Golf? Yani Tseng has nothing on me
Brocket Hall teaches our reporter a thing or two about golf
The sun shines across a manicured driving range and state of the art putting green. In the distance, small birds chirp in the high trees and the brook babbles romantically. It is Saturday morning and here is the scene of my golf misery.
For around three minutes now, I’ve been trying to hit the thing, just touch the damned ball with this club. All I want to do is hit it. I remember my grandad’s tuition being useful when I was six – shoulder width stance, keep your eye on the ball. Still, the key skill of being able to hit the ball seems to have been lost along with my milk teeth.
Harvey, practically a pro next to me (although not next to the golfer who is upwards of him on the range), has hit a few, but as we are asked to reconvene away from our long-suffering tees by Brocket Hall resident pro coach James Fuller, we are put in our place. “You both have fundamental problems,” says Fuller, politely. “I know,” I reply, “but what about the golf?”
Here we are at Brocket Hall in Hertfordshire, a very upmarket stately home where people like to do things like weddings and conferences. And golf, of course. Like at most of these places, we’re not far from London but feel as if we’ve taken a trip into Tolkien’s Shire (Is that Bilbo on the 18th?). Unlike most of these places, Brocket Hall has a Michelin-starred restaurant, two championship golf courses and even a helipad (that you can dream of using).
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In a move of confused gender ethics, it seems that the hall are keen to encourage “lady golfers”. They even run courses for women to improve. I arrived last night with the intention of being the next Yani Tseng (five times champion LPGA golfer) and Fuller is happy to assist, thankfully, minus the paternalistic tone of the literature. Within two tips, on my grip and my swing, I’m showing that ball, or at least “scaring it” as Fuller comments. Before long balls are flying across the range and a couple of them are even mine.
I’m just getting into full swing (sorry) when Fuller takes us over to the putting green. This one is shipped in from America, with a smooth green and a sand base. From here we practise long and short putts, using pound coins to mark out just where we think the blasted ball will travel and how to “read the green” – demystifying that odd squat that for so long I have seen golfers perform. By the end of it, I’m not Yani Tseng, but I can hit the ball, and pot, oh wait, I mean “hole” it. Harvey, the casual golfer, has gone from being average to average mark II. He seems genuinely happy that Fuller has given him something other than the opportunity to go on a golf buggy joyride across the 543 acres of land that is the Brocket estate.
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The journey to here was an interesting one. A trip to the lovely Welwyn Garden City Train station, which is smack bang in the middle of a shopping mall was followed by a short taxi ride to the hall where we were showed to our quarters by resident butler Shaun. The hall has a lot of history – it has been home to two British prime ministers, played host to George IV and Lady Caroline Lamb – who introduced the waltz to England in the ballroom (which today is filled with ski-resort-themed tables ready for wedding guests.) We stayed in the Lady Melbourne room, the one reserved for the lady of the house who would sneak into the lord’s room next door at his leisure. Nowadays, it’s the honeymoon suite.
The golf (made up of a par-72 and a par-73 course) surrounds the hall, so you have to make sure you are shipshape when you open the curtains if you don’t want the Palmerston Golf Academy (an onsite training ground for future pros) to see you in your smalls. “Lots of people from Hampstead and northwest London are members here,” says Fuller over a decent clubhouse lunch on the terrace, from where we can see the jubilation of at least two weddings across the river that runs through the estate. It feels a bit like watching a DH Lawrence novel being acte. The hall has usually been reserved for weddings, but the owners are about to offer individual rooms to those looking to have a slice of the good life. “We want people to know there is lots more they can do here.” says Fuller, who also drops hints about the high-profile members of the club. Disappointingly, none of them are Yani Tseng, but then again I feel like, with a few more lessons, I could step up to that plate.