Avoiding the rough: the first step to becoming a golfer

Golf is a sport for everyone - not just for Ryder Cup stars. But, as Inger Larsen discovered, it's easier, and cheaper to learn the rudiments of the game in some places than in others.
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The desire to take up golf hit me many years ago. at Surrey University. Head pounding from a hangover, I was attracted by the idea of the grace, precision and tranquillity of the game. I also thought it might be a useful networking tool after my studies - rubbing shoulders with influential contacts at the 19th hole.

The university's golfers brought me down to earth with a bump: a bunch of old and young fogies practising their strokes in a remote corner of the sports hall. Did I really want to associate with them? Did I want to become the archetypal woman golfer, with voluminous shorts and clipped, grey hair? The game had an image problem.

Still, there was the prospect of bracing walks, fresh air and slashing wildly at defenceless balls. So I signed up for lessons.

Standing in a stuffy, sweaty sports hall with a bucket of balls beside me, clutching a hired club and aiming towards a nylon net, I didn't give a toss about my image. I experienced an almost sensual satisfaction in the mathematical symmetry of the motions. It was like meditating, imagining myself in a field of sweet-smelling grass. You can stand for minutes, testing and perfecting the balance of feet and upper body, the grip of the club versus the aim of the ball. At the end of the session you realise that time flew past while you concentrated on the technique, forgetting the worries and stresses of everyday life.

Two months later I left the fogies for "the green". But my budget didn't run to membership in Surrey's lush and oh-so-select golf clubs, so I put my one club on the shelf for a while - and forgot it.

I took the game up again a few years later when I moved to Dublin. Around the city were numerous "pitch and putt" golf courses - not Crazy Golf or Mini-golf, but lovely, nine-hole courses.

My favourites were one in the middle of Leopardstown racecourse, to the south of Dublin, and another one in the mountains. Both are conveniently located near a good pub. It costs only a few pounds to play, you don't need to be a member, and equipment can be hired for the day.

A golfer needs drivers for the long shots, a putter for the green, a whole slew of irons for chipping out of the rough, and, of course, balls and tees. A leather golf bag costs almost as much as a small set of decent clubs, but you can't really use a carrier bag from the supermarket. Then there are the cute, white leather shoes with the fringe and the spikes.

In Blackrock I found a well-equipped shop with used clubs starting at pounds 10 each, and booked five refresher lessons at my local club. I took to the golf driving range, standing in an enclosed box with a long stretch of grass in front. This gives a bit of privacy for concentrating and practising, and if the ball happens to hit the ceiling or the side walls, you don't hurt anyone.

My coach was an ex-young ex-pro, with a permanent tan and a professionally charming grin. For the last lesson I was allowed out on the golf course. At last. Deep breath of fresh air, feel the sunshine on your neck, concentrate, find the balance, test it, lose it, find it again and then swing the club while keeping your arms straight and hips still. This was the life.

Of course, you need to start at the crack of dawn to get a good round in. Frighteningly soon, fellow players start asking you about your handicap. Not an easy one to bluff your way out of; in the end I had to ask: "what is my handicap?" On moving back to England, I discovered how lucky I had been in Dublin. Many clubs here won't accept members without pots of money and a certain handicap. You don't get your handicap unless you're a member of a club.

Golf is an expensive form of self-torture; I know people who still fret years after a mistake they made in a particularly "important" game.

For all that, I've been bitten by the bug. I ache for the thrill of the quest to drive the score for a round below 100, 90, 80 ... well, 90.

We have just moved to a house with two municipal courses within a 20- minute drive. A weekend round of 18 holes costs only pounds 16, and tuition is pounds 15 for 40 minutes.

I'm not sure how my husband will like being a golf widower, left with an 18-month-old every weekend. But with the Ryder Cup in full swing, I just have to get out there again. And while no one has yet asked me for a game for business reasons, things have improved for women golfers. There are now 400,000 of us in the UK; one club even started a creche. Who knows? Maybe one day we'll be able to take the baby - in a designer sling of white leather, perhaps.

Taking up golf

Ladies Golf Union, for women amateurs (01334 475 811). English Golf Union, for men amateurs (01526 354 500). Scottish Golf Union (01382 549 500); Golf Union (00 353 1 269 4111); Under-18s Golf Foundation, (01920 484 044). `The Royal and Ancient Golfers Handbook' for details of clubs, courses and golf driving ranges: Macmillan Direct (01256 329 242; paperback pounds 19.99, hardback pounds 49.99). Some clubs run beginners' weekends. Contact your local authority for details of municipal courses. All clubs and courses have at least two professionals for lessons (cost, pounds 20-pounds 40 per hour).

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