Is It Better To Practice Or Play Golf

Many golfers wonder how much time they should spend on the golf course vs off the golf course when trying to improve. Here we answer the debate and help you understand how you should spend your practice time most effectively.

We start by covering a few concepts before showing you how to maximise your time when practising and playing golf.

Playing golf is practice

Many golfers don’t view playing golf as ‘practice’, however when we step back and think about why we practice, the goal is to help us shoot lower scores. From this perspective, any activity that helps you shoot lower scores should be considered practice.

This includes working on your technique at the range, playing skills games, playing on the golf course and even playing in smaller competitions – these can all be considered forms of practice.

Is it better to play or practice on the range?

Both playing golf on the course and practising on the driving range have advantages and disadvantages when it comes to accelerating your ability to play better golf.

Range practice

✓ High volume of shots

✓ Stable learning environment

x Not a realistic environment

x Low variability

x Little consequence

On Course practice

✓ Realistic environment

✓ High variability

x Low volume

Above we can start to see some of the factors that practising on the range and golf course offer you. The range gives you a high volume of shots, but the practice environment isn’t very realistic and practice often lacks consequence.

In contrast, the golf course is very realistic and has some consequences for hitting poor shots and variability but lacks volume. In a 4 hour round, you’ll only hit 14 drivers and 18-20 iron shots.

To optimise learning you ideally want a high volume, in a realistic environment and some level of consequence.

How do you achieve this?

Adapting how you practice

Now you understand the above, we can start to consider how we add more variability and realism to your practice practice and how we can add more volume to your on-course practice.

To do this you can play skills games on the golf range and play skills games on the golf course that specifically target the areas you need to work on.

Blocked range practice (hitting the same shot many times in a row) and playing a normal round of golf are still very useful, but as the graphic below shows, you now have two more types of practice to help you accelerate your ability to shoot lower scores.

chart showing practice vs playing golf
Graphic from Golf Insider

What kind of skills games should I play?

The best type of skills games are those that target the areas you most need to improve and that offer a good level of challenge.

The Break X Golf app automatically builds you a weekly practice plan based on your strengths, weaknesses and how many hours you have free. It also adapts your practice plan as you improve to keep your practice challenging.

However, here is a simple but effective skills game you can play at the golf range to get your practice moving in the right direction.

Golf skills games instructions: Create a 15-yard wide target between two markers on the driving range.

Your aim is to hit a well-struck shot that lands between these two markers. Start with your Sand Wedge, if your shot lands in your target move on to your PW...see if you can complete the challenge with every club in your bag.

Your score is how many balls it takes you to complete the challenge with your entire bag (max 40 attempts).

This is a simple game that adds more realism and consequence to your practice.


Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of when to head to the golf range and when to play golf. Both are super useful forms of practice but also consider when to use skills games and on-course skills games to accelerate your golfing performance.

If you do want personalised golf practice plans built for you, from 100s of skills games, check out Break X Golf.

Happy golfing – Will Shaw, PhD, MSc, PGA

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