If your lack of golfing ability leaves you excluded from networking opportunities and team outings, a relaxing break at Rudding Park could be just the answer.
Placing my tee into the soft turf, I look out on one of the most daunting holes in golf – the 17th of the TPC at Sawgrass, known as the ‘Island’ because the undulating green is surrounded by water. Ok, so this isn’t the par-three from the real Florida course frequented by Tiger, but a beautiful full-sized replica at Rudding Park hotel in North Yorkshire. The challenge, however, is exactly the same – a 137-yard shot that must come to a stop on the short grass, rather than a plop in the ‘drink’.
Rewind 24 hours and I had never swung a golf club before in my life. Never having tried the game as a kid, I always found myself making excuses when friends and business contacts invited me for a leisurely round in adulthood. Images of defiling the decorum of a reputable golf course with my turf-assaulting newcomer hacks – not to mention the denting of a half-respectable sporting image honed on the five-a-side pitch – meant I was quick to decline. There was the ever-present nagging feeling, though, that I was really missing out.
How I wish I’d known about Rudding Park sooner. The stunning luxury hotel and spa – a woodland hideaway just 10 minutes’ drive from Harrogate train station – has not only its own 18-hole championship course and six-hole short course (featuring the aforementioned Island replica), but also a state-of-the-art Golf Academy. Staffed by PGA professional players, the academy offers everything from one-hour individual and group lessons to extended residential schools. Whether you’re an advanced player looking to hone a specific aspect of your game or, like me, barely know your, er, par from your elbow, a programme can be tailored just for you.
I took a two-day beginner’s course, with one-on-one tuition from resident Rudding Park pro Mark Davies. What struck me immediately was how relaxed and informal the atmosphere at the academy is. Keen to give the game an image far removed from the old stereotype of strict etiquette and members-only exclusivity, visitors can play in jeans and trainers everywhere but on the championship course, where golf shoes and trousers are still required.
Tuition is delivered in a laid-back atmosphere of fun and good humour. The affable Davies, meanwhile, has the patience of a chess grandmaster. We began on the first morning at the academy’s indoor ‘swing studio’, where – after being custom-fitted with a club – I was taken through the intricacies of a good basic golf grip. Then it was time for my first attempt at a back swing, before striking a ball from a tee into the netting ahead. Everything is filmed from various angles, so that you can watch instant replays with your tutor and hone your technique (my first go looked like a caveman clubbing an unfortunate felled beast, but Davies remained encouraging).
Within a short space of time, I was out on the academy’s 18-bay covered, floodlit driving range – striking the ball reasonably consistently and already completely hooked. The next morning, therefore, it was time to get out on the academy’s special putting, bunker practice and chipping and pitching greens – with Davies explaining in detail the different grips and techniques required for each shot and club. By lunchtime, I was ready to step out onto the academy’s Repton short course and play my first ever tee-to-green hole of golf. Along the way, depending on your level of knowledge, a tutor will explain everything from the intricacies of club selection to the rules and etiquette of scoring.
When an enjoyable but tiring day of golf tuition is over, the delights of Rudding Park are there to help you recover. The 90-room hotel is a mix of slick, tech-inspired contemporary design and more traditional features (think iPod-style lighting controls, but comfy classic leather chairs), with bright spacious bedrooms and huge luxurious beds. The food at the award-winning Clocktower restaurant is delicious and locally sourced (we enjoyed Whitby crab and cucumber cannelloni followed by a rack of Yorkshire lamb). The menu even features a handy map allowing you to see just how far from the hotel your dinner ingredients have been sourced, and the wine list is comprehensive.
The hotel’s stylish, relaxing Harrogate Spa, meanwhile, offers a diverse menu of treatments to release the tension in those golfing shoulders. The highlights include the Hammam – a heated treatment table designed to cajole you into the deepest cocoon of relaxation. Attentive staff give clear instructions on how everything – from the pin code lockers to the selection of relaxing oils – works, so there’s no fear of spa novices being left awkwardly treading water.
Back at the Island replica tee, I try to remember everything Davies has taught me – straight club face, straight spine, relaxed grip, eye over ball, and then… swoosh. I hit the ball and wait for the inevitable plop, but instead hear a distant thud as it hits the green in front of the flag and rolls serenely to a stop just behind. A heart-soaring short walk later, I roll in a birdie putt. Any thoughts that I’m now a golfer, though, are extinguished when my next tee shot whistles narrowly over the head of a seagull padding about in the bushes. But at least now I have a great grounding to build on with practice. Who knows, the next time a contact invites me for a round – I may just say yes.
Rudding Park is three miles south of Harrogate. The town’s train station is less than three miles away and Leeds Bradford Airport is a 30-minute drive from the hotel. Alternatively, hire a car with Hertz at www.iod.com/carrental
Fees and accommodation
Individual one-hour lessons with a PGA professional cost £40. Residential courses for beginners start from £250 for a one-night stay and two half days of tuition with a PGA professional, including bed and Yorkshire breakfast and lunch daily.