Sunday, 29 January 2012

Choosing a club to join (4) - decision time

All this looking at clubs had proved quite time consuming, and by September that year, with my current membership about to run out, I had left myself seriously short of time. There was nothing for it but to pitch up at Club C.  I already knew the clubhouse was being rebuilt and the bar in temporary accommodation.  Was I going to fork out the annual sub (highest so far) for coffee in a Portakabin?
Knowing the course quite well, I didn't ask to go out, but the Director of Golf (ie senior pro) took me round in a buggy to remind me of the rather gorgeous views from the top of the newer of two courses.
Yes, two full eighteens. I reminded myself I need never worry about getting a tee-time even at weekends, and on a week day I'd probably have a choice between sheltered tree-lined fairways or the more rugged scenic option.
My resolve to do my homework properly was dissolving, but when I mutttered an enquiry about the ladies section I was immediately given the phone number of the captain. I rang with a feeling of resignation but her reaction was so positive 'We'd love to have you - I do hope you'll join!' I was sold straight away.  When I turned up at my first ladies morning the rest were as friendly as the captain, and from day one  I was included in every golf and social occasion. Since roll-up sessions are managed so that all names go in a draw (regardless of handicap or 'friendship groups') I soon knew all the regular golfers and had joined in weekend comps both ladies and mixed.
I realise that to a great extent I was lucky. My research was hardly scientific and I might easily have joined Clubs A or B which if rumours are anything to go by are less inclusive in their arrangements. But with hindsight, what would I say to any other single ladies (or I suppose men) looking for a new home?
  • if you're after social golf, try to find out who you'll be socialising with
  • check out the arrangements for 'roll-up' days. Are groupings decided in advance or on the day?
  • how many diary clashes were htere the previous year between ladies' and men's events adn what was the outcome?
And a final note to club managers or membership secretaries. If you want us to make up our minds, give us a fair chance to meet and play with fellow members. A welcoming atmosphere isn't something you can take on trust, you have to suck it and see.

As for the Portakabin, I'm afraid it's still there. But the coffee is fresh and the company is good. Who could ask for more?
Don't forget to check out the apres golf

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Foursomes match and putting woes

Foursomes – the very word can strike a chill. It sounds like fun, it can be fun, but striking every other ball makes it so much harder to settle into your game. And as for putting, you can go a large part of the round without having to make one ( hole conceded when they hit out of bounds or you take three from a bunker) then find yourself facing a testing ten-footer with no feel for your stroke or the state of the greens. Let’s just say that in our Winter Foursomes semi-final a warm-up on the range helped, but I wished I’d spent that time and a bit more besides on the practice green.

Afterwards I found this really useful post on short putts. It contains a useful drill, but what hit home was the statement (backed up by tour stats) the player that putts the best inside 8-10 feet during the tournament usually wins. Ergo (like that touch of logic?) getting on the green inside that range is crucial. Equally so is sinking the short putt.  Translating this for a high handicapper who is realistically happy to be on the green in regulation rather than near the hole, I’d say that you don’t expect to hole a long first putt (although sometimes you will) but it has to be in the ‘golden circle’ – or even closer  - to make sure of holing the second.

I think it was Nick Faldo who first recommended putting into the radius of a dustbin lid rather than aiming at the hole. It’s a theory that has been derided (FFS just aim for the hole!) but it does make some sense. Yes, of course you aim for the hole, but don’t expect it to go in. Anywhere close (I’d prefer a dainty dustbin myself ) will do. If every now and then it does go in (and it will) that’s a bonus, the icing on the cake.

In the end, despite my putting ineptitude, we won that match, but maybe it would have been better (for my golfing soul) if we had lost.

Then instead of sitting here theorizing, I might be out on the green getting in some practice.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Choosing a club to join: are we there yet?

So, on to the next step of my find-a-golf-club project (previous episodes here and here.)

When I arrived at Club B, all the omens were good. Having rung up about membership I’d been treated politely and invited to play a few holes with a committee member.  That sounded fine to me. As icing on the cake, the weather was absolutely glorious and the course, newly trimmed, raked and rolled, looked as good as a golf course can on a sunny day.

Okay, I was slightly disconcerted when the committee member turned out to be the club membership secretary – yes, a man. Hmm, mixed golf is fine, just not what I was expecting. But nothing ventured, so off we went down the first.

I have to say because of some slight apprehension, my golf was rubbish less than splendid, but we put in a friendly enough nine holes, capped by my partner bringing off a pretty astonishing chip in. (I bet he remembers it too!)

So, the course was good, the native friendly. I don’t think I disgraced myself too badly. As I recall bought me a cup of coffee before hurrying off on club business. Membership, I sensed, was on offer.

But where were the ladies?

I’m pretty sure if I’d gone round with a lady that day and we had had some fun, my money would have been on the table. A follow-up phone call from the lady captain might even have done the trick.

So what? I don't suppose they've missed me, and since then I've heard a few things to suggest the ladies section might not have been for me. But the fact remains, if they were looking to recruit a lady player that day, they got the sales pitch wrong.  

Well-behaved lady golfer needs good home.

To find out if I ever did find a club, check in for the next instalment. It could be the last!

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Choosing a club to join (2)

So there I was, off to find a golf club to join. Even then, before the recession had started to bite, I knew most clubs were desperate for members, surely I’d be welcomed with open arms?

Location, location, location
Club A was already ahead in my mind. It was reasonably close to home and had a lovely location with gorgeous views. Generally well managed, with a programme of planned maintenance and improvement the greens were more than fast enough for me.  As a visitor I’d always had a friendly reception: next step was to suss out the members.

Enquiring in the pro shop, I expected to be invited to the regular ladies day and was disappointed when it was suggested I come along for tea after the event, which turned out to be an awkward affair. Don’t get me wrong, the ladies were friendly and seemed eager for me to join, but it was hard for me – and possibly them -  to relax. Who was sizing up whom? Whatever my official handicap, how could they judge how we might get on together on the course - and how could I? When I was shown the locker room alarm bells started to ring. I have nothing against chintz per se, but the signing up sheets for ladies mornings went up six weeks ahead  – six weeks of planning for a friendly roll up? I left without making a decision, disappointed that what had seemed like a no-brainer suddenly didn’t feel quite right.

And so it was on to Course B. Although lacking the rural panoramas, I knew the course was beautifully kept and the clubhouse newly revamped. I’d also been lucky enough to sample the excellent catering.

What could possibly go wrong?

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Pre-shot routine? I close my eyes.

This week I’ve been getting out and about – on the course? Well yes, despite the weather, but also on Twitter (where I am now following amongst others my golfing heroine Catriona Matthew) and looking around the golf blogs. One post that has caught my eye is by Andy Roberts writing on Golf Magic about the  importance of pre-shot routine– that series of actions we do before each shot that gets us in the mindset to hit (we hope) an absolute cracker. I was particularly taken with the photo of Aaron Baddely with his eyes closed.

This cheered me up a lot, because after I’d been playing golf for a couple of years, my regular partners asked me why I closed my eyes on my back-swing, and didn’t it make hitting the ball that much more difficult? Now until this was pointed out to me, I hadn’t really being aware I was doing it, and so I can’t honestly call it a pre-shot routine but more of an unconscious habit. (And I’m guessing Mr. Baddely does it before addressing the ball rather than afterwards!) But if it doesn’t help me hit the ball better I don’t think it does any harm. For a while I did make an effort to keep my eyes open, but I find it’s something I fall back into and haven’t noticed any ill effects in terms of ball-striking.

So why do I do it?

Eyes wide open for a chip
Well there’s an element of concentration. It’s not so long since I was a beginner and prey to many swing-thoughts. If you’re set a hard exam question what do you do? You close your eyes to think about it. So that’s maybe where it came from. But reading Andy’s article made me think that maybe if anything it’s the opposite. Addressing the ball I usually still have a swing-thought of some kind – maybe the aspect I was working on in the last lesson, and I think that in closing my eyes I might actually blot out what’s going on in my head and let the body take over. Which must be a good thing.

Yesterday for instance in cold conditions and with an incipient back-ache I wasn’t swinging too well and was trying on each shot to improve my body movement.  None of which worked particularly well. But as it got towards the end of the round I made a conscious effort to relax and not think about it. I caught myself closing my eyes on the back swing – and hitting some much better tee-shots.

But going back to that old pre-shot routine, I think mine does need some attention. Long shots are fine, but I have particular problems with bunker shots and putting where the set -up is quite different. Maybe I need a set routine for those occasions.

Or I could try just closing my eyes!

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Choosing a golf club to join (1)

What do you look for in a golf club? A lot will depend on your level of play and your experience. But for those who have gripes about their current club, or for ‘nomads’ thinking the need a golfing home, the winter months are a good time to research the possibilities. Two years ago, with five or six years golfing experience behind me and a handicap that was approaching something respectable, I was in this position and thought it would be easy. All I needed  was

  • a well-kept course in pleasant surroundings
  •  decent clubhouse facilities
  • and subs that wouldn’t break the bank

Too bleak in winter?
Being on my own, I was also looking for somewhere with a welcoming atmosphere where I would soon feel at home and be playing lots of golf.  But if courses and prices were easy to investigate, how could I find a club where I knew I would fit in, especially as I’m one of that great golfing minority –  women!

At least living near a major conurbation, I am lucky to have a good half-dozen courses within easy reach, all with ladies sections, but of these half were quickly dismissed (too expensive, too busy, too bleak in winter months) which left me with three.

Of these, the first two (let’s call them A and B) were well-respected member clubs with nice courses and reasonable subs. The third (C) was privately owned, more expensive, and due to ongoing refurbishment, had its clubhouse in “temporary accommodation”, but it did boast 36 rather nice holes, some with spectacular views, and so I kept it on my list, albeit on the back burner.
On the back burner

Which came out on top? That would be telling. Check back soon for the rest of my golfing odyssey!

Friday, 6 January 2012

Weekend Tip: 10 Tips on How to Play Better Golf in the Cold

It’s a beautiful day outside, the sun is shining and it’s 5 degrees. Still nice enough to play golf and have a good time, but I am thinking to myself how can I prepare better for my game, especially as it gets colder through January. So after a bit of research gleaned from other sources, here are a few tips which I hope will help you maximise your potential out on the course this weekend.

Photo Thanks to Michael Bonhert

1. Get some thermal underwear. Trust me, good thermals will keep you toasty in a variety of cold conditions. Galvin Green offer a great range. They fit skin tight and allow you to dress in layers over them.

2. Warm your feet up too. Wear an extra pair of socks, I find thin socks to be better to keep the bulk down.

3. Buy some dry-chemical hand warmers. Put them in your golf bag then before your round, open and shake them, then put one in each pocket. Keep your hands in your pockets between shots when you are playing and open a new pair somewhere in the middles so they don't get numb on the last few holes.

4. Do some stretching while you're still at home. Take a hot shower or ride an exercise bike first to get warm and flexible. Stretching on a cold practice range or at the first tee won't cut it when it's really chilly.

5. Wear a ski cap or good thick hat. Most of your body heat disappears through your head. Keeping your head warm will help you stay warm.

6. Invest in a pair of cart gloves. I prefer cart gloves to winter golf gloves, because you can continue to wear your normal gloves and just wip them off to hit your shots.

7. Keep walking instead of riding round the course. This will help keep the blood flowing so you stay warm. If you have to ride, perhaps bring an extra coat--even an overcoat--and put it over you when you're in the cart.

8. Alternate golf balls on each hole. Keep the ball you're not playing in your pocket against your hand warmer so it stays warm. It's even worth keeping the balls you are going to play with inside the house overnight so they don't get cold sitting in your car or garage.

9. Remember to take more club. The colder air temperatures will reduce the length of your shots by at least 10 percent. It's better to be a little long than a little short for most approaches.

10. Finally, save the booze until after your round. Drinking a shot or two of brandy might make you feel warmer but that's only an illusion. It might cause you to think you're playing better, too. Well maybe that might not be too bad!

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Winter golf: the range

January – don’t you just love it? Last year it was snow, this year torrential rain and gale force winds. Even before Christmas our course was totally sodden so today there was nothing for it but to head to the localrange especially as it’s Tuesday when for a mere fiver you can hit as many balls as you like and get some decent swing advice from the friendly pro. What's more, I have a shiny new hybrid to try out, (thank you, Santa!) so there was no stopping me.

Until I found the entrance road to the golf range under several feet of water. I might be keen, but I have my ailing suspension to consider!

Still, I’ve been going on and off to this roll-up class for the last year and my swing really has improved so that while I may still be playing off a ladylike 23, I’m out-hitting the 16-20  handicappers I go out with on a regular basis.

But am I taking the money? Well I have had my moments, but truth to tell, I’ve never looked like getting below my current handicap, because as Jonty says, at the end of the day it’s the short game that counts. Getting close to the green in two is no good if it takes another three (at least!) to get the wee white ball in the cup.

The range is fine for sorting out the swing but the temptation is to keep on wellying it as far as the eye can see, ignoring the bit that will really lower your score. There are things you can do, like playing consecutive shots with different clubs (there wood, six-iron, pitching wedge) to replicate the experience of being on a course, but  chips and pitches don’t feel the same off the manicured mats of the range. The club’s practice area is much better for getting the feel of the shorter shots, except that practising outside in winter leaves me cold in more ways than one!

So it looks like it’s back to putting on the carpet for me, and maybe some of these drills will stand me in good stead for when I next brave the elements.  

The Green Goddess in warmer weather! 
Meanwhile I might do some virtual golfing, so if you have a golf blog and interesting things to say, leave a comment so that we can check you out. 

Happy practising!

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