Turnberry in Ayrshire can be a challenging place to learn to play golf but, as Julia Stuart discovered, its spa and its banana soufflé certainly ease the task

The cold has already pierced my five layers of defensive clothing, including two thermal vests. The wind, whipping off the Irish Sea, is so thick that should it succeed in its attempts to knock me over, I have no doubt that I could swim in it. A short distance away, in the warm, is an amiable waiter who would bring me a nice cup of tea and plate of homemade shortbread as soon as look at me, as well as call me by the rather intoxicating title of "madam".

The cold has already pierced my five layers of defensive clothing, including two thermal vests. The wind, whipping off the Irish Sea, is so thick that should it succeed in its attempts to knock me over, I have no doubt that I could swim in it. A short distance away, in the warm, is an amiable waiter who would bring me a nice cup of tea and plate of homemade shortbread as soon as look at me, as well as call me by the rather intoxicating title of "madam".

Yet there is something even more alluring keeping me out in this infernal weather in Turnberry, Scotland, masterfully downplayed by a passing elderly local as "a bit fresh". The appeal is the rather delicious sound of "thwock" - the noise my golf club has just made when hitting my first-ever ball off a tee and 100 yards on to the fairway, right on target for the flag flapping like fury in the distance. The moment is made even more toe-curlingly pleasing by the sight of my fellow-golfing novices hacking around the rough looking for their balls.

The resort of Turnberry is set in 800 acres on the south-west Ayrshire coast, around an hour's drive from Glasgow. Golfing fans know it as the three-time host of the Open Championship. The more self-indulgent will have heard about its spa, one of the best in the UK, located next to the five-star hotel that overlooks the gorse-spotted courses and the grey sea beyond.

We arrived only yesterday, never having picked up a golf club before, our mission to learn how to play golf "back to front". Novices are normally first taught the swing, which can take up to six lessons, before they can progress further. Knowing enough of the game to actually play on a course can take months. However, this four-hour method, spread over two days, starts with putting, progresses to the swing, and guarantees that you will be striding down the fairway before you can cry "Fore!".

"We decided that golf is taught the wrong way round," explains Chris Brown, the club's senior teaching pro, when we meet him the first morning. "The aim of golf is to get the ball into the hole, so we start with putting and short shots, and then develop the swing from there." For every hour that a learner practises their long shot, he says, five should be devoted to putting. "Drive for show, putt for dough," he says, leading us out of the teaching academy on to the putting green, where the rain feels like it is falling in a U-shape - what doesn't hit you on the way down turns round and crawls up your jacket sleeves. I am reminded that the resort's website says: "The warm waters of the Gulf Stream drift slowly by the famous links here at Turnberry, lapping against the shore to create some rather special golfing conditions."

After showing us the correct position in which to stand, we are asked to line up our balls against a marker on the putter. Duly lined up, I then attempt to tap my ball into the hole just 2ft away, but even stun myself, well used to being rubbish at all things, by how useless I am as the ball sails merrily past the hole without even a sniff of it. The ever-encouraging Chris, who admires my correct grip and posture, insists that putting is all down to "feel", which can't be taught.

It is now time to practise our "short game", and we move on to, thankfully, covered individual pens from which you hit the ball on to the driving range. Theoretically. I miss many, misfire one against the wall, and during another bungled shot, almost hit the photographer, providing him with yet another "How I cheated death" anecdote.

Back inside the teaching academy, we each stand on what looks like a pad covered with greengrocer's grass, and fire a shot through the open door on to the driving range while being filmed. Chris plays my effort back in slow motion on one half of a screen, while playing a film of Tiger Woods performing the same shot on the other half. With a fancy electronic pen, Chris then draws a line on our backs, showing that we both begin in the same position. Both sets of knees are also bent and we are standing at the same distance from the butt of our clubs. But seconds later, my back drops, which explains the lousy shot.

After lunch in the nearby clubhouse, we return to the short-game area, where Chris teaches us how to develop our swing into the full monty - right wrist cocked when bringing the club fully back, and right foot turning while whacking it. Something weird happens. I hit a beauty and, stupefied, find myself asking everyone else whether they saw it. Then another. I am now hitting good shots and duff shots in a ratio of one to five.

Lessons over for the day, we take our sore backs and arms to the spa, which carries the Espa product range. Just smelling the place strokes the soul. The glorious 20m pool, complete with gushing waterfall, has floor-to-roof windows on one side that look out over the sea, from which the volcanic Ailsa Craig rises like a mushroom cloud. There are also saunas, a whirlpool bath, a gym and 12 individual treatment rooms, each with a heated bed, where one can indulge in 25 different treatments. I opt for a conservative two - the full-body aromatherapy massage followed by an express facial. When the dratted time comes to shuffle back along the candle-lit wooden floors to the changing-rooms, I am so relaxed that I am slurring.

Those not into sensual pleasure can get their kicks at the outdoor activity centre, and choose from a spot of rifle target shooting, 4x4 off-road driving, archery, game shooting, clay-target shooting, trout fishing (Turnberry has its own 2.5- acre spring-fed loch), falconry, horseriding on the beach, and quad bike riding - all of which, like the spa treatments, cost extra.

It is very easy to continue indulging oneself at Turnberry. If you can put up with the pianist knocking out "Memory", the restaurant offers an excellent menu. The desserts are particularly enticing: soft, warm banana soufflé, gently parted in the middle by the waiter who then pours in hot chocolate sauce. If I hadn't stuffed myself quite so much (they serve delicious fig bread while you choose from the menu), I would have slept very well in one of the resort's eight-bedroom lodges.

The following morning, it's shoulders to the wind as we venture out on to the nine-hole course, named Arran for the island lying off the coast; there are also two 18-hole courses. We pass a sign declaring jeans, denims, tracksuits, football shirts and T-shirts forbidden, and the strict instruction that men's shirts must have a collar and sleeves and be tucked in neatly at all times. The hole is a par four, which means that you have four shots to get the ball in. With our handicaps, we're allowed an extra three. I maintain my impressive start and hole the ball within seven or eight shots, less than my fellow- novices. I remain silently victorious. I daren't open my mouth lest it acts as a kind of parachute and I'm blown away.

I return home strangely lighter of heart, and with a new master plan. Should I ever show signs of losing it, I inform my beloved, I should be dispatched tout de suite back to Turnberry, and plonked in the lounger by the Jacuzzi facing Ailsa Craig as a curative measure. At early signs of recovery, I should be taken on to Arran until I can reproduce that "thwock" sound, which would cheer me up no end. But should any absence seem unbearable at this juncture, I point out, he may, quite rightly, come to the conclusion that regular preventive weekends are probably more in order.

TRAVELLER'S GUIDE

GETTING THERE

The Westin Turnberry Resort (01655 331000; www.turnberry.co.uk) is 15 miles from Ayr railway station, 25 miles from Prestwick airport and 55 miles from Glasgow airport.

STAYING THERE

The hotel has 221 rooms: 132 in the main hotel (from £220 per double room per night), including three speciality suites (from £525 per double per night), four eight-bedroom lodges (from £220 per double per night or from £895 per night for the whole thing), eight six-bedroom lodges (from £220 per double per night or from £675 per night for the whole thing) and nine two-bedroom cottages (from £155 per double per night) which are partly self-catering. All rooms, apart from the cottages, include full Scottish breakfast. They also include use of the spa (excluding treatments), the snooker room, tennis courts and putting greens.

LEARNING TO PLAY GOLF

A midweek (Sunday to Thursday) Golf Back To Front package costs from £555 for a single room, or from £735 for a twin/double room based on two sharing. At the weekend they cost from £595 for a single room or from £825 per twin/double based on two sharing. The cost includes two nights' accommodation and full Scottish breakfast, all tuition, nine holes on the Arran course, use of the academy practice facilities, lunch on both days, a golfer's gift bag, use of the spa (excluding treatments), the snooker room, tennis courts and putting greens.

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