Get on course with the fairway sex

Golf was once a man's game played by boardroom bores. Today, more women than ever are discovering their inner Tiger and putting a zing in their swing. Well, most of them are, says Rebecca Armstrong

Around of golf is the way rich men relax. The best way to ruin a good walk. The best hole? The nineteenth, of course, the clubhouse bar. If I thought about golf at all, it was always in well-worn clichés. Until, that is, I spoke to a friend I regard as reasonably cool and discovered he spends most of his weekends on his local greens and fairways. It seems my ideas about golf are seriously out of date. The game is no longer the preserve of well-off corporate types. Instead, it is not only increasingly hip but appealing to more women, and young women in particular, than ever before.

Tim Southwell, founder and editor of Golf Punk magazine, believes there is something of a revolution taking place in the way women think of the game.

"I know girls who wouldn't have been the slightest bit interested in golf a few years ago but now think it's the greatest thing ever," he says.

Southwell attributes this shift partly to the rise in popularity of golf-style designer clothing. "Almost every designer has cutting-edge golf designs," he explains, "and you could go clubbing or out to dinner in these clothes." Tom Cox, on the other hand, author of golf memoir Nice Jumper and founder of the website www.secretgolf.co.uk, thinks the sport needs more than a new wardrobe in order to keep attracting women.

"Although there has been lots of talk about golf becoming more egalitarian," he says, "it's still the case that while there may be more twentysomething men with spiky hair playing golf... the number of female members of golf clubs under the age of 50 is very, very low."

In response to what Cox describes as this "evolutionary lag" that exists at some of Britain's stuffier golf clubs there has, in recent years, been a growing market for female-friendly golf events. A typical example is the Swing Out Sister spa day that has just launched at The Grove hotel and golf club in Watford.

"The thinking behind this is to get more women to have a go," explains Stuart Morgan, the club's senior instructor, " as it's still a relatively untapped market." As well as an inclusive approach to coaching, Swing Out Sister days include a champagne breakfast, lunch and post-putting manicures. Perfect for golf rookies like me to combine a day on the fairways with some well-deserved pampering.

I meet my fellow debutants over a mountain of pastries, bacon sandwiches and breakfast bubbly. All very promising. Most of the women here have never set foot on anything other than a crazy golf course.

Not a problem, according to Morgan as he gets down to business by explaining that while lots of golfers don't bother warming up before they play, it's a good idea to do some stretches to get the heart pumping before hitting the greens. Clasping a club with both hands, we whirl it around our heads before performing a series of lunges.

Next, we learn to grip a club; not too tight, as this will make shots less accurate and tire muscles more quickly. Morgan soon realises he's going to have to build my game from absolute scratch. Having made sure we're wearing our spikes - crucial for grip and protecting the greens - Morgan explains that most putting clubs have a line on the face (the bit that makes contact with the ball) to make it easier to strike the ball cleanly. To test our putting accuracy, we try a drill that involves putting five balls in a row, first a foot from the hole, then from two, then three feet. Miss a shot and you start again from the beginning. As a way of focusing the mind it's very effective.

Morgan remains positive throughout and after allotting us a tee each, we move on to that most evasive of skills, the swing. He explains that while we certainly won't master it by the end of the session, we should bear in mind that a sound swing is built on three principles: grip, stance, and posture. It sounds straightforward but the reality is that as soon as you master one of this trio, the other two go out of the window.

Initially, I manage only to send clumps of earth into the air, but when a golf cart appears on the horizon my technique improves immeasurably, probably because I have something big to aim at. The best way to aim is, apparently, to visualise where you want the ball to land before taking the shot (well it works for Tiger). During the day, my golfing misconceptions are shattered one by one; we can even call upon waiters who will deliver lattes on the links.

While it may be a bit mean that we only get one golf glove each, the game is not without its fun side; the labour-saving device used by caddies to pick up stray balls, for example, is known as a "shag bag".

Later, I chat to Helen McDonnell of Complete Golf magazine who believes a new generation of professional female players has helped the game shed its staid image. "In recent years, people like Michelle Wie have challenged the old guard," she says. The Honolulu-based prodigy has certainly raised the game's profile but McDonnell says local club taster days are still essential. "A lot of women feel intimidated on a practice ground surrounded by good players. Here, everyone's the same."

Swing Out Sister days at The Grove start at £150 per person. Details: www.thegrove.co.uk; 01923 807807

Where to go green

Chessington Golf Centre, Surrey

A six-week group programme starts at £60. Individual lessons £19. Details: 020-8391 0948; www.chessingtongolf.co.uk

Sapey Golf Course, nr Worcester

Provides individual novice coaching from £12 for 30 mins. Details: 01886 853288; www.sapeygolf.co.uk

Pontardawe Golf Club, Swansea

Prices for one-on-one instruction start at £22.50 for 45 mins. Details: 01792 830977, www.golftoday.co.uk

Urban Golf, London

State-of-the-art virtual golf club offering individual classes for women from £60 for one hour. Details: 020-7434 4300; www.urbangolf.co.uk

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