Golf Travel Tips - School Daze: Picking a Golf School

Julie L. Moran

By Julie L. Moran

Every serious golfer knows that to improve his or her game, at some point, instruction from a golf professional is required. By now you should know to ignore gratuitous critiques from your golf buddies (unless they happen to be PGA professionals). And if you think that playing in itself, even frequently, will improve your game, think again. While the most fun is in the playing, by doing so, whatever bad habits you possess now are just being repeated, which ingrains them further. While you may already know this, you may also find that time or budget constraints make it impractical for you to take regular one-on-one lessons with a local pro.

One popular alternative (or addition) to regular private golf instruction is to attend a golf school. Once the Spartan boot camps of top tier amateurs, the newer and broader range of offerings can benefit golfers of every level and ability. In the U.S. and Canada alone, there are nearly 200 golf schools. So many options, so little time. How do you choose?

All programs have certain aspects in common. Golf schools typically involve taking lessons from a professional in a small group (of people with similar ability) in the mornings, with an opportunity later in the day to practice on the golf course. Some schools also offer, for an additional charge, one-on-one instruction on the course with a professional to help you with your course management skills. Longer programs may also offer cocktail receptions and dinners, and golf related seminars and presentations. While this is a general description, the focus and length of golf schools can vary widely. Golf schools run anywhere from a half day or a weekend to five days, or even a week, depending on the intensity of the program.

Some are more specialized than others. The most common specialty programs are those just for women or just for corporate groups, those that focus only on the short game, or the mental aspects of the game, and even some that offer programs for left-handed golfers.

Many others are more general and focus on both the short game and full swing. Some have a balanced approach that divides time among short game, full swing, mental game, and playing on the course. Balanced programs such as these can really lower your scores. Keep in mind, however, that any program, in order to help you improve your score, should devote at least one third of instruction time to the short game. Whether you seek a more specialized focus or training on specific aspects of your game, or a general improvement on all areas, be sure to find out if the program matches your needs. In addition, find out what kind of practice facilities the school has. Without solid practice time, you're not going to improve much.

Aside from what aspects of your game you wish to work on, you need to decide whether you wish to (and can) attend a school as part of a vacation, or as a commuter. Commuter sessions are usually held on weekends, and are less costly alternatives that involve traveling from home to attend half or full day sessions. Some golf schools have locations in several states, and with the number of choices available, most people can find a school within commuting distance from their home.

Another important factor in choosing the right school is how much you want to utilize the high-tech teaching aids available at most golf schools. A great selling point of many schools is that they offer computer swing models and sophisticated video analysis (equipment too costly to be within the means of most golf professionals). Teaching professionals agree that the ability to record and analyze your swing is a terrific way for a golfer to actually see his or her weaknesses, and swing models can help golfers get a feel for what their swing should be like, which will help enable them to work on specific problems.

How much of this type of analysis do you expect? When shopping around for schools, you need to find out what type of equipment they have, what it will do, and how much they will use the equipment during the program. Tech figures more prominently in some programs than others, so if this is important to you, ask about it.

Many programs send you home with a video of yourself (or a print out of the analysis based on your taped swing), as well as materials detailing your goals for progress. Some also allow students to contact instructors by phone or e-mail with follow-up questions and feedback, and some also allow students to send in a video for further analysis after they've had time to practice and reinforce what they learned at the school. Be sure to find out what they offer as far as follow-up after you return home.

At least as important is the quality of your instructors. Most schools today have instructors experienced with players of many levels of ability and temperaments. Some of the "brand name" schools with well-known PGA tour pros or instructors to the PGA tour professionals heading them up will have a team of other instructors on staff. The odds of your getting instruction from the head honcho are low unless you specifically ask what classes they will be teaching (and are prepared to pay more in most cases for working with them). However, the other staff has been thoroughly trained in that instructor's methods and philosophy. (Of course, at any golf school, if you are assigned an instructor that you truly feel is not meeting your needs, you can go to the program coordinator and request to work with a different instructor.)

Aside from the instructors themselves, an important part of your school experience will be the teacher/student ratio. Most schools break the numbers into groups based on ability, and rarely do class sizes go above a half dozen per instructor, but obviously, the lower the ratio, the better. Whatever ratio is quoted by the school will be the maximum, so you may have even fewer depending on attendance. As a general rule, it's best to choose a school with a low ratio. If you really want one-on-one attention from your instructor, then private lessons may be what you're looking for instead. At name schools, even a brand name teacher can be avail for this type of instruction during the course of the school session. Again, demand will be high and the price will rise accordingly.

Another important question to ask is what the fees are and what they include. Some include lodging and meals. Even commuter rates may or may not include meals, so you'll need to find this out. Some schools have on-site accommodations, while others have arrangements with nearby hotels. Obviously, multi-day programs will be more costly than short ones, but many golf schools have lower off-season rates. It never hurts to inquire.

If you are attending a golf school as part of a vacation, you will need to narrow down the field yourself, and make the arrangements to attend the school, as travel agents do not handle them. (With one notable exception: the John Jacobs' golf schools have schools all over the country and have their own travel service which can help arrange air transportation, accommodations, and even sightseeing trips.)

Whatever your expectations and needs for golf instruction, you're bound to find a golf school that's right for you. A little time spent researching different schools and asking about particular programs you're interested is all it takes.

As with any golf instruction, don't expect miracles or quick fixes. Expect to get worse before you get better after you return home from school. You must devote regular practice time, targeting the most time to your particular weak areas, in order to improve significantly. Without commitment on your part, golf school will only be a temporary fix, at best. On the other hand, if you put in the effort, you will not only enjoy your "working vacation," you'll bring home a valuable souvenir indeed - the means to lower your scores. *

Where to find more information on golf schools

Shawguides, Inc. publishes golf school directories that give detailed information. They also have a website: www.shawguides.com.

You'll also find information on several golf schools on GolfLink

Though hardly an exhaustive list, if you're seeking some top-notch schools in the U.S., you may wish to consult Golf Magazine's list of the top 25 golf schools. Some are located in one place, and others have sites in two or more locations, which increases your odds of finding a course convenient to you or your travel destination.

More Travel Tips by Julie L. Moran

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