I have thumped balls on hundreds of average driving ranges and have hit off dubious mats, plastic pipe tee pegs and have come to appreciate that familiar thud after every shot.
I have also hit balls on some of the world’s best driving ranges; Pine Valley, PGA Catalunya, World Woods and Orange County National to name just a few. My previous club had an outstanding three-tier grass driving range with all the bells and whistles, as do many clubs in the US. Yet, the perfect grass and attractive targets cannot match a simple field.
There is something profoundly satisfying about hitting balls in a grass field. It matters not whether there are cows or sheep in it or whether the field is owned by a farmer or designated by the county as a park. Nor does it matter if there are no flags or greens to aim at. If you want a target, one or two tall trees will suffice.
If you can’t find a field, sneak to the back of the range and you will usually find somewhere suitable. The land is usually flat and the turf untouched.
While a member of the Palm Beach Junior College team in 1981-83, I enjoyed free range privileges right across the street at the Atlantis Country Club. In spite of that, I often preferred to hit my own balls in John Prince Park where I was able to practice without arousing the ire of the park ranger. There, I could operate in running shorts with my shirt off aiming three irons at a palm tree in the distance. Sometimes, my girlfriend (now my wife) would collect the balls for me; if not, I was happy to do that myself and hang around for hours on end!
During the South of England championships, perhaps the best-run tournament in Britain, I hit balls on Walton Heath’s practice ground. While the members of this illustrious club might shudder at my description of their facilities as a field, they should not be offended. From my point of view, their field is better than the finest ranges I have even been on, Pine Valley excepted.
I am sure that if you have read this far you appreciate just how much better you hit the ball when there’s no gorse, heather, water, trees, roads, boundary fences or bunkers in sight. What greater thrill is there than to swing with reckless, stress-free abandon and to see the ball soar in the air pretty well precisely where you are aiming?
If you spend too much time in the echoing bays of the local driving range or take too many swings on the pampered confines of your country club’s practice area, stop right now and instead drive into the country and find yourself a field. Clear a small patch in the corner by swishing the longer grass with your seven iron and thump a couple of dozen balls into the great beyond. No need to worry where they go. No need to pick them up.
Do it and then tell me that it wasn’t the best fun you’ve had with a club in your hand in decades!