If you are halfway serious about getting better at golf, you are going to be putting in some sort of effort on practising. It isn’t realistic to simply turn up at the weekend and expect to see constant progress. There are plenty of choices of things to work on whether it is putting, the short game or distance with the driver. A lot of golfers become range rats and end up hitting buckets of balls off the golf practice mats at their local course or range. I used to do this too but it is a very rare occurrence for me nowadays and this is why.
I won’t say that I never hit off mats. For example, I played a scramble recently and hadn’t hit a ball in anger for at least a few weeks prior to getting to the first tee. My playing partner wanted to warm up on the range so I did hit some balls with him. Given that the range at this course uses mats, I hit off mats. However, I would certainly not be heading to the range simply to hit balls of mats, at least not these ones.
Golf Practice Mats=Health Warning!
There are a few reasons for this. The first one is simply health-related. Mats at many courses are extremely hard, barely more than a worn carpet covering the underlying concrete or whatever. If you are hitting down on the ball with an iron (and that is the general idea after all), this means you are essentially smashing an iron club into the ground at 80 or more miles an hour. I exaggerate (slightly!) of course. We aren’t hitting straight down into the ground but the clubhead does more than simply caress the surface. There is a reason why good players take big divots. They are hitting down into the ground with a ball first contact.
This has a couple of fairly dramatic potential consequences are far as your joint health goes. You might me young and in good physical condition without a lot of wear and tear, but see how that plays out when you do this regularly. If, like me, you already have aches and pains in wrists, elbows and shoulders, hitting irons off a firm mat is just suicidal.
How to Make your Swing Worse
The second real issue I have with mats is somewhat connected to the first. Once you start to feel the discomfort of shot after shot vibrating up your arm, it can be very difficult to hit down again and again on the ball. Even with the best intentions, that can be a tendency to pull up out of the shot, to maybe start to ‘pick’ the ball cleanly (as I sometimes do) or even to develop a thin shot through apprehension. In this case, the mat is not only causing physical issues, it is also making out golf swing worse rather than better! so much for practice makes perfect.
There is a third reason why I don’t like mats. I believe they don’t tell the average golfer enough about where they are going wrong. A mat can be extremely forgiving in terms of strike. You can have your low point well behind the ball and the mat will still let you slide into the back of it and get away a half-decent shot. You should feel that your contact was at least a little fat, but you would be forgiven for believing that you wren’t miles away from good as you watch the ball flight. Unfortunately, hitting the same shot on the course is going to lead to something far less convincing as you simply lay sod over the ball and watch it stagger 30 yards down the fairway.
This of course is the real issue. Unless you are playing off rock hard Summer fairways, hitting off an artificial turf station and hitting off real grass just isn’t the same.
What Can you Practice off a Mat?
So where does this leave us? Well, there are a couple of things that are perhaps more positive. Firstly, you can find some really nice mats. Generally, you won’t find these on any course you go to. A course that could afford this sort of stuff is far more likely to have a manicured all grass driving range anyway. If you are looking to set up a home practice area (and that is certainly a great project whatever your budget) you would want to think about investing in a really high quality mat, one that has thick artificial grass and some real ‘give’ in the hitting surface.
Secondly, even ranges and course with the most worn hitting bays generally have at least a couple of slots where you can hit off turf. Use them. Most people gravitate towards the mats so competition really isn’t that fierce. Finally, if you do find yourself in a situation where a hard mat is the only choice, you can still hit some shots. For example use the clubs that you will be hitting off the tee, like driver or a driving iron. Next, stick to the clubs that you hit with either a neutral angle of attack (not hitting down) or at least a more sweeping swing. For example, it can be good time to work on those fairway woods or, depending on exactly how you swing, your hybrids.
Finally, you could work on pitching with your wedges. This isn’t great with range balls generally because they don’t react or feel like normal balls but it does work to help get contact better or those shorter pitches for example. The one thing I really wouldn’t do is pull out that seven iron and start bashing balls.