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Should You Question the Traditional Path to Becoming a Golfer?

Should you question the traditional path to becoming a golfer?
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Ryan Dailey, PGA
Operation 36 Golf Co-Founder

The Traditional Learning Cycle

For years as a Golf Coach, one of the major problems I would see in my players early on is that beginner golfers don’t know what to do to improve. They are eager, excited and ready to get started. 

Then they hit a huge roadblock

As they look for information on what and how to learn the game, they are met with some major hurdles. The golf industry as a whole has trained beginners to think that to learn the game, players need to hit endless buckets of range balls working on their swing until they can hit it well enough to then play on the course.

After hitting buckets after buckets, a beginner player then ventures on the course to play. They play from the tee box (as that is what they are told to do) and experience shots that they never practiced on the driving range. 

More often than not, they get frustrated as they shoot scores that are higher than they anticipated, based on the amount of practice they were putting in. This cycle continues of practicing quite a bit, not playing as much and often no improvement on the course. Players get frustrated, angry and some end up quitting. 

Traditionally, beginner golfers are told to hit balls on the range until they are good enough to play on the course. That’s just plain wrong. Beginners deserve a better way to learn to play golf.

Traditional golf learning cycles tells you to practice a lot to get better and then only play when you think you are ready. Operation 36 believes this is a flawed way to get better at golf.

What I discovered as a golf coach is that the traditional learning cycle for learning to play golf is in fact, completely backwards! It truly makes no sense. 

How does someone know what to practice on the driving range if they aren’t experiencing the game and playing regularly? This completely goes against the very definition of a Learning Cycle.

So what is a learning cycle? It is the cycle of phases people move through to learn from experience. A learning cycle will have a number of stages or phases, the last of which can be followed by the first. 

It’s just wrong (!) for beginner golfers to be subjected to this traditional style of learning the game that frustrates so many.

We at Operation 36 golf were part of the PROBLEM when we first started coaching in 2010. Our focus was on creating a fun learning environment and playing games at the practice facility. We did not take our players on the course and frankly, we were terrified to... 


We weren’t confident they had the skills to actually play the game of golf, and it would reveal how poor we were as instructors if we did take them on the course. And we knew if we took them on the course, they would get frustrated and want to quit the game. 

The Operation 36 Learning Cycle

Fast forward to today and we’ve changed our coaching philosophy! 

We want beginners to have a complete program. That is why we center the program around playing golf with the Operation 36 development model. When we started centering everything we did around getting on the course early and often, it changed everything. 

In a short period of time, our classes began to fill up, players were excited about learning the game and other coaches around the world wanted to start using the Operation 36 program at their facilities to help beginner golfers. Most likely, you can find a location near you that you can join.

“Operation 36 is just a way better-structured program. The progression through the yardages and being play-based, everything is focused around playing golf.”

William McGirt, PGA Tour Winner and Op36 Parent

I want to share with you the Operation 36 Learning Cycle that we use today. This is based on science and research on how you effectively learn. It starts with experiencing the activity--yes playing golf on the course.

Step 1 - Play 9-holes 

Using the Operation 36 on-course development model of starting close to the hole (Division 1 - 25 yards) with a goal of shooting 36 or better. This format is timely as it usually takes about 90 minutes to play 9-holes. 

It’s motivating as you are starting off at a distance where you can experience success in your very first round. You may even make a par or birdie! It’s measurable as you will write down a score at the end that you can try to beat next time. 

Step 2 - Practice 

Based on what you experienced on the course, you spend time practicing that area to improve. For example, most beginners find that putting is the most difficult skill when you are starting out. 

It may look very easy, however, developing the skill of hitting your putts at the right speed and getting it into the hole is very challenging. A player might dedicate time to practicing their putting skills to prepare for their next experience of playing on the course.

Operation 36 golf learning cycle. Play 9-holes to test your skills on the course. Then practice to improve the skills you need to. Repeat this process to improve faster.

Step 3 - Play 9-holes 

Head back out to the course to play another 9-holes and test your skills. 

Step 4 - Practice 

Based on what you experienced on the course, you spend time practicing that area to improve.

We share this learning cycle with our students. We mention that the more learning cycles you can complete, the more you will progress and improve. It’s quite simple, play-practice-play-practice, rinse and repeat.

Using the Operation 36 Learning Cycle, students around the world are measurably improving and falling in love with the game of golf. For students that have been training for years in the program, it is not uncommon for them to improve by 20, 30 and 40+ strokes. It’s simple and it works.

Take Action!

If you are new to golf, I highly recommend you find an Operation 36 program near you. The coaches at these facilities have programs that are centered around the Operation 36 Learning Cycle. You will also meet new friends that are in a similar situation to you. They can help encourage and support you as you learn this wonderful game. 

Find a Program Near You

If you are not near a location, make a pact that you are going to go against the traditional way of learning golf. Instead of practicing, practicing, practicing and then playing, switch it up. Use the Operation 36 Learning Cycle that starts with Playing First. Experience playing the game first so you know what to practice second.

What does Success Look like?

Fast forward 6-months from today - You know precisely what area of your game you need to work on to improve. You have trained using the Operation 36 Learning Cycle for 6 months now and have improved by 10 strokes. It’s been a fun and challenging journey as you have met new friends that you now play with on a regular basis. Playing golf is now part of your normal routine and you use it as a tool to help you identify precisely what you need to work on in your practice. Your training schedule has been easy to manage as you play 9-holes a week and practice once a week. 

You have a new goal of improving by 10 more strokes over the next 6 months. You are confident that by continuing to use the Operation 36 Learning Cycle you will reach your goals. 

What does failure look like?

Fast forward 6-months from today - The last time you went on the course it was 3 hours of complete frustration. Golf balls were flying in all directions, you were making high scores and you even contemplated throwing your golf clubs in the lake on the last hole, #9. Now you stand on the 1st tee again and wonder if this round will be just as frustrating. 

It has been 4 months since you last played on the course, but you have dedicated hours upon hours to hitting balls on the range. As your last putt drops on #9 you add up your score and it is the exact same score that it was 4 months ago. You ask yourself, “What am I doing?” 

Finally, taking up the game of golf can be a bit overwhelming at first. However, with an effective program, you can jump right in and get started. We have spent the last 10 years trying to develop a program for beginner golfers that would be easy to understand, simple to learn and help players see progress early on in the journey. I’m confident that if you use the Operation 36 Learning Cycle that you are much more likely to fall in love with the game of golf for a lifetime than if you used the traditional way of learning the game.

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