Just because we live in a sprawling urban centre and aren’t all retired and/or minted, it doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy a round of golf. Here are ten ways you can get into the swing.
1. Drink and Drive
Not like that. Instead play indoor golf at one of Urban Golf’s three venues (the Royal Smithfield, the Soho Golf & Country Club or the Kensington National), order a drink from the bar, watch sport on the big screens and drive golf balls on one of the simulators. It’s the easiest (and cheapest) way to play some of the world’s finest golf courses. And the best bit? You don’t need a handicap certificate and there’s no dress code.
2. Play the great holes
Take the notion of pretending to play the best courses in the world one step further and head to PlayGolf London in Northwick Park. The nine hole course there has replicas of some of the greatest holes in golf, including the famous par-three 12th and 16th holes at Augusta National. Only the elite golfers (and best-connected businessmen) of the world get to play the real thing, but anyone can play the replicas. Green polyester jackets are optional and ladies are welcome. So it’s not an exact replica …
3. Take the bus
The European Tour visits England once a year, bringing some of the finest talent in world golf to the stockbroker/Russian multi-millionaire heartlands of Surrey. The BMW PGA Championships (23-26 May) takes place at the Wentworth Club, but it’s easy to get to. Take the train from Waterloo to Virginia Water (45 minutes), get the free double-decker to the course and then don’t miss out on the (also free) shuttle buses which circle the Wentworth estate all day. Not only does it give your feet a rest after walking the course, following the likes of Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, but you can also gawp at the enormous houses and trade gossip about which are owned by Russians and which by ageing comedians.
4. Garden party golf
A big theme of the 2013 golfing year is the continuing difficulty that the committee men of British golf seem to have with women. Put their nonsense aside in late July and head to the Buckinghamshire Golf Club for the ISPS Handa European Masters (26/28 July) where the best professional lady golfers of Europe will compete in one of the most fun events of the season. Denham station is 25 minutes by train from Marylebone and a 10 minute walk from the course. The atmosphere resembles a relaxed garden party with a Pimm’s tent, champagne bar and vintage ice cream. It’s a great day out, advance tickets are dirt cheap and golf lessons are free every day.
5. Watch The Great Gatsby
Really? Golf and the Great Gatsby? Yes, because golf matters in F Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel, and when Baz Luhrmann’s movie version is released this month (potentially one of the cultural highlights of the summer) you’ll see why. The reference to the sport is only fleeting, but it’s essential to the plot. Only scoundrels (and most hackers) cheat at golf.
6. Tea at the Savoy
In one sense, Walter Hagen (1892-1969) was everything non-golfer’s imagine is terrible about golfers. He wore flashy clothes, believed in conspicuous consumption and pioneered the endorsement of sports equipment. But there was a flipside — Hagen was actually a golf punk. Born into a New York working class family, he was a professional in an amateur era and his love of the high life was actually a dramatic “up yours” to the golfing establishment — they once refused him entry to the clubhouse so he hired a chauffeur-driven car as his personal dressing room. When in London Hagen only stayed at the Savoy — and he once spent an afternoon hitting balls from the roof into the Thames.
7. Honour Seve
If Hagen was a golf punk, Severiano Ballesteros was golfing revolutionary. With his looks and influence he was practically the Che Guevara of European golf. He had a thick mop of black hair, brooding good looks and celebrated victory with a military leader’s fist punch. He inspired millions to follow him and his first British course is in London, near Barnet. The Shire London Golf Club even has an enormous S-shaped lake in honour of European golf’s greatest star.
8. Hit balls
In Japan, playing golf doesn’t mean playing on a golf course, it means hitting balls at a range. Some estimates insist that 80% of Japanese golfers have never played on a course. So don’t let the idea of having to deal with etiquette and gold-buttoned blazers put you off — why not just hit balls? Duke’s Meadows in Chiswick has 50 floodlit bays and you hit onto a fully grassed landscape, which is one up on most Japanese ranges — they tend to hit their balls into nets 50 yards away.
9. Crazy golf
While the Japanese like to hit their balls, the Scandinavians like to coax theirs around intricate putting greens, better known here as crazy golf courses (some of them even play it professionally). Last year, Selfridge’s had a nine hole course on the roof, but unfortunately there is no repeat this summer. So instead head to the Hyde Park Sports Centre’s lovely little grass putting green. And if you prefer your crazy golf Florida-style Jurassic Encounter Adventure Golf is further afield in New Malden. The dinosaurs which guard the holes don’t just move, they roar. Quiet Please.
10. Urban golf
A few years ago urban golfers were members of the Shoreditch Golf Club (motto: “Never continue play in a thunderstorm. Always take cover in the nearest pub or minicab office.”) and played in the annual Shoreditch Open. The balls were soft (a bit like hackysacks) and hit through the streets of London. The French still play a version of urban golf and it’s probably best described as parkour for squares. The essence of the sport is “no stuffiness, no boundaries” so the lack of organised events shouldn’t stop you giving it a try. All you need is something soft to hit, a club to hit it with, some carpet to hit from and the brass-neck to pull it off. Absurd golfing apparel is a must, but the more ironically worn the better.
By Matt Cooper @MattCooperGolf
See also: the crazy golf course of Camden Town