Golf tuition breaks
After 15 years of hacking around fairways as an occasional weekend golfer, I had been invited to Scotland’s luxury Turnberry golf resort as part of a hosted event including a round on its hallowed Ailsa links course – where Tom Watson beat Jack Nicklaus in the famous “Duel in the Sun” Open Championship in 1977 – plus a group clinic by top golf star
Colin Montgomery at his new links golf academy.
Not only that, but I was on a charge while playing the Ailsa’s sibling, then called the Arran, with a string of bogies and the odd par. Not exactly Tigerish, perhaps, but still good for a 23 handicapper.
I had just hit the drive of my life on the picturesque, par-4 8th hole, leaving a short chip down onto a green nestling in a cove and was about to take my shot when a Range Rover drove onto the fairway and pulled up behind me. Out stepped Monty and a photographer, ready to snap him with me and my playing partners. But he signalled for me to carry on.
All of a sudden, my composure went and my hands started sweating. I jabbed at the ball, knocking it into the rough I was trying to chip over. Then fluffed the next shot, and the next, getting ever more nervous. After five attempts I picked the ball up, and as I trudged over to join the others, Monty chuckled when I told him he had just ruined my best-ever round. Indeed, over the rest of the round the wheels well and truly came off.
Fast forward 10 or so years and I am back at Turnberry, once again with Monty. Only this time I am there to take part in the annual Colin Montgomerie Summer Golf School.
With just 12 of us on the weekend course, and Monty with us for the first afternoon before handing over to his instructors, there’s a chance to chat with him before a fascinating 90-minute clinic, during which he explains how he believes golf should be played. Monty’s philosophy can be summed up in three words – keep it simple. Which he then demonstrates with a range of shots, all played with effortless power and control. If only…
Over lunch, I had told him about our previous Turnberry encounter and how it had left my golf in tatters. He apologised, but added I could never be a tour pro if I couldn’t handle pressure like that. I got my chance to prove that when we all teed off on Turnberry’s nine-hole course, with Monty hitting a drive on the first hole with each group. When my turn came, I took out my trusty hybrid and focused on the shot, determined not to let my nerves get the better of me. It worked. The ball flew straight down the middle, to my delight and the applause of Monty and the others. I had exorcised one demon.
The academy’s instructors monitored us while we played before a farewell reception with Monty back at the clubhouse and a group dinner in the hotel that evening.
Next morning we were split into four groups, each with an instructor. I drew a personable South African called Sven and we played the Kintyre course with him, before our first instruction session.
My golf hasn’t improved in years and I have always struggled with distance. I have had lessons at several golf academies, but they have generally been just an hour or so with no-one watching me play. Invariably they have given me so many things to think about it scrambled my brain and my golf suffered even more.
Sven had noticed I tend to hit the ball with my weight too far back, instead of transferring weight to my front foot. As a result, my shots lacked power, kept low and often squirted to the right.
He told me one thing, to exaggerate the follow through as if I was walking after the ball – like fellow South African Gary Player used to do. And it worked a treat. Within minutes I was hitting drives on the range straighter, higher and longer than I have ever done. Same
with my irons. From my favourite, the lob wedge, to the five iron I rarely use for fear of duffing it (although Monty says you shouldn’t favour any club).
After another group dinner, followed by the odd dram or two in the bar, it was back to the academy next morning for more tuition, this time concentrating on the short game. Having satisfied chief pro Michael with my bunker shots and chipping, Sven suggested how I could improve my putting, by narrowing my stance and putting the ball closer to me and nearer my front foot. Putting has always been my strong suit but Sven reckoned the new technique would improve it even more.
We finished the weekend school with a competition on the Ailsa course, where Tom Watson came heartbreakingly close to winning the Open again in 2009. Putting new golf techniques into practice takes time, but I played much better even if the new putting style wasn’t coming naturally.
I didn’t win, that honour deservedly going to a 14- year-old lad in my four-ball. But I was happy with my golf and I showed Sven I was following his advice as he watched on.
It may have only been a weekend, but I and my newfound friends, both fellow students and academy instructors, had formed a common bond, and everyone said how useful they had found it besides it being an enjoyable experience. Spending some time with Europe’s victorious Ryder Cup captain, Monty, was the icing on the cake – and the reason two of the participants have kept coming back, seven years running.
His laid-back style, echoed by his team of pros, and his genuine approachability and friendliness helped make the experience one I will always treasure. Doing it in such glorious surroundings and at such an iconic and sumptuous resort as Turnberry made it even more special. And I even managed to exorcise another demon, by parring the very hole I blew up on in front of Monty a decade earlier.
As I said goodbye to Sven I asked for his honest appraisal of what my handicap could get down to. Quick as a flash he replied 15-18. I just need to keep practising his advice and Monty’s tips.
golf tuition facts
colin montgomerie links golf academy, turnberry The world’s only links golf academy features teaching programmes designed by eighttime European Tour Order of Merit winner Colin Montgomerie. Facilities include indoor and outdoor teaching areas, simulators and swing analysers, 16 covered bays, open-air range and short-game area. Tuition includes 60-minute lessons for £80, one-hour putting lessons for £50 and one-hour family lessons for £99. The three-day Colin Montgomerie Summer Golf School takes place every year. This year it cost from £798, fully-inclusive. www.luxurycollection.com/turnberry
other uk golf academies
UK resorts and hotel groups with golf academies include 2014 Ryder Cup host Gleneagles (www.gleneagles.com), De Vere Hotels (www.devere.co.uk) with facilities including the Nike Golf Academy at Oulton Hall & Spa, and hotel chain Marriott (www.marriottgolf.co.uk), which has 11 UK golf hotels and offers a Kids Golf-4-Free programme allowing children to have a free lesson when accompanying an adult taking a paid lesson, with free club use. Among UK golf schools with tuition packages are the James Andrews School of Golf at Sedlescombe Golf Course in East Sussex (www.golfschool.co.uk) and the David Short Golf School (www.shortgolfschool.co.uk), with programmes at several courses.
overseas golf academies
Most golf resorts offer tuition. Popular ones include Spain’s La Manga Club (www.lamangaclub.com) and La Cala (www.lacala.com) resort, which has Spain’s only David Leadbetter Academy, and Penina (www.lemeridienpenina.com/en/golf) on Portugal’s Algarve. Tuition is also offered by all-inclusive resort companies Club Med (www.clubmed.co.uk) and Sandals (www.sandals.com/golf) among others.
Tour operators with golf tuition packages include Golfbreaks.com (www.golfbreaks.com), Solo’s (www.solosholidays.co.uk/golf), Premier Iberian (www.premieriberian.com), GolfPlanet Holidays (www.golfplanetholidays.com) and Your Golf Travel (www.yourgolftravel.com).