Why Is Golf So Hard? 9 Reasons and How to Account for Them

A left-handed golfer teeing off.

One thing all golfers can agree on is that golf is really hard. Even the best players in the world will admit playing golf is no walk in the park. Introduce someone new to the game and they will surely certify that golf one of the hardest sport to play.

So, why is golf so hard?

Golf is hard because it’s a sport that is equal parts mentally challenging, physically demanding and emotionally draining. Golf requires consistent practice to improve one’s skills and that alone isn’t enough to play well on a consistent basis.

Golf is hard because there are so many golf clubs one must learn to master. There is also more than one way to swing a golf club to hit different types of shots like pitches, punches, chips, draws, fades, hooks and cuts.

Golf courses also make the game hard to play. No two courses are alike so you cannot simply show up to a new golf course and expect it to be exactly like the last course you played.

And when you add changing weather conditions, undulating playing surfaces, different lengths of grass and the presence of hazards and obstacles, developing a strategy to manage all of these variables makes golf one of the hardest sports to play.

Mentally Challenging

Practicing on the driving range or playing a round of golf can be a mental grind. Many aspects of the game can tire a golfer’s mind making it difficult to stay focused or process information quickly and thoroughly which can lead to bad decision making and errant shots.

Here are a few reasons why golf is so mentally challenging:

  • Four hours is a long time to do anything. A typical 18-hole round of golf can last between four and five hours and at that length of time, it can be hard for any golfer, professional or beginner alike, to stay focused and maintain peak performance.
  • There’s a lot of time spent in between shots. A golfer needs roughly 30 seconds of full focus for each shot, so over the course of a full round of golf they can expect to spend about 50 total minutes actually ‘playing’ golf (the average golfer takes between 90-100 swings). This leaves the golfer with over 4 hours of not swinging a club in a 5-hour round where they must manage to overcome both external influences (annoying playing partners, waiting on slow golfers, inclement weather, etc.) and internal distractions (frustration from playing badly, worrying about work emails, figuring out what is wrong with the swing today, etc.).
  • Developing a course management strategy takes experience. Playing a golf course for the first time is not easy. Unless you are a very good amateur or professional golfer, it is rare to show up to a course for the first time and expect to play well. A course management strategy requires understanding target lines (where to aim the ball), knowing the location of hazards or breaks on the green, and getting a sense for which holes are easier and allow for scoring opportunities (i.e. birdies) and which ones require significant caution to avoid large numbers (double bogeys or worse).
  • A golfer can seemingly do everything right with their swing and still hit a terrible golf shot. Pretty much every time a golfer takes a swing, they expect the ball to go exactly where they intend it to go and when that doesn’t happen, learning to overcome the frustration that arises when expectations don’t equal reality can make the game hard.
  • Using your brain is tiring. Remember how you felt after taking a really hard test in school? Playing a round of golf can have the same tiring effects on your brain as trying to ace a chemistry mid-term or accounting final. Processing information, determining strategy, controlling emotions and making decisions over a four to five hour time span  can really tire the brain and make the game of golf harder the longer the round goes on.
  • Calculating the physics of the game can be confusing. Understanding how the golf swing and the golf club affect where the golf ball travels is no easy task, especially when you add awkward lies into the mix. Bad shots can arise from many different swing flaws and trying to identify, manage and overcome them can be mentally exhausting. Additionally, figuring out how to hit a ball well from an awkward lie (ball sitting in thick rough or on a sidehill lie or in a deep bunker) must be learned and that takes time, practice and patience.

Physically Demanding

Golf requires coordinated physical exertion from everyone that participates, which comes easier for some and not for others.

To get an idea of the physical demands the sport requires, just take a look at the physiques of the world’s best men’s and women’s golfers and you’ll see just how much time and effort is put into staying in peak physical shape.

Here are just a few reasons why it’s recommended that golfers of all abilities participate in exercise routines to make the game a little bit easier:

  • A round of golf is not a sprint. Playing a round of golf is equivalent to running a marathon in that it’s an arduous test of endurance over a four to five-hour span of time. Ideally golfers want to play their best throughout their round and that requires conserving energy in order to reach the finish line on the 18th green.
  • Developing and improving hand-eye coordination is not easy. Hand-eye coordination is an athletic skill some people are just born with and for those who don’t innately have it, it must be developed with hard work, time and dedication.
  • Golfers can burn up to 1,500-2,000 calories. Whether walking while carrying a 35lb bag or riding in a cart for all 18 holes, a golfer can burn a lot of calories through the round. If not replenished through healthy snacks and hydration, a golfer’s muscles will lack the strength to maintain peak performance throughout the round.
  • The golf swing requires a lot of coordination. The golf swing is a full bodied movement that requires one to twist and rotate their body to build up the torque needed to hit the ball any measure of distance, all while staying balanced throughout the swing. This coordinated effort is a blend of many different moving parts that must work together in unison to produce the desired golf shot.

Emotionally Draining

A golf ball sitting on the green with the hole's flag in the background.

Playing a round of golf is like riding an emotional rollercoaster, one minute your heart is throbbing in your chest as you nervously sweat over a difficult breaking putt to save par and the next minute you’re excitedly jumping for joy because the putt you just made was for your lowest score ever.

Here are a couple of reasons why the emotional stress of playing golf makes it so difficult.

  • Maintaining composure isn’t easy. Golf cartoons often accurately depict golfers as ill-tempered, red-faced people that throw clubs and curse loudly. Losing one’s temper never makes accomplishing any task any easier, especially when playing golf. Anger leads to tense muscles and tension in the golf swing is a contributing factor to a majority of common swing faults.
  • Too much excitement isn’t always a good thing. One common emotional stressor in golf is hitting the shot after a really great one, whether it be a long, straight drive down the center of the fairway or an approach shot that ends up five feet from the hole. Many times golfers are so excited to have done something so well that they forget they still have to hit the next shot and wind up duffing the approach shot or missing the putt, leading to cartoonic image described above.
  • It’s hard to manage our inner demons. Golf is an intimidating sport where fear and anxiety are common emotions felt by new and experienced golfers alike. Overcoming one or both is really difficult and takes measured time and personal awareness to discover the root causes of each and develop patterns and processes to mitigate them.

There Are Many Elements to the Golf Swing

Falling under the physically demanding category, properly executing the many different elements of the golf swing makes golf hard. Here are the six major components of the golf swing and each one of them requires precise execution to achieve the desired result.

  • Pre-shot routine. The part of the golf swing most overlooked by amateur golfers is the pre-shot routine, or the process every golfer goes through prior to actually making a swing. Just like a baker baking a cake, there are certain steps and ingredients needed to ensure the same, desired result is achieved each time. This same concept applies to the golf swing as the golfer must review the lie of the golf ball, determine the weather elements that will affect the ball once in flight, select the club to hit, pick out a target to aim for, analyze hazards and obstacles to avoid, visualize the ball on it’s optimal trajectory, positively encourage their abilities, take a good practice swing and purposefully commit to every decision made in the process.
  • Address. Taking one’s stance and addressing the ball is one of the easiest things to get right every time but it requires steadfast commitment to doing it the same each time with each type of golf club. One wrong move here and the golfer will never have the ability to recover and make a good swing.
  • Takeaway. This is the start of the golf swing as the club is pulled back away from the golf ball until the club is at the top of the backswing. Just as in the address, one wrong move here and a golf swing can go from good to bad to awful in a split second. The vast majority of swing flaws occur during the address and takeaway portions of the swing. Overcoming these issues will often lead to golf becoming easier to play.
  • Downswing. This is the portion of the swing encompassing the top of the backswing down to impact. Besides impact, the downswing is the shortest portion of the swing, with relation to time. Flaws that occur during the address or takeaway are often exploited during this portion of the swing ruining the most important part of the swing, impact.
  • Impact. Impact with the golf ball, also called the moment of truth, is where the magic happens. This is when the golf club is supposed to strike the ball perfectly in the middle of the clubface while taking a perfect dollar bill sized divot. However, it is also the hardest part of the swing to get right. Everything leading up to impact has to be near perfect to execute the shot as intended. One slip up and look out chilly dip!
  • Follow through. If the pre-shot routine is the most overlooked portion of the golf swing, the follow through is most undervalued. The follow through is vital to success in the golf swing and getting into the ideal finish position can be rather difficult if there are any flaws leading up to the final portion of the golf swing.

Many Types of Clubs to Master

A golfer is allowed to carry a maximum of 14 clubs in their golf bag. They can construct any combination of clubs they want as long as each club conforms to the Rules of Golf.

Golfers must have a working knowledge of how to hit each club in their bag and be able to shape shots depending on what is needed in each situation encountered on the golf course.

Most beginner golfers are purely focused on just trying to make one swing that can be used universally for all of their clubs. As golfers gain skill and experience, they begin to understand how to manipulate the clubs and their swings to perform different types of shots.

The good news is golf is a sport that can be played for a lifetime so golfers technically have all the time in their lives to figure out how to master each of their golf clubs.

Consistency Isn’t Easily Attained

Playing the game of golf consists of two elements, playing the actual game on the course and practicing the game on the driving range. The latter is crucial to developing successful habits and the mindset needed to perform well during the former.

Developing consistent, good habits on the driving range is a must for any golfer looking to make the game easier. Really good golfers are able to consistently swing the same or similar version of their swing each time.

A major hurdle all new golfers must overcome is getting to the point where their swing is reliably the same each time.

Golf Courses Are Designed to be Challenging

View of a golf course next to a forest.

Golf courses are inherently designed to challenge all golfers so they must develop a strategy that takes advantage of their skills in order to overcome the golf course’s design challenges.

Here are just a few design principles that contribute to golf’s difficulty:

  • No two courses are the same. Just like the human fingerprint, no two golf courses are the same. Some courses have wide fairways and big greens with lots of water hazards while others feature tight, tree-lined fairways with small postage stamp greens. Golf is unlike other sports played on size-regulated playing surfaces like football, baseball and basketball and the variation from one golf course design to the next makes playing the game much harder.
  • Even the same course can play differently one hour or one day to the next. Tee markers on the tee boxes and hole locations on the putting greens are moved each day, changing the way the hole is played by making it longer or shorter and altering angles off the tees and into the putting greens.
  • Doglegs can be a thorn in a golfer’s side.  A dogleg is a term for a golf hole that bends left or right. The difficulty of a dogleg comes when the hole bends in the direction opposite of the golfer’s optimal ball flight. A golfer that tends to hit the ball to the right will struggle mightly on a hole that is a dogleg left.
  • Hazards and bunkers are put there for a reason. Lakes, rivers, fairway bunkers and greenside bunkers are all intentionally placed to penalize errant golf shots. They are often conveniently located in spots where a majority of golf balls land either off the tee or around the greens and that alone makes avoiding them very difficult.

Weather Conditions Add Variability

While there are many sports played outdoors, many would be hard-pressed to say they are influenced more by the weather than golf. Fluctuations in weather conditions can make the same golf course seem completely different.

You can be playing in sunny conditions with calm winds one minute then in cloudy, overcast conditions with gusting winds the next, and making adjustments to mitigate the changes isn’t easy.

One thing almost all golfers obsess over is the weather. They want to know what the temperature is, the possibility of rain, how much wind and which direction it’s blowing.

The reason is all of these factors directly affect how easy or difficult a round of golf will be and managing the variability of weather is really hard.

Golfers must make precise decisions with their golf course strategy and the execution of each swing because weather conditions can have a tremendous influence on the golf ball.

Golf is Intimidating

Golf is an intimidating sport and that alone makes it hard to play. Here are a couple scenarios where golf can be visually and mentally intimidating:

  • Forced carries off the tee. A forced carry is a term for a golf shot that must traverse a large swath of unplayable terrain. A golfer that struggles to hit a ball consistently 150 yards in the air with their driver will definitely be intimidated by a 120 yard forced carry over an ocean-side cliff.
  • Positioning of hazards. A hole can be perfectly flat and straight and still be intimidating if the fairway is lined with bunkers on one side and a giant lake with alligators on the other.
  • Playing in front of strangers. Being no good at golf and playing in front of others is not easy. In fact, some golfers will tell you they are more terrified of hitting a drive on the first hole in front of strangers than they are of jumping out of planes or giving a speech in front of a large audience.

Tips to Make Golf Easier

A younger golfer about to hit an iron with another golfer looking on.

Golf may be really difficult to play but there are many ways for golfers of all abilities to make the game seem a little easier to play. Here are several actions you can take to make golf easier for you:

  • Find a course you like to play and keep going. Your scores should steadily decline the more you familiarize yourself with a particular course. Playing the same course will help you develop a strategy that maximizes your strengths and limits your weaknesses. You learn how putts break around common hole locations on the greens and which holes you can be more aggressive on and which holes require more discretionary caution.
  • Record notes for reference. Taking practice notes and recording playing stats like fairways hit or putts hit can help you refine your practice to address areas of weakness. Journaling and writing down swing thoughts that put you into a good mental state, bringing awareness to your swing faults and researching ways to correct them and reflecting on how you played, what you did well and what you can improve will have a positive impact on your ability to fix mistakes during rounds faster.
  • Stay hydrated and eat snacks. As the body and mind tires, it needs fuel to build more energy. Water and healthy snacks like fruit, sandwiches, granola and nuts can help power you through your next practice session or round of golf. You should plan to eat a small snack about every 3-4 holes to maintain energy levels throughout the round.
  • Play from a forward set of tees. Playing a shorter golf course will almost always make the game a little bit easier. The closer you are to the hole the better your chances are of making a better score. So playing shorter par 3’s and decreasing your distance on approach shots will help build confidence in your game and present you with more opportunities to make pars and birdies.
  • Take lessons from a golf professional. If your game needs some improvement, getting advice and taking lessons from a professional will certainly make the game a bit easier.
  • Exercise to build strength. All sports require some aspect of physical strength so building up muscle, increasing flexibility and building lung capacity are all things that golfers can do to make the game easier. Activities like yoga, pilates, walking, running and high-intensity interval training are all good exercise outlets for golfers to explore.
  • Let go of your emotions and enjoy time spent in nature. Many golfers are just too hard on themselves and that internal pressure can make the game unnecessarily difficult. So take a deep breath, relax and enjoy the sounds of trees blowing in the wind, birds singing to each other and your friends giving each other a hard time. For as frustrating and difficult as golf is, we must all remember that it is just a game and it’s played in a setting like no other sport.
  • Learn to control your heartrate using controlled breathing. Stress in any situation can cause an elevated heartrate and the key to maintaining composure in these situations, especially on the golf course, is to take long, slow, deep breaths. This will help to clear your mind of negative thoughts, slow down your heartrate and put you in position to make your best swing.
  • Take your medicine and don’t go for the hero shot. Oftentimes as golfers we think we are going to hit the best shot ever by threading the needle through the thin gap of trees to get the ball on the green close to the hole, just like the professionals that do it regularly on the PGA TOUR. However, going for all the glory might actually make it much harder to play well, especially if you don’t execute the shot and ricochet off the trees. In this scenario, the best advice is to avoid trouble and find the easiest way out by hitting the ball sideways or backwards out of the trees and into the fairway away from trouble. More often than not this conservative play will save you strokes in the long run.

Is Golf the Hardest Sport to Play?

Ask 100 people what sport they think is the most difficult to play, you’d probably get a majority that say golf is the hardest sport to play. But what are some other sports that challenge golf’s title as hardest sport to play?

  • Soccer – A sport that doesn’t allow you to use your hands is naturally going to be difficult. Throw in all the running and soccer is definitely a contender for most difficult sport.
  • Football – Tackling someone that runs really fast or blocking a 300lb human is no easy task. Combine that with all the plays and formations and language and you’ve got yourself a difficult sport.
  • Gymnastics – Golf may be difficult but it certainly doesn’t ask its players to do somersaults, flips, rotations, pikes and splits.
  • Baseball – Hitting the fastball of a Major League Baseball starting pitcher might be the most difficult act to perform in sports.
  • Hockey – Similar to golf, hockey requires a tremendous amount of hand-eye coordination. Pair that with skating on ice and you’ve got yourself one very difficult sport.
  • Basketball – Dribbling a basketball and guarding someone that is really good or significantly bigger makes basketball a contender for most difficult sport.

Despite golf being one of the most difficult sports to play, we can all take solace in the fact that no matter our age, ability or experience, golf can be fun, healthy and interesting for everyone. Golf’s physical demands and mental challenges also provide a healthy outlet for exercise.

Time spent in nature is shown to decrease depression and the game helps its players gain skills in strategy development, mental toughness and decision making.

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Steven G.

My name is Steven and I love everything sports! I created this website to share my passion with all of you. Enjoy!

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