No. 1: Drivers A challenging hole to start. No matter where you should hit it, the design draws your eye to the hole's biggest, shiniest and most expensive features. You may find yourself attracted to elements of the hole you saw in the bags of your playing partners the week before. There's a great temptation to let it all out on this one. And watch that area over there; it's legal everywhere but the United States.
No. 2: Fairway woods Hope you have something left after the mighty effort you had to expend on No. 1. You'll want one or two of the options here at this intriguing dogleg. (Note: I asked my dog to come into my study as I wrote this, and I examined his leg. Just what the hell are the architects talking about, anyway?)
If you play this hole well, and perhaps buy an extra wood, you may save some effort on the next hole.
No. 3: Irons The longest hole on the course. This one takes a mighty budgetary whack, as much as $80 to $100 per stick for the premium route. (But see note at No. 2 and consider dumping the 2- and 3-irons.)
Fortunately, options abound on this bear of a hole. Between forged, cast, offset, custom-fitted and value lines, there's a fair amount of room off the tee. As with drivers, weigh the bag appeal element carefully - and don't let it override what's best for your game.
No. 4: Putters Things ease up a little here. Putters are relatively inexpensive, even at the high end, so a muffed shot can be made up here without too much trouble. There are plenty of choices, from simple Bullseyes and Ansers to the rarefied air of Newports and Bettinardis. Want to get an edge on your competition? Go to a pro and ask for a putting lesson, and make sure he fits you for a good putter as well. As you end your request, make sure you stand behind him to catch him when he passes out.
No. 5: Bags This is a manageable par-4 with lots of pretty surroundings to look at. Do you play on a cart a lot? Might want to go for a medium-sized, traditional bag with plenty of room, so the clubs come out easily even if you have a rain suit and a sweater stuffed in the long pocket. If you live up north and like to walk, though (and God bless you for that, by the bye), consider a lightweight walking bag with a two-shoulder strap. Great for your back. Good for travel, too.
Suggestion: Unless you like the memory of getting the crap kicked out of you in junior high gym class, do not get one of those enormous tour bags with your name sewn into it.
No. 6: Shoes Again, this hole shouldn't be too much of a challenge, unless you have one of those weird foot shapes, as I do. If so, get ready for a long trying-on session.
Waterproofing of some kind is de rigeur these days, because even desert courses get dew on them occasionally. And early-season players from the American southeast to Canada never regret the extra money spent on quality waterproof shoes when they're 14 holes into a soppy round. Yes, there are butter-soft leather models out there for bone-dry days. If you can afford these as extras, more power to you. But remember, you get what you pay for.
No. 7: Balls Gird thy loins, intrepid golfer. This is where things get really tough. You must wade through a veritable kikuyu rough of SKUs, trying to figure which dimpled, white orb is best for your game. The look of this hole is deceptive; performance claims of all kinds distort your view from the tee.
On the approach, realize that you'll probably play this hole a number of times this summer, and it will take a couple of tours to get it down to a science. It's essentially trial and error, guided by your gut as to which performance claims seem the most sincere. Recall their track records when you play the hole next time.
Oh, and that alternate fairway over there? That's the wound balls. No one uses that one much anymore.
No. 8: The Cash Register Simply no way around this one. Less-than-careful play can really hurt you here, and there's rarely a way to make up loststrokes. The important thing is to come to this tee having done your research, and to not try to play outside yourself. Take par here and get out of Dodge.
No. 9: Tees A complete cream puff. Take a handful and go.