What Makes Driving Ranges Essential
TENS of thousands of us will be heading back to the driving range to beat poor defenceless golf balls into submission. We know from a recent survey that 63% of you will be doing precisely that over the winter months. For many it is a rather more attractive proposition than heading to a golf course that is open to the elements. At least on a driving range you will get some shelter when playing from a bay.
Those of you who are regulars will know that some of the most horrendous crimes against the golf swing are committed at the range. The proof of the pudding is the number of balls that smash against the bays or trickle a couple of yards. But does it really matter? The range is the ideal place to go if you are a complete beginner and want to find out if golf is for you. Most of us who head to the range do so because we enjoy it. Golf is meant to be enjoyable, and you can have a lot of fun at a driving range. And for a beginner, that feeling of hitting the perfect shot and watching the ball go exactly where you want it to is something special - and is what brings us back. Again and again.
New golfers are more likely to visit the range on a more frequent basis than more established golfers. So ensuring a positive experience is important. They likely have a go at a range, maybe pitch and putt then transition to either lessons or the course. One thing we at Golfshake have learnt from our surveys is that new golfers are less likely to see a golf pro. This may seem strange given that so many teaching pros are connected to driving ranges.
Bad habits learnt early on are incredibly difficult to get rid of - it is important that you don’t ingrain poor technique. And standing on a mat aimlessly pounding hundreds of balls is going to do precisely that. The obvious answer is to book some lessons, but our surveys tell us that newcomers to the game are less likely than established golfers to seek professional help. And that is fine. We all play golf for different reasons and not everybody wants to play off scratch.
What Makes Ranges Important
So why do we go to the range? For those who are learning the game it is certainly a less intimidating prospect than the thought of turning up at a golf course and wandering over to the first tee with lots of eyes watching you.
In our most recent survey, 63% of you indicated that you planned to practice at the range during the winter, with 56% saying you would practice at your course, while 30% intend to practice at home and 28% of you plan to practice after having had lessons.
Darren Scholes, the professional at Cambridge Driving Range, says: "I firmly believe that golf ranges are very important in developing the participation and growth of golf. We in Cambridge provide a relaxed environment for everyone. All inclusive, without the traditional restrictions of a private club which can be understandably intimidating to a newbie.
"If the range environment is welcoming, stimulating and good value then those newcomers who get bitten by the golf bug are likely to return. Most ranges have professional coaches who can accelerate their learning either in a group scenario or one to one.
"One key element is to direct the enquiring new golfers on to local golf clubs in the area when they are ready to hit the course. Working together with clubs to get newcomers integrated into their clubs as soon as possible."
If only only all ranges were as forward-thinking as Darren’s.
And, as if by magic, Steve Astle, the Head of Coaching at Morley Hayes in Derbyshire, reports that business has never been so brisk - and that he has seen lots of youngsters at his driving range.
He says: "I’ve never seen the range as busy as it was post lockdown, I’d often look down the range to be met by the sight of every bay full, even on the grass and on certain evenings was met by the sight of golfers queueing out the door for the opportunity to hit some balls. The average age was much younger than I'd seen before, with groups of teens attending with friends and it was a great atmosphere."
He echoes the thoughts of Scholes in saying that it is important to create an atmosphere that will encourage people to return: "For those beginning it's important we create a welcoming environment that’s open for all. We have areas where the serious golfer can have some peace and quiet and the person looking for some activity and sense of fun can hit without being judged even if they don’t have their own equipment.
"We have six coaches on site who were fully booked all summer and autumn and are returning to full diaries in December. We try to provide all kinds of opportunities for people to get into the game through individual coaching, small family sessions or groups for beginners and intermediates. We also offer ladies only groups and junior coaching is also very popular. We want people to find their comfort zone and are there to make sure they get a great first experience of Golf. The driving range is the perfect place to fit in, customer friendly, time friendly and really COVID secure.”
Scholes and Astle are shining examples of everything that is right about driving ranges. As they say, it is a place where nobody will ever be judged, which is precisely why so many beginners and new golfers spend so much time there.
How to Get the Most From Range Time
And there is nothing to suggest that you shouldn’t head there simply to hit 100 golf balls. But it is also the ideal place to visit after you have had a lesson from your friendly club professional - something that has been especially difficult to do this year.
There are things that even a beginner you do without professional advice, and the first and most important basic is to learn how to grip the club properly. Look at how the tour pros do it, go online. The two most popular grips are the Vardon and interlocking grip. Most pros use the Vardon (or overlapping grip), although it might be worth pointing out that the two greatest golfers ever to draw breath use the interlocking grip, namely Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus. They have won 33 majors between them, so you have to imagine that they know a thing or two.
You can also learn about grip pressure. Most people you see battering golf balls at the range quite clearly hold the club far too tightly. Tension is a killer. And despite what you may think, if you grip the club too tightly it will cost you distance. Again, look at the way the pros grip their clubs. With the exception of Bryson DeChambeau, they all hold every club gently, just tight enough so that the club will not fly out of their hands at impact. Tension is also a killer with a putter in your hands. You often hear golf commentators talking about “soft hands’. It is a good thought.
And rather than standing there for an hour beating golf balls with no purpose, why not go with a friend and make it competitive? Driving ranges have markers so why not take six shots each at, say, the 100-yard marker, giving yourself points for the one that finishes nearest the target? Extend it to 150 and 200 yards, and then aim for the 50-yard marker. It is fun and it will teach you distance control.
If your range has bunkers, get in there and learn how to get out. It will save you a bucketload of shots when you are on the course. Thankfully, most ranges now have decent putting greens. Why would you practice 50ft putts. This is the place to perform drills that will help you on the course. Try holing, say, 10 putts from two feet. If you miss one, start all over again. Keep going until you have managed to drain 10 in a row and then extend the distance to three feet. Repeat the exercise. Then move to four feet. If you can hole short putts with confidence it will clearly make you a better putter and you will not be afraid to run an approach putt two or three feet beyond the hole on the course.
Will Ranges Stay Busy?
Will driving ranges be as busy as they were after the last lockdown finished? One range in Manchester saw customers returning in record numbers, with 73,000 golf balls being struck on one day alone.
Trafford Golf Centre, which claims to be the busiest driving range in the UK, with 57 bays, says it saw three million balls being struck from the time it reopened in May until being forced to close its doors once again, and says that the 73,000-in-one-day achievement was the highest it has ever experienced.
Pete Styles, the director of golf at Trafford Golf Centre, said: “Since March we have experienced many highs and lows as a venue, but we are pleased to be reporting positive numbers as we emerge into the new normal as not only a driving range for golfers but as a visitor attraction welcoming families, friends, date nights and many more.”
Date nights at a driving range? The mind boggles. But why not? Most of them sell food and drink and why wouldn’t couples want to hit golf balls together?
Styles continued: “I want to take this opportunity to thank our customers for their continued support and co-operation in keeping to social distancing guidelines and increased measures in place to ensure we can remain operating. We value the equality of practice at Trafford Golf Centre and we always strive to offer the best service, balls, mats and targets."
So yes, get out on the range, but set targets for yourselves. Go there with a purpose in mind. And don’t forget to enjoy it.
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