Written by John VanDerLaan
I know it sounds hard, but learning to play golf at 60, 50 or even 70 isn’t nearly as difficult as you might think.
The beauty of golf is that it is a game that can be played for a lifetime. You may have friends who have been playing for years, or know someone who enjoyed the game well into their 90’s. I will never forget when a neighbor of mine came home from a round of golf beaming, and excitedly told me that he had made his first ever hole in one that day. He was 89!
You’re probably reading this because you have finally decided to give in and try the game that everyone seems to be diving into right now, and I’m happy you’re here. I have a love and passion for golf, and I am grateful that you would give me the chance to help you get your journey started. So without further ado, let’s get started.
How Do I Get Started Playing Golf?
I’m going to oversimplify this for a moment. All you have to do to start playing golf is to find an old club or 2 and go to a local public golf course or driving range!
In truth, the hardest step is the first one. If you aren’t sure how you are supposed to conduct yourself or what to expect, there is no reason to stress. All of that is normal! Even if your first club is a putter from the local thrift store, that’s perfect. Take that putter and a couple of golf balls and head out to the practice green. Once you’ve done that, you have officially started playing golf, congratulations!
After you have taken that first step, there are a few things you should know, and a few golf essentials that every beginner should learn about.
You will also need clubs at some point. Golf Gear Advisor has compiled a list of affordable clubs for people in your situation.
The last thing to consider when you’re starting to play golf is to take a couple of lessons. I’ll talk more about this below, but learning from a professional is a great way to get a definite starting point that will help you improve more quickly than you could on your own!
Do I Need Lessons?
The short answer is yes, you need lessons. PGA Professionals are trained in golf instruction, so they not only have the knowledge needed to get you going, but usually also an agreeable way of communicating their knowledge in a way anyone can understand.
Of course, there are ways that you can get better at golf without taking lessons. If you try to do this with no previous experience, you have a good chance of developing some bad habits that will come back to haunt you.
Learning The Fundamentals
The fundamentals of golf are the foundation on which your entire game will be built. Mastering these three components of the game will set you up to rapidly improve your game and have a whole lot of fun while you’re at it.
There are a few different styles of golf grips. The main 3 are interlock, overlap, and the baseball grip. All 3 have been used by golfers at the highest level of the game, so which one you choose is really up to you.
That said, there are a few components that make up the proper golf grip which should be studied and made an integral part of whichever grip style you use. This will ensure that your hands and wrists can work properly with the rest of your body to produce the highest level of consistency possible.
Stance is a word we use in golf to describe the way you set up to the golf ball. This includes everything from the way your knees and hips bend to the width of your feet to the position of the ball relative to your body.
Since everyone is built differently, there are an infinite number of variations to the stance. A common error new golfers make is to stand too close to the golf ball. Another one I see a lot is for a golfer’s feet to be too close together.
There are a few basic checkpoints you can use to make sure that your stance is working with you and not against you:
- Your feet should be about shoulder width apart. This will allow you to be balanced and still able to move and rotate.
- You want your shoulder blades, the butt of the club, your knees, and the balls of your feet to all be stacked on top of one another (see the image above). By getting set up like this, you are enabling your body to maximize range of motion, giving you more speed and consistency while minimizing injury risk.
- Your arms should hang straight down from your shoulders. That way, there is no extra motion required to move the weight of the golf club in the back swing.
While these checkpoints will help you get started, having a second set of eyes by taking a lesson is a more refined way of ensuring you are doing things the right way.
Alignment refers to the orientation of your body relative to your target. This is determined by drawing lines down the path of your feet, knees, hips, and shoulders. In an ideal world, all four of these lines are parallel and pointed straight at your target.
Start On The Green
This is how Tiger Woods learned to play golf. His dad had him learn how to putt when he was a young child, and would move him back from there. In my mind, if it was good enough for Tiger, it’ll most likely work for you, too.
Learn To Putt
Putting is the smallest swing and the shortest shot type in golf. If you learn it properly, it is your greatest asset. If you skip over it for the more glamorous parts of the game, it will be your worst enemy. The old adage “drive for show, putt for dough” is more applicable than you could possibly imagine.
There are a few aspects of putting that are important to keep in mind when you are first learning that will put you on the fast track to breaking 90. Let’s talk about them.
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Choose a Putting Grip
As with full shots, there are a number of different putting grip styles you can choose from. These are purely a matter of personal preference, and will only impact your performance to the degree that you are able to trust the one you choose. I recommend testing all or most of them to find the one that feels best to you. Once you determine that, stick with it and you will see your feel on the greens improve with time and practice.
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Short putts are one of the most underrated aspects of the game. Here is the secret that most people won’t tell you: if you are a world beater from inside of 8 feet, you’re really hard to beat.
Why is that? Well, if you miss a green and chip it to 7 feet, you can feel confident that you’ll make the putt. All of the pressure is taken off of longer putts since you don’t have to worry about hitting it to a few inches. And when you hit a perfect approach shot that settles 5 feet from the hole, you can stand over it with the confidence that you will make it.
Having the skill of being an amazing short putter is one of the fastest ways to bring your scores down and start having tons of fun!
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Lag putting is a skill that most people simply don’t have, but it is a skill that will help you become a better putter in a hurry. You want to be able to hit your first putt within a few feet of the hole almost every time. Even if you’re a really good short putter, having to make 5 foot putts to save your score all day is mentally draining and just no fun. Lagging it close enough to pick up is way better!
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Next Move Off Of The Green
After you have spent some time on the putting green and you feel confident that you are a proficient putter, it's time to take a step away from the hole and start chipping.
Learning To Chip
Chipping is the smallest shot categorized under “short game”. It is a shot that involves hitting the ball with a little bit of loft to fly onto the edge of the green, and then rolling out the majority of the distance to the hole.
Raymond Floyd famously referred to chipping as “putting with loft” because he would use his putting stroke and grip with a wedge or iron in order to hit the shot. Evidently he knew what he was talking about, as this is a technique still commonly taught today!
Move Further Off The Green
What do you do when you’re too close to the green to hit a full shot, but too far away for a chip shot, or there is a forced carry? The answer is a pitch shot! What is the difference between a chip shot and a pitch shot? We have an entire article on that so you can really get into the weeds and become a short game master!
Learning To Pitch
Pitch shots often come in handy as you become a more skilled golfer. These are the finesse shots that end up helping you to break par, and are the ones that create the greatest sense of awe when you watch the pros play on TV.
The short version is that a pitch shot requires you to carry the ball as far, or farther, then it will roll once it lands. This means lofting the ball up into the air to help it land softly. You will most often do this with your most lofted wedge, and it is a more advanced shot that you should only start working on once you feel confident about your chipping.
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Keep Moving Away From The Green
I’m sure you’re seeing the trend by now. We’re slowly working away from the green and the hole, maintaining our fundamentals, and making bigger and more powerful swings. The next step beyond a pitch shot is an approach shot, which can be broken down into wedge shots and iron shots.
Learning To Hit Wedge Shots
Let me be the first to tell you a secret that makes the tour pros so good with their wedges: they almost never hit a full wedge!
Learning to hit wedge shots is pretty simple, it just requires a little bit of time and practice.
The best system is to have 3 yardages with each wedge. Your stock shot should be a little less than a full swing, so that you always have control over the club. Then there is the ¾ shot. There is no defined measurement for this, it is just whatever feels like a swing that is 75% of your full swing. Finally, you should have a half shot. Again, this doesn’t necessarily mean it is a true half swing or half distance, it’s more about feel. For example, my shots with my 56 degree wedge are 90, 70, and 55 yards.
Doing this with all of your wedges will give you the ability to own any shot up to a stock shot with your lowest lofted wedge. As you become more consistent with these shots, you will shave strokes off your score and continue to have more fun on the course.
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Learning To Hit Iron Shots
Hitting iron shots is where the game of golf becomes more uniform. This is where you are almost always going to make a full swing. While this sounds very basic, there is still some homework to be done.
When you are learning to hit your irons, it is important to remember that you have to hit down on them. When you hit a full shot with an iron, you should take a divot.
In an average set of golf clubs, there are anywhere from 6 to 8 irons, and your goal should be to know exactly how far each of them goes in the air. Total distance is going to change based on the firmness of the golf course, but if you have a grasp on how far every iron in your bag flies, you are going to be able to select the proper club for almost any shot.
Once you accomplish this, you can also practice a knockdown shot. This is simply a variation of your stock iron in which you choke down on the grip of the club and abbreviate your follow through. Learning how far each iron flies with this shot will be helpful to you on windy days.
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Now It Is Time To Head To The Tee Box
Last but not least, let’s hit the tee ball. You can hit either a driver or a fairway wood off most tees, although being able to hit the driver well will only play to your advantage, so that’s what we’re going to talk about.
Learning To Hit The Driver
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Hitting a driver is a bit different than hitting an iron or wedge. With those other clubs, your goal is to hit the ball and then allow the club to continue down into the ground, creating a divot. That’s called hitting down on the ball.
With the driver, you actually want to hit up on the ball to take some spin off the shot and allow it to fly farther. This can lead to topping the ball. If you find yourself struggling with that, check out our article on how to stop topping the golf ball!
I think one of the most important things to remember when hitting the driver is that you are almost never going to hit a perfectly straight shot. You will be better served to choose either a draw or a fade as your stock shot, and try to play it. Personally, I like a draw, so I tend to aim out towards the right edge of the fairway with the goal of curving it back to the middle!
How To Enjoy The Game Of Golf At 60
Learning to play golf at 60 means so much more than learning how to hit all of the shots. In fact, one of the things I have repeated the most to my sons - who are both professional golfers - is to play the game. That means to worry less about hitting perfect shots and more about putting together the puzzle that is making a score. The most important thing you can do to achieve this is to have fun, and here are a few ways to do that.
We all fall into the same trap at times of expecting more than we are capable of on the golf course. It can be hard to accept that the drives aren’t going to go 300 yards and that we aren’t going to putt like a tour pro every day.
The simple fact is that managing your expectations will help you to have more fun and let the bad shots roll off your back.
Now, I’m not saying you should expect to play poorly, but maybe redefine what playing well means for you. Rather than a score, maybe playing well means not losing a ball, or finding a reason to smile on every hole, or even just looking around and reminding yourself how lucky you are to have the chance to take up a hobby like golf.
The best part about managing your expectations is that your actually more likely to play to the best of your ability if you can stay in a positive or happy mental space!
Find Someone Else New To The Game To Play With And Learn With
No matter what you do in life, having peers at the same level always makes it more enjoyable. Being able to talk about things that you both enjoy or struggle with, being able to engage in the activity together and not worry about the other person’s perception of you; these are the little things that you don’t realize are important until you have experienced them.
Whether you find a person or group of people to play with by joining a league, or asking a friend or loved one to play with you, golf is always more fun when you don’t have to do it alone.
I play with my boys whenever we get the chance, but there was a time when they were both traveling for tournaments and I wouldn’t touch a club for weeks. I recently joined a league myself and I am having so much fun making new friends, and I look forward to playing with them every week!
Start At An Executive Course (Par 3)
Executive courses are gaining popularity like crazy. People of all ages are taking up the game of golf, and a par 3 course is the perfect starting point.
Here are a few reasons to consider starting at a par 3 course:
- Shorter holes allow you to play a round of golf while you’re still working your way back from the green. Rather than only refining your skills with the putter, wedges, and irons on the practice facilities, you can actually put them to the test.
- A round of golf will take a significantly shorter amount of time. A common complaint of golfers is that golf takes too long. On a good day, a round will be 4 hours. I have played some rounds that have gone over 6! Playing an executive course should take you less than 2 hours, and will start to teach you the cadence of the game without being an all day affair.
- Cost. Executive courses are typically less expensive to play than a full golf course. Until you feel ready to commit to golf more regularly, this is a good way to dip your toes in without breaking the bank.
Take Advantage of Modern Technology
In the current age of crazy technological advancement, golf has seen some pretty amazing shifts of its own. Clubs are engineered to launch higher, create faster ball speeds, and be more forgiving.
Don’t be afraid to take advantage. I recommend that you look into a set of game improvement irons that will help mitigate your bad shot while still rewarding the good ones. The same goes for irons, woods, the driver, and even the putter. As a matter of fact, my colleague has compiled a list of the most forgiving putters that I think you should check out. Who knows, a little extra forgiveness might be the push you need to shoot your lowest score ever!
Get Clubs Designed For Seniors That Are New To The Game
To go along with game improvement irons, there are a number of drivers designed for seniors. Since people like you and me have lost a little flexibility over the years, there’s a good chance we’ve lost some club head speed too. That’s where these clubs come in.
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A good driver for a senior golfer will have a little more loft, a slightly different head design, and some back weighting intended to move the center of gravity back away from the ball. All this does is help you to launch the ball higher and maximize your distance. Speaking from experience, you’re going to want every yard you can get.
Don’t Overlook Swing Trainers
Swing trainers are a great way to teach your body the proper mechanics of the golf swing without getting lost in a sea of YouTube videos.
Some of my favorites are the Straight Stick, the Lag Shot, and the Orange Whip. Each one will give you a different holistic approach to the golf swing that allows you to swing in a way that is comfortable and repeatable, while developing great habits!
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Try A Golf Specific Workout Program For Seniors
There is no such thing as being too fit. That applies to both golf and life. A golf specific workout program will not only take you through a series of exercises to help you become stronger and more flexible, they will also supplement your swing training and help your body learn the movements more quickly!
I started my golf fitness journey with Golf Body Rx, and I have loved the results. I would encourage you to try it as well, as it is a relatively easy program that produces results!
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Is Playing Golf Good For My Health?
I know there is some debate over this, but the overwhelming majority of people who understand health and fitness would tell you that golf is a great way to get out and get moving.
It’s no secret that movement is medicine. Golf not only gives you a reason to get out and exercise, it is also a mentally stimulating game that will keep you engaged and thinking. This is extremely important as we age as there have been numerous studies that show that the brain atrophies when not in use. Effectively, it’s the use it or lose it principle!
What Are Some Of The Benefits Of Playing Golf?
Beyond getting exercise and working out your brain, there are a number of other benefits to playing golf. Here’s a few of the big ones:
- Sunshine. As long as you wear sunscreen, getting sun exposure has a whole host of benefits for your body. Check out what GoodRx has to say about sun exposure!
- Golf is a great way to socialize. As people, we are not meant to live a solitary life. Getting out with a group of people regularly is important to both your physical and mental health. What better way to do that than a round of golf (and maybe a drink after)!
- As we get older, it’s important to continue to challenge ourselves and pursue goals. Golf gives you a way to do just that. Whether you want to shoot your age, beat your friends, or master a new short game shot, there are lots of ways to anchor your goal setting in golf.
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There are more benefits to golf that aren’t as universal as these. The beauty of the game is that you can never perfect it, so there’s really no chance that you will get bored of it once you’re hooked!
Final Thoughts On Learning To Play Golf At 60
I covered a lot in this article, and I hope you’ve found some or all of it to be helpful. While I haven’t quite hit 60 yet, I’m getting close, and I have lots of friends who are there and beyond.
Watching some of my friends take up the game in the later stages of their lives has been a rewarding experience for me, mostly because I have had the privilege of helping them along the way.
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I am still learning to play golf every day. It really is a never ending journey. My promise to you is that if you follow the simple process I have described, manage your expectations, and remember that it is just a game, you will have discovered a hobby that you will pursue for the rest of your life. And who knows, maybe we will end up in the same foursome one day.