How many fairways should you be hitting per round in order to play golf at your target level?
This seems like a strange question, surely the simple answer is “As many as possible”? But it’s not so simple – there is a trade-off between distance and accuracy, playing great golf means working on all aspects of your game, and a better understanding of how driving affects your scores can help you to target your practice and skill development more effectively, as well as improving your strategy and course management.
In Figure 1, we recorded the average number of fairways hit per round for a selection of over 400 students over a 5 year period, and charted that number against their playing handicap when each round was played.
Figure 1. Fairways Hit per Round against Handicap.
So, an average 15 handicap golfer will hit about 39% of fairways, that’s an average of about 5½. If she wants to get her handicap down to single figures, the statistics suggest that she needs to improve that number to 7 or more fairways found every round.
Now, there’s a lot more to scoring than finding fairways, of course, but it can be a useful indicator.
If your goal is to play to a single-figure handicap, and you’re averaging 8 fairways per round (57%), then this chart suggests that your accuracy off the tee is already good enough to meet your goals. Your main focus should be on improving other aspects of your game, such as putting or chipping.
Likewise, if you want to be a scratch golfer but you’re only finding an average of 7 fairways per round (50%), then you need to work hard on keeping it on the short stuff if you are to improve.
Use this chart as a general guide. If you’re hitting less fairways than the chart indicates you should be doing, then this is probably costing you shots and needs work. If you’re hitting more fairways than the chart suggests you should, then you’re probably losing shots somewhere else.
How About Distance?
It’s true to say that driving the ball further will hurt your accuracy. At 300 yards out, the fairway is effectively much narrower than at 200, and you need to be much more accurate to find it. Likewise, if you’re just poking the ball 200 yards down the middle, then of course you’re hitting a lot of fairways – if not then your swing needs a lot of work!
In fact, the Tour average is only about 60.6% fairways hit, but they’re driving the ball over 290 yards and playing on courses set up specially to challenge the best golfers in the world.
The key to long driving is more about improving your ball striking than trying to hurl yourself at the ball. If you can find the driver’s sweet spot, with a good swing plane and angle of attack, then distance will come, even with the swing speed you have now (and we’ll show you how to get a lot more!)
Developing the skills that produce a solid strike and a straight ball flight will have far more impact on improving your scores than focussing purely on ramping up your swing speed. Good ball striking is the fastest way to improve both distance and direction.
The Route to Improvement
For most amateur golfers, keeping the ball in play and avoiding penalty strokes will improve their handicap faster than any other aspect of the game, except maybe avoiding 3-putts (we’ll discuss the putting data, and data for other aspects of the game, in other articles).
Most amateur golfers’ scores are hurt more by inaccuracy than by lack of distance off the tee.
You’ll never be really good at this game if you’re regularly playing 3 off the tee or taking a drop for your second stroke.
How do you improve your driving accuracy? The quickest solution for many golfers would be to take a 3-wood off the tee, since the extra loft produces a straighter ball flight.
But the real solution to improving your scores is to improve your golf swing using the instruction on this site. You’ll soon learn to strike the ball more consistently out of the sweet spot, and develop a much more effective swing plane, club head path and attack angle that will enable you to hit the ball consistently long and straight.
Start keeping a record of the number of fairways that you hit for every round you play, the number of putts too. Later in the year, we’ll be introducing some powerful tools to help you identify the areas of your game that need most improvement, based on your current handicap and your aspirations, and the areas that will lower your scores the fastest.
» Think Like a Champion – Strategies for Lower Scores.