The golf club felt heavy in my hands as I made a practice swing, silently urging the tension in my arms to go away. Far below me, across the rolling fairway and bay beyond, lay the spiritual home of golf: St Andrews.
Thousands travel from around the world to tee off on one of the seven public courses here in this Scottish east coast town. Enthusiasts can wait all their lives to play its hallowed Old Course, often breaking down in tears of joy after putting the final hole.
I was about to tee off on one of the public courses having never held a club until the previous morning.
Well above par: The Torrance course at Fairmont St Andrews on the wild Fife coast
As an admirer of the sport from a distance, the arcane traditions, esoteric dress code and the eye-watering costs seemed an insurmountable barrier to the beginner.
Nevertheless, the sport has held a certain allure for me ever since I watched Sean Connery tee off against Goldfinger in the James Bond film in one of the most thrilling big-screen golf matches. So when I learned that the Fairmont St Andrews hotel had a package tailored to novice players, I leapt at the chance to give golf a go.
Boasting two links-style courses, the hotel has a proud golf pedigree, playing host to a number of championship games, including the final qualifier for the Open.
Perched on the wild Fife coast about a ten-minute drive from the town of St Andrews, Fairmont St Andrews combines old-world Scottish grandeur with contemporary style. The decor is inspired by the greys and blues of the North Sea, while the walls feature works by artists celebrating Scotland’s culture and history. St Andrews may seem an intimidating location to learn golf, but the hotel’s Nervous Novice package aims to open up the sport with lessons tailored to individual needs.
And although you’ll never be taken too far out of your comfort zone, the hotel is keen to get novices feeling as if they’re learning golf as quickly as possible.
Which is why, only hours after my arrival, I found myself on the green under the watchful eye of Jack, one of the hotel’s golf pros.
During an hour’s lesson I learned how to hold the club with barely any pressure (to keep the swing relaxed) and to stand like a gorilla (to ensure the perfect posture). Jack explained that learning to get the ball in the hole with just two putts on the green was the shortest route to success.
His tuition was informal and friendly, and not once did I feel the familiar terror of a school sports lessons. By the end of my session I was putting it into the hole from a variety of angles and distances. Beginner’s luck, perhaps.
The hotel’s ‘Nervous Novice’ package aims to open up the sport with lessons tailored to individual needs (stock image)
It’s rare I find myself leaping out of bed with excitement at the idea of physical activity, but the next morning found me raring to be at the hotel’s clubhouse at 9am. This time we tackled the driving range, where we spent an hour perfecting the all-important swing to send the ball soaring. Then it was to the town’s Old Course with Dan, the hotel’s golf manager, to see for myself where the sport was born.
A game on the Old Course costs about £180 and is strictly balloted – but beginner golfers can enjoy the scenery by playing on the family-friendly putting green nestled between a fairway and the beach made famous by featuring in the movie Chariots Of Fire.
After he soundly defeated me over nine putts, we returned to practise on one of the two Fairmont St Andrews courses. The first, the Kittocks course, is in a stunning setting, hugging the coast with spectacular views of the Bay of St Andrews, while the Torrance course is designed by Ryder Cup winner Sam Torrance. A punishing series of wide bunkers and large, sloping greens, the Torrance was a formidable test of the skills I’d picked up.
The tone was relaxed, a far cry from what I’d imagined golf to be, but I still felt a spasm of nerves when we reached my sixth – and final – hole.
Inside the Fairmont St Andrews, which features decor inspired by the greys and blues of the North Sea
Under Dan’s encouraging gaze, I hit the ball low and fast off the fairway and on to the green, where it sped promisingly towards the hole.
In those few heartbeats I experienced all of golf’s intoxicating excitement that makes it so addictive – and the heartbreak when my ball hit the flag, popping out and stopping an inch from the hole. It was almost perfect – but it was an unbelievable shot for someone who had never played golf.
With only two lessons scheduled, there’s plenty of time to be distracted by the hotel’s other offerings. The spa lures many a guest, complete with a Highlands-inspired sauna and steam room, while the more adventurous can stride out on the wild Fife Coastal Path which leads to St Andrews and beyond.
This ancient university town has everything a golf enthusiast could want, with enough charm left over for those who have never played, and the streets are dotted with characterful pubs.
I’d worked up an appetite so settled down to some fresh lobster in the cliffside clubhouse at the hotel as the sun set on the bay below.
I’d arrived believing I would struggle to even hit the ball. I left having put in what I like to think of as a respectable performance on a challenging course which has seen me well and truly catch the golfing bug. And who knows, maybe one day I’ll return to St Andrews to join the fellow pilgrims on the 18th fairway of the Old Course to feel that excitement and heartbreak again.
The Nervous Novice package at Fairmont St Andrews (fairmont.com) costs from £399pp B&B for two nights, with golf lessons and dinner at the St Andrews Bar & Grill. Return flights from Heathrow to Edinburgh from £188 with FlyBe (flybe.com).