How to Play Target Golf

If there’s a stat that’s become more or less irrelevant on the PGA Tour, it’s driving accuracy.  Gone are the days when accuracy trumped distance. Thanks to technology, better instruction, fitness, nutrition and psychology, today’s game is all about hitting it as far you can.  It’s truly remarkable to watch the Tigers, DJs, Brooks, Rorys and Cameron Champs hit drives close to 400 yards that end up in the trees, but, lead to scores in the mid-60’s consistently.  Bomb and gouge. That’s the saying all the talking heads use to describe the modern game. It begs the question though, is this the right strategy for everyone?

I would argue NO.  For a number of reasons.  First of all, most golfers can’t hit it that far.  Even from the shorter yardages most people play, it isn’t realistic to hit drives on every hole where you have only a short wedge left into the green.  Add in the fact that the misses for most golfers are much more errant than the best in the world, and it reasons that amateurs should play more conservatively. 

What is Target Golf?

Target Golf

By definition, target golf is a style of golf course design that asks a player to hit shots from one spot to another.  Unlike links golf, which affords you different options to play a hole, target golf largely dictates that you hit the ball from point A to point B with few, if any, other choices. 

Where Do You Play Target Golf?

The vast majority of the golf courses in the United States are target golf designs.  Whether a course is parkland style with tree-lined fairways or, wide open with lots of hazards, most tracks fall under the target golf design category. 

What is the Best Course Management Strategy for Target Golf?

The strategic places to hit shots on target golf courses are clearly defined.  If you miss, you’re going to be in a bunker, hazard or some other place that’s going to be difficult to recover from. 

Target Golf

Aggressive Swings at Conservative Targets

If you’ve ever heard Tiger discuss his course strategy, he always talks about making aggressive swings at conservative targets.  Sure, he chooses times to play aggressively, but the risk has to be worth the reward. 

That’s a great strategy for the average player too.  While it’s always tempting to try and carry that fairway bunker off the tee, or fire at that pin just over the water, it’s not always the best strategy. 

Instead, aiming for the wide parts of the fairway and fat parts of the green is going to keep you out of trouble. 

By picking conservative targets, you give yourself lots of room to miss.  As we know, managing misses is what golf is all about. Conversely, when you take on a dangerous shot and don’t pull it off, the results are high scores. 

Yardage Books Are Your Friend

Let’s say you’re playing a golf course for the first time.  You have no idea what’s in store or where to hit it. If the course sells yardage books, it’s in your best interest to buy one.  Yardage books give you distances to bunkers and penalty areas, as well as detailed diagrams of green complexes.

Before you tee off, go through the yardage book and mark off areas that look like trouble.  Maybe it’s left of the fairway on hole four and over the green on hole 13. 

By doing a little bit of homework ahead of time, you arm yourself with a game plan for every hole.  No more guessing, wishing and hoping. Instead, you’ll be able to pick appropriate clubs and swing confidently at conservative targets.    

Play the Hole Backward

Target Golf

Most amateurs assume that they have to hit driver on par fours and fives.  Have you every thought of playing in reverse though?

It sounds counterintuitive but, it’s actually an effective course management strategy.  Let’s say you’re playing a tough par four. Instead of pulling out driver and hoping to get it in the fairway, look all the way up to the green and see where the pin is.  Maybe it’s tucked on the right side. If that’s the case, the best angle for your approach is from the left side of the fairway. As a result, take a club you’re confident with and aim down the left side to set up your second shot. 

When you learn to play the golf course backward, you’ll find yourself focusing more on specific targets and giving yourself more opportunities to score.

Shot Selection

If you’re going to play target golf courses well, you need to have an idea what your ball flight is.

Eliminating One Side of the Golf Course

Target Golf

There’s no more uncomfortable feeling than stepping up to a shot and not knowing where it’s headed.  That’s why it’s important to know your ball flight and play accordingly. 

As an example, let’s say your dominant shot is a fade.  When you’re playing well, you know that you can aim down the left side of the fairway and that your shot is either going to stay straight or, curve a little to the right.  Very rarely are you going to miss a shot so far left that you’re out of play. 

When you know where you’re least likely to miss a shot (either right or left), the golf course becomes effectively twice as wide.  If that doesn’t make the game easier to play, I don’t know what will.

Have a Go-To Shot

On every golf course, there are going to be shots that make you uncomfortable.  It might be a tight tee shot with out-of-bounds left and right. Or, an approach shot over water that gets in your head.

This is why it’s important to have a go-to shot.  One that you can rely to get your ball in play consistently.  It doesn’t have to be anything pretty, just effective.

The Low Burning Drive

Target Golf

For a lot of players, it’s a low tee shot they know they can get in play.

To hit this shot, try teeing your driver a little lower than normal. 

Choke up on the grip and play the ball more toward the center of your stance. 

Aim a little left make and your normal golf swing

With a little practice, you should be able to hit a shot that comes out lower than your normal drive and runs for days.

By getting the ball on the ground faster, you limit the amount of time the wind has to affect your shot and blow it off-line.


To play target golf effectively, you have to manage your misses.  Errant shots are going to get punished. There’s no two ways about it.  You’re going to hit bad shots, it’s golf after all. However, when you employ the right strategy and think about playing the percentages, your mistakes won’t be as costly and you’ll have more opportunities to score.

Paul Liberatore
Paul Liberatore

As the Founder of Golfers Authority Paul Liberatore Esq. has spent the last 7+ years writing about the best golf equipment or instruction from the top golf instructors in the world. He has been a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated Golf and GolfWRX. After graduating with honors from Purdue University, he realized that he had a passion for the golf business and the law. When he's not practicing law, or creating golf content on YouTube, he can be found on his syndicated Behind the Golf Brand podcast both on Apple and Spotify talking with the most prolific leaders in the golf industry. 

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