Taking up golf

Mature couple playing golf

Let's not beat around the bush, golf has got something of an image problem. We don't know whether it's the slacks or all those executive saloons in the club car park, but membership of the UK's golf clubs has been dropping dramatically over the last decade.

Scotland saw club membership numbers decline by 14 per cent from 2004 to 2013, while there was a whopping 20 per cent fall south of the border in England over the same period.
But while this dip in popularity is bad news for the clubs, it does mean that it's now easier and cheaper to get a round in than it has been for years.

But what's so good about it?
Getting out in the fresh air, doing some gentle exercise and testing your skill while enjoying the company of your friends doesn't sound that bad does it? Unlike other sports where mismatched abilities can make it difficult for friends or couples to play together, golf's handicap system allows novices to play against experts in a meaningful contest.

Isn't it a bit pricey though?
Golf does have a reputation as a rich white man's activity, but the sport's governing bodies have been taking steps to widen its appeal and increase participation across society. Two decades ago almost every club charged a joining fee, often hundreds of pounds, but things have changed and such fees are now largely a thing of the past (except for the most-popular clubs). Instead clubs are happy to take custom on a "pay as you play" basis – and offer taster sessions and beginners courses at attractive rates. How do you like the sound of a five-week course for £25? A round at a typical course might cost £15 or £20.

But what about the clubs?
Make no mistake, you can spend a LOT of money on golf clubs – and then another small fortune on a fancy bag and some high-end balls. However it's quite possible to pick up an entry level set of clubs for around £200, or much less if you go secondhand. But if you're just trying the game out you can simply hire the clubs for the day for a modest fee.

Doesn't it take all day?
Golf is a leisurely activity and a typical round of 18 holes might take around four hours. While this is longer than many other activities, one way to look at it is that you get really good value for money. And if you're really stretched for time you can just play nine holes instead.

It's a bit sexist though isn't it?
Golf has absolutely lagged behind other sports in gender equality involved, with the world famous Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews only voting to admit women this year. But women are now welcomed at the vast majority of clubs – and the competitive side of the sport actually has a higher profile with better media coverage and bigger prize money than many other sports extend to women. Pros like Michelle Wie, Paula Creamer and Annika Sörenstam have arguably put the women's game ahead of the men's when it comes to image.

Will I need lessons?
Not necessarily, but many new (and experienced) golfers do choose to get some help from a professional. You can expect to pay £25 to £30 for a half-hour lesson with a PGA pro.
Other golfers prefer to learn the ropes themselves and pick up tips from friends.

OK, I'm in – where do I sign up?
Each of the home nations has its own governing body – with some separated by gender - so check out the websites for England Golf, the Irish Ladies Golf Union, the Union of Ireland, the Scottish Golf Union, the Scottish Ladies' Golfing Association and the Golf Union of Wales. These will help point you in the direction of a local club – accessing the bargain introductory courses already mentioned.England Golf runs the excellent Get Into Golf website, which is a useful resource for newcomers to the game.

Have you taken up golf recently? Leave a comment below...

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