La Manga West and yet more instruction

Golfmagic competition winner Andrew Picken gives us his take on La Manga Club and its new Leadbetter Academy

andrew picken's picture
Tue, 7 Oct 2014

The following morning we were at the range bright and early. We had spent the evening in the company of the instructors and he discussed his thoughts about golf, coaching and life in general.

The lead instructor was Laurence Brotheridge, ably partnered by Adam Young. These two men were by a stretch the most knowledgeable golfers I have ever met. Both have travelled the world providing golf tuition, before being headhunted by the Leadbetter group.

We were to play the West Course on this morning, without doubt the tightest of the three courses on offer, and were to be given a practical examination of all aspects of our golf game.

The instructors made it clear that every shot, decision and every aspect of our game would be analysed. They would take written notes and make no comment to us at all until after the match.

As someone who suffers from “medalitis” when a medal card is in my hand this level of scrutiny and pressure was a nightmare. It was clearly designed to identify the worse aspects of all of our games.

I thought to myself that to play badly wouldn’t be a bad thing as they would then have a better clue how to help my game. Consoled by this I set forth and played an inconsistent round of golf. Some good shots, while some were struck badly off the heel and fired at warp speed into one of the many barrancas that litter this course. I had never come across this word 'barranca' before but I soon got used to its use as I became acquainted with a variety of gulleys and gouges in the volcanic rock. These are marked as lateral water hazards but are in reality mountain gorges containing snakes and other nasty type creatures. Needless to say you want to avoid them.

This process was a difficult one to accept mentally. It was like going back to school and having to undertake a practical GCSE exam in golf. Good shots passed without comment and worse still the bad ones were met with stony silence and some notes scribbled onto the pad.

Set amid serene pine woodlands, the West Course's design closely follows the natural contours of the undulating land. Its distinct character makes it a good alternative to the other, more classical championship courses.

It is a deceiving course, with frequent changes in elevation with which to contend. The tight front nine demands accurate driving to avoid these so-called barrancas while the back nine, up amongst the hills, is more open but nonetheless challenging.

The breathtaking views, undulating fairways and fast greens make this course particularly exciting to play. Unlike a lot of courses, having played here, golfers feel that every facet of their game has been tested to the full. I did, and then some.

The 17th was a pretty amusing hole. My 3-wood off the tee went further left than I intended towards yet another one of those bloody barrancas. I played a provisional and went ball hunting. Surprisingly I found my first ball. It clearly had a lucky break and bounced back into play albeit it was lying in the rough some 10 yards back from a hazard.

In front of me was a lateral hazard and some overhanging trees that provided an arch way. The first foliage started about 20-foot from the ground. To my right were two separate water hazards. To the left of the green was a bunker. I had 175 yards to the front of the green.

We had five skins on offer for this hole and I was feeling good after convincing myself that I was three off the tee. I took my stance and nailed the bail cleanly, it brushed some leaves and arched towards the front left edge of the green. Fist pump followed and I felt a touch of Seve magic upon my shoulder.

My instructor Adam looked at me and threw down another ball in the same spot and said “do it again”. I was so pumped I never gave it another thought and did as instructed. This time, more movement to the right and the ball nestled on the green. I heard a sharp intake of breath as the lead instructor Laurence came over to watch.

No comments just another “do it again”. The Penny dropped. I was clearly doing something wrong and they wanted me to cock it up. Red rag to a bull this one.

Take a stance , breath, strike; look for the ball. Bang on the green next to the flag. He threw down a fifth ball and looked at me again. This one flew through the hazard onto the green but rolled into the left hand bunker.

He was taking lots of notes and I could tell he had not expected my shots to succeed. I felt completely pumped and elated thinking that I had done well under pressure and it was an accomplished series of golf shots. What do I know.

We then took the long buggy ride to the 18th, but it was worth it. This hole is majestic, there is no other word to describe it. Both instructors borrowed a driver and promptly nailed their shots 330 yards down the middle. Adam clearly enjoyed the fact that he had hit it four yards past his colleague.

We then adjourned to the restaurant for a debrief and fantastic meal of paella and salad.

Every shot had been scrutinised. Club face path and quality of strike had been analysed and assessed. On my marking sheet a new category had been hurriedly written. It had the subject heading of IDIOT.

We then had a really helpful discussion about course management and shot options and decision making. Guess what my nickname was for the rest of the trip.

I concede it was a poorly chosen option but the pleasure I derived from its successful execution not once but five times was a highlight of the trip for me. I also won the five skins on offer as my four was par for the hole!

Did I learn anything from this? I think so. I have played several times since my return to the UK and each time I am faced with a dilemma over shot selection I think back to the assessment sheet and the IDIOT margin note.

The debrief was valuable and continued through the night as we had been booked a table at the renowned Cala Restauarant. Only 40 covers served from a wooden building perched on the side of a mountain overlooking a private beach and the ocean.

This meal was extraordinary. We were not given a menu as the chef had designed a menu especially for us with complimentary wines for each course. I wish I had a record of the food we were served but it didn’t occur to me to do so until after all had been consumed. We were given several bottles of the best Rioja I have ever tasted and we talked golf late into the night watching the sun set. This was a magical meal.

This was now developing into the best golf tour I had ever been on due to the nature of the students and instructors. All were game for a laugh and we had a brilliant time.

A special mention here to Bill, a fellow student, who introduced me to Gin and Tonic for the first time. These things were served in fish bowls and led to impromptu performances on the karaoke machine in a bar I could never find again. I remember rolling in around 3.30am knowing we were in the classroom in five hours time. Ouch.

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