|The entrance to Sandown Park Golf Centre - it's hardly changed since I set foot there back in 1976|
The lessons took place on the grassed area at the far end of the range. There was a dustbin full of balls and the professional went through the basics of the swing, grip, posture, alignment. We hit our compliment of balls and the pro wandered up and down the line correcting our mistakes and encouraging our efforts. The lesson itself only lasted an hour per day, but my abiding memory is being allowed to stay and hit as many balls as we wanted until the dustbin was empty.
Once the week was over, my dad use to take me every Sunday to Sandown Park to practise and eventually I was allowed to venture onto their beginner course, a par three layout behind the driving range. I was rubbish but it just inspired me more and more. Eventually I persuaded my mum, who thought golf would be a passing fad, to cash in my national savings certificates and buy me a half set of clubs and I became the proud owner of a set of Petron Impala's. I had a 3 and 5 wood, a 3, 5, 7 and 9 iron and a putter in a blue tartan effect pencil bag.
I was hooked and my dad paid for some more lessons as I was showing some real natural talent (where did that go?) and I worked hard. Sandown Park was becoming a second home and I progressed to their nine hole course as I honed my skills. It was clear this was more than a phase I was going through and so my parents found the cash to make up the full set. I wanted to play regularly and after my first game on a full size course that was it. If the bug had already bitten, it was now an all consuming passion.
I never knew the name of the teaching professional that gave me those first lessons but I sometimes wonder if he knew what a golfing flame he had lit inside me. It was probably just a week teaching the kids to him but to me it was the start of a long, sometimes tempestuous love affair with this great game.