Learn a new sport: Golf
I spend most time of the week in front of a computer, indoors, sitting and thinking too much. I feel I'm neglecting the physical qualities of my existence, so I thought learning a new sport should be a great first experiment. But in the end, I learned just as much about myself as about the actual sport.
When I started the experiment in March 2014, these were my criteria for picking a sport. In retrospect, I think these were really well chosen:
- It should be a ball game.
- It should be played outside.
- It should be real fun.
I tried running and yoga before, and while I like both, they don't really excite me. I spend most of my time indoors anyway, and some fresh air and sunshine would be a welcome change. I also don't want to employ any will power, like sticking to an exercise schedule.
I ended up with Golf. I realized I always wanted to try it, but didn't because of a lot of silly prejudices:
- You need to become a member in a club
- It's really expensive
- There aren't any golf courses nearby
- You need to wear impossible clothes
After some research and reflection, I found out none of the above really applied
- By paying a green fee, you can play almost any course without becoming a member
- Second hand equipment is really cheap, so are introductory courses
- There are five golf courses within 20 km around my home
- On public golf courses, the dress code is totally relaxed
Finding a golf course
The golf course I picked was West Golf in Troisdorf. It's a fairly new public golf course, with a focus on beginners. They offer affordable courses (sometimes they advertise on Groupon, you can save up to 50%), and I booked a one month course (DGV Platzreifekurs Deluxe) for 149€, including rental clubs. And it's only 12 km away from my place, 10 km from work. I can even get there by bicycle. In retrospect, I'm really happy with West Golf. It's the ideal place for any golf beginner!
(Pictures by West Golf, http://west-golf.com/
Before I found out that rental clubs were included, I had already bought a set of used golf clubs on eBay. But this turned out to be a good decision. With rental clubs, you never get the same clubs, and it's even harder to establish a solid swing. Rather buy a used high quality set than a cheap new set. Here's my checklist for buying used clubs
- for a start you need ridiculously few clubs, an iron, a putter and a wedge is enough. Really!
- check whether the clubs are right- or left-handed
- check whether the clubs are for men or for women (men's clubs are longer)
- check whether the shafts are straight and the grip is intact.
You should take a first-hand look at (and swing) the clubs before buying, unless they are really cheap. My set included 10 clubs, and I only used six of them (7 iron, 9 iron, sand wedge, putter, hybrid, driver). There are also offers for half sets, which are totally OK for beginners (also consider that your bag gets heavier with more clubs). Great brands are Titleist, Ping, Callaway or Mizuno, maybe Nike or Wilson on the lower end. I went with a Wilson Pro Staff set for just 80€, including a solid bag. I think I can easily re-sell them later for the same price.
Equipment, especially clothes, is totally overrated. On a public golf course, you can play in sneakers and jeans. I bought used Golf shoes for 20€, and they are required if you play on other courses. They are useful because you gain stability during the swing. You will definitely need a glove to improve the grip, especially when your hands are sweaty. For balls, go to eBay and buy lakeballs - balls that other unfortunate golfers mishit into a water hazard - they are cheap and totally sufficient. Then, you need some tees and a pitchfork, both inexpensive. I also bought a tube for collecting balls during training. Also inexpensive and a real time-saver. All in all, I spent less than 200€, including clubs.
Then the actual course started. Here's what worked really well:
- the teachers and fellow golfers were totally friendly.
- it was spring, the weather was great and I enjoyed spending several hours outside.
- The joy of hitting a great ball must be felt and cannot be put into words.
Golf a unique combination of mental and physical sport, which I didn't expect to be this intense. You really need a deep focus, while remaining both physically relaxed and precise. The tactical part of the game is also very interesting. Which club do you pick? Do you play an aggressive or a conservative stroke? Avoid the bunker or go for the hole? Even as a beginner this is a relevant and exciting part of the game.
Here's what didn't work that well:
- My ambition took some fun out of the experience.
- I'm not good at competing.
- My lower back is not as stable as it should be. I needed to warm up extremely carefully.
- I lack the stamina to play a full 18 holes.
- In the end my confidence was a little shaken.
I spent a lot of time practicing, but soon realized that others were improving faster than I was. I knew then I shouldn't compare myself to others, but I still did. I underestimated how much precision and control is actually needed to play golf, and totally overestimated my ability to quickly learn a new sport, which led to some frustration on my part. My long game was very weak, as I neglected the wood clubs for too long. When I tried to focus on the long game, I neglected the short game, and in the end, apart from putting, my game was totally inconsistent. I could hit a really great shot, and an abysmal shot afterwards.
At the end of the course, you needed to play nine holes and actually deliver a decent score. Rationally I was pretty relaxed about it, but physically I was shaking, and it was hard for me to hit anything for the first thirty minutes. In the end I was able to turn myself around, but I was nerve-wrecked, and for the first time it didn't feel like pure fun. I underestimated the mental aspect of the game, keeping your nerves under control is just as important as hitting the ball. For me it was hard to re-focus after a failed shot. I was not resilient enough.
After the introductory course, I bought a season pass for the training facilities at West Golf for 99€. I managed to establish a weekly training ritual after the course ended, and significantly improved my short game (anything below 100 meters to the flag). I scored some bogeys, and even a few pars - but also lost a lot of balls in bushes or lakes. Unfortunately I felt not confident enough to regularly play on the actual golf course (I played on a Green Fee basis; West Golf has always great offers starting from 20€ per round), and spent most time on the driving range or the training area, and also failed to connect more with fellow golfers, and for the most part, played alone.
I also took my golf equipment on holidays to Indonesia, where I played a few rounds. Some airlines take on Golf equipment free of charge. You only need an inexpensive travelbag, which is wrapped around your golf bag. I also added a broomstick to my clubset to keep the clubs from bending or breaking during travel. Playing in Indonesia was big fun, and I was lucky to have a good teacher for a week, and I also played with others. I learned funny tidbits, like what a bunker shot is called in Indonesia ("Umrah" - a pilgrimage to Mecca). I also noticed nuances, like how different types of grass in different countries affect your game. This is invisible to anyone who has no first-hand experience, but nice as you notice that nature is an integral part to the game.
Unfortunately, my lower back got worse in June, and I was unable to keep up with the weekly training. In July and August I only played a few times, and focused on building an exercise routine to gain some strength. This is another experiment I will be writing about.
For the most part, it was real fun, a totally new and different experience. I enjoyed being outside for longer than just an hour. I liked the deep focus before a stroke, and I keep reminding myself to be this calm in other situations. I also realized that learning with your body is totally different from learning with your brain, and that my body was not up for the task. And I need to be more resilient and stop dwelling on mistakes that much.
I will continue to play Golf at least until next year, so I declare this experiment a success, because I learned a lot from it - although it's not what I expected.