There's a lot of talk about how to make the game more popular -- creating new course formats, changing the length of the courses, etc. -- but hardly anybody talks about the biggest drawback of all. Let's face it, our game is too hard and too expensive. Unless we find a way around these problems, we're going to be fighting an uphill battle.
Although ultimately I think we have to change the way we teach the game, we can address both problems to some extent simply by changing our ideas about equipment. The average weekend player carries far too many clubs to really have fun, and I think most of us could actually improve our game if we simply reduce the number of clubs we carry. I call this idea the "half-set challenge."
When I first learned how to play, I couldn't afford clubs and put together a set from some old clubs my uncle gave me. I had a 3-wood, four irons -- 3, 5, 7, and 9 -- and a putter I already had from playing putt-putt. And since I couldn't hit the 3- or 5-irons very well, I ended up playing with just 4 clubs most of the time. But I had a blast! I think most weekend players could benefit from carrying fewer clubs as well.
Here's how it works: I want you to try playing some rounds using a half-set of clubs. That's right, only 7 clubs. How you choose the clubs is up to you, but let me give you some guidelines and a few sample half-sets to try.
Obviously you'll need a putter. That's one of your clubs.
Forget your driver and pack the 3-wood. I'd personally like to see a 3-wood with a driver-length shaft become the standard long club in an amateur's set. Unless your swing speed is considerably above 90mph, you'll probably hit your 3-wood as far, if not farther, than your driver. And most weekend players hit their 3-woods better anyway, so you'll be in play more often. At any rate, your 3-wood becomes your second club.
That leaves spots for 5 more clubs, and you should choose these clubs based on what you hit best while still giving yourself as much variety as possible. Some sample setups will give you some ideas.
Here's what you might call a "traditional" half-set:
- SW (some of you might prefer LW)
You may look at this set and say, "Hey, there are too many gaps between clubs!" There are good reasons for this:
- It speeds up play. You don't have to choose between so many clubs. Is it a hard 9 or an easy 8... or maybe a half 7? No questions this way -- only the 8 will work, so that's the club you use.
- It increases your creativity. You'll learn to manufacture shots. And the more you learn to think about your shots, the better you'll play. And remember, you can always choke down on a long club for a shorter club's distance.
- It's easier on the body. If you walk, you have less to carry. You don't use all of those clubs anyway, do you? I for one never use my 6-iron... so why carry it?
Here's another half-set -- I'll call it a "gradiated" set because I've tried to eliminate some of the gaps and make the transitions between clubs more gradual:
- SW (or LW)
Finally, here's a half-set that's based on those used by some of the LPGA players. It assumes you don't have the strength to get a lot of use from the straight-faced mid-irons or hybrids:
- 11-wood (aka "trouble wood")
- SW (or LW)
Give the half-set challenge a try. At least every once in a while, pick 7 clubs from your existing set and go play 9 holes using just those clubs. I bet you'll have a lot of fun... but I also bet it'll help your game improve. With fewer clubs to choose between, the weaknesses in your game will be easier to see. Then you won't waste your practice time hitting balls aimlessly -- you'll know what to work on.