With almost six million Canadians hitting the links each year, golf has become a national pastime. According to a 2009 survey, it’s the number one recreational activity in this country, played by more people than even hockey. The number of women taking it up continues to grow, too, and it’s not hard to see why: You get to spend four to five hours walking on a carpet of lush green grass, surrounded by towering trees, pristine lakes or majestic oceans, depending on where you live and play. And it’s all done while spending time with your spouse, your family or friends’including the new friends you are likely to meet at tee-off.
The added bonus? Golf can actually make you fitter. Here’s how: A 150-lb. person who plays 18 holes’and carries the clubs instead of using a cart’burns around 374 calories an hour.
If you’re considering taking up golf this year, here are some expert tips to help you do it with confidence.
Take a lesson’but not from someone you love
‘Novices do need to learn the fundamentals,’ says Canadian golf pro Sean Foley. A native of Burlington, Ont., Foley now lives in Windermere, Florida, where he coaches PGA Tour players Tiger Woods, Sean O’Hair, Stephen Ames and Hunter Mahan, and LPGA player ‘Lori Kane.
But should you ask your significant other to teach you the ropes? ‘Oh, that’s a death sentence,’ says Foley with a laugh. He says he sees it all the time: boyfriends or husbands trying to help out their wives or girlfriends. ‘It just creates frustration. The person you’re supposed to want to spend time with on your day off ends up being someone you don’t want to play with because they are always giving you advice.’
Instead, says Foley’whose DVD The Next Generation with Sean Foley provides instructional golf tips’take lessons from a golf instructor. But ask to have a consultation with him or her first. ‘The last thing you want is to spend money on lessons and then find the instructor is always on his cellphone or is just not engaged.’ Or look for group lessons at a course in your area; many run women-only programs.
Get a grip!
There is more than one way to hold a golf club, but according to Canadian Shelley Woolner, a former LPGA player, the interlocking grip is best for those with relatively big hands and long fingers. The 10-finger grip is best if you have tiny hands and short fingers, says Woolner, who teaches golf in the U.S. and at Links For Women, a women’s-only golf program that has clinics in cities across Canada.
‘When you place your fingers around the club, make sure there are no gaps between your fingers,’ says Woolner. ‘And hold the club softly without being loose’like it’s a baby’s hand or a puppy’s paw. Most people strangle it.’
Keep your chin up
When it comes to stance, the most common mistakes include bending too much from the knees. Instead, unlock your knees, bend from your hips, and keep your back long and your chin up (as if you have a grapefruit under it). ‘Lots of people bury their chin in their chest because they have been told to look down,’ Woolner says. ‘Keep your chin neutral and your eyes down.’ Swing the club all the way through’up high behind you and then high in front of you’rather than in a straight line. You’ll generate more velocity and hit the ball farther.
Take the stress out of tee time
A common concern for beginners is that first tee. ‘People don’t like that everyone is watching them,’ says Foley, or they worry they are holding up other people. The solution? ‘Carry the ball out to the 150-yard marker and start from there,’ says Woolner.
If you’ve golfed even once, you know there are two sets of tees, but even though the one closer to the hole is referred to as the ‘Ladies’ Tee,’ the only people who should be playing the back tees are those’whether men or women‘who are playing at a high or elite level, says Foley.
While the benefits of golf are many, so are the frustrations. ‘It’s not fun for someone to go out and get their butt kicked all day by the course,’ says Foley. ‘It’s the ultimate mind screw.’ But any diehard golfer will tell you, the first time your club connects with the ball and sails down the fairway, you realize you are hooked. As golf legend Arnold Palmer once said, ‘What other people find in poetry or art museums, ‘I find in the flight of a good drive.’