The driving range is golf?s equivalent of the gym ? and I have a thing about gyms. The only exercise I got out of an annual subscription to my local gym was carrying the membership card around in my wallet for 12 months. Similarly, down the years my sporadic stints at the driving range have produced mixed results, from honing swing defects I never thought possible to causing acute back pain to very occasionally unlocking the secrets of better golf.
Unfortunately for the lazier golfers among us, the maxim ?No pain, no gain? is as relevant to an evening spent on a square of synthetic grass with only a bucket for company as it is to sweating cobs in front of a mirror. Just as any gym bunny will tell you that using the Nautilus machine in the wrong way can leave a beginner in agony, veterans of the range will confirm an hour spraying balls around a field is good for nothing other than relieving tension.
Although I have yet to make it through the doors of my local gym, I imagine a similar cast of characters can be found working out watching MTV as can be spied thrashing and flailing with grim determination at the range.
Driving ranges, like gyms, are for people locked in the desperate pursuit of self-improvement. Or at the very least, those trying to keep the unpalatable truth at arm?s length. As you walk up and down looking for an empty bay, you?ll encounter the full spectrum of golfing life. Middle-aged men escaping the banality of another evening in front of EastEnders, total beginners who announce themselves with each shank that ricochets loudly into the wooden dividing wall and, inevitably, the Tourette?s victims who turn the air blue every time they thin one.
In ?There?s Something About Mary? Matt Dillon plays a sleazy private investigator who makes his first move on Cameron Diaz as she works her way through a bucket of balls. Recently, the driving range has become a new dating ground, as evidenced by the growing numbers of young, seemingly single women who enjoy an environment where they?re not banned from using the facilities at certain times of the day. Luckily for Mary, Dillon?s character is a total duffer. Had he been an expert she might have ended up as a range widow: a bored digi-cam operative who is invariably found recording the every swing movement of her wannabe pro partner.
Lately, the dysfunctional family of swingers has been boosted by a growing number of golf couples who, it seems, prefer to have their domestics over adjoining bays rather than a candlelit dinner. One of the joys of the range is overhearing hissed exchanges along the lines of, ?I tried to keep my left arm straight but how am I supposed to when you?re constantly criticising me??, followed by ?For God?s sake, keep your voice down, people are looking.?
Thankfully, the down at heel image of British driving ranges is changing. Yellow range balls that look (and feel) like they?ve been excavated from an Iron Age fort and paddling pools doubling as greens are being replaced by projectiles that don?t explode on impact and targets that encourage a variety of shots. Modern day ranges also often have heated bays, coffee machines and pop-up tees that mean you don?t have to keep bending down ? ideal for gym-phobes.
If, however, you?re intent on pursuing golf?s equivalent of keep-fit, then how about these exercises: 1) Agincourt Golf, where the moment the caged buggy towing that special machine that collects the balls enters the arena every golfer in attendance must unleash an Agincourt-style hail of balls, with extra points being scored for any direct hit. 2) Round the Clock, where you must hit every target on the range with a variety of different shots that would never be employed during a round. And, finally, 3) Hey Big Hitter or the ?How many drives can you knock over the back fence?? challenge ? a proper work out in anyone?s book.