A while ago I did a show with my friend Rob Beckett, the comedian, and had a look at the world of golf. Rob had been playing a bit and trying to persuade me of the benefits of taking it up. I was unsure. The whole thing felt a little bit tragic: men of a certain age using four hours at the course as a way to escape their home life. I am also never really enamoured of the idea of members’ clubs and rules. If a club won’t let me in, I can only assume that it is exclusive and stuffy. If it will let me in, I assume it must be crap. The idea of membership is a great way to generate false demand for something that people wouldn’t feel anywhere near as excited about if everyone had access.
I had, however, become aware of golf’s many benefits. First, it’s a nice way to get a walk. Second, quite a few people I know play golf (does that make me a prick?) and so it would be a social event, and, third, the art of perfecting the game is so difficult that it requires a level of concentration that is almost meditative. Most of all, however, it’s satisfying when you really leather a ball.
I decided to head to a course and give it a go – on a driving range. I felt that would be the safest way to avoid embarrassment. I didn’t fancy teeing off with 70 furious people behind me because I was taking 35 shots a hole.
Despite this, I felt quite nervous as I got to the car park. I pulled up nervously and readied myself to enter a new, scary world. As I got out of the car, a man dressed immaculately in the finest golf gear stepped out of his vehicle. I was wearing a hooded tracksuit and trainers, the sort of outfit that if you saw someone combining it with a golf club, you would assume it was being used as a weapon.
I realised that I had parked wonkily and would have to pull back out and straighten up. Unfortunately, I couldn’t do that until the man had finished getting his clubs out of his car and went away. I didn’t want to leave the car on a wonk, so I waited. This man genuinely spent 15 minutes getting his kit sorted before he moved towards the clubhouse. It was amazing. I don’t know what was worse – the fact that he was taking so long, or that I was sitting in the car looking as if I was watching him, like some sort of golf club pervert.
This seemingly innocuous incident was enough to increase my anxiety. My nerves were partly about how stuffy everyone might be, but mainly because I realised I did not want to view that man as an aspirational target. Nevertheless, I went in and had a go on the driving range, with some instruction. As is usually the case, I had massively built this up for no reason – actually, it turned out the place was populated with fairly regular humans. I enjoyed my session, and there was fun to be had when I got home as my wife got some decent mileage out of the fact that I appear to be becoming everything I once hated.
I have since been three or four times, and when people ask me what I’ve been up to, I tell them I have started playing golf. Except I haven’t. What I have done is gone to the driving range four times. I’m still too scared to play properly. The idea of wandering on to a golf course still feels hugely daunting, and not just because I’m shit. I’ve also started to become too old to really want to make big changes, so now it turns out my sport of choice is “going to the driving range for a bit”. Hopefully, they’ll put it into the Olympics.