A round at York Golf Range, Strensall
PUBLISHED: 22:25 18 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:23 20 February 2013
Is golf more than a good walk spoiled?Jo Haywood gets a high-tech lesson from a pro in the know<br/>PHOTOGRAPHS BY ANDY BULMER
Golf is just hitting a little ball with a bendy stick, isn't it? How difficult can it be?
'Well, it's not quite as simple as that,' said golf coach Andrew Smith, as he put me through my paces at York Golf Range, near Strensall. 'If it was, we'd all be Tiger Woods.'
There was a time when golf was seen as an elitist sport, and not something for the ordinary man in the street. Unless, of course, the man was driving a Jag down a leafy street flanked by large, detached houses.
But in recent years, golf has been democratised to the point where it really is a sport for all. It doesn't matter how old you are, how fit you are, how much money you earn or how posh your property is: anyone can give golf a go. You can, of course, just get out there and start hitting a ball if you wish. But most people start with a few lessons from a trained pro to help them hit the ball further and more accurately. 'I really enjoy my job,' said Andrew, surely wondering if he had spoken too soon as I took yet another wild swing at the ball.
'It's just as satisfying to work with beginners as it is to work with more experienced players. If they are already good at the game, it's about finessing their stroke. If they are beginners, it's about helping them to create a stroke in the first place.'
He runs 10-week courses for beginners (68 per person in groups of about nine) to get them off to a flying start, but usually finds that once people start they just can't stop. 'We get complete beginners coming to us. And I mean real beginners - they might have held a club but they've never swung it,' said Andrew.
'After a couple of classes they know if it's for them or not. If it is, they tend to get the bug in a big way. It really is addictive because there is always something to aim for. It doesn't matter how good you are, you can always get that little bit better.'
And there is always another club, shoe, bag or high-tech bit of kit to buy. You can spend a fortune if you want to, but you really don't have to,' said Andrew.
'You don't have to join a club and you don't have to spend 200 on a putter. I reckon you can get yourself well set up for around 150, including some good shoes, a bag and a selection of clubs.'
And why waste your money on high-tech jiggery-pokery when venues like York Golf Range have all the latest gadgets to get you into the swing of things? Andrew, who has written his own highly-informative Essential Guide To Beginners Golf, uses two key pieces of coaching equipment: GSAS and Explanar.
The first is a Golf Swing Analysis System which films the golfer's swing so they can see it immediately afterwards on screen. It can be slowed down, so even the smallest mistake is visible; crucial angles can be highlighted for improvement; and it can even be run alongside film of the perfect swing for comparison purposes.
At first glance, the Explanar looks like something from a science fiction movie; its giant, tilted metal ring reminiscent of numerous fictional time machines to which hapless heroes are strapped, spun and zapped off into other dimensions. Fortunately, it is actually a much more benign bit of kit that helps you experience what the perfect swing feels like. Instead of getting fired off into The Twilight Zone, you hold what looks like a heavily weighted baseball bat on the edge of the ring and follow it round in an arc, feeling where your arms should be at every point of the swing from preparation to follow through. 'My job is about communication, and these tools really help me get the message across,' said Andrew.
'Not everyone has it in them to be a great player, but it's my job to make them the best player they can be. And, yes, it's very satisfying.When someone gets a hole in one or plays an incredible round, I'm the person they call. That's a very privileged position to be in.'
But doesn't he miss playing competitively himself, especially on those long, long days when he has to deal with a beginner who doesn't know his left hand from his right and couldn't hit a cow's backside with a banjo? 'If I could play like Tiger Woods, I would still be out there playing professionally now,' he said.
'But I can't, so I'm happier where I am. 'And you never know, I might just discover the new Tiger one of these days. That would be just as thrilling.'