Active holidays: Hooked - after a little pain in Spain

Nobody said taking up golf was easy. But absolute beginner Annalisa Barbieri found herself seriously addicted after just four days
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The Independent Travel

Golf was always something other people played; when they got too old for communal showers, rich enough to pay to walk on good grass and confident enough not to care how they looked in pastels.

Golf was always something other people played; when they got too old for communal showers, rich enough to pay to walk on good grass and confident enough not to care how they looked in pastels.

Anyway, I already had a specialist sport that involved lots of kit, technical words and was the subject of much derision: fishing. On the other hand, the fly-fishing season isn't in full swing yet, I kept hearing what fun golf was, and at least it didn't involve standing in icy water. So I decided to give it a go.

Rule one when learning any new activity: try to ensure your surroundings are as pleasant as possible. It's better to feel wretched – and you may well feel wretched as you grapple with a new skill – if the sun is shining on your face. So I booked in for two days of tuition at the Seve Ballesteros Natural Golf School at the San Roque Club in Andalucia. My teacher was to be Vicente Ballesteros, Seve's brother, trainer, lifelong mentor and one of the two teachers at the school he also runs. (I soon found out which of my acquaintances played golf, as this news caused them to hiss with jealousy.)

The San Roque Club is spread out over 340 green and terracotta acres, at the tip of the Iberian peninsula, in the middle of which is a hotel that used to be a house owned by the Domecq sherry family; they lived well. I had anticipated a real kindergarten approach to golf – you know, "This is a club, this is how you hold it, this is the ball, these are the rules, this is the course". Instead, on our first morning we were taken straight to the driving range. I was given a club and put on a mat with a basket of balls. Like all stupid people, I thought: "How difficult can this be?" so I gave it a go and missed and missed, until I finally managed that feat only beginners can achieve – I translated all my energy into moving the ball four inches.

Everyone in my group already played golf; some of them, I discovered, quite well. I was the only beginner. The swing – just like the casting in fishing – may look easy, but is fantastically difficult to get right. There are a hundred things to remember, and the more effort you put in, the harder it gets.

Vicente was a brilliant teacher... if you were male and already pretty good at golf. Otherwise, you got his attention in this descending order: male and not so good at golf; female and good at golf; female and had never played golf. In fairness to him, I don't think he had been told that there was a golf virgin in the group. And those in the group with less to learn than I said that a few minutes with Vicente improved their game enormously.

In the afternoon we went to the 18-hole golf course. Obeying the usual, fussy dress codes, we got a buggy, plastered ourselves in sunscreen, and teed off. I had perhaps three attempts at putting when I finally got the ball on to the green. I missed. Again, it looked so easy, but measuring the distance, often just inches, and swinging accordingly, was hard. I kept overshooting the hole.

Still I learnt tons just in watching golf actually being played and asking on-course questions. (I even had a moment when I had to remind myself why I bothered with fishing when I could be playing a round of golf in the sun.) By the end of that first day I was able to hold a conversation with golfers and sound like one of them.

What no one had told me, though, was how much breasts can hinder one when playing golf. A good swing comes from being able to perform a solid, smooth pendulum movement across the body. But women with a C cup or above have to stick their arms out further from their body in order to miss their embonpoint.

Day two followed the same pattern, except that our swing was videoed so people could observe how much they moved their head/weren't straight/were crap. I chose this moment to go the toilet.

Back in England, I embarked on a ladies' beginners weekend course at Foxhills. I fancied learning to play without any men in the group to take the attention away from me.

Things were very different. By good fortune, I was the only one on the course, so I had the instructor all to myself. At Foxhills they don't teach you to play golf, they teach you to play "flog" – golf backwards. On the first day we went from putting to chipping to pitching to driving. This is great because, initially, it's easier to get your head (and breasts) round the more precise movements needed for putting. My instructor, Leighton Kane, was very patient, explaining everything I wanted to know. Suddenly, I understood golf, it had a point. I wanted to be good at it; very good, very fast.

Day two on the course was spent practising more driving and then playing nine holes in the afternoon. Me against Leighton. I finished the round in approximately 317 strokes, with a handicap in triple figures. Then I had a great swim and steam in the health club while I waited for the club's exceptional food. I was exhausted, achy, terrible at golf but worryingly hooked on it.

Would I take it up? If I had more money to do it in style and more room for the kit, most definitely.



The facts



Annalisa Barbieri flew with British Airways Holidays, www.britishairways.com, 0870 242 4249. One week at the San Roque Club costs from £635, including flights, car hire and hotel (b&b).

The San Roque Club, 0034 956 613 030, www.sanroqueclub.com, offer four nights' b&b, two afternoons of tuition, two green fees and one dinner from €860 (£500). Their learning to play golf programme includes five days' instruction, seven nights' b&b, one dinner, and three green fees. Check with club for current prices.

Foxhills, 01932 872 050, www.foxhills.co.uk, are offering ladies' beginners courses from 3-5 May, 21-23 June, and 2-4 Aug. The £330 price includes tuition, two nights' half-board accommodation, a nine-hole tournament, and use of the health club.

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