Business deals are made on golf courses, so if you’re not a golfer – or you golf, but are not confident in your ability – you may be missing out. Whether it’s an intense weekend of instruction or a one-day short-game course, golf school may be your ticket to sealing the deal.
Peter Ballingall’s Escuela de Golf
Golf school in Spain? In a country better known for its castles and cuisine, golf aficionados are finding that Peter Ballingall’s Escuela de Golf is well worth discovering. The Englishman’s school in Norfolk had been voted “the best in the U.K.,” but about two years ago, Ballingall shifted his operation to sunny Spain. One of Europe’s most respected golf coaches, he now calls the idyllic setting at the Club de Golf El Rompido in Western Andalucia home. It’s located about one hour from the Seville airport. Officially known as the Costa de la Luz (Coast of Light), the region is so remote and underdeveloped in contrast with the Costa del Sol and the Costa Brava that it often is referred to as the “other Costa.” It was nearby, however, that English miners working in the area founded Spain’s first golf club.
Ballingall’s classes are small and personal, never with more than eight students, and the man himself, who has spent the last 30 years demystifying the golf swing, provides the instruction. As such, he offers an uncomplicated approach to improving your game. Everyone can play better golf, naturally, he insists, and his goal is “not to give you something I have, but to reveal to you something you already possess.” Rather than offering criticism for doing something wrong, Ballingall instead suggests an alternative a student can handle, such as where to swing the club rather than how to swing it. He also emphasizes the target and visualization of a successful shot to banish thoughts about golf swing mechanics during the swing. He feels analysis during the shot amounts to self-doubt. Ballingall’s quick and lasting results are free of the rocket science and gizmos that he believes tend to handicap your game. He likes to remind students that everyone makes mistakes, even the best pros, so take a pass on “beating yourself up when things go wrong.” Gradually, he chips away bad habits that every golfer picks up.
Classes take place each morning, beginning with the short game and working up to the big swing on the last day. In the afternoons, you put your newly acquired skills to the test on the course. Upon returning home you receive a customized email that reinforces what you just learned. Classes are in English most of the year; one exception is during the summer when Northern Europeans are playing at home and the Spanish arrive. My classmates were all from the U.K. (doctors, a judge and a real estate developer), where Ballingall has a large following. Several were return students who wanted to further hone their golf skills. For rates and session information, call the U.K. office at 0044 (0)1362692119 or visit www.peterballingall.com. – Lydia Moss
Tom Burnett Golf Academy
Golf is a lot harder than it looks.
That’s the first thing I discovered when I enrolled at the Tom Burnett Golf Academy in Sawgrass, Fla. Sawgrass is the home of PGA Tour Headquarters, and people there take golf very seriously. Until recently, I never did. As far as I was concerned, any activity that allows large men in plaid pants to drive from hole to hole in little electric cars hardly qualifies as exercise.
Lately, however, I’d noticed something: The best golfers I knew were also the calmest people I’d ever met. I began to wonder whether spending a very hot day trying to hit a little white ball from one grassy field to another could turn me into a kind of Zen master.
I decided to check it out.
Tom Burnett has been a golf instructor for the last 19 years, but he’s never thought of himself as a teacher. What Burnett — a tall, kind-eyed man with the steady voice and rugged features of a lead actor in a western – does is coach. In my case, that means leading me to the tee and telling me to swing away. He wants to see what I can do, and tell me what I’m doing right, before pointing out the many things I’m doing wrong. It sets me at ease: I feel like I’m working with the world’s most understanding editor.
Five minutes later, we’re watching a video on the clubhouse TV. On the left side of the screen is Tiger Woods. On the right side is me. I’m waiting for Burnett to point out my poor posture, choppy swing, or bad hair, but he doesn’t. Instead, he asks me to show him all the ways in which my performance is different from Tiger’s. That takes a while. By the time we’re finished, I’ve learned some of the fundamentals of golf before my instruction has really begun.
Whether he’s working with a 10-year-old in his Junior Academy, or helping a visiting pro on the Nationwide tour eliminate his slice, Burnett begins with the ABCs. He helps me address the ball by drawing lines on my glove that show me exactly where to grip the club, and tells me how to keep my wrists firm and arms loose at the same time (it’s easier said than done). He shows me how a single, fluid body motion can send the ball soaring – I can’t just attack it like a hockey puck. And he explains to me how the direction of my club face determines whether the ball flies straight and true, or whether it goes someplace else. I hit a lot of someplace elses in the first few hours.
It’s frustrating at first. My arms are stiff, my back is sore, I’m wilting in the Florida heat, and the area around my golf tee is pockmarked like the surface of the moon. Through it all, Burnett acts like a laser pointer for my attention span, helping me sort through the hundreds of things I’m trying to remember. Make my arms a triangle? Follow through with my backswing? And focus on that one particular thing that most requires adjustment at the moment. Swing lower. Stay looser. Make a hinge with my arm.
And something incredible happens. I become more interested in the position of my body, and motion of my swing, than I am in where the ball is going. And the ball begins to fly straight. Not all the time, of course, but enough of the time that I can begin to understand why someone might want to spend a perfectly good Saturday afternoon riding around in an electric car. For rates and session information, call 904 285 6767 or visit www.tomburnettgolfacademy.com. – Rob Rogers
Dave Pelz Scoring Game Schools
It’s old news among golfers that your short game can be the route to lowering your handicap. “Drive for show, putt for dough,” as the saying goes. Short game wizard Dave Pelz, who has helped some of the best pros hone their games, offers the same instruction to duffers who want to cut a few strokes off their scores.
Designed for all handicap levels, one-day Dave Pelz Scoring Game Schools take place at locations throughout the United States. The clinics take a multifaceted approach to improvement – a three-hour wedge session, for example, focuses on chipping, distance wedges and bunker shots. After lunch there’s three hours of putting that involves setup, green reading, putter path and sweet-spot impact. A mix of indoor theory interspersed with high-tech teaching tools complete the day.
Pelz, who attended college on a golf scholarship competing against the likes of a young Ohio State golfer, Jack Nicklaus, spent 14 years as a NASA research scientist leading international space research programs. Eventually, his love of golf took precedent and he started applying scientific analysis to his own game. Everything Pelz teaches today has been scientifically validated. According to Pelz, “65 percent of the swings in a typical round of golf are made from inside 100 yards.” That’s where golfers lose almost 80 percent of the shots that lead to par.
Prior to opening his first short game school in Texas in 1982, Pelz coached only tour professionals. His credits include a roster of “how-to” articles, appearances on the Golf Channels and instructional videos, but there’s nothing like spending a day at one of his short game schools. Pelz also works personally with such pros as Phil Mickelson – before he won The Masters in 2004 – as well as many top players.
Courses are offered in cities throughout the United States, including many at appealing resort locations. Pelz personally designed the teaching facilities (optimal greens and bunkers) at the Boca Raton Resort in Florida, The Club at Cordillera in Colorado’s Vail Valley; the Reynolds Plantation in Georgia and The Homestead on the shores of Lake Michigan. The Pelz-designed Centennial Golf Club in Carmel, N.Y. (about an hour north of New York C ity), is among the school’s most popular locales. For rates and session information, call 800 833 7370 or visit www.pelzgolf.com. – Lydia Moss
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