Time Out heads to the driving range at the Royal Golf Club to find out how to swing like the pros. Well, kind of
Time Out Bahrain staff
The Royal Golf Club has been open for about a year, and in that time has attracted a number of big name golfers. In November 2008 it held the Riffa Views Invitational, with the likes of Colin Montgomerie, Retief Goosen and Michael Campbell battling it out on the course, and this month sees it being used as a new venue for the Faldo Series Asia (see p14). Keeping in that tradition and building on the list of top international talent, we thought it would be an idea for Time Out to hit the greens – just one problem, we weren’t quite sure at this stage how to play…
So the starting point came with a trip to the driving range, and meeting with our instructor, PGA professional Chris Kelby. This was the man who would show us how to grip the club, stand over the ball, take a swing and hopefully see the results sail into the distance. ‘You’re allowed to take 14 clubs with you when you hit the course,’ Chris explains, ushering us towards his golf bag. ‘The clubs you choose and how you make up that 14 is up to you, but there is a putter, woods, irons, drivers for getting the ball a long distance, and also hybrids, which are kind of a cross between an iron and a wood, and usually a bit more forgiving that a long iron.’ He reaches into his bag. ‘Here, start with a 7 iron.’
The first lesson is about learning the fundamentals, and we start with the grip. Chris demonstrates. We are playing right-handed, therefore playing the ball towards our left shoulder. That means the left hand is the higher hand of the grip. ‘The position of the hands is essential to get control of the club face and direction of the ball,’ says Chris, setting his left hand on the grip, holding it in the fingers with his thumb pointing down the shaft of the club. The other hand comes in lower, so both thumbs end in parallel. ‘Now lock together the bottom finger of the left hand with the top finger on the right to improve the grip,’ says Chris. We try, and our hands feel solid around the club, our thumbs pointing downwards. In fact, the club feels like and extension of our arms, and we start to swing left and right. ‘Now take your hands off and see if you can remember how to do the grip,’ Chris instructs.
Once we are happy with the general feel and grip of the club, it’s time to step up to the range. The next thing to work on is posture. ‘Lean forward from your hips, feet shoulder’s width apart, head up, so you can feel your body weight resting on your thighs and the soles of your feet,’ says Chris. ‘What you don’t want is that feeling like you’re about to sit on a bar stool, it’s not quite the same stance.’ Then we look down at the club. Through the aid of a short pole-like instrument with a magnet on the end, Chris shows where the ball will go to, and we try to position ourselves so that when we hit, we hit straight.
Grip and posture up together, the next thing to get right is the swing. ‘We will start with a short, half swing,’ Chris explains. ‘Not too much twisting of the body, and watch the ball at all times. You want the club to be just grazing the grass. Then when it hits, look up, twisting your body, with the club over your shoulder and your right foot off the ground.’
We try to replicate exactly as instructed. The club misses the ball on the first attempt, although the posture seemed okay and felt natural enough, so we were instructed to lean forwards more. The ball shot directly upwards and landed about a metre away. ‘You went under the ball,’ says Chris. ‘Try again.’ Try we did. The ball lifted but shot to the left.
It took a bit of getting used to, and a few attempts, but soon the ball was taking off, firing straight and with a decent enough trajectory. Chris told us to aim at one of the white distance markers, and we did our best but never quite hit it.
Some attempts went wide, some skimmed along the ground, some shot directly upwards, but learning how to strike the ball properly quickly became lots of fun, and the fact we were on the driving range and not having to walk around the course in the heat was a bonus. ‘There are about 10 things you need to get right when hitting the ball,’ Chris informs, ‘and at first it is a lot to remember, but you’re probably getting about eight or nine of them right.’
Encouragement indeed, so what would be the next step? ‘I recommend if you’re going to play golf to always take lessons,’ says Chris. ‘We have a guy here, he’s one of the best players at the club with a four handicap, he still has a lesson once a month, because there’s always something to improve upon.’
From a few of the shots taken today, that statement is definitely true, but it’s funny how a game effectively requiring just a ball and a stick to play takes so much thought and effort to get right. We send the last of the balls off into the distance, conclude our lesson and wonder – who actually picks up all these balls from the green anyway? For more info on lessons at the Royal Golf Club, call 17 750 777 or visit www.theroyalgolfclub.com. The club is open daily from 7am-midnight.