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Chinese Golf

I watched the wonderful display of golf by Francesco Molinari and World Number One, Lee Westwood in Shanghai. As in the Ryder Cup, they were helped by overnight rain to soften the greens and virtually no wind. Give the top professionals these conditions and they can go for the flags and show how incredibly good at the game they really are. It was a feast.
I have a running argument with those who are so determined that “their” course will not be made to look too easy, that they trick them up – and then find themselves with “flukey” winners: eg. The R&A course set-ups at Troon 1994 (Justin Leonard) Carnoustie 1999 (Paul Lawrie –courtesy of Jean van de Velde) Royal St Georges 2003 (Ben Curtis) and Troon again in 2004 (Todd Hamilton).
My attention was then caught by a commentator who described the current explosion of interest in golf in China. He casually mentioned that there are over three hundred new courses under construction within the catchment area of Shanghai with a population of 18 million people. Which begs the question. How on earth are people going to learn the game before setting foot on these courses, all of whose architects and constructors will be vying for the honour of the finest “Championship” course in the area? Almost by definition these courses will be totally unsuitable for beginners.
Everyone will be starting from scratch. No Dads and Mums, Uncles and Aunts to show them the way. It will no doubt prove a bonanza for golf professionals from the world over who will be clamouring for teaching opportunities but without some kind of enlightened practise facilities, leading to some more accessible, more simple golf courses i.e. flat, not too long with minimum rough and sensible greens, the brave new world of Chinese golf could turn into a sporting nightmare.
Which brings me to the matter of golf instruction generally. We are all advised to go to a registered PGA professional but what do they really have to offer, apart from a bucket of balls and advice on a few general principles e.g the grip, stance and some basic idea of the swing? If they were even mildly successful in what they do, there would surely be a lot more reasonable ball strikers to be seen at driving ranges. In fact I find it hard not to rate golf as one of the worst taught games in the world.
If anyone really cared about teaching someone to play golf properly, the last place they should begin is on a normal practise ground or driving range. Without question, the best way (possibly the only way) of learning the GAME – as opposed to just learning some sort of swing – is to start with a three inch putt and work slowly backwards from the hole. Long putting will become chipping, finally short pitching and so on. This way a controlled strike on the back of the ball is at least an achievable goal. Waving a long club round your body on a range with a success rate of one reasonable hit in fifty is a dead end process: in fact it is worse than that, because the poor sufferer naturally believes the following: if only I could repeat that one good strike, my path to golfing glory is assured. In fact, the likelihood is that the swing concerned was as inept as all the others and almost certainly unrepeatable. Talk about a vicious circle!!
The only way I ever recommend a beginner to hit a bucket of balls if they have serious aspirations is to use no longer club than a seven iron and swing with their feet together – actually touching. Until they are able to make good contact the majority of the time, there is no point whatsoever in moving on.
There is a new, rather charming, golfing publication available called Golf Quarterly (by subscription only –
There are a couple of pages, headlined “How to make golf more fun”. Banish the tee peg, less clubs, bigger hole and finally “design courses in multiples of six holes”. Courses of six and twelve holes would be built – especially attractive to beginners and juniors. China even gets a mention. I just hope that someone over that side of the world takes out a subscription.


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