Tait: King's impact still felt at British golf school
The elegant entranceway in one of the richest areas of London gives no clue as to what lies behind it.
Yet the glass-paneled door at 47 Lowndes Square around the corner from Harrods and Harvey Nichols opens onto one of the most historic places in British golf: Knightsbridge Golf School.
Indoor teaching centers are the current fashion nowadays. You can beat balls off AstroTurf mats into canvas screens with backdrops of Pebble Beach or Augusta National. Computers and launch monitors provide instant feedback on clubhead speed, backspin, swing path, angle of attack and probably tomorrow’s weather forecast, too, so sophisticated are these things.
That wasn’t so 62 years ago when a unique man began giving lessons in the heart of London.
Many people reading this column will never have heard of Leslie King. Yet he is one of the most important figures in British golf, a man who was way ahead of his time.
Talk to many respected teachers, and they will know all about King. King was a swing guru long before the term was coined to describe swing instructors.
Legendary golfers Harry Vardon and J.H. Taylor had a big influence on King. A club professional at Malden Golf Club in Surrey, England, King spent a lot of time watching these two giants, dissecting what helped them win 11 Open Championships between them.
He paid particular attention to Taylor, since Taylor taught at nearby Royal Mid Surrey Golf Club.
King’s reputation grew to the point where his lesson book was crammed with appointments for members and non-members alike. When Malden Golf Club asked King to cut back on lessons for non-members, the teacher took a bold step. He set up the first indoor teaching center in the British Isles.
He purchased an old basement squash court in Knightsbridge, and soon his appointment book was just as full as it was at Malden Golf Club. King taught good players and high-handicappers alike. He was a man of no compromise who believed that the hand arc/free arm swing was instrumental to the golf swing.
He was very much on the same page as Ernest Jones, who ran a similar indoor school in New York. Both men believed in the importance of the arms in the swing.
King helped Sir Michael Bonallack win five British Amateur Championships and Juli Inkster win three U.S. Women’s Amateur Championships. He taught Gary Player.
King was the man responsible for helping make Sean Connery look good during the golf scenes in the movie "Goldfinger." Connery was a longtime pupil of King’s.
King’s unique school got so busy that he took on a couple of young assistants in Steve Gould and D.J. Wilkinson. Thankfully, both men have kept King’s legacy alive. They took over the school when King died in 1995.
Gould and Wilkinson’s lesson diaries are as full as King’s was. They still use the original converted squash court King taught from, but have a converted a second squash court, and are in the process of making use of a third.
They have installed a small putting green, too. Of course, nowadays they make use of golf simulators, video, computers, smart phones and iPads.
The pair teaches a wide range of handicaps. Like King, they have taught many A-list celebrities, including Hugh Grant, Christopher Lee, Bryan Ferry, Richard Branson and, most recently, Colin Firth. Stephen Ames spent time at 47 Lowndes Square when he was on the European Tour.
Gould and Wilkinson, however, had no desire to travel the European circuit. Why would they, with such a thriving business?
Most importantly, Gould and Wilkinson have never deviated from the tenets King laid down more than half a century ago. They are strong believers in the role of the arms and the hands to dictate the swing, advocating that all students can develop a repeating swing.
Gould and Wilkinson have just released a book in which they set out their beliefs, a book that gets to the nitty-gritty of the golf swing – impact.
They set out a series of drills and exercises that help hone a good golf swing, emphasizing what King stressed all those years ago when he set up a unique golf school that was ahead of its time.
“Golf’s Golden Rule: What Every Pro Does Instinctively … And You Don’t,” by Steve Gould and DJ Wilkinson is published by Elliott & Thompson, London.