ball well but still punish off-center strikes more, or if the game is already punishing enough most beginners start with game improvement irons.

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Learn to recognize cavity backs versus blades. Unless you are intending to train yourself for many years to become an elite ball striker, rule out the blades. You can recognize cavity backs because there will be some degree of indention in the back of the golf club and a thicker part around the perimeter to improve forgiveness among other things.

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Shafts

Golf Equipment - Shafts

Having the wrong shaft might be the cause of that pesky slice!

There are two things you want to check out in your iron shafts for a beginner; the length and the flex. There are many other variables that you can get into when getting fitted, but for a beginner just make sure the flex of your shaft is a relative match to your physical build and club head speed (i.e. a college football player doesn't want a senior flex, while a female golfer should typically stay away from extra stiff). 

The other factor to consider is length. If you are above or around 6’2” you might struggle to set up properly to a normal-length iron set. If you are around or below 5’8" you might need to choke up or cut-down slightly a normal-length men’s iron set. There are many other variables in play that a proper club fitter could deal with (such as arm length, posture, etc.), but for your first set use these as very general guidelines to keep in mind.

You may notice some iron sets come with steel shafts and some with graphite. This is a bigger issue on older iron sets as most modern graphite performs quite well. Check the flex and weight if you see graphite iron shafts, as they tend to be lighter and more flexible, although this is not as universal as it used to be.

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Grips

There are lots of grip options to choose from to make sure you have the best ones for your game

Getting into grip size is something players can figure out as they go. Grips generally come in undersize, standard, mid-size, and jumbo, but the majority of men enjoy standard or mid-size grips and ladies undersize or standard grips to start out with.

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The key if you are looking at a pre-owned iron set is to make sure the grips are in good shape and have some tackiness to them still so you can have a relaxed grip and at least play with them for awhile without immediately replacing them.

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Fairway Woods

Fairway Woods are a golf essential for beginners

Fairway woods are a major asset to a beginner, mostly because they tend to be easier to keep in play off the tee than a driver. Higher level players tend to become more proficient with the driver, but even they will often use a fairway wood for increased accuracy!

For a beginner, it’s good to have one or two fairway woods in a bag, depending on how you like hitting them and what other long golf clubs you have. At a minimum most players carry either a three wood or a five wood but the seven wood has become popular again lately with Dustin Johnson winning the 2021 Masters with one in his bag.

The main thing to check is that you don’t want to duplicate the loft or distance of one of your hybrids or long irons. While beginning the game, it’s good to have one fairway wood of any loft to hit off the tee if you have a short hole or tight hole where driver isn't appropriate.

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Hybrids

A Hybrid Club is a golf essential for beginners who prefer the feel of an iron over a fairway wood

Hybrids are a relatively modern invention, although if you look closely you will see that the head shapes and sizes closely resemble many of the best persimmon woods. These golf clubs are just as they say - a “hybrid” between an iron and a wood. The face is shaped like an iron but there is a bulb of metal coming off the back, similar to a fairway wood.

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These really are amazing clubs to have in your bag as a beginner, maybe just short of essential for a beginner’s golf bag, because of how much easier they are to hit than long irons. Especially if you’re just starting out, you might not need anything in your bag below a five iron, and 2, 3, and 4-hybrid clubs can help if you struggle in those areas.

At the end of the day it’s a useful weapon for short par 4’s, long par 3’s, and the go-to club for getting one back in play out of the rough after those poor tee shots that we all hit.

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Wedges

Golf Essentials for Beginners - Wedges

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Wedges are always fun golf clubs for beginners. Most golfers will remember or have even fallen in love with their first wedge or wedges.

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Generally, iron sets will come with a pitching wedge, and many also come with gap and sand wedges. There is a lot of versatility in wedges, but ideally you will have something that is at least 54 to 56 degrees of loft or labeled as a sand wedge. This is the ideal club for beginners to use around the greens for short chip shots as well as out of bunkers.

Nowadays, almost all golfers also carry a lob wedge of either 58 or 60 degrees. One thing to look out for is you don’t necessarily want two wedges that are only two degrees apart. Look for 4, 5, or 6 degrees of difference depending on how many wedges you have.

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In reality, most players use the lob wedge as a specialty club. While most tour pros use them religiously, and amateurs have followed suit, tour pros are playing on golf courses that are significantly firmer and faster with pin locations and high rough specially designed to make stopping the ball on the green as hard as possible.

For a beginner, you can play a very functional round of golf and get better faster in many cases by just using a sand wedge for all of your short game shots.

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Putter

Golf Essentials for Beginners - Putters

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Along with the driver, the putter is probably the subject of the most ups and downs of any club in a golfer's bag, and that’s saying a lot! It is also the least complicated club, but golfers and equipment manufacturers have tried their best to dress it up.

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There is a lot of technology that goes into putters now, everything from face inserts to graphite shafts and oversized grips. But the fact is most copy one of three basic designs. 

The “blade” or “anser” style putter has been the gold standard since it was invented and is the most copied putter on the planet. This is the style Tiger Woods uses and is the most common style putter you will see.

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The “mallet” putter has grown from a simple weight distribution to the modern day “spaceship” putter heads you will see guys like Xander Schauffele and Dustin Johnson using.

What was called a mallet when they first came out now more closely resembles a blend between the two called the “mid mallet”, which has a variety of styles but a smallish version of it has been famously used by Phil Mickelson.

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This might sound complicated but the main difference between these putters is simply the weight, and then how that weight must be distributed making for more and more metal behind the club head. Any of the styles can work.

Your goal as a beginning golfer is to find a putter that is comfortable for you to set up to without having to painfully bend over or choke down on the club. From there, you can start to build good habits and make adjustments, as well as choosing the putting grip style that feels the best to you.

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Golf Bag

Golf Essentials For Beginners - Golf Bag

The golf bag might seem like an afterthought, but it is one peice of golf equipment that you need to get started. The three basic types of golf bag are a cart bag, a stand bag, and a hybrid bag. If you are a beginner, avoid getting what is called a staff bag unless you really want to be a comedian out there!

Cart bags have more room, and the pockets and straps are organized only for a golf cart or push cart. Many golfers never consider walking more than a few feet with their golf bag, so this is the ideal setup. If you are looking for a golf bag to take on a trip where you will be using caddies, DO NOT use a cart bag.

The main function of a stand bag is the kickstand that automatically kicks out when you place the bag down. These bags are usually smaller, the golf clubs fit more snugly, there are less pockets, and they are suited for golfers who want the option of walking some holes. You can still absolutely use these in a golf cart but some pockets might be blocked and the bag might need to be strapped down extra tightly.

The hybrid bag is basically just a bigger stand bag, or a lighter weight cart bag with legs. If you actually plan on walking 18 holes semi-regularly, it’s probably not the best, but it’s a great option if you plan to ride in a cart mostly, but want to be able to use a push-cart sometimes or just have something lighter than a cart bag while walking to and from the car.

Most golf bags will come with rain cover that snaps onto the top of the golf bag in order to keep your golf clubs dry if you are playing in the rain.

You will see golfers at your local course who have been playing a long time and use a Sunday bag. These are the tiny bags that don't even have a stand, so you lay them on the ground. Lots of recreational golfers will have these in addition to another, bigger golf bag in case they want to go walk a quick 9 holes before sunset!

Push Cart

Golf Essentials for Beginners - Pushcart

Once mocked, push carts have come a long way from something resembling an aluminum dolly to sleek, suave, sophisticated rolling caddies that have everything at the ready and allow the modern golfer to take a load off while enjoying a good walk with their friends.

Also popular amongst junior players and even NCAA golfers now, the stigma behind push carts is an old tale of a bygone era at this point. Push carts are not an absolute need for beginners, however they make the walk much more enjoyable. Feel free to pop one out of your trunk and enjoy a perfect spring or fall day any time!

Golf Balls And Tees

Golf Essentials For Beginners - Golf Balls and Tees

When you’re a beginner, it’s important to make sure you have enough balls, but not too many. If you’re just starting out, it’s okay to bring a full dozen or a few more. Also get some tees. The best tees are 2.75” to 3.25”. Just get one size and get enough of them, then use broken ones or push them into the ground further for iron, hybrid, or fairway wood shots.

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As far as the best kind of golf balls, the old saying is the best golf ball is “the one you just found!” Needless to say, when you’re just starting out you’re going lose a good number so just don’t get super attached. The first priority is to make sure the ball is in decent shape. If you can find decent ones, buying used golf balls is a great budget option for a “high volume” user.

If you have your pick, understand that most golf balls are going to fall into two categories, regardless of dozens of marketing gimmicks. There are balls with urethane covers AKA “premium” or “tour” golf balls, and balls made with a more durable Surlyn cover. 

Typically, golf balls without urethane covers are going to be lower-compression, softer golf balls marketed to increase distance and reduce spin. They are good choices for seniors and beginners whose main priority is just keeping the ball on the course.

Urethane golf balls on the other hand are going to prioritize greenside spin, but that means they will also spin more off of the driver.

Examples of premium urethane golf balls are Titleist ProV1, Callaway Chromesoft, and TaylorMade TP5. Most of these brands also come in an “x” variety which is typically even more spin.

Urethane golf balls cost significantly more money and if you manage to not lose them, they get damaged and worn out more easily.

Examples of budget golf ball brands are Vice, Kirkland, Snell, and Cut.

If you chip with both balls side by side, you will likely be able to tell a dramatic difference in how they react to the greens, and it is a good experiment to learn about different types of golf balls.

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Towel

Using a golf towel is a great way for beginners to keep their equipment clean and performing the best it can

Always bring at least one towel as part of your golf equipment. At worst it can be universal - for hands, cleaning golf balls, cleaning grips and cleaning golf clubs, and sweat. But as you can imagine, this takes some careful management.

Many golfers use two towels, one for dirty balls and dirty golf clubs, and the other for yourself. It’s common practice if you have a larger towel to dip half of it in a bucket of water before the round so you can use the wet half to wipe the clubhead or ball and the dry half to dry them!

Golf Clothes

Golf clothes are one of the golf essentials for beginners to make sure the dress code is always followed

One of the most important pieces of golf knowledge for beginners is an understanding of the dress code of the game.

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Most golf courses have dress codes, but it is typically fairly similar everywhere you go. Some lower-cost courses have no dress codes or relaxed dress codes, and some higher-end or private courses will add a twist or two, so it’s always good to check if you're unsure.

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If there is any enforcement at all, there are a few near-universal rules you will have to follow, so be prepared:

-No denim

-No sleeveless shirts or tank tops

-Shorts or skirts cannot be too short, and no cargo shorts

-Collared shirt is required (usually tucked in)

-No flip-flops or open toe shoes

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Golf Hat

Golf Essentials For Beginners - Hats

Golfers wear hats for a number of reasons. The standard attire for golf when it comes to hats is your basic baseball-style hat. Many golfers wear golf company logos, but any hat from any sport or company is great. If you choose the standard baseball cap, remember that you are only allowed to wear it facing forward.

Of course, there are always those who wish to spice things up a little bit. The next two most common looks you will see are the visor and the bucket hat.

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 If you really want to spice things up you can go with a Ben Hogan style “ivy cap” or a straw hat like his rival Sam Snead.

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Finally if you really want that 1920s Chicagoland vibe, don’t be afraid to show up wearing your favorite fedora hat - you might not be the only one!

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Golf Shoes

Golf Shoes - Spikeless

Spikeless Golf Shoes

Golf Shoes - Spiked

Spiked Golf Shoes

The standard golf shoes these days are specific to the sport and feature soft rubber spikes on the bottom.

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There are also golf-specific shoes that are “spikeless” and just have some extra teeth or traction molded onto the bottoms.

The last style you’ll see was more popular in generations prior featuring actual steel spikes on the bottom. These are now banned from the vast vast majority of golf courses (except for professional events) as they damage the playing surface over time.

However, golf shoes are not immediately essential. You can play in general-purpose tennis, athletic shoes, or cross-training shoes, but even better would be a “trail running” shoe, the bottoms of which very much mimic standard “spikeless” golf shoes. The only difference is trail running shoes tend to come in much “louder” colors and designs than most golf brands.

Once you start to play consistently, then golf shoes become necessary.

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Ball Marker

Golf Essentials for Beginners - Ball Mark

One item you should never go to the course without is a golf ball marker. Ball markers are essential because they are commonly used during a round. Here's the scenario:

You hit a putt and your ball comes to rest directly between your playing partner's ball and the hole. In order to get it out of the way, you place a coin or other flat item behind the ball to "mark" the spot of the ball.

Luckily, almost anything can do in a pinch. There are specially made commemorative ball markers sold at most every golf shop, usually about the size of a poker chip. Some people also use an actual poker chip. The more casual golfer might just use a spare coin. Last but not least, a lot of divot repair tools come with a built-in magnetic ball marker.

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Divot Repair Tool

Golf Essentials for Beginners - Divot Repair Tool

The divot repair tool is overlooked only by the most inconsiderate of golfers. It’s a small task, but not repairing your ball marks is a crime against the game. 

When your ball lands on the green, it will make an indentation, also called a ball mark. Fixing them properly helps keep the golf course healthy and enjoyable for all of the players behind you, and is considered basic golf etiquette. 

In a pinch you can use golf tees or car keys but ideally you’ll have the proper tool in your pocket. These come as one-piece “fork” type instruments as well as push-button “switchblade” type tools most often. 

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Final Thoughts

Golf has always been known as a sport where the equipment is at the forefront. There truly is a lot that goes into it. But most of it becomes second nature, and most golfers end up accumulating dozens of each of the items listed here throughout a lifetime in golf.

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The great thing about that is it’s easy to find second hand equipment if you’re just trying to get a few essentials together as a beginner.

Getting the right equipment is a key component to achieving your golf goals - whether you want to break 90 or just beat your friends.

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The list here sounds long, but the only basic golf equipment beginner golfers need are golf clubs, a bag, balls, tees, a ball marker and divot tool, and a towel. Take that to the course and dress properly and you can get around the course just fine. You also absolutely do not need all 14 clubs in order to play golf. The clubs to have as a beginner are a putter, a sand wedge, a short, medium, and long iron, and one or two longer clubs (hybrids, fairway woods, or a driver) in order to hit longer shots and tee shots.

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So go ahead and load up your trunk with everything you need, get out there, and never look back!

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Photo of author

Michael VanDerLaan

Michael is an Associate Editor here at Golf Gear Advisor. He is a playing professional with a passion for finding the best equipment through product testing and evaluation. He has an intimate knowledge of the golf swing and a very effective way of communicating his knowledge to those that are interested in learning more. As an Associate Editor at Golf Gear Advisor, Michael shares his knowledge about the golf swing, fitness and finding the right equipment for your game.

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