How To Enjoy Playing Bad Golf

Most of us play golf pretty badly most of the time but it needn’t stop us enjoying a round. Fergus Bisset gives his tips on how to enjoy bad golf.

How to enjoy playing bad golf
Isn't this fun?
(Image credit: Tom Miles)

One of the great things about the sport of golf is that all participants can enjoy it at their own level. The scratch player relishes trying to break par while the 28-handicapper can revel in trying to break 100. Given golf’s difficulty, achieving something in the sport, no matter what your standard, is highly satisfying.

The problem is that golf is really rather hard and most of us spend a large proportion of our time on the course, even on the practice ground, playing badly relatively to our potential. If you look at your scoring record, how many rounds are listed that you were properly pleased with? I’ve just looked at mine and I would say it was about one in every eight or nine. That means I have been / am playing below my potential roughly 85% of the times I go out. It says something about the compulsive and appealing nature of golf that we persevere.

The quest for that elusive strong performance is what keeps most of us coming back and those exceptional rounds where your golf meets hope and expectation deliver quite a hit of exhilaration. But what about the hours you have to spend toiling away to enjoy that rare feeling of golfing elation? To fully appreciate your golfing life, you have to be able to enjoy the game when you are playing badly. This is not something I’ve been terribly good at over the years. My dad, who I’ve played a good deal of golf with, would testify that my on-course disposition is often rather less than sunny. I’ve been thinking about that and wondering how many people are currently trudging the fairways of the UK feeling glum because they’re playing poorly. Something should be done about it.

Here below are 12 strategies I have devised for enjoying golf when you’re playing badly. I know what my old man will say when he reads this… “physician heal thyself” … I shall try father, I shall try:

Find the positives

how to enjoy playing bad golf

At last, something to celebrate

(Image credit: Tom Miles)

No matter how badly things are going, there will always be something to cling on to. You may have just sliced one into the bushes with a horrible over-the-top swing but how was your rhythm? You might have just three-putted from five-feet but didn’t you keep your head nice and still while you did it? Walk off the 18th green thinking about the few good shots you hit and the good holes you played rather than lamenting the many bad ones.

Set new targets

how to enjoy playing bad golf

OK, at least I made contact...

(Image credit: Tom Miles)

Don’t worry about playing to handicap, if it’s gone, it’s gone. Look to try and beat something else, break 80, 90 or 100. Even just look to the next three holes, try to make a birdie, try to make a par. Even set shot goals – try to hit a draw, try a punch or a flop-shot. As I said in the intro, small achievements in a game as difficult as golf can and should be relished.


Bad golf can be pretty funny. It might seem the end of the world to you but put yourself in the place of your playing partners. How much they want to chuckle as you top, shank, duff, sky and fat your way around the golf course. You can’t beat them today, so join them and just let it all out; have a good old laugh at just how poor your golf is. Enjoying the company of your playing partners is key to enjoying your game.

Don’t count

If your completed scorecard would look more like something returned at Lords than at St Andrews, then simply don’t bother adding it up. Just play for playing’s sake. Try to make the next shot a good one, nothing that has gone before, no matter how catastrophic, matters. The next one could be an absolute belter.

Play with a duffer

how to enjoy playing bad golf

(Image credit: Tom Miles)

If you’re enduring a really poor spell of golf and are feeling lower than a sparrow’s kneecap about your game, put your name down to play in the weekly Medal with the club duffer. Watching the chopathon as they struggle round to card a 118 will make you feel a good deal better about yourself. Bask in the praise you receive as you make your only par of the day, or when you get a shot airborne. If you are the club duffer, this tip won’t help you too much.


If you’re having a shocker and your score is down the pan, it’s the perfect opportunity to try out some of the wilder golfing theories you’ve dreamt up in delirium but have been too nervous to try… What have you got to lose at this stage? A Matsuyama-like pause in your swing, cross handed wedge shots, chipping on one leg… At least you can then eliminate those theories.

Rank the poor shots

how to enjoy playing bad golf

It's a three-pointer

(Image credit: Tom Miles)

Devise a scoring system for the bad shots in your arsenal and award yourself points for each one you pull off: One point for a slight thin right up to 10 points for a complete air-shot. “How did you get on today darling?” … “38 points.” …. “Good score, I hadn’t realised it was a Stableford.” … “It wasn’t, but I had three snap hooks, four duffs, a shank and a miss.”

Become delusional

Simply convince yourself that you are actually playing well. After taking seven to reach the green, stand over the putt and announce, “And it’s two putts here for a birdie and victory in the Matheson Salver.”

As your ball flies off at right angles, still rising as it crosses the out-of-bounds line, stare straight down the middle of the fairway and say, “Another booming drive from the champ.” Your playing partners will think you’re a touch odd mind you, and you need to try and return to normality after 18 holes to avoid entering the Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

Enjoy the exercise

Golf is good calorie-burning exercise. In fact, walking an 18-hole round of golf burns around 1,500 calories, roughly the same as the average 30-minute gym session. A pint of beer contains just over 200 calories so that means, a round of golf earns you seven and a half pints… sort of… and that takes us neatly on to…


Doug Sanders

This'll help

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Troubles on the golf course? Forget them all by getting on the sauce! Find a lift or take a taxi to the club, enjoy a few refreshments before your round and you’ll smile and laugh your way round to 19 Stableford points. You won’t even remember the bad shots. Post round boozing is also effective for removing poor performance from the memory banks.

Imagine where you could be…

how to enjoy playing bad golf

Could be worse...

(Image credit: Tom Miles)

If you’re having a nightmare on the course think of the places you could be that would be worse: Trapped in a mine, having dinner with Katie Hopkins, on Love Island… That sort of thing. The majority of us would agree with the sentiment that a bad day on the golf course is better than a good day in the office.

… And appreciate the setting

best looking course in england

Hankley Common

(Image credit: Jason Livy)

Most golf courses are really rather beautiful and often in lovely surroundings. A perfectly smooth green, a well-maintained bunker, a snaking striped fairway – all are aesthetically pleasing, and a great deal of effort and energy has gone into their presentation. Take some time to soak it all in. As the great Walter Hagen once said: “You’re only here for a short visit. Don’t hurry, don’t worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way.”

Fergus Bisset
Contributing Editor

Fergus is Golf Monthly's resident expert on the history of the game and has written extensively on that subject. He is a golf obsessive and 1-handicapper. Growing up in the North East of Scotland, golf runs through his veins and his passion for the sport was bolstered during his time at St Andrews university studying history. He went on to earn a post graduate diploma from the London School of Journalism. Fergus has worked for Golf Monthly since 2004 and has written two books on the game; "Great Golf Debates" together with Jezz Ellwood of Golf Monthly and the history section of "The Ultimate Golf Book" together with Neil Tappin , also of Golf Monthly. 

Fergus once shanked a ball from just over Granny Clark's Wynd on the 18th of the Old Course that struck the St Andrews Golf Club and rebounded into the Valley of Sin, from where he saved par. Who says there's no golfing god?