10 things they don’t tell you before you take up golf
I was only trying to be sociable really, just taking an interest in my husband’s hobby.
I’ve always been sporty. I’ve ran a few half-marathons and even climbed the Eiger and the Matterhorn quite recently. So I thought that hitting a golf ball was never going to be an issue if I could actually be bothered to try.
After all, how difficult could golf really be?
It wasn’t like I was ever going to take it up seriously, not until I was drawing my pension at least.
If only the other golfers had warned me I was starting an addictive habit and signing up to a way of life.
So here are the top 10 things I wish I’d known before I first picked up a golf club…
1. Hitting a golf ball is more difficult than it looks
That lump of titanium at the other end of the shaft travels a distance of about seven metres at speeds of up to 90 mph. This is from the moment you begin to swing it, until it connects with the tiny stationary orb at the bottom of its arc.
The winter migration of the swallow is less miraculous than a well-struck golf shot.
2. There is no right way
One glimpse of PGA Tour player Jim Furyk’s swing explains why each golf coach you employ starts their first lesson by instantly trashing most of what the last coach tried to teach you.
The inter-relationships between swing plane, body rotation, weight transfer, club trajectory, spine position, wrist torque and brain engagement are more complex than a Game of Thrones family tree
3. A Major is not beyond me (apparently)
The single most amazing thing about golf is that once you attain a modicum of competence, you will more than likely hit at least one shot per round that any tour pro would be proud of.
So logically, another 64 of these blows is not beyond you. If you add together your best score on each hole of your home course at the end of the year, you can really start to live the dream.
However, the only certain reality in golf is that your next bad shot is never too far away.
4. Every swing counts
That moment when you finally master the physics of the golf swing and propel one glorious drive 200 yards into a clear blue sky is as sweet as the spot on your club face that connected with the soaring ball.
Minutes later, there is every chance that you will be using your 6th shot to tap that same ball into a small hole a further 200 yards away. The tap-in counts the same as the magnificent drive, and the same as the chip you duffed after that.
The boxes on the scorecard are only big enough for a number. Explanations and adjectives don’t count in golf.
5. Even Pro V1s need help
Golf balls can cost anything from £5 to 50p a go. But it’s possible to mis-hit them all.
If you chunk the same ball that the pros use, using the latest tour blades while wearing an elegant Golfino skort and top, it will end up in that front bunker just the same.
All the gear and no idea = golfing misery.
6. The golfing Gods can still shank
There is nothing more reviving for the sagging spirits of a high handicapper, who is trying to stay positive through a truly rotten round, than to see a ‘proper golfer’ totally mess up.
After all, even the very best strikers of the ball can top it into a lake.
‘Good roll’ is always a polite thing to say to a cursing opponent when they miss a short putt to beat you, but to witness a brilliant player hit a really bad shot is a really, really consoling moment.
7. The range is not part of the golf course
There is a scene in the film Gladiator where Russell Crowe and his fellow warriors go to school to learn how to inflict mortal harm on their adversaries.
Golf’s equivalent is called the range.
It is the site of rows of sporting confessional boxes where sins are heard by trained PGA professionals and direction is given towards the straight and narrow of the fairways.
But nothing that happens there really counts unless you can transfer it to the first tee.
8. Rules are rules
The first rules of golf were written by the Gentlemen Golfers of Leith in 1744 and most of them still apply today.
There were 13 rules in that original draft. When you get out on the course with the golfers of your local club you’ll soon realise that they can recite most of them word-for-word.
Understanding one or two of them requires a geometry degree and an ability to recognise rabbit scrapings when you see them.
The current rules number 28 and contain gems such as ‘a player must not give advice to a player other than his partner’.
What singles golf out from every other sport that’s played professionally is that even the most debatable rulings are religiously adhered to and accepted.
To cheat at golf is a crime that no opponent will ever forgive. You can step on their throat but don’t ever step on their line.
9. Golf is a slow game played as quickly as you can
A round of golf takes around four hours to complete.
When you take up the game you’ll realise that most golfers are playing as fast as they can. But more importantly, that they hate anyone who isn’t. Particularly when they are playing in the group in front of them.
Once you have memorised the rules of golf, you need to go to finishing school in order to learn the etiquette.
If restraining a sneeze during an opponent’s backswing leads to convulsions and hospitalisation, it is preferable to being accused of poor etiquette.
When you park your trolley on the side of the green furthest from the next tee, you are denying the four human beings behind you several seconds of their life that they will never get back.
In short, get a flippin’ move on.
10. Golf is not a social activity
BG (Before Golf), many outsiders are led to believe that golf courses are the venues for some of the most important discussions in the free market economy.
But in reality on-course conversation revolves around one subject and one subject only – golf.
Back in the clubhouse, at the 19th hole, deals may be struck and pacts can be made that will affect millions of people in all corners of the globe, but not until the Stableford points have been counted and the playing wagers settled.
Presidents will discuss the speed of the greens before they discuss the speed of the economic recovery. The rules of engagement include a licence for banter and mockery over and beyond socially acceptable levels, but there is a communion among golfers that breeds friendships that last even longer than that old glove you love to wear.
My road to discovering golf has added a wonderful social life to all of the above and so much more besides.
I know that I am now a golfer, but not because I have made a birdie on the Old Course at St Andrews, not because my name is on the honours board at my local club and not because I bought my husband a romantic ball marker on our last anniversary.
I am a golfer because I have talked out loud to a golf ball, because I have found myself practising my wrist cock in a supermarket queue, and because I have cried on a golf course.
This is a unique sport. A sport that rewards skill and luck unequally in the short term but calls on your most human qualities in the longer tern, mainly patience, concentration, respect, application, good grace.
When you make a mistake in hockey, you can chase after the ball and maybe correct it in seconds. When you make a mistake in golf, you have to wait for your partners to play, walk calmly to the enchanting woodland glade where your ball was heading then, if you can find it, make judgments and decisions full of dilemmas and jeopardy.
The handicap system is not only the bedrock of the game, it is a version of competition accepted by (almost) all. I can beat the club champion and she will congratulate me sincerely. I can beat my sons, my husband, my business clients, and I can lose to them without bruising or resentment.
Nobody told me any of this when I booked my first six golf lessons. If only they had told me thirty years ago.
Mum, wife, business woman and golfer… but not always in that order since I took up golf four years ago. Passionately hooked on a game I thought looked boring until I got the bug. Handicap 18 and falling, I think! Range junkie – can get through 100 balls in a session! – and I play as many times a week as my working life allows. Member at Bearwood Lakes Golf Club, one of the most beautiful courses in the UK (when I play well!). All our holidays are now golfing holidays. Biggest golfing regret – I went to uni in St Andrews and never held a club!