Golf Practice Round: Preparation Strategy to Play your Best

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It is very difficult to play a new course in a tournament. This is why it is important to plan ahead. golf practice round so you show up prepared!

Otherwise, if you don’t get a chance to play the golf course ahead of time, you’re not able to swing with Tiger Woods like confidence in the event. This is especially true for courses that have a lot of golf shots over water or desert, or tight fairways. 

While playing new golf courses is always fun, it’s better to do it ahead of the event instead of happening during the first round. However, there is an art to playing practice rounds so you gain confidence but don’t set unrealistic expectations for yourself.

I’ve played in hundreds of practice rounds over the years and want to share my best tips with you today. 

Practice rounds in golf 

First, what is a practice golf round?

Practice rounds are a great way to see the course before playing in tournament play (match play and stroke play). This is a great way to learn about the course layout, understand the greens, as well as prepare for an event. 

Professional golfers and elite college players almost always play 1-3 practice holes to get a feel for different clubs, learn how to hit the tee and understand the greens. All in the hopes of scoring higher.

These are the Key Takeaways

  • Hit a lot more bunker shots than short game shots.
  • Practice rounds are a great way to get a game plan in place for a competitive event. 
  • Don’t keep score in practice rounds (it can set unrealistic expectations of your game). 
  • Make sure to “practice” in these rounds and hit extra tee balls, approach shots, and putts.

Keep reading to strategize and game plan your competitive event like never before so you can hopefully go low! 

Why Practice Rounds are Important

Before getting into hitting shots, let’s cover the biggest benefits of a warm-up round. 

  • Learn the green speed.
  • You can test the commute time. 
  • For each hole, create a teebox strategy. 
  • Learn the terrain so you can decide if you want the rider to push the cart or walk the course.
  • To feel at ease on a new course, you can show up to the tournament with confidence. 
  • You can also check out the practice area (putting green, chipping, and driving range). 
  • Check out how the ball reacts to approaches, chip shots, and other play techniques on the greens. 

As Benjamin Franklin said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” You can plan ahead for practice rounds so you can be ready to play on game day with Tiger-like confidence. 


How to play practice rounds 

Since 2017 I’ve played in more than 200 tournament days of golf; from USGA qualifiers, state competitions, mini-tour events, and even Q-school in 2019. Here’s how to play a practice round like a pro so you set yourself up for success. 

Get to know the Facility 

It is important to feel comfortable when you arrive to play your best golf. There’s nothing worse than getting out of the car and feeling a little lost to start your tournament. Calculate your commute time to plan your departure time and avoid starting the event too quickly.  

Spend Extra Time on the Putting & Chipping Green

Practice round day, spend more time chipping/putting rather than at the range. While you should go through your normal warm up routine, don’t overdo it. 

Instead, learn the green speed to test out the chipping hole if they have one.

This will allow you to see how the ball reacts to the fairway, rough, or a practice bunker. If they don’t have a practice bunker, make sure to drop some balls in them during the round to learn the type of sand. 

Don’t Keep Score 

Dont keep score before you tee off. It can set unrealistic expectations for your tournament. Instead, try to hole out putts and make a few birdies if possible but don’t stress over 2–3 footers with a full pre shot routine all day. Instead of trying to set the course record, keep it casual and concentrate on learning about the course. 

Create a Tee Box Strategy

One of the main goals with a practice round is to create a tee box strategy. I recommend hitting the driver on every par 4 or 5, to see where your ball ends up. Since you’re not keeping score, it’s not a big deal if you lose a golf ball or two. 

It is a good idea to hit driver off 14/18 holes. You can always dial back to fairway woods, hybrids, or other clubs in competition. But if you hit these clubs off the tee in practice you won’t learn if your driver can cover fairway bunkers or end up in trouble. 

Practice aggressively to create a solid game plan.. Don’t be afraid to hit multiple tee shots with different clubs on hard holes as well – especially on risk/reward par 4s. 

Understanding the Green Complexes 

Next, you need to understand how the ball reacts when you approach it. Are they hitting or spinning back? Hit and check up immediately. You can also hit and release, even if the shot is not perfect. 

This will help with your approach shot strategy as you can learn if you need to play for more roll or spin. This should also be considered around the greens. Are there steep slopes or tiers you should avoid? Are your chips and pitches in good shape? 

Just like with drives, don’t play one shot around the greens. To understand green firmness better, make sure you hit extra chips. 

Learn the Green Speed 

When putting, be sure to take note of the green speed. This is especially important if you are playing on a golf course with grain. 

In tournament conditions, your round can be decided by how well you putt. It is important to practice your green speed and make sure you hit lots of putts. 

Note how putts break down, uphill vs. downhill, and any other details that you notice. Plus, if you’re playing the course the day before, you might be able to find dots where the pins will be the following day. If so, drop putts around the hole to see how they’ll break in competition. 

Looking for more tips on how to practice on the golf course? Click here to view our full guide for more information about practicing on the course.

Timing your practice round

It is also important to remember when you should play your practice rounds. For multiple day events I like to play mine 2–5 days in advance. This ensures that I am well rested and dont play 18 more holes during the tournament.

For single day events, it’s best to play the practice round the day before. This makes it easier to learn the current course and weather conditions so there aren’t any surprises.

For example, when I first started competing in US Open qualifying I didn’t realize how difficult they set the course up. I practiced my rounds five days before the event, and it was an entirely different experience.

In those five days they barely watered the greens and didn’t cut the rough to make it as hard as possible. I now only play practice rounds the day before and aim to be close to my tee time to match course conditions. 

Bonus Strategy: Use Google Earth 

Google Earth is a great tool to help you organize your preparation. This was something I learned from Scott Fawcett, a fellow player and creator of Decade Golf.

This gives you a birds eye view of the golf course in a way you can’t see on the ground level. This is something I wish I would’ve known about as a junior golfer when we didn’t always get a practice round.

Google Earth can be used to:

  • Find the best places to miss each hole
  • Blind shots should be inspected for hazards and out of bounds 
  • To determine which club to use, measure the fairways. 
  • To determine your approach shot strategies, identify the width and depth of greens 

Plus, this strategy also works great if you don’t have time to make it out for a warm-up round too. 

Is there no time for a practice round? 

You can see that there are many benefits to practicing your game. But since our lives don’t revolve around golf like a PGA pro player, we might not always get time for one. There are still things you can do to prepare for the big event if that happens.

First, if possible go to the course to check out the facility and spend 20–30 minutes putting. Buy a yardage book if possible too. 

This will help you become more familiar with the environment and teach you the green speed. Next, you can go home and use Google Earth to view the course from an aerial perspective. 

If they don’t have yardage books, you can always buy one online too (Putt View has great books). You can then easily verify the holes on Google Earth, and create a tee-box strategy for each hole. Some yardage books also provide information about the greens, so you can make better putts and hopefully make even more. 

Make sure you arrive at the course earlier than usual. This will allow you to spend more time warming up, especially on the putting and chipping areas. 


FAQs about Practice Rounds in Golf

Are you looking for more information on how to prepare for a tournament? Continue reading to find out more. 

How do pros play practice rounds? 

You can use many of the strategies that I have mentioned. While I’m not a pro, I’m a +2 handicap and have played with a lot of professional golfers in practice rounds for mini tour events. They use the exact same strategies to prepare for the tournament. 

Should you play a practice round if you’ve played the golf course before?

Yes, I think it’s a good idea if you have the time. Practice rounds can help you adjust to changing course conditions, especially before an event. If you don’t have time for a full 18 holes, see if you can sneak in nine or at least practice at the facility that week. 

How many practice rounds are pros allowed to play before each tournament? 

It depends on which tournament you are playing at and what course you are playing. Some pros have been playing on the same golf course for years, so they may not need to be there as often. It’s common for players to have 1-3 practice rounds for a normal tournament. 

Majors have more practice rounds than pros because the courses are extremely difficult. 

Should I go to a practice round on PGA Tour? 

Yes, practice rounds can be some of the most enjoyable days to watch professional golfers.

First, the tickets cost less than normal and there is a lot less people. This allows you to get closer to the action, and even talk with some of the players.

I love to watch them play on the driving range and in the short game area. Justin Thomas chipped and hit bunker shots for 30 minutes one day, and I felt that my short game immediately improved. You can learn so much from Justin Thomas that you can apply it to your own game. Plus, don’t forget you can learn a lot from watching golfers on TV too. 

Final Thoughts on Playing Practice rounds 

Practice rounds in golf can be a great way to prepare for a tournament. It’ll give you a better sense of the course and a one up on many players who didn’t schedule a round. But it doesn’t guarantee success so don’t set unrealistic expectations if you get a chance to play a practice round. 

Instead, you can use these rounds to study and take lots of notes on your phone or in a yardage notebook. Then before the event decide which clubs you’ll hit off the tee so you can save mental energy on each hole. You might have to adjust your approach based upon wind, temperature, or other factors. However, this can save you a lot time. 

Also, don’t forget to not keep score when practicing! Instead, practice more from tee-to-green to learn the course and not to try to score a great round.


Michael Leonard

Michael is a friend of the Left Rough and a contributor. He is a full time writer, freelance coach, and the creator of Inspire Your Success. He’s also an aspiring professional golfer who’s been playing for 20+ years and regularly competes on mini-tours & amateur events.

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