How to get better at Golf, Not just a golf skills test.

Iain Highfield
  • Author: Iain Highfield
  • GLT Director
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“I can do it on the range, but when I get to the course, it all goes wrong.”

This must be one of the most common phrases from golfers across the globe. There seems to be a trending belief that comes with the above statement. It usually resembles, “this cannot be possible, why does this always happen?” To answer that quite simply, you can’t expect to survive in the jungle if you’ve only lived in a cage. 

While a lot of golfers would class their training as a quick 10 balls on the range before the Saturday morning medal, the traditional par 18 or 10-ball driving range tests are still popular for those with more time.  However, here comes the fundamental problem that I see: are you getting better at playing golf, or are you simply just getting better at a skills test?

Playing golf is full of chaos, panic, emotion and stress.  Doing a 10-ball skills test in a nice heated range bay that’s covered is the total opposite.  In this common scenario, the chances of getting transfer of performance onto the golf course is extremely low, as the practice activity is not representing the actual demands of a golf course.  In fact, it’s about as far away from the realms of golf performance as you can get.

Let’s take the classic par 18 short game skills test.  This is a highly generic test, and simply playing 9 holes around the chipping green doesn’t cut it for me.  To better understand why, ask yourself these questions: 

• What use is hitting from 9 stations around the green? 

• What does aiming for a par 2 on every hole actually do?

• Is this really a pressure situation? 

• Am I targeting my precise needs with this test? 

• Does this feel and look like an on-course situation?

I’m guessing your answers to these questions are continuously resulting in no, and this is where specific and consequential skill tests are important.

SPECIFIC – the skills test must be unique to your requirements

CONSEQUENTIAL – there must be a consequence to every shot hit in the skills test (just as there is on the golf course)

Take this scenario:

Player A (Hcp 2) has been struggling to get up and down from around the green.  Player feedback and stats are showing that it’s more chipping than putting that’s letting the player down, i.e. not chipping it close enough is placing too much pressure on the putting.

The classic par 18 would be of little use to this player.  It’s not specific enough and has no consequences.  Now, let’s look at the same par 18 design below, but with a little added spice.

• The game involves chipping from 9 stations around the green, chosen by the player.  The station will be a place that challenges the player to get up and down, but not where an up and down would be rare. *

*The above relates to challenge point (to watch an awesome insightful video about this concept, only a couple of minutes in length click here:– it has to be enough to motivate the player, but not too difficult as to demotivate the player when the skills test becomes impossible to complete.  I prefer to ask the player to pick this point, but, of course, the coach can guide.  Immediately, the specific element of the test is in place.

• The player will start at station 1 and work around to station 9.

• To move to the next station, an up and down must be gained, plus the chip must be hit to within 4 feet of the hole (another SPECIFIC element, targeting the chipping weakness.)

• If the chip is not hit to within 4 feet, or the putt is missed, meaning no up and down, the player must then move backwards to the previous station (consequence element.)

• The game must be completed within 15 minutes.  If not, player and coach will note what station the player got to and use this as a future target.

• This test can be tailored to any ability by simply altering the difficulty (ex. allow more putts, alter the time, or make the chips easier.)


In the skills test shown above, there was a consequence to every shot. Also, the demands were specific to the player’s weaknesses, while also representing the on-course stresses of shot variety, pressure and emotion.  Unfortunately, these areas are often missed in skills test design, resulting in the test becoming something of a sideshow.  Don’t let this happen. Instead, get creative and chaotic with your practice. Your scores will appreciate it.

This article was written by Thomas R Devine, Edited by GLT & Published by Game Like Training Golf

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