I’ve always had a couple of opinions about golf: first, it’s a game for old rich guys in funny trousers; second, it’s barely a sport at all. I figure you could replicate the experience by walking through the countryside and occasionally swatting a fly. And paying a fortune for the privilege.
I keep quiet on that second point as Jamie Wood, Emirates Golf Club’s PGA-qualified senior golf professional, leads me to the driving range. And as our buggy rolls past the elaborate temporary buildings set up for this week’s Dubai Desert Classic, I notice that my first belief was, apparently, very wrong indeed: I spy women, young men and even a kid wandering about the links.
‘We get all kinds of people here,’ Jamie confirms. ‘There are a lot of children who take it up because they’ve seen it on TV or because their parents play, and we get a real mix of newcomers to the city who are looking to socialise and make new friends.’ So why do so many people still see golf as the preserve of retirees? ‘Well, if you want to get really good at the game it takes a lot of practice,’ he explains, ‘so you have to make the decision to spend a lot of time on the course.’
Ha! Practice? I’ll show him, I think. But despite what you may believe, hitting a stationary object with a big stick isn’t as easy as it first appears. In fact, it’s downright counterintuitive. ‘The most important thing is your stance,’ explains Jamie. ‘People are usually in such a hurry to hit the ball that they don’t spend enough time getting in the right position first, and that can spoil everything.’ The right position, it turns out, involves resting the club on your fingers, not snugly in the palm of your hand, and shifting your bodyweight until you’re balancing on the tips of your toes. It all feels very odd at first, but the moment you lean over the tee everything settles into place. Then you only have to hit the ball…
Swoosh! The club flies harmlessly through thin air. ‘That was just a test shot,’ I lie unconvincingly. ‘Don’t worry about it,’ says Jamie, ‘Everyone does that.’ I readjust my stance. Swoosh! Again, nothing. Thud! The ball remains undisturbed – unlike the grass behind it. ‘That’s actually better. You should be aiming underneath the ball. Imagine you’re swinging the club in a circle to hit the tee.’ Tock! This time the club connects with the ball, lifting it into the air and depositing it way down the driving range. ‘You hardly felt that, right? It felt effortless? That’s how you know it’s a good shot.’
Sadly my skills don’t hold up, and pretty soon I’m back to digging a trench under the ball – a fairly common habit, it turns out. ‘It’s easy to forget about your stance,’ assures Jamie. ‘That’s why practice is so important.’
Indeed – it takes a hell of a lot of concentration just to hit the ball ‘effortlessly’ down the range, and we haven’t even got onto topics such as putting, wind direction and different clubs yet. Those are reserved for future lessons, should I choose to have any, but when Jamie asks I politely turn him down. I have to admit that golf is harder than I’ve given it credit for – and it’ll take more time than I can spare to get good at it. Maybe when I retire…
Emirates Golf Club offers a week-long beginner’s course for Dhs800 per person. For info, call 04 380 2222. The Dubai Desert Classic runs at the club until February 7. See www.dubaidesertclassic.com for details.