One of the frustrations of the average golfer is actually being able to play as much as we would like. For example, I have managed to get to the course twice in the last couple of months! For someone who writes about the game and certainly ticks the golf obsessive box, this is a crazy low amount of on-course time. There are plenty of good reasons for this, from family and job obligations, to health and weather. Basically, the same things that are issues for 99 percent of golfers out there. The one thing that I do try to make the most of is my golf backyard practice time. Here is how you can do the same.
- Adapt your practice to the space available
- You don’t always need a ball
- Short game improves quickly at home
- There are options for every budget
Practice Indoors or Out
I currently live in a house with a garden, including a smallish grass area. Before that, I lived in a flat (apartment). Before that, in another house. In all three cases, I found ways to practice and more importantly to have fun and feed my golfing need when I couldn’t get to the course. There are some very obvious points here. If you live on a farm with empty fields all around, you can probably do a lot more than if you live in a city centre studio apartment.
In the first case, your best bet might be to buy 500 budget golf balls and work on hitting everything from wedge to driver to various targets. In the second, the longest shot you can pull off could only be a five-foot putt. I won’t say it doesn’t matter because clearly it does, but the golfer who spends 30 minutes a day getting his stroke perfect on a bit of old carpet and hits one five-foot putt after another is actually making some pretty significant progress that will make a concrete e difference on the course.
For the purposes of this article, I want to look at some of the options that exist if you are somewhere between these two extremes. You can get outside, but perhaps you have 10-30 metres/yards to play with and so watching the ball fly off the driver face isn’t really going to happen. There are still plenty of options for all facets of the game.
Backyard Short Game Practice
I have talked quite a bit in the past about how to practice putting and I will leave that aside for the purposes of this article. Suffice to say, there are plenty of options and I go through a few of them in the article linked just previously. Outside of putting, the most obvious starting point is the chip shot. You can just throw down a few balls if you have some grass outside and chip away.
There are a couple of things you need to watch out for. The first thing to remember is that most back yards generally don’t have the same level of love and attention given to them as your average golf course! This means that you can’t really work on something like a chip and run, at least not if you worry about what is happening to the ball itself. Whereas on a green, even a poor municipal one, the ball will roll out in a fairly predictable manner, this just isn’t the case on the average back lawn. It certainly isn’t the case on mine anyway.
So what do you do? Well actually this is real advantage if you think about it. Your average backyard offers the perfect training ground for perfecting strike off less than perfect lies. When I hit these little chip shots, all I am thinking about is working on technique to get as good a strike as possible. Currently, I am really trying to get a pendulum chipping/pitching stroke going with very little wrist action if possible. I don’t really care what happens to the ball. All I want is a nice clean strike from all sorts of lies.
As I get better at this, my practice on the course or short game area becomes better and better. I don’t have to worry about technique or contact as much because I have already done this work at home. I can concentrate on transforming this into shots that actually get the ball near the hole by working on reading lines, pace control and so on.
Working on the Full Swing at Home
Improvements around the green are great and will definitely save shots, but we all want to get better at the full swing too. As long as you have room to swing a club, you can do this. In fact, I often do this without a ball at all. I will pick something (usually a small tuft of grass) and simply swing, concentrating on hitting the ground just after this tuft. This has actually kept my ball-striking in a surprisingly good place despite not actually hitting many balls at all.
Of course, lots of people aren’t going to be satisfied with this and will feel the need to actually hit a ball. There are two solutions here and I have used both.
The first option is to use something other than a real ball. There are all sorts of choices, but my personal favourite is the hard sponge ball. The reason why I like it is that it feels much better of the face than a plastic air ball for example. It also only goes a limited distance which fits in with the size of my garden. Finally, I like the fact that it tends to show the way the ball is spinning.
For example, if I hit a shot that is going to be a slice, the ball with curve off to the right quite dramatically. Likewise, if I really hit it with too much backspin, it will essentially shoot straight up and come down either at my feet or even behind me! Unfortunately, this makes it a bit of disaster in windy conditions.
There is another aspect to working on the full swing at home without actually hitting balls and it can lead to a few problems when you actually get back on the course. We are looking at effective backyard practice and there is absolutely no point in doing something that doesn’t make a real difference when you play. In fact, it can be even more dramatic than that: sometimes what you are doing can actually make things worse!
An example of this is when you try to change something in your swing. For example, I have been playing around with more of a Stack and Tilt feeling in my swing recently.
Without going into too much detail, I want to feel that my weight is staying on my front foot a little bit more because I can sway off the ball and struggle to get back sometimes which leads to a few fat shots, especially at the end of a round when I am a bit tired. I have been taking some swings in the garden and it feels good. However, I have no idea if it is actually going to work on the course!
This is the thing. Don’t just assume that these empty swings without actually hitting a ball are working. It is important to see the effect they might be having on ball contact and ball flight. Once you can see that the drill or whatever is working, then it makes sense to try to ingrain it as much as possible by taking ‘dry’ swings in the garden.
Using a Hitting Net
The final option is to use a hitting net. This opens up a world of possibility, depending on budget. For example, you can connect a flight monitor to a screen and a computer and virtually play your way around St Andrews or Pebble Beach without ever leaving home. This has a cost of course, but you can have a lot of fun and really feel you are actually playing golf.
This doesn’t have to be an expensive choice either. I have tried golf hitting nets in the past, but found that the best solution is actually a homemade one. I built a nice hitting net using plastic tubing from a DIY store and fishing net. A word of warning, you want to make sure that the target area really is big enough and also that the net is solid enough. For example, I actually extended the framework and netting opposite the hitting area because I can be prone to the occasional shank. I really didn’t fancy that “heart in my mouth” moment as a ball shoots sideways past the net and towards the neighbour’s window or greenhouse!
For me, backyard practice doesn’t replace getting on the course. In fact, on course practice doesn’t replace getting on the course either. I find myself spending less and less time on the course unless it is to play or to try out equipment. I would rather spend an hour or so in the back garden working on chipping or 30 minutes in the living room rolling some putts and then translate this to actually scoring better and enjoying my time when I am on the course.