Has it ever occurred to you that the driving range is one of the many things that make golf unique?
What other sport builds practice facilities entirely separate from the place where you play? You don’t hear people saying, ‘I’ve got a spare half hour, think I’ll pop to the range and throw a rugby ball around.’ You might think a cricket net serves the purpose, but try netting alone and see how much fun you have.
Not the least remarkable thing about Viktor Hovland is that he comes from Norway, where the golf season is approximately four months long. He had to practice in front of the mirror and on all-weather driving ranges.
Summer in Norway features the midnight sun, which means that courses never close and people queue from dawn to dusk to play golf while they can. An old friend of mine has been a golf pro in Norway for 30 years. He was among the first to recognise the primeval need to swing a golf club all year round. So he rented a field in Trondheim, bought some mats and practice balls and, hey presto: he had a business.
People came dressed in so much cold-weather gear that they couldn’t take the club back past the horizontal. Paradoxically, of course, that’s a useful swing tip for a high handicapper. A year later, with some of the profits accrued, my friend bought a golf simulator, one of the first on the market. Now he had really cracked it; husbands could send their wives off shopping, peel off a few layers of clothing and imagine they were in Florida for an hour or so.
I was living in Johannesburg in the early ’90s when the World of Golf opened its doors in Woodmead. Nestled in the gap between the Concrete Highway and the M1, it was a sort of benign black hole, drawing in homeward- bound golfers with its powerful vortex.
It was, and is, preposterously comprehensive, with bunkers, greens that run at different speeds, chipping areas and, of course, floodlights for those, ‘Sorry dear, there’s been an accident on the highway,’ moments. But the real beauty of the concept is that a driving range can be the World of Golf, a golf simulator and everything in between. They all count.
Rather unfortunately, a new driving range has opened in my neck of the woods. Unfortunate, because it is on my route from home to town, so I have to pass it every time I collect sawdust, take rubbish to the land-fill site, pick up animal feed and medication and, on the rare occasion when I’m not pretending to be a farmer, go shopping.
The range is a little rough and ready at the moment, but it already has something that draws me back like a bee to a honey pot: coffee. I’m half Sicilian, coffee is in my DNA, so the knowledge that a piping-hot latte macchiato is waiting as my reward, soothes me mightily, however many times I may top my wedge off the mat.
– This column first appeared in the January 2024 issue of Compleat Golfer magazine.
Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty images