I Signed Up for my First Tournament…Now What?

By Chris Derr, Creator, No Gimmes Podcast 

Congratulation! Tournament golf is different, you will learn more from this experience than you have all year on the golf course. Signing up for your first competitive event is a big step in making the jump from a recreational golfer to a full-blown amateur player. Whether it is your local city am, a USGA qualifier, or your club championship, here’s some things that might help you play your best golf

The Night Before:

Get your equipment in order.

Clean your clubs, get your towel ready, have a glove and ball maker ready to go. Have a lot of golf balls in your bag. Most tournaments put a 1 Ball Rule in effect. That means that if you tee off with a Pro V1 on the first hole, you must play a Pro V1 the rest of the round. So make sure you have sufficient golf balls to get you through even your worst round. 

I always like to keep 9 golf balls in my bag just in case. 

Mark your golf ball!

Don’t be that person who doesn’t know what golf ball they are playing. Your mark can be a simple colored dot next to the number, or something more elaborate like your best Picasso imitation doodle on the blank side of the ball. It doesn’t matter what you do, just do something. 

Plan your outfit.

It’s smart! Jim Harbaugh, Mark Zuckerberg, and Jocko Willick are just a few examples of people who include planning their outfit out as a part of their success. If you don’t buy what those guys are selling, there’s tons of articles to back this theory up. 

Other than just checking one thing off the morning to do list early, it’s fun to know what you’re going to wear and how steezy you’re going to look on the course the next day. Look Good, Feel Good, Play Good!

The Day Of:

Be early.

How does the old saying go? If you’re on time, you’re 10 minutes late? In golf those numbers are multiplied quite a bit. There’s nothing worse than the feeling of rushing on a day when you want to be as comfortable as possible. A safe rule of thumb is to arrive at the golf course at least an hour before your tee time, depending on how long your warm up routine is. 

Remember: once you get to the course it’s not as simple as hitting balls and teeing off. You still have to check in, get your scorecard, grab a pin sheet or any other additional information the course is providing, and be at the first tee 10 minutes before your start time. All those things add up; play it safe and give yourself plenty of time for everything. 



Nutrition is the number one reason people falter late in golf rounds. It’s hard to remember to eat when you’re in the middle of a tournament, but feeding your body and staying energized go a long way in keeping your game in tip-top shape throughout the day. 

Bring snacks, trail mix, energy bars, bananas, hard boiled eggs, whatever your go-to food on the course is.

Let go of expectations & have fun.

Tournament golf is a different beast. You’re going to feel nervous and anxious. Your swing will feel different, you will make mistakes that you don’t normally make, things will unfold differently than they do with your regular group. Embrace that! Have fun! Enjoy the experience and let it all unfold as it comes. 

If you take a positive attitude to everything that happens, the day will be much more fun overall, and the number at the end of the day will feel appropriate for how you played.

After the Round:

Go over your scorecard.

This may seem self explanatory, but I’ve seen countless players get DQ’d because they didn’t review their scorecard and signed for an incorrect total score. 

Sit down with the person who kept your score, and run through each score hole by hole. It may seem tedious, or it may feel painful reliving each double of the day, but you’ll feel better when the last conversation you have with the officials ends in a “thank you” as opposed to “I think we have a problem here.”

Take time to review your round.

Go to the bar and order your favorite drink (tequila, soda, and lime does it for me). Go over your round. Remember the highlights; analyze the low lights. Whether you’re ecstatic at how you played, or want to crawl under Patrick Star’s rock home in Bikini Bottom, taking time to decompress after the round will help you organize your thoughts and understand what you need to work on in your practice sessions. Giving yourself time to go over each hole, whether it’s reliving that awesome eagle on the par 5, or making the smooth 7 on the shorty par 3, gives you easy to remember feedback on what went right and wrong, while it is still fresh in your mind. 

Journaling, or writing it down, helps keep me positive about the experience, and also gives me tangible feedback on what I need to practice going forward to continue improving my tournament play. Personally, here’s what I specifically track: 3 things I did well that day, 3 things I did poorly, and what my pre shot routine was. One of the most underrated and overlooked things in golf is the importance of a pre shot routine. Writing down what you did throughout the day in the moments leading up to each shot will help you develop your perfect routine. 

Hopefully, this information was useful for a first timer playing a tournament! Please share your stories from your first tournament round; I would love to hear how you played, and your personal routines and rituals that you found helpful on the day of the event. Hit ‘em straight!