Teaching First Time Golfers

Tell a friend you’re taking your girlfriend golfing for her first time, and you will inevitably hear: “Dude, are you crazy!?”
How cool would it be, though, to enjoy time with both your girlfriend and your favorite hobby – provided she enjoys it? 
I am not a golf pro, but I have had a considerable amount of success with this scenario throughout the years with friends and women alike, including my little sister, several really good friends, and, yesterday, my girlfriend.
There are a number of common misconceptions for beginners when it comes to their first time. They picture a PGA tournament setting, where everyone is ridiculously good and their worst nightmare is finding themselves with players in their group and/or behind them getting impatient while they try to figure the game out. The truth is, most people on the course are going to be fairly marginal golfers.
The first and most important thing is to actually get them out on a golf course. No amount of range time will prepare them for the real thing, and range time will prove much more valuable once they know what to expect.
There are several key factors that should be considered when hosting someone’s first golf experience:
  1. Be patient – this round is not about your score. Control the environment as much as possible to keep it from feeling rushed.
  2. Minimize performance expectations, and don’t keep their score. If they get a par or bogey, though, celebrate it!
  3. Play somewhere that either has a minimal number of hazards, or else does not have much traffic. A combination of the two would be ideal.
  4. Simplify the number of swing lessons to those that are essential.
Everyone says to plan on playing nine holes, as more than that can frustrate a new player. Make sure they know they can always sit out a hole or two, and can move the ball into the fairway at any time to set themself up for success. Forget the bad shots quickly, and focus on the good ones and what made them happen. Don’t let them try sand shots – if it can still frustrate you, it will frustrate them more.
The lessons I have found to be most helpful for new players include:
  1. Club selection: Have them try a lot of different clubs to start out, but key in on a couple they feel comfortable with and can get airborne. Five-woods and seven-irons seem to be a good start.
  2. Alignment: Narrow the distance between their feet to cut down on hip movement. Help them properly align their feet toward the target. Have them play the ball from the middle of their stance.
  3. Pre-swing: Don’t swing until they feel the club head shave the grass during practice swings.
  4. The swing: Watch the ball! Accentuate the importance of watching the grass fly after contact, and make sure you watch their ball and help them find it.
Probably the greatest thing you have going for you with a new player is that they are a blank slate. They should have few to no bad habits to start with, so make sure they get started with the right ones.
One thing I found very helpful yesterday was video. I kept telling my girlfriend to cut down on her backswing, and I think she thought that she was. Not until I recorded what she thought was a “short” backswing [that actually bent around her neck] was she able to see what I meant. A shorter backswing for a new player will always result in better accuracy and contact.
I am very interested in hearing from other people who have undergone this teaching process, and especially from golf pros to hear how my teaching essentials compare to the ones they use on a daily basis.
What teaching basics have you found to be most helpful?
Have you had any successes or failures to share, and how has teaching your significant other how to golf impacted you and your relationship?

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