How A New Golfer Perceives The Game
Everyone has their own tale to share about how they first connected with golf. For many, it began in childhood and became a lifelong passion, while for others it was a relationship that flourished later in life.
During the pandemic, we have seen thousands of newcomers to the game, both young and old, who were united in their pursuit of an outdoor activity that offered some respite from the anxieties of the past 18 months.
Much is made of the efforts to bring more children and young people into the sport, introducing them to driving ranges and courses, but we shouldn't underestimate the enduring appeal that golf has for an older demographic. Retaining and bringing in new middle aged to older golfers is just as key to the long-term health of the ancient game as getting clubs into the hands of kids.
Member of the Golfshake Community, Robin Baldwin is one of those who have shown that an older(er) dog can learn new tricks by recently making golf part of his life.
Robin, who is 55 and was one of the weekly prize draw winners during the Golfshake #BirdieClub in Association With Callaway & Odyssey Golf, described to us his meaningful journey through the game thus far.
"In August 2020, a friend (a keen and very good golfer) suggested going to a driving range. I really enjoyed it, went a second time and thought I'd try golf more seriously. I hadn't touched a golf club for 25 years and only played once or twice a year before that.
"I bought a second-hand set of clubs on eBay for £200, booked four 30-minute lessons at a local club and then it was the second lockdown. It wasn't until March this year that I actually made it out onto a golf course. I took partial retirement in February which frees up some time.
"Since then, I've bought new clubs, joined the local club and play a couple of times a week, with mixed results. My aim initially was to get down to 'bogey golf' but I'm determined to get down to mid-teens. I fear I've left it too late to get down to single-figure handicap."
Having more free time has proven to be a welcome opportunity for Robin, a void that golf now fills. Before, like others embarking on career and family life during early adulthood, time pressures made the hours needed to play impossible to find.
"Prior to 2020, I think the limiting factor was time. As simple as that. Full time work and family commitments meant that playing once a month would have been very optimistic and I don’t think it’s realistic to be able to get to a reasonable standard (not for me, anyway). I also had other sports and pastimes when time allowed. It’s easier to find an hour for a game of tennis than five hours for a round of golf!"
But now, Robin is finding those extra hours, and he has already embraced the challenges and contrasting fortunes that this most tantalising of sports presents.
"What keeps me coming back? It started as the occasional shot that flies from the club and goes just where you want it to. As I've improved a bit, it's stringing together enough good shots to get a good score on a hole, or nine holes, or a full round. Even on the worst round, when you're THAT close to chucking the bag in a lake, there will be a few shots that are worth remembering and make you think 'hmm, maybe I can do this after all...'
"The other side of that is the frustration: hitting a fantastic shot, thinking a par or better is on the cards, then the very next shot is hopeless. How can you vary that much? The equivalent is a rugby player knocking over a conversion from the touchline, then the next kick topples three yards along the ground. My last two rounds were 108 gross (nothing went right!) and 83 (nothing went wrong!). Who knows what Saturday will bring?"
Robin offers a fresh perspective on the experiences of a new golfer, and he highlights some potential obstacles.
"The snobbery that used to surround golf years ago seems to be lessening - but it's still there to some degree. I wonder how many potential golfers have been put off by the attitude of a small but noticeable minority of golfers. All the club pros and staff I've met are brilliant; some golfers less so. But it's a great way of getting exercise without realising it, especially if you carry your bag. And the fresh air and nature make golf courses great places to be."
It's clear that the benefits of golf outweigh any potential negatives for Robin, which he believes can be true for many older golfers.
"It's a great pastime for older people. Good exercise, low impact, no rush, and no upper limit. I’ve played with men and women well into their 80s, thinking it’s not really fair, only to be soundly beaten as they play a very competent round. I soon realised that an unorthodox swing and reliable 100 yard drive up the fairway is much better than a very stylish 250 yard rocket into the trees/rough/water!"
For Robin, having friends who introduced him was essential, but that opportunity isn't available for everyone, something that he states could be addressed with some initiatives.
"Having a friend who played was a lucky coincidence for me. I didn’t have any plans to start golfing. But someone to encourage was really useful. Someone to copy and who can give some gentle tips.
"There doesn’t seem to be a standard reliable source of information. I still haven’t got a clue about index ratings and slope indexes and experienced golfers seem to be fixated on this! Similarly there can be a push towards competitions, which doesn’t interest me in the slightest. I just want to play golf, laugh at the bad shots, look smug after the occasional good shot, and get better. Being better or worse than someone else doesn’t really matter.
"For a newcomer it might be good for clubs to have a buddying system with a more experienced player - someone to play a few rounds with and explain some of the less obvious details, customs and terminology. I don’t think I’m lacking in confidence generally, but I can see how some people might find a new environment slightly intimidating."
Just a few months into his journey, Robin has embraced the game and been an example for what it should be for players of all ages. Golf needs more Robins and there has never been a better time to draw them into a game that - at its best - can be so rewarding.
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