Golf For Dummies Review

A few years ago my brother decided I should learn to play golf and bought me a book entitled “100 Golf Lessons with Jack Nicklaus.” It was not a success. Despite the fact I frowningly studied its lavishly artistic illustrations of the Great Bear doing his thing and attempted to slavishly copy what he seemed to be doing, the only time I hit the bloody ball any distance at all was when my mind wandered off and began thinking of something more interesting, like Doctor Who or the girl in the corner shop. I had no idea what I was doing wrong and no further guidance so, after a few unrewarding (and mildly embarrassing) visits to the local driving range, I gave it up as a bad job, preferring to remain an armchair golfer who takes the occasional round on the PC and no further.

I’m sure I would have got further had I had this disk. Generally speaking, I am quite sceptical about the use of instructional DVDs such as this: while they might be good for a one-off watch, the fact that, unlike a book, they can't be easily referred to means their use as a teaching aid is limited – who would rather go through the fuss of putting a DVD in a player and searching through it when you have a handily-indexed book right in front of you that can answer your query in seconds? That said, for certain topics such as sports they do bring a visual element that a book cannot replicate – all the pictures in the world can’t compensate for the lack of actual movement (as I discovered with my Jack Nicklaus tome), and this is no more apparent than with this disk. Its main advantage, besides the obvious fact of breaking down the complex golf swing into several simpler steps, is of the use of on-screen graphics to illustrate points, giving the best of both worlds: movement coupled with the onscreen equivalent of diagrams. In sections discussing aim lines are drawn on the picture to show where you should be aiming, how you should be standing in relation to the pin and so on with the result you can see both the swing itself and what that swing should be aiming towards. This combination of moving visuals with a diagram-like look makes his points clearer than either would have done on its own, and is one of the disk’s main strengths.

The host is Gary McCord, a PGA Senior Tour Champion and commentator for the American network CBS, and is filmed at the Greyhawk Golf Club. McCord guides the novice through all the technical aspects of the game, spending plenty of time on basics such as stance and grip before going on to discuss the various types of shot there are and when to play what. Styled like a visual version of one of the famous Dummies books, the tutorial is broken down into a number of main headings - Building Your Stance, Your Swing, Putting and so on – which are then further divided into smaller categories, each looking at a particular point. The beginning of each of these categories is clearly marked with the use of bright onscreen graphics making finding any one of them very easy as one flicks through the disk. The graphics have the same look as the book, even down to the use of four icons, namely Tip, Remember, Hazard, and Golf Speak which will be no doubt familiar to those who have one of the books and overall the look is very user-friendly.

In the seventy-seven minute runtime McCord manages to cover a lot, and while the tutorials are pacey, there’s never a feeling he’s rushing through. That said, the focus on basics means that some things are left out: the concentration of the main part of the disk on the technicalities of a golf swing means that you won’t find any advice here about more general strategy. There’s nothing on how to play water hazards or in opposing winds, for example, while club selection is only very lightly touched on. This is understandable given the disk is aimed at beginners (although it’s a little surprising judging distance isn’t touched upon at all, given that consideration of the different distances clubs cover is) but don’t expect a complete overview of everything you need to know to play a decent round.

The presentation does become a little cheesy in places, but endearingly so. Every so often McCord throws in a silly joke (or, in one case, a sinister wink) and it’s no surprise the opening narration describes it as “his unique brand of humour”. There’s nothing annoying about these moments (although it does come across a bit like your Dad trying to crack a funny) but I do question the usefulness of including sections with titles such as “Ten Things to Say When You Hit a Bad Shot” and “Ten Things to Say When Your Opponent Hits a Bad Shot” (which includes such witticisms as “Boy, I sure hope you get your golf balls for free” and the inexplicable and vaguely inappropriate “Now there’s a mad cow.”) This is fine for those funny bits in the Dummies books, but on a DVD like this it takes up valuable time that could perhaps have been spent better elsewhere – you buy the disk to learn about golf, not listen to stand-up. He is also prone to the occasional silly saying, such as “Putting is mystical – it comes and goes like the tide,” and the odd bit of banal advice – “Practise the shots you find most difficult” – but ultimately it’s far better to have someone like this teaching you than a dull staid performance. There’s also an amusing moment when, in describing the meaning of the icon “Hazard” someone chucks a golf ball at him from offscreen.

Advertising for these sorts of products often describe them as being “like having your very own tutor!” While this isn’t exactly true, seeing how things should be done and having them explained in such a straightforward manner will surely help anyone who wants to improve their golf. There’s no way someone could learn simply from watching this disk, but it will be very helpful for people who have just started and are finding things going wrong, with no clue about what that is or how to fix it. Ultimately it comes across as a long series of tips designed to improve your game and the title of one of the “lessons" - Common Faults and How To Fix Them" - could be applied to the disk as a whole. Not having seen the book on which the disk is based (also written by McCord) I can’t say how much the two complement each other, but it’s certainly worth checking out if your golf balls end up more times in the water than down the hole. Either that, or you could try thinking about Doctor Who again.

The Disk
The disk is a single-layered single-sided disk. The main menu consists of four options, one of which is bizarrely to watch the introduction on its own – odd, considering it’s also the beginning of the main feature, and has no merit on its own. The other options are Play Feature, Lessons (the chapters menu) and Extras Menu, which is a bit of false advertising given the only extras on offer are three trailers for other Dummies disks, namely Pilates Workout, Poker and Basic Yoga. (Some online retailers list three extras: Glossary of Golfspeak, Dos and Don’ts On the Green and Common Faults and How to Fix Them, all of which are incorporated in the main tutorial and are not extras at all). All menus have a yellow Dummies sidebar with the little chap in his circle (helpfully holding a DVD in this case to remind you you’re not actually reading a book) and has some footage from the feature itself set against a solid black background. As functional as you would expect.

The Video is awful, looking as though it’s come straight from a VHS transfer. The picture is blurry with details indistinct – watch McCord’s face dissolve as it gets further away from the camera – while edge enhancement and digital artefacts are rife all the way through. Fortunately this isn’t a disk in which visual aesthetics is particularly important, and the viewer doesn’t miss any important golfing point through the poor quality image, but this is not especially pleasant to watch on a big screen television. The Audio is better, an acceptable track which doesn’t have to do anything more than be audible, which it manages to be. Annoyingly, there are No Subtitles, a lazy oversight that suggests less care went into the making of this disk than should have.

Mark Twain once famously described golf as “a good walk spoiled.” Winston Churchill was similarly scathing about it, calling it “a silly game played with instruments ill-suited for the purpose.” To counter these scurrilous pronouncements, this disk comes with recommendations from the bizarre pairing of Alice Cooper and Kevin James, star of bland sitcom The King of Queens (“Thanks to Gary McCord, my friends now call me ‘The King of Greens!’”) Whatever your opinion of the game, though, (and surely you can’t argue with Kevin James?) McCord is a genial host who is also a good teacher, and any amateur will surely learn some new tricks from watching this. Worth a purchase? I have no idea, unsure of the long-term benefits of having a disk such as this. Worth a watch? Without question.

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