With help from area pros and our golf-addicted writer, here’s how to get started
As you gear up for warmer weather this spring, perhaps you’re thinking about trying your hand at a new sport or activity. If so, there are certain questions that will likely come up:
Do you want to spend time outside?
Do you want to play with family and friends?
Do you want it to be relatively inexpensive?
Do you want to be able to drink a beer while playing?
Do you look good in plaid?
If you answered yes to all these questions, then friends, it’s time to pick up the game of golf. (And even if you don’t look good in plaid or drink beer, stick with us.)
It’s easier and cheaper than you might think, and there are plenty of local courses and professionals ready to get you started on what can be a lifelong hobby.
I Am a Golfer
I’ll admit, I first tried golf in college because some friends were playing, I knew I could drink beer and smoke cigars while I played, and the idea of zipping around 18 holes in a motorized golf cart sounded like fun.
I refused to acknowledge golf as a sport, though, let alone a hobby worth any real time or effort. Also, the extent of my knowledge regarding the game came solely from Caddyshack and Happy Gilmore. (See “Tee Off…” in this issue).
Then, about five years ago, something happened, and I went from casual golfer to someone who now plays about 50 times a year, watches tournaments on television, and will play in 40-degree weather as long as it’s sunny.
Some would say that I got “the fever,” which most golfers experience at one time or another. You start paying more attention, you skip the beer, you walk the course instead of riding the cart, you zone in, you become more patient, and your score finally drops under 100.
It’s a combination of hitting a few great shots per round, enjoying the people you’re with, making new friends and even business associates, and soaking up the sun in the peace and quiet you can find on a golf course.
There’s something else, though, and I think it’s the fact that at any point in any round, I can hit a shot or sink a putt as well as a pro. Conversely, a pro might hit as poor a shot as I tend to still do (more often than not). If you’ve followed Tiger Woods recently, you know what I’m talking about.
I still remember my longest drive—331 yards on Hole 2 at Rock Manor; my best chip-in—a 60-footer on Hole 5 at Broad Run in West Chester, Pa.; my longest putt—a 35-footer on Hole 1 at ChampionsGate in Davenport, Fla. It’s those shots that will keep you coming back for more.
But if you really want to learn not only how to get started in this game, but understand what it takes to go from novice to breaking 100 to scratch golfer, you need to talk to the local professionals and teachers in the area. And that’s exactly what we did for this story.
Seek Professional Help
For Dennis Taggart, head professional at Ed “Porky” Oliver Golf Club in Wilmington, the game became part of his life soon after he could walk. At age 3, his family moved to Hilton Head, N.C., where his father, Bill, took a position as a contractor in developing the golfing community. That was in the late ‘70s.
“From age 3 to 12, I basically grew up on a golf course,” Taggart says. “When we moved back to New Jersey, I played four years at Glassboro High School and then four years at Rider University, after which my Uncle Paul, a PGA Pro, taught me the finer points of the game.”
Taggart says that golf, especially in this day and age when most people are tethered to their cell phones and tablets, can provide a wonderful respite to otherwise hectic lives.
“It’s great for networking and business, sure, but you can also really enjoy the game with friends and loved ones,” Taggart says. “It can be a four-to-six-hour time commitment for some rounds, but that’s quality time spent away from work, and it’s great exercise, especially if you walk 18 holes with a 30-lb. bag on your shoulder.”
Ryan Kidwell, executive director of Golf and PGA Pro at White Clay Creek Country Club, got into the game while working part-time at Grand Cypress Resort in Orlando. It was there, while watching clinics and setting up the practice range, that he saw an opportunity for a career.
“I hadn’t played much outside of a little bit in high school, but I was immediately intrigued by the business side of the sport and becoming a PGA Professional,” Kidwell says. “Now when people come to me to ask about the sport, I tell them they should enjoy their time on the golf course, no matter how they are playing, and if they want to get better, demonstration clinics and education are of the utmost importance.”
Michael Tobiason, the newly announced head pro at Deerfield Golf Club, is one of the more experienced professionals currently teaching and working in Delaware. A qualifier for the 2011 U.S. Open and cast member on Golf Channel’s Big Break: Greenbrier in 2012, Tobiason also got into the sport through his father.
He’s been teaching junior golfers for about 12 years and says that imparting the knowledge he got from his father is one of his favorite facets of the game. Tobiason also cherishes that family connection.
“It was the one sport we could always play together and have a level playing field, thanks to handicapping,” he says, referring to the numerical measure of a golfer’s potential playing ability based on previous rounds. “There aren’t many games you can play with your parents when they reach a certain age, but golf is certainly one of them.”
Get a Grip!
Of the three professionals we spoke with, each one cited a correct grip of the golf club, along with posture and stance at address to the ball, as the keys to getting off to a good start in the game.
“When I teach a lesson, I begin by trying to match a proper grip, whether it’s overlapping or interlocking, to what the student feels is comfortable,” Taggart says. “Everything starts with the grip because it’s your only connection to the club, and therefore to the ball at impact.”
As Taggart suggests, the two common grips are the interlocking, wherein the right pinkie and left index finger (for right-handed players) are locked like a chain link around the club (vice versa for left-handed players), and the overlapping, wherein the same fingers overlap each other around the club.
“Too many fingers on the club and you will start to hook the ball,” Tobiason says. “I’ve had plenty of former baseball and hockey players come to me with the baseball grip, where all 10 fingers are on the club. I try to move them away from that as quickly as possible, so they are more comfortable with the club.”
For Kidwell, posture and stance are of equal importance to the grip. “Those are the three fundamentals that 90 percent of amateur or beginner golfers just don’t have when they come through for a lesson. If you’re not aligned properly, the ball is going to go every which way. Adjusting that from the start will save a lot of strokes down the road.”
If you’re considering taking up the sport, you’re going to want to know what it costs. Gear can range widely in cost, but fortunately you don’t need a full bag of 14 clubs right from the jump. With just the basics, a starter kit or even some used clubs will cost you about $150, or even less if you do a bit of looking.
“I knew an old guy named Charlie Day, who played DuPont regularly years ago, and he would shoot in the mid-80s all the time with five clubs,” Tobiason says. “So even though you hear about pros using woods, hybrids, all kinds of irons and wedges, you only need a few clubs to get started.”
The driver, a 3- or 5-wood, a 7- and a 9-iron, a pitching wedge and putter are really all you need to get going. A sand wedge is also recommended by our pros, but it’s not a necessity. Starter kits, like TourEdge, are available locally at sporting goods stores like Dick’s or Sports Authority, as well as Golf Galaxy and Golfsmith.
“I know a lot of folks who purchased used, cheap clubs on eBay and other online outlets,” Taggart says. “And most pro shops have a barrel of used clubs they’ll sell you, sometimes for as low as a few bucks per club.”
When you’re ready to get more serious about the sport and are willing to invest $500-$1,000 or more on a set of clubs, Kidwell recommends trying out a few different brands or going for a custom fitting.
“You might like a brand or the look of the clubs, but if you come to our golf shop, we can custom fit you based on your height, swing, and so forth,” Kidwell says. “If you’re going to invest that kind of money, you want the clubs that fit properly, just like anything else.”
As for a round of golf, it can cost as low as $20 or as high as $100 (and up). For an average round, I spend between $50 and $75, when you figure in greens fees, a couple of beers, a hot dog at the turn, and maybe a few gambling bucks to my playing partner if I don’t play well.
The thing is, even if you don’t play well or lose a bet while on the course, or skip the eats and drinks, getting outdoors for a solid chunk of time with friends is really what it’s all about.
Places to Play
A rundown of public courses from Wilmington to Odessa
Nine golf courses can be seen from the roads across New Castle County, whether it’s Rock Manor from I-95 before entering the city, Back Creek from Route 896 in Middletown, or Ed Oliver from Pennsylvania Avenue in Wilmington.
For a quick tour of what each course offers, from layout to greens fees to memberships and playing on the cheap, take a ride along with us from north to south. Each course offers something different for the duffer and the scratcher. (Greens fees subject to change.)
Brandywine Country Club
2822 Shipley Rd., Wilmington
The course: Brandywine demands that golfers step up their game a bit compared to the straighter local courses like Delcastle and Ed Oliver. Tight fairways abound, many of which are lined on each side by trees, and the par-3 18th hole provides a real challenge to end your round. You may carry your tee shot over the water some 150 yards or more (depending on which tee you play) only to find a very undulating green on the other side.
Greens fees: $40 (winter rates); $65 (weekday in-season); $50 (weekday in-season twilight after 4 p.m.); $75 (weekend in-season); $40 (weekend in-season twilight after 3 p.m.)
Membership rates: $3,700-$4,500 (includes pool and tennis court access)
On the cheap: Brandywine doesn’t offer any discount cards or frequent player programs, but sign up for daily deal sites like Groupon.com and LivingSocial.com, which frequently send out offers for discounted rates.
Rock Manor Golf Club
1319 Carruthers Lane, Wilmington
The course: Lengthened, redesigned and then re-opened in 2008, “The Rock,” as regulars call it, features enough twists and turns over its 6,405 yards to provide some excitement for the seasoned golfer, but enough straight shots so as to not scare off the novice.
Greens fees: $30-$55 (winter rates through mid-March); $60-$79 (in-season)
Membership rates: $499-$2,099
On the cheap: Purchase the club’s Advantage Card—a $35 one-time fee—and get $7 or $3 off greens fees (for 18 holes and 9 holes of play, respectively), as well as 10 percent off merchandise. The card also can be used at Ed Oliver and Delcastle—all three are owned by parent company Billy Casper Golf.
Ed Oliver Golf Club
800 North Dupont Road, Wilmington
The course: Of the eight public courses in New Castle County, Ed Oliver might be the most approachable for beginners. Located in the heart of Wilmington, “Porky’s,” as it’s known locally, features straight fairways, open greens and few doglegs, allowing new players to get in a round without getting too frustrated.
Greens fees: $20-$39 (winter rates through mid-March); $45-49 (in-season); $20 (super twilight after 4 p.m.)
Membership rates: $699-$1,599
On the cheap: For just $139, the Player’s Pack discount includes three free rounds valid any day, any time, along with five free range buckets, one-hour early twilight access, and the same Advantage Card rates featured at Rock Manor.
Delcastle Golf Course
801 McKennans Church Rd., Wilmington
The course: Nestled in the heart of Pike Creek, Delcastle is another local course that offers enough challenges for the seasoned veteran, but plenty of open space to give newbies a shot at breaking 100.
Greens fees: $15-$40 (winter rates); $30-$55 (in-season rates)
Membership rates: $499-$1,799
On the cheap: For just $159, the Player’s Pack discount includes three rounds to be played at any time, a $60 Range Express Card to be used at the driving range just down the road, one-hour early twilight access, and the same Advantage Card rates featured at Rock Manor.
507 Thompson Station Rd., Newark
The course: Situated on 145 acres of undulating terrain, Deerfield is surrounded by the beauty of White Clay Creek State Park. The result is some of the most beautiful scenery you’ll see while on the links in Delaware, with plenty of tree-lined fairways and secluded greens where the silence of the woods can be deafening.
Greens fees: $35-$45 (winter rates); in-season rates can be found for as low as $20, but during the week are normally $63 from open to 11 a.m. ($74 on weekends), $60 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. ($66 on weekends), and $45 after 3 p.m. ($47 on weekends).
Membership rates: $1,900-$3,200
On the cheap: If you plan on spending a majority of your day at Deerfield (highly recommended), go for the VIP Golf Ticket. A $100 value priced at $89, it gives you 18 holes with cart, a basket of range balls, a golf ball and divot repair tool with ball marker, all featuring the Deerfield logo, a bag of golf tees and lunch at the turn (including either a hot dog or Deerfield’s famous Whimpy burgers, with chips and a soda).
White Clay Creek Country Club
777 Delaware Park Blvd., Wilmington
The course: As Head Pro Ryan Kidwell puts it, “This is not the best course for beginners.” The 7,000-yard behemoth (from the back tees), which surrounds the Delaware Park racetrack and casino grounds, is a monster of a challenge for even seasoned players. Get there early for your round and tune up on the incredible practice facility, which includes a long driving range, unlimited balls, and two bunkers to work on your sand shots.
Greens fees: $45-$50 (through March 28); $39-$63 (March 29-April 25); $40-$80 (April 26-Sept. 26)
Membership rates: $1,500-$3,000
On the cheap: While White Clay can sometimes be on the pricy side, be sure to check out discount tee time websites like GolfNow.com and TeeOff.com.
Back Creek Golf Club
101 Back Creek Drive, Middletown
The course: A link-style course located northwest of Middletown, Back Creek features small trees but plenty of high, native grass that can add strokes to your game in a heartbeat. Keep the ball in play to avoid those areas, and it can be a very enjoyable course. There isn’t much water either, save for the two par-3s – holes 8 and 17 – both of which require you to carry your tee shot some 165 yards over the ponds.
Greens fees: $32.50 (weekday winter rates), $25 (winter twilight rates after 12 p.m.); $37.50 (weekend winter rates); $39-$46 (in-season weekday rates); $28-$30 (in-season weekday twilight rates, starting at 2 p.m.); $45-$52 (in-season weekend rates); $32 (in-season weekend twilight rates, starting at 2 p.m.).
Membership rates: $999-$2,750
On the cheap: While Back Creek doesn’t feature any particular discount programs, you can sign up for a nice birthday present. Fill out the online form and you’ll be entitled to a free round of golf two weeks prior to or after your birthday, Monday through Friday anytime, or after noon on weekends. (Cart rental additional; must provide proof of birthday.)
Frog Hollow Golf Club
1 East Whittington Way, Middletown
The course: This windswept course just north of Middletown features more than a few arena-style holes, wherein the fairways and greens are surrounded by large, single homes (don’t worry, they’re far enough out of bounds). Be sure to bring a sand wedge, as the Hollow features more than 50 bunkers over 18 holes.
Greens fees: $30-$33 (winter rates); $38-$45 and $48-$55 (in-season rates on weekdays and weekends, respectively)
Membership rates: $350-$2,700
On the cheap: Fill out the online form and stay in the know regarding upcoming tournaments, discounted rates and deals at the pub, as well as a free round of golf on your next visit.
Odessa National Golf Club
1131 Fieldsboro Rd., Townsend
The course: This seven-year-old course is a combination links style and traditional layout, with plenty of bunkers, trees and water throughout. The par-5 2nd hole is one of the more difficult on a course that offers plenty of challenges, with a dogleg right that brings in a very large lake on every shot from tee to green.
Greens fees: $35 (winter rates); $45-$55 (peak in-season rates); $35 (twilight rates, usually after 3 p.m.)
Membership rates: $1,600-$2,500; $375 for a practice range pass, which allows access to the practice area with an unlimited number of balls for the year.
On the cheap: Odessa National features varying morning, mid-day and twilight rates, and the Victory Golf Pass Book offers many discounts for courses in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The book costs $55 for the year and typically pays for itself in 10 rounds of play.