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  • Alistair Tait

Capital golf

The elegant entranceway in one of the richest areas of London gives no clue as to what lies behind. Yet the glass panelled door at 47 Lowndes Square around the corner from Harrods and Harvey Nichols opens onto one of the most historic places in British golf.

Indoor teaching centres are de rigueur nowadays. Every golf club worth its salt has one. There also numerous stand-alone indoor golf schools. You can beat balls off AstroTurf mats into canvas screens with backdrops of the Old Course, Pebble Beach, etc. Computers and launch monitors give you instant feedback on clubhead speed, backspin, swing path, angle of attack, and probably tomorrow’s weather forecast, too, so sophisticated are these things.

It wasn’t so 62 years ago when a unique man began giving lessons in the heart of London.

Many people reading this will never have heard of Leslie King. Yet he is one of the most important figures in British golf, a man way ahead of his time. Talk to many respected teachers and they’ll know all about King. Ask Michael Bannon, Rory McIlroy’s coach. King was a major influence on Bannon and his teaching. “He was fantastic,” Bannon once told me. King was a swing guru long before the term was invented to describe swing instructors.

Legendary golfers Harry Vardon and JH Taylor had a big influence on King. A club professional at Malden Golf Club in Surrey, 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 centre in the British Isles. Thus, the Knightsbridge Golf School was born.

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 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 taught low and high handicap players alike. He helped Sir Michael Bonallack win five Amateur Championships, and Juli Inkster (below) win three US Women’s Amateurs before she embarked on a successful LPGA career. He taught Gary Player.

King was the man responsible for helping make Sean Connery look good during the golf scenes in Goldfinger. Connery was a long time pupil of King’s.

King’s unique school got so busy that he took on a couple of young assistants in Steve Gould and DJ 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 extended the teaching centre and made it state of the art through the use of golf simulators, video, computers, smart phones, iPads etc. They have installed a putting green, too.

The pair teach a wide range of handicaps. Like King, they’ve taught many A list celebrities, including Hugh Grant, Adam Faith, Christopher Lee, Bryan Ferry, Richard Branson, Colin Firth, Gerri Halliwell.

Canada’s Stephen Ames spent time at 47 Lowndes Square when he was on the European Tour. Indeed, he wanted Gould and Wilkinson to go out on tour with him, but the pair 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. They’re 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 released a number of books – Finishing School, The Swing Factory, Golf’s Golden Rule, The Golf Delusion – over the years which set out the beliefs they inherited from King. They are well worth a read for anyone wanting to improve their golf. That’s if you can get your hands on them. As with King’s books, they’re not easy to acquire.

I haven’t been to the Knightsbridge Golf School for a wee while now. Rest assured it’s on my post lockdown bucket list.

Golf at its best in the heart of London. Who knew? Not many.

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