How to Start Playing in Golf Tournaments: Beginner's Guide

By Todd Mrowice

Golfers and caddies walking at twilight

If you feel that your golf game is ready for a little more competition, start playing in some local golf tournaments. This beginner's guide will help you determine where to start, how golf tournaments work, and where to find competitive golf tournaments for amateurs.

Getting Started in Competitive Golf

If your competitive juices are flowing but you don't know how to make the jump to playing in golf tournaments, here are a few ways that you can get started.

Establish a Handicap

Any amateur golf tournament will require players to provide their current handicap upon registering. This allows the tournament organizers to properly place each golfer in their respective flight and ensure that the event competes fairly.

Before you do anything else, establish a USGA handicap either by signing up online or at your local golf course. Note that you need several rounds of scores to establish a handicap and most tournaments require an official handicap.

Know Your Tournament

Different tournaments use different formats and you should understand how each golf format works. As mentioned, most amateur golf tournaments are flighted based on your handicap.

An example of how an amateur golf tournament is flighted is golfers who score in the 75 to 80 range will be in the "A" flight, 80 to 85 range will be in the "B" flight, 85 to 90 range will be in the C flight, while those who shoot 90 and above will be in the "D" flight.

In addition to flighted stroke-play events, you might find scramble tournaments as well as match play events. Just be sure you know your formats.

You'll also want to know how to enter the tournament, whether it be online or in-person. You will likely have to pay your entry fee upfront with registration.

Determine Your Goal

If you've decided to start playing in local golf tournaments you should have some sort of goal or objective in mind. This can be as simple as aiming to have fun and a new experience to wanting to take home the hardware. After all, it's your entry fee so you should get to determine how seriously you take the tournament.

Tournaments to Consider

Here are a few places to find local golf tournaments and events to consider entering as you begin playing in tournaments.

Club Championship

If you're playing in your first amateur golf tournament, a good one to start with is your local public course's club championship.

Golfers subtract their handicap numbers from their final scores. A golfer who averages 90 for an 18-hole round probably has a handicap of about 18, and a golfer with a handicap of 18 subtracts 18 strokes from their total at the end of the round. If that golfer had a great round and shot an 84, their net score (the total minus handicap strokes) would be 66. That's a remarkable score and would probably put the golfer in contention to win the tournament. It could also draw some sideways looks from the competition.

Club championships are typically two-day events with no cut. You'll also likely receive lunch and dinner with your entry fee.

Regional Championships

If you've finished at or near the top in a club championship, consider advancing to a regional championship. These events are usually flighted as well, however, will certainly be a step up in competition from a club championship.

State Championships

If your game has led you to the top of regional events, consider looking into state amateur championships. Many state amateur championships require advancing through a qualifier just to reach the main event.

These events, along with state opens which allow amateurs and professionals, are the highest level of competition in your state and they are not flighted. Depending on the state, there is usually a cut after round one or two, and they are typically comprised of three to four rounds total.

Junior Golf Tournaments

It's never too early to start playing the game of golf, and if you're in search of some early competition for juniors, the American Junior Golf Association is a great outlet to find locally sanctioned events that help build skills and appreciation for the competitive side of the game.


Entering a golf tournament can be a lot of fun, especially if you've never played competitive golf before. You might find that playing in events is just what your game needs to get to the next level. You'll also likely walk away with a greater appreciation for the men and women of professional golf status.

About the Author

Todd Mrowice is a Staff Writer for GolfLink. He has been writing about golf for over 10 years including a long tenure at GOLFChicago Magazine. Todd has covered all aspects of the game including travel, products, business, and professional tours.