Golf: Learn how to drive, chip and putt

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After a very exciting Ryder Cup, maybe its’ time to give the game a try. James Drew met leading golf coach Jusitne Dreher at Pierpont golf course to find out more about the benefits of golf. Following the success of the European Ryder Cup Team, we’re republishing this article. 

Pierpont is undoubtedly one of the finest golf courses in Belgium. The greens are a haven of greenery and charm, at around 30 minutes drive from Brussels it’s easy to reach. There are two courses. The Grand Pierpont is the club’s 18-hole par 72 championship course, and for those more hard pressed for time there is also Le Petit Pierpont executive 9-hole par 27 course. The par being the estimated number of strokes it takes a proficient golfer to complete a hole.

As a member you can enjoy the courses and practice facilities year round and also have access to the elegant 17th century manor farm clubhouse, which has an excellent restaurant and terrace. The restaurant serves a mixture of Belgian and international classic dishes. There’s also a cozy bar, also known as “the 19th hole”. 

There’s a sense of detente when you arrive, as if you’ve left your troubles behind. Summer may be an ideal time for being out on the green, but this is a game you can enjoy year round. Heck, if they can play in Scotland in January, you can certainly play in winter in Belgium. The clubhouse also has hotel facilities and offers ‘stay and play’ packs, something to think about if you have friends visiting who are avid golfers!

“A coach can work hard with you on the more troublesome parts of your game, be it swing, drive or putting”

The club has an International Golf Academy where qualified PGA pros can coach you in French or English. The club makes use of state-of-the-art support, such as Trackman, which allows golfers to gather data and with the help of a coach tweak their performance. There’s also a light-covered driving range. If you’ve had a bad day at work, is there anything more therapeutic than getting out on the range and hitting that ball with all your might? 

I caught up with one of the pros, Justine Dreher. Dreher joined the French team at the age of 15, she then continued her golf training at the University of South Carolina. After four years on the other side of the pond, she became a professional joining the Ladies European Tour. Justine decided that she wanted to pass on her accumulated knowledge from playing and from working with the best coaches in the business to become one herself.

I asked her how she first got into golf. “I was around 11-12 years old when I started and I just began by chance, I didn’t really have any influences at that age. In fact, I started out playing tennis initially, so when I started golf, I actually preferred tennis. When my parents and brother started playing golf, I was too small to be left alone in the house, so I began to play golf with them at the weekend, then I started to make friends who also played golf, so I started playing golf with my friends, then slowly but surely, I started playing in golf competitions.”

Pierpont offers courses for all levels, but I wanted to know how critical it was to start playing at an early age. Justine said that most of the pros do start playing very young these days, but that there were pros who began much later in life. The average age of a championship player is around 31; however there are outliers like Tom Watson who nearly won the British Open at 59. In any event, at club level age is not a barrier.

“The health benefits to the game are indisputable”

The health benefits to the game are indisputable: according to some estimates you can burn up to as many as 2,000 calories on an 18-hole round lasting four hours. The combination of walking and the bag’s weight can quickly add up. Golf also has the benefit of being a low-impact sport causing less damage to joints and muscles. If that weren’t enough, to reach the perfect swing you really need spinal flexibility and core strength. 

As great a game as it is, it can also be very frustrating when you’re having a bad day, I asked Dreher how she coped with this: “It is simply a question of applying yourself – of course, you are going to miss, you are going to get frustrated, but when you get into the groove, and you start to hit the ball’s sweet spot with your tee off, your drive and your putting, that is where the real pleasure of the game comes from. You can try to hit the ball perfectly 50 times, miss every time, but when you do hit it perfectly, it wipes out all the errors you’ve made.

“It is a very difficult sport to master, but when you achieve what you want to achieve, there is no more satisfying sport. You are outdoors, in beautiful countryside, you can play golf everywhere in the world, all the courses are different, with different challenges and different pleasures. And you can play the game at all levels – I am now a pro, but, thanks to the handicap system, I can play with youngsters, even complete beginners, and they can still beat me. If I was to play tennis today against a tennis pro, on the other hand, he or she would quickly become very bored with me.”

The course at Pierpont is not just maintained to the highest standard, it is also eager to minimize its ecological footprint and is part of the Golf Environment Organisation (GEO), which subscribes to the philosophy that good environmental policy is good for golf. This means less irrigation, less use of fertilizers and pesticide-free course management. 

I asked Dreher how important it was to have a coach: “It is not essential to have a coach, even if you are an absolute novice, but I do have to say that I believe coaching genuinely helps people to improve. A coach can work hard with you on the more troublesome parts of your game, be it swing, drive or putting, and one of the most satisfying aspects of my job recently was helping a club member reduce his handicap from 36 to 19 – that gives me so much pleasure.”

Asked if the play has changed a lot over time, Dreher explained that there are two predominant swing patterns: the classic swing and the modern swing: “The modern swing evolved from technological advances in equipment and the necessity of adapting to more challenging golf courses.”

Pierpont offers an “afternoon discovery” every second Sunday of the month. They also have a one month ‘Start to Golf’ and a four month ‘Learn to Golf’ package. 

Finally, I got to the question which was really bothering me. Will Europe win the next Ryder Cup? With a wry smile Dreher delivered the answer I wanted to hear: “Absolutely, I am 100% certain they will.”

www.pierpont.be

First published 23 July