I spend a lot of my time at driving ranges given that a) I don’t have much time to play ‘proper golf’, and b) they fascinate me and have continued to do so ever since I first frequented the one at Sandown Park in 1981.
They catch my eye from various motorways as much as an actual course does, which generally involves some form of rubber-necking to see what sort of targets they offer, and I like to score them on their quality of mats, balls, tee size options, targets and vistas.
My favourite, in terms of simplicity, might be the St Andrews Links Golf Academy where I found myself three hours before my tee time on the Old Course, I was anxious and there were no other windows to hit a few.
Each bay had their own set of yardages – who would have thought it? – and the backdrop is the old town. Perfection.
My personal dislikes are an uphill range and not enough destinations to aim at. I cover myself with the general paucity of low tee options by always carrying one around in my bag as these have generally been half-inched for whatever reason. I borrowed mine in 2010 and it has haunted me every day since.
But the real beauty of the range is the people who keep it going – the punters. These weekday warriors will be here come rain or shine and, most likely, snow. Despite all of the information out there on how to practise efficiently the majority of us will follow the same routine just to reassure our fragile minds that the swing is still there and that we’re making significant improvements in our movements through the ball despite taking no lessons, being overweight and the evidence of the shots suggests otherwise.
But whichever range you are at you should be able to spot these characters honing their games…
The wannabe pro
Every driving range has at least one of these. He can be easily spotted by a poor haircut, ‘crazy’ belt which is most likely white, a set of headphones and some tour sticks, all of which single him out as a serious golfer.
After filling up with 1,200 balls his second port of call will be to a bay with a mirror to, firstly, pick at random bits of hair and, secondly, to see if he is ‘on plane in the transition stage’.
With a collection of Japanese exotica lying at his feet in a Mensa-like matrix he then goes about his business, safe in the knowledge that everyone else present has stopped to admire his ball flight. All manner of swing aids, including a set of water wings, appear in the next two hours before it’s time to call it a day and get back in the 1994 Saab. Repeat to fade for the next three years when the dream finally dies and he goes into recruitment.
The happy couple
The run of events for a first trio of dates usually follows this sequence: A quiet drink, nothing too pushy, then a civilised meal before, with the conversation drying up, a trip to the local cinema.
For some unearthly reason some men attempt to shoe-horn in a trip to the range with their new-found soul-mate with the sole intention to show off their golfing prowess.
The ‘session’ begins with a few giggles as Mr Soon To Be Single Again shows remarkable restraint after witnessing a collection of clanks and tinks into the sides before descending into a half-hour workshop where he works his way through the bag. And to finish a warm-down coffee and analysis of the newly-made video on his state-of-the-art mobile. The very same phone never rings again.
He may arrive with a handful of clubs but there is only one that this bad boy is interested in hitting. Mr Big isn’t here to work on his wedge gapping, he is here to impress anyone and everyone while, at the same time, no-one.
Within 10 balls he is champing at the bit, ready to let his enormous, suped-up driver explode. The mere fact that a busy A road or a housing estate sits perilously just the other side of the far netting means nothing and, after 20 efforts to clear the obstacle, he finally manages to pop one over much to the amazement of, again, nobody.
Each move is accompanied by a grunt as well as a revolving head to check who exactly is taking in this impressive long-range clinic.
Even in these trying times any driving range worth its salt will have a handful of middle-aged men, complete with shirt and tie, going about their business throughout the day. His biggest fear is not an unwanted bout of the unmentionables but an untimely call from HQ where, after hot-footing it down to bay 24, he offers a muffled explanation of where he is up to on the Higgs account and how it was now looking ‘unlikely’ that he would be back in the office today.
Thereafter, another bucket is duly purchased and a collection of 7-irons threaten the bell which, for some reason, constitutes the 150-yard mark.
The wrong ‘un
Lurking somewhere along the bays is this particular character. There are few rules to driving ranges but he breaks them all in one visit. His first couple of cold tops are soon rescued from the gravel and, while he is out there in no-man’s land, he takes advantage by snaffling up a few more.
A Slazenger B51 has slipped under the radar and into his basket so he pockets that, then trousers two more despite the fact that they are yellow, rock hard, rubbish, and have a blue band with the word PRACTICE through the middle of them.