Scottish golfers have a reputation for playing rather than practising but that looks set to change - especially now they are being provided with state of the art facilities to hone their games, as Nick Rodger discovers
Practice, as the saying goes, makes perfect and nowhere do those words ring more clearly than in golf. But to reach golfing perfection one must have the perfect practice facilities.
But often it seemed that when courses were being built, the practice ground was the last, rather than first, area for which plans were made. Your local club probably had a small, often inhospitable piece of land in the bleakest corner of the golf course known as the practice area... or so the barely readable and rust weary sign informed you.
Add to that an old practice cage with a soggy green mat, a battered rubber tee and a tattered net which has more gaping holes in it than a Jeffrey Archer alibi and you have the perfect ingredients for raising your handicap to an all time high or sustaining serious injury, whichever comes first.
But things are changing. As the requirements and demands of golfers in Scotland increase so too have the facilities on offer - facilities which reflect the country's status as the home of golf.
Players now require quality resources where every aspect of their game can be examined, analysed and developed. Plenty has been written about the excellent facilities at the Scottish National Golf Centre at Drumoig (pictured) but there are other newly developed complexes where the needs of today's golfer can be met, and private member clubs are also responding to the need for the sort of area in which practice can be pleasant, rewarding and constructive.
For example, in recent years the number of dedicated practice facilities, or driving ranges, has doubled to 60. It now means that, from Inverness to Brighthouse Bay, and Ayrshire to Gullane, there is almost bound to be an appropriate facility within reach of where you live.
World of Golf on the outskirts of Glasgow is one such place.
Officially opened by Colin Montgomerie at the start of July, and situated along the A82 in Clydebank, it is the single biggest golf practice facility in Britain, according to its owners.
There are no leaking farmer's sheds in this part of town. Instead you'll find 72 covered driving bays over two-tiers each of them with state of the art ball vending facilities. The area for short game practice, built to USGA standards, is spread over two-and-a-half acres and has a dedicated space for putting, chipping and pitching. Advice and expert guidance is available from the three full-time professionals on-site which, over the course of the next few months, will be increased to six.
'What we have noticed in the 10 years that World Of Golf has been going is that the mentality towards practice is changing. There is an expanding market for these type of facilities,' says World of Golf general manager Yvonne Park, who was instrumental in setting up the Glasgow complex.
But while her facility may boast itself to be the biggest, it is by no means unique and the chances are that wherever you live in Scotland there is now a fully-fitted driving range within easy reach.
But equipment and infrastructure are only part of the story. Golfers now demand not only pleasant surroundings but somewhere to eat, dedicated short and long-game areas, bunkers, putting greens that are maintained to the same high standards as those on our courses and, not surprisingly, good, affordable instruction. The good news is, they are increasingly likely to find them.
Barely a miss-hit 7-iron distance from Edinburgh - and that can be ironed out on the range - the Kings Acre complex complete with its state of the art golf academy has established itself as a leading facility and has convinced a number of touring professionals, including experienced European Tour player and Volvo PGA champion Andrew Oldcorn, to make it their practice base.
The owners of the complex, John and Tom King admit that: 'Golf should be interesting and enjoyable, whether you are playing on the course or hitting balls on the range.'
Among many things, the academy has 30 covered bays and two fully equipped teaching bays with the latest computer-aided video system which allows players to identify the flaws in their game as well as compare their swing to some of the world's leading pros.
Alan Murdoch, a former Challenge Tour campaigner who was responsible for the design of the Kings Acre centre, also believes that golfers in Scotland are becoming much more conscious about the benefits of proper and considered practice.
'One of the reasons we opened our academy was because we realised people were looking for more than just playing a round of golf. It's not about hitting a few balls in a field any more. The game's at a new level and people want to practice and have more lessons.
'The facilities are now developing all over Scotland, the standards are improving and that can only be good for the game.'
And while Kings Acre and World of Golf are the latest examples of this new thinking, they are by no means unique. Driving range owners and managers have realised that dedicated sessions for women, for example, or juniors, or group coaching or special short-game lessons are all part of the armoury of weapons they need in order to attract the customers they need to not only survive but to flourish.
Scotland has forever been recognised as the home of golf but never the home of the practice facility. With the increasing amount of first class centres in operation it is now easier than ever to receive expert tuition and guidance. The landscape is changing and it can only act as a catalyst for a brighter future for golf in Scotland.
|| 21 - DECEMBER 2001