COUPLE of years ago a friend of mine called up on a quiet Sunday afternoon to ask if I fancied playing a round of golf.
I explained to her that I had seen people playing golf on TV and it looked marginally less exciting than cleaning the oven. She insisted it was fun and that I should try it. As it happened, I had just finished cleaning the oven and there were no more chores to do, so I decided to give it a try.
My friend suggested that I have a few shots on the driving range before heading out on to the course. So there I stood with my driver, a golf ball and only a dim idea about what to do. I swung. I missed. I looked to see if anyone was watching. They weren’t. I tried again and I made contact. The ball travelled about nine inches before coming to a rest — Rory McIlroy it wasn’t.
So I had a glance around. My neighbour on the range was a Japanese man. His technique seemed to be to bring back the club with a straight left arm and swivel his hips while keeping his eye firmly on the ball and following through gracefully. I gave it a try. I hit the ball. It sailed off hundreds of yards into the distance, as straight as an arrow and at huge velocity.
In terms of life events, this was right up there with the birth of my children and Chelsea’s 1997 FA Cup victory.
I had another go. There were a few more miscues and then I did it again. It was an epiphany. Proof that, even for a jaded journalist in his middle years, life could still be beautiful and thrilling.
We went out on to the course. It was here I realised that golf was not just about hitting the ball a long way. The trick was to get it in the hole in as few shots as possible. This proved tricky, if not impossible, but just when I was beginning to despair I hit a long putt which dropped right in the middle of the hole, making a very satisfying sound. I was hooked.In the weeks that followed, I learned about graphite clubs and styles of putter. I practised my swing at the bus stop and became familiar with the terms birdie, bogey and albatross. I even eyed the leisurewear in Marks & Spen- cer and began to look forward to my first game on a full-size course. It is unlikely that I will ever lift the claret jug at the Open Championships at St Andrews, but if my game continues to progress I might be looking to join a club. And anyone else in this position may wish to note that a new club is opening, a short drive (or maybe a long iron) from St Albans, Hertfordshire. The Centurion Club opens on July 1, a members-only club with a course that has already been praised in the golfing press. Owner Graham Wildish says there has also been huge interest from prospective members, who have been impressed by “the greens, the quality of the fairways and the topography”. St Albans is a 19-minute train journey from St Pancras or a short car trip from Radlett or Borehamwood.