Woods, wedges and Wilkinson ... our man takes up golf

Phil Wilkinson prepares to tee off and (inset below) instructor Alan Crompton
Phil Wilkinson prepares to tee off and (inset below) instructor Alan Crompton

I’M not sure what I heard first. The hushed laughs of the golfers behind me ... or the gentle thud of a chunk of turf landing five yards in front of me.

It was Saturday morning, and I was at the plush Birchwood Golf Club in Warrington – a week after winning a free round as a raffle prize.

Alan Crompton

Alan Crompton

It was only 11am, but already the outside terrace was becoming congested with tired golfers enjoying the ‘19th hole’. Taking in the rays as they watched others tee off.

And they were good. Really good. Ball-goes-further-than-a-bullet good. Drivers-the-size-of-boxing-gloves good.

My nerves started dancing in the pit of my stomach.

I’d swung a club before, but mainly at a small pay and play near St John Rigby College. At Birchwood, some of the holes were longer than the length of five football fields.

For a bloke who’d hit a ball through a windmill on more times than I’d handled a wood, it was a worry.

And then – just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse - a group of youngsters arrived.

I asked if they were going before me and my three colleagues.


It turned out the Cheshire Junior Championships was to follow us around the course. Which was all I wanted – a dozen Tiger Wood wannabes, watching my opening shot.

When I got the nod, I was more nervous than a turkey in late November.

My legs were shaking like Elvis.

I swung my arms back, brought them down on the ball, connected.... and hit the ground. I looked down at the hole I’d created in the lush grass, and invited it to swallow me up.

How could the same hands which once got me through a shorthand exam – 100 words per minute – not hit a stationary, small, white ball?

My rushed, second effort dribbled onto the fairway and – without the pressure of the eyes on the back of my head – I managed to hack, slice, zigzag my way around for my first exhausting but enjoyable 18 holes.

But I wasn’t happy.

So, when I read an advert, in the Wigan Evening Post about golf lessons at Haigh, I couldn’t resist.

I’d considered lessons before, but the cost had put me off. But these lessons were only £5 each and promised to get me ‘golf ready in just five weeks’.

Taught in groups, instructor Alan Crompton told me they had really taken off – with like-minded enthusiasts lured in by the chance to get better at an affordable rate. They even offer half-price golf on the club’s nine-hole course during the duration of the course.

Most of my first lesson went as I expected. Alan, with the patience and encouragement of a good driving instructor, led us through the basics: the set-up, the grip, the swing.

We all had a practice, to varying degrees of success. After some more individual pointers, Alan then filmed me with his tablet, and showed me where I was going wrong.

A neat piece of kit allowed him to split the screen, comparing my stance with the video of a top professional. Sure, I looked more Rory the Tiger than Rory McIlroy, with my pantomime-like stance and plasticine-like arms, but it was good to see how far I had to go.

I’ll report back in two weeks’ time and let you know.