Fitness and golf have become increasingly intertwined in the 21st century.
Ever since Tiger Woods set a new precedent for players’ conditioning, stars such as Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson have converted this formula into multiple major victories.
Yet while fast-twitch power and driving distance have characterised this movement, PGA professional Luke Willett – known as the Iron Golfer – has achieved an astonishing and polarising physical feat in the name of charity.
Raising money for the Golf Foundation – a charity working to change the lives of young people through golf – Luke cycled 830 miles around the UK in order to play all 14 of The Open’s historic golf courses.
Carrying his four golf clubs on his bike, he summoned the stamina to complete the exhaustive and mentally draining challenge in just 10 days.
Luke, a professional at Hampstead Golf Club, set out to tackle any course that has previously staged The Open, beginning his challenge at Carnoustie Golf Links in Angus on October 18 and finishing at Royal St George’s in Kent on October 27.
Luke has carved out a reputation for undertaking ironman-style challenges with a golfing twist. He boasts a CV that includes a run at the SpeedGolf world record and has completed the Three Peaks Golfing Challenge – a test that saw him climb Scotland, England and Wales’ highest mountains, playing a round of golf at the base of each. He also completed the challenge without a second of sleep.
Luke’s reflections on his most recent feat, however, stress the difficulties of covering such long distances on the bike.
He said: “I have been so, so tired at times, but it does show me how much the human body can do. It’s a dream come true. Playing these wonderful Open courses has been a joy, as has meeting so many fantastic people wherever I’ve travelled.”
On the first day of his challenge at Carnoustie, Luke was given the best possible start when the Golf Links laid on a free dinner, bed and breakfast – before presenting him with a cheque of £5,000 for the Golf Foundation.
Such comforts were not to last.
Later that day, after shooting a brilliant 73 on the Old Course at St Andrews (with only four clubs!), Luke cycled 60 miles in torrential rain and bitterly cold winds. Given the flooded roads and heavy traffic in Edinburgh, he received an unwelcome ice bath with every passing car.
After playing Muirfield and Musselburgh on the Saturday, Luke finally enjoyed some pleasant weather, conquering Royal Troon and Prestwick on Sunday and finishing his Scottish loop on Monday at Trump Turnberry.
With Royal Portrush presenting one of the trickiest logistical problems Luke would face, he took a ferry to Northern Ireland, played the course, and then cycled 64 miles in order to catch a return ferry to England.
After rounds at Royal Lytham & St Anne’s, Royal Birkdale and Royal Liverpool, Luke rose at 3am on Friday to ride 146 miles to London. Another 119 miles the next morning to Kent set him up for the final three tests.
Completing Royal Cinque Ports on Saturday, he finished in style – firstly at Prince’s and finally at Royal St George’s – where his wife Sabrina and three daughters were there to witness his final putt drop.
Luke believes that golf is so much more than just walking the course and playing 18 holes. With many golfers’ enjoyment rooted in adventure, he hopes his incredible accomplishments will help make the sport more appealing to young prospective players and broaden their horizons.
He explained: “All of The Open venues are incredible courses to learn the game but the great thing is that today many local clubs up and down the country offer children a great start in golf.
“I hope reading about this adventure will interest people of all ages while igniting the imaginations of young people with a sense of the possible.”
Luke has already raised over £8,500 from the challenge, and all the funds will go directly to helping young people from all backgrounds to Start, Learn and Stay in the sport. The Golf Foundation reaches as many as 500,000 boys and girls each year, creating a player pathway from school sport to the golf club environment and regular coaching with PGA professionals.
Vanessa Bell, Head of Fundraising for the Golf Foundation, said: “Our team has been amazed by the passion and courage of Luke and also the warm welcomes he has been receiving in the golf community.
“We hope Luke’s adventure can now inspire golf-lovers up and down the UK to put something back into the game by supporting our charity.”
If you would like to support Luke on his incredible mission, visit his JustGiving page below: