The driving range plays a vital role in every golfer's journey in the game. For many, it can be the gateway to a new and improved golf swing while, at the same time, offering a welcome sanctuary away from the stresses and strains of everyday life.
If you're a beginner finding your way, the range is the ideal place to catch the bug in a less exposed setting. It's a far less intimidating prospect than a round at your local course, where you may feel like others are watching your every swing (though they rarely ever are).
If you're a more seasoned golfer, it's a place to work on your craft. It's a place where you try to develop and ingrain a good routine. You'll aim at targets and imagine fairways. Even as amateur golfers, there's real enjoyment in following a process and getting incrementally better.
That said, not every golf swing at the range needs to be in search of lowering your handicap.
Sometimes, a hard session with a full bucket of balls can be just the tonic for a particularly trying week. It can be intensely therapeutic to zone in on the little white ball before you and mercilessly send it skywards with a 5-iron.
In reality, the two are not mutually exclusive. You can unwind at the driving range AND work on improving your game simultaneously.
To use your time at the range wisely, it's important to pick a goal before you go. Either you're going to have fun and not worry about the outcome, or you're going to work on a few things.
The majority of us will arrive aiming to iron out a few issues and better understand our golf swing.
It pays to come prepared. Bring water and a snack. If you're planning to hit 200 balls, maybe make an afternoon of it. Bring headphones and work your way through the bag while listening to your favourite podcast or playlist.
Rarely will something be THAT off that you will be stuck hitting 1 or 2 clubs, but it can happen.
If your new hybrid has just arrived, you won't give your other clubs a second thought and will solely dedicate a bucket of balls to that one club. Excitement does that.
You can engage yourself as much or as little as you like. Aim at nothing. Aim between two points. Aim at the safe side of the green. Go straight at the pin. Hit cuts and draws, high and low.
Focussing on that little white ball tracing its way through the sky, at the exclusion of all other thoughts, can be an ideal reset for the mind.
If things aren't going as you would like, take a break. Go chip a few or putt a little. The time you spend at the range should feel like a refuge, not a penance.
If you're going with your buddies just for fun, introducing an element of competition can help to liven things up a little. Aim for a target in the distance, play a few balls each closest to the pin, hit pitches towards the nets and bunkers ahead, and grab your drivers to go head-to-head in a long-drive battle for the ages.
Remember, the range is a practice ground. There isn't any pressure, and more importantly, you don't HAVE to do anything. You're in charge. If you want to pound a full bucket of balls into submission, do it. If you hit some terrible shots, don't sweat it. Everyone does.
It's also a place where you'll discover yourself and the type of golfer you will become. It's a place to meet new like-minded people. It's a sanctuary and ball-striking is your therapy.
Your own relationship with the driving range will likely change over the years, but the key message remains the same.
There are no rules. Whatever you do, just do you!!