Tigermania Is Driving Young People on to the Ranges; SOCIAL TREND: UK Perception of Game as Socially Exclusive and Expensive Is Breaking Down

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Byline: ROBIN TURNER

DRIVING range owner Terry Woodford is thanking Tiger Woods for a big rise in interest in the "ball blaster" golf-training venues where customers traditionally hone their skills before venturing on to club greens.

There has been a steady growth in golf-driving ranges in Wales with the use of ball-catching nets and "aquabays", where shots are lofted into water, helping to compensate for the relative lack of space.

Floodlit bays with rain cowls ensure people can practise at night and in all sorts of weather.

Terry Woodford and his wife Barbara decided two years ago to give up their previous job, running boat trips in Llangollen, and plumped instead for running one of Wales's growing colony of golf-driving centres.

The Tycroes Golf Range is on the outskirts of Ammanford in West Wales and is one of many which have grown up straddling the line of the M4 in the past 20 years as the perceived elitism of golf gradually fades.

The Woodfords found their new business was attracting far more young people than they expected and they put that firmly down to the runaway success of US golf star Eldrick "Tiger" Woods.

It was felt that before Tigermania, the growth of golf in the UK was still being hampered by its perception as socially exclusive, expensive and difficult to learn, but in the US it was more egalitarian and more affordable.

Tiger Woods was a shining example of that.

A tide of young Tiger Woods wannabes headed for the golf driving ranges where ball after ball could be smashed into the distance without the worries of obtaining or paying for club membership or not looking good in front of other players.

Mr Woodford said, "Tiger Woods has done for golf what Steve Davis did for snooker. He got a lot of young people interested in the sport and made them realise they could make a fortune at it if they had talent.

"Before Tiger came along there was still a general feeling, particularly among young people, that you had to be a solicitor or a welloff businessman to take up golf seriously.

"But he helped to change all that and those at the driving range end of the sport see the influx coming because the ranges are generally people's first port of call before heading for the courses.

"We get all sorts here but there have been an awful lot of young people interested in learning the sport and getting themselves into shape for joining a club and making a real go of the sport. We've got Tiger Woods to thank for that.

"We've even got an eight-yearold lad who comes here three times a week and I can say from first-hand experience he's good.

"I think the youngest customer we've had was just four years old."

While driving ranges with their all-weather covered bays and floodlights for night-time golfing are perfect for beginners and those wanting plenty of practice, they can be hard work for owners.

Mr Woodford said, "The past few months have seen rain, rain and more rain and as a result our automated ball collector cannot be used. …