Ahead of this year’s Open at Royal Lytham & St Annes, Deborah Wain looks at the sport and hobby fit for all ages
It’s something many look forward to in retirement – the opportunity to play a leisurely round of golf in lush, serene surroundings.
And it is one of relatively few sports in which age is not a barrier. The handicap system makes it possible to play competitively against players of all ages and abilities while some players come into form later in life. Take 53-year-old Englishman Roger Chapman, for example, who recently won the US Senior PGA Championship after only one win at a European Tour event during his pro-career.
Meanwhile, older players at this year’s Open at Royal Lytham & St Annes, which begins on 19 July, includes five-time champion Tom Watson, still competing on the green at 62.
However, top coaches agree that simply rushing down to your nearest golf range is not going to help you enjoy the game, or avoid common problems like wrist and back injuries.
The Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) puts enthusiasts in touch with over 5,000 registered PGA professionals across the UK and the Irish Republic, who are based in private and municipal clubs and at driving ranges.
PGA professionals and assistants, who are still completing their three years of training, offer tuition for ordinary golfers either new to the sport or wanting to improve their game.
You don’t need to be a member of a club to have a lesson and the message is don’t be shy about talking to coaches to make sure they are the right coach for you – or indeed signing up.
John Jacobs, head PGA professional at Cumberwell Park Golf Club in Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire, says: “Some people have an idea that golf is elitist but that’s not the case.
“It’s a game you never master. You take it up when you can and go as far as you can and you are never too old to learn the fundamentals.”
Those fundamentals are everything, agrees Steve Cooper, advanced fellow of the PGA at the Ping Academy at Lincolnshire’s Gainsborough Golf Club.
“The very first thing you need to understand on the driving range is how the club wants to perform and how to co-ordinate your body to support it. Then it’s on to the short game area and eventually the course with exercises and drills to do at home,” he says.
“Only perfect practice makes perfect.”
Kevin Craggs, also a PGA advanced fellow who runs an academy in Stirlingshire, says he teaches players good habits and an understanding of what is right for them – key to preventing frustration and injury.
Craggs has coached champions such as Colin Montgomerie and Catriona Matthew – the same rule applies to everyone.
“Whether you’re female, an older player or a professional there are three fundamental principles: mobility, leading to distance, stability which leads to accuracy, and strength which holds it all together.”
He adds: “Age is no barrier. It’s all about attitude. You see people’s characters when they get out on the golf course. If they have a competitive spirit, you’ll see it.”
Coaches set their own fees and they vary but some offer discounted packages. As well as individual tuition, many clubs run group classes which have the advantage of introducing you to people to play against.
So how fit do you need to be? If you have a serious health problem, talk to your doctor before playing, but coaches will discuss your fitness and mobility too.
“You should always get professional advice,” says John Skinner, a golf fitness and conditioning specialist who works in London.