By Karl Larcom

If you are reading this, then you probably fall in the category of golf nut. Sun, rain, hot, cold or windy, you are up for a game of golf. In fact, some of your vacation time revolves around playing at golf destinations. But when you get done with that vacation, there is frustration because your scores weren’t anything like what you normally shoot back home at your home club.

The fact is, the typical golfer generally scores better at their home course. What are the factors as to why? And how can I learn from this and play better at a course I have never played or do not play as often? There are certain things that will make it easier that can’t be changed. For example, playing the same course over and over, you will learn the nuances of the greens and be able to read the putts better. There are many things a player does subconsciously during a round on a familiar course that help you score better. Let’s try and draw some of those out.

Every shot has a plan and maybe you don’t realize you are doing it: “OK, hit my tee shot down the right side of the fairway so my next shot is a much better approach into the green.” “Next shot I always use one less club because it is downhill.” These are plans you have created to play a hole the best way that fits your game. This may have come from trial and error or from some analysis.

What plans work the best? This is an easy question to answer. The plans that do not involve the word “don’t”: “Don’t slice it into the houses.” “Don’t hit it in the bunker.” “Don’t hook this into the water.” The more you play a course, the less you use that word in your mind. Instead of saying, “don’t hit it left,” the brain becomes comfortable and focuses on the real task at hand. A major difference between a 10 and 25 handicapper is how they manage the word “don’t.” It applies in driving, iron shots, chipping and putting.

The next factor playing the same course over and over will create is a comfort level with certain shots. It could be something as simple as being really good from 150 yards because you execute that shot a lot in 18 holes. Or, it could be all of the greens are elevated so you have become very good at pitching the ball but do not have any experience with a course without elevated greens where you are better off hitting a bump-and-run shot. Your course has firm sand bunkers and the greens are typically slow. “I have practiced and practiced on this and it feels comfortable.”

So how do you play better golf on the road and eliminate the frustration? Develop a plan that focuses on your strengths you have learned from your home course. The first thing you do is look at the scorecard and try and match a yardage that is close to what you play at home. Don’t fall into the trap that you are on vacation, so why not play from the tips. You are on vacation — have some fun!

The next step is the most important. If you are playing at a similar distance, then try and create similar shots. Standing on the first tee and having immediate shock because there is a bunker the size of Rhode Island running down the entire fairway is setting yourself up for failure. Focusing on bad only creates bad in the game of golf. Remember your plan on the first tee at your home course. Get yourself in the same comfort zone. If you are standing over the ball and saying, “Don’t hit it in the bunker,” step back, take a deep breath and look at where you do want to hit it until your brain trusts you. World-class golf course designers that create the courses on your bucket list are very good at putting the word “don’t” in your head. More bunkers, more lakes — more of everything. DON’T let them win the battle.

Now comes the course management. At your home course, if your ball ends up in trouble, it is likely this has happened in this spot more than once and a plan has developed how to minimize the damage and come out with the best possible score. The same thing needs to happen here at the destination course but you do not have the luxury of trial and error. So, the golf ball ends up in a trouble spot after your tee shot. A golfer’s instinct is always to look at the green or more specifically the flagstick and select a club based on the yardage and hope for the best. This is NOT the plan. Try to look for a place that you can advance your ball to that gets you back in your comfort zone. This gives you the opportunity to minimize the damage, make a bogey (or possibly be rewarded for playing smart and make a par). The key words here are “minimize the damage.” Your plan at your home course includes this, whether you realize it or not. In today’s modern era of golf, having a GPS or a range finder makes sense especially when you go on the road. It is very easy to shoot a distance with a range finder to get you back or keep you in your comfort zone — especially on a par-5 or long par-4 to set up a third shot from a comfortable distance. Take the time and do the math. “I’m 275 yards away and my favorite distance into the green is 100 yards. I need to hit this next shot with my 175-yard club to get me close to 100 yards out, not my 3-wood and just pray for a good result.”

In summary, create a plan, eliminate the word “don’t,” be positive instead and minimize the damage. We all have bad days on the course and sometimes no matter what you try, it just doesn’t seem to work. Hopefully, these tips will help reduce those days and make for more enjoyable vacations. As with any sport, practice, practice, practice, and things will get better. Start practicing these tips and watch your scores drop and the fun meter rise.

Karl Larcom has been a Class A member of the PGA of America since 1999 and is the director of golf at Coyote Springs Golf Club in Southern Nevada.

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