If Tiger Woods changes his swing twice in his career, what message should that send the rest of the world’s hackers and slicers?
Fortunately, Michigan is filled with golf schools and teaching academies that can help any player improve. Any course worth playing probably offers a driving range and a head golf professional who gives private lessons. But there are a handful of places in Michigan that deliver a true “golf school” experience, where instruction takes on a whole new meaning.
These schools and academies offer top-flight instructors who have the best tools – video and other training aids – to teach the game in facilities specifically designed for learning. Golf schools are a staple of many of Michigan’s great resorts up north, where guests can concentrate solely on their game for a few days away from work and family. Respected teaching academies are found closer to home at a course or a retail shop near you.
Before picking your school of choice, make sure you feel comfortable with the instructors. They will be the guide to taming your inner Tiger. With all the technology that’s out there, it might not be a bad idea to research that aspect as well before joining a particular program.
Resort golf schools have revamped their schedules in recent years, shortening sessions to three or four days to cater to today’s busy lives. These programs often involve less time on the range (usually mornings) and more time on the course (usually after lunch). Video analysis isn’t a luxury anymore. It’s a given.
Both the Crystal Mountain Golf School (www.crystalmountain.com) in Thompsonville and the Rick Smith Golf Academy at Treetops Resort (www.treetops.com) in Gaylord were recently named among the top 25 golf schools in America by Golf Magazine.
The award validates the efforts of Crystal Mountain director of golf Brad Dean, who founded his school in 1994. Crystal Mountain last won the award in 1999. “It’s a very difficult award to achieve,” he said. “There are so many golf schools in the United States.”
The addition of Adam Schriber, the swing coach of young stars Anthony Kim and Morgan Pressel, has certainly enhanced Crystal Mountain’s national reputation. Crystal Mountain offers more than 100 schools, clinics and programs, but its junior elite program remains the biggest draw. Dean said new components will put the program “on steroids” in 2009. “We have got all the pieces in place to make this thing rock,” he said.
Dean said all golf schools now include a biomechanical analysis, helping players better understand their bodies, not only to improve their physical fitness but ultimately their game.
The Rick Smith Golf Academy is the most recognizable of the three national golf schools at Michigan resorts. Be forewarned, you probably won’t see Rick Smith at Treetops, Jim McLean at the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa or Dave Pelz at The Homestead Resort at your lesson. Instead, they deliver instructors and drills that come with a stamp of approval from these swing gurus.
Henry Young, in his 20th year at Treetops, and Jason Guss, in his ninth, led the only school in Michigan to guarantee a 2-to-1 student-to-instructor ratio. “Our big belief is it’s hard enough to work with someone 1-on-1, let alone 6-on-1,” said Guss, 32, named by Golf Digest as one of the country’s top 20 teachers under the age of 40. “We try to give them (our students) as much time as we can individually.”
Jason Jenkins of Jim McClean Golf School, Grand Traverse Resort & Spa instructing a student.
The McLean Golf School at the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa (www.grandtraverseresort.com) in Acme has been going strong since 1998 under Jason Jenkins. The McLean “superstation,” an indoor facility with three spacious hitting bays on the far end of the public range, is among the finest in Michigan. The building allows six-time Michigan Open champ Scott Hebert to give lessons in winter, making it one of the few year-round facilities up north. Jenkins said the facility “sets the tone” for his golf schools. “It accelerates the learning process. We can really help the students understand and develop,” Jenkins said.
According to Jenkins, McLean’s six U.S. schools use a “system” of drills and video work to help players avoid “death moves” that destroy the swing. He said instructors even take the club or ball away from students to build better fundamentals. “I call it Jim’s elimination theory. You eliminate things to help you improve.”
Half-day schools with three-hour sessions have become very popular, he added. Golfers can choose the “Train like a pro” clinic strictly for the range or the “Play with a pro” for its nine holes of on-course instruction with video review.
The Pelz Scoring Game School at The Homestead Resort (www.thehomesteadresort.com) in Glen Arbor provides a different focus. It caters to shots 100 yards and in. Just bring an 8-iron, a few wedges and a putter to solve your short game woes.
Pelz, the short game guru of Phil Mickelson, emphasizes the use of an 8-iron or 9-iron around the green, bumping and running chips toward the hole instead of attempting tricky flop shots. The school’s putting component is particularly informative. The Homestead isn’t a true golf destination – it’s Mountain Flowers course consists of nine par 3s. Yet, the resort melds seamlessly with its natural surroundings along the shores of the Leelanau Peninsula to deliver a picturesque vacation escape.
Although its nationally acclaimed Jim Flick Golf Academy left several years ago, the BOYNE Golf Academy at Boyne Highlands Resort (www.boyne.com) in Harbor Springs hasn’t missed a beat. Brian O’Neill, who said he learned a lot as Flick’s director of instruction, continues the tradition of delivering a first-class experience.
O’Neill touts his two- and three-day schools as a “full-circle academy,” where club fitting, sports psychology and physical training mesh with instruction. O’Neill said the variety of the four courses at Boyne Highlands simulate different conditions ideal for practice. For example, short-game work occurs at the Arthur Hills course, where navigating shaved green complexes can be confounding. “The products we have here, I can’t see them being rivaled anywhere in Michigan,” he said.
Brad Dean, Crystal Mountain Resort, works with a student.
Here’s a list of the top teachers in Michigan for 2007-2008, according to a survey of more than 1,000 teachers by Golf Digest:
1. Rick Smith, Rick Smith Golf Academy.
2. Brad Dean, Crystal Mountain Resort.
3. Jeff Goble, Kendall Academy.
4. Dave Kendall, Kendall Academy.
5. Tom Tontapanish, Kendall Academy.
6. Jason Guss, Rick Smith Golf Academy.
7. Henry Young, Rick Smith Golf Academy.
8. Charles Vandenburg, Thousand Oaks Golf Academy.
9. Lynn Janson, formerly of Egypt Valley Country Club.
10. Steve Brady, Oakland Hills Country Club.
11. Scott Wilson, Crystal Mountain Resort.
12. Scott Hayes, former Kendall Academy teacher concentrating on playing career.*
13. Paul Haase, Kendall Academy.
14. Adam Schriber, Crystal Mountain Resort.
15. Gary Robinson, Foundation Golf Center.
16. Will Ellender, Fox Hills Learning Center.
17. Mike Cote, Crystal Mountain Resort.
* as of press time.
A bit off the radar, the Shanty Creek Golf Academy (www.shantycreek.com) in Bellaire continues to evolve. Roger Gieseck, a 25-year veteran of the resort who handles much of its teaching duties, said a new teaching facility could be completed by the end of the 2009 season, either at the back of the Summit Golf Course driving range or at the Schuss Mountain driving range. “We are just hoping to grow it bigger and better,” he said.
individual course academics
Some standalone golf courses heavily invest in facilities good enough to rival many resorts. These golf academies have become valuable resources for their local communities with programs for all ages and skill levels.
Several universities home to higher learning for students follow the same guidelines for golfers.
The Meadows at Grand Valley State University (www.gvsu.edu/meadows) in Allendale will open a golf academy this summer at its fine practice center. Dave Kendall, who founded the Kendall Academy at Miles of Golf in Ypsilanti Township, will open up a west-side Kendall Academy with Derek Radley as the featured teacher. Radley will utilize a large range, two large practice greens, nine sheltered hitting areas and two practice holes that can be played as a par 3, 4 or 5 for his clinics. “He’s a home run,” Kendall said of his new partner in the endeavor.
In mid-Michigan, the success of the Michigan State University men’s and women’s golf teams traces back to their Forest Akers Golf Center (www.golf.msu.edu) and two fine courses, Forest Akers East and West, in East Lansing. The golf center’s 20-acre practice area opened in 1997 with a supersized range, two separate teaching tees, practice bunkers, target greens and a putting green. Steve Ruthenberg, the Director of Golf Instruction who is an adjunct professor for the MSU Kinesiology Department, uses Astar Digital Video Analysis to diagnose swing issues. He has written two books, “Golf Fore Beginners” and “Golf Fore Kids”.
The Thousand Oaks Golf Academy (www.thousandoaksgolf.com) in Plainfield Township near Grand Rapids erected its 3,000-square-foot building in 2007 to showcase instructors Charles Vandenberg, a three-time Michigan PGA teacher of the year, and Randall Ernst, a former PGA Tour caddie. The academy houses four indoor hitting bays, three with video analysis and the MEGSA (which stands for Most Efficient Golf Swing Attainable) Perfect Practice swing machines, inventions of renowned instructor Mike Bender, Zach Johnson’s swing coach. A putting analysis system occupies the fourth bay. “I like to think of us as the Titleist slogan: We’re for serious golfers,” Ernst said.
By building its unique 2,524-yard Strategic Fox par-3 course in 2001, the Fox Hills Golf and Banquet Center (www.foxhills.com) in Plymouth set the stage for the Fox Hill Learning Center, added in 2004. For the first three years, the center was run by staff from the Crystal Mountain Resort as a feeder program for its northern location before their lease expired in 2007.
Since taking the reins, new Director of Instruction Jordan Young, 37, has added more programs for women, beginners, seniors and juniors. The two fully heated indoor hitting bays and four other covered heated bays have been remodeled and more instructors were hired as well. Upgraded technology – the TOMI Putting System, the Motion Analysis Technology by TaylorMade (know as MATT) and V1 Pro swing analysis software – add to its allure. Weekly instructional leagues, where players tackle the course with an instructor (using a 6-to-1 ratio), continue to grow in popularity.
“We utilize the golf course more,” Young said of the changes. “Since Fox Hills now owns the learning center, it is easier to tap into existing leagues.”
retail golf academies
Several retail stores prove you don’t need a course to offer elite instruction.
Some peers thought Dave Kendall was crazy when he quit his club pro job at Cadillac Country Club to launch the Kendall Academy, essentially becoming a “driving range pro” at Miles of Golf near Ann Arbor in 1997. Who’s crazy now?
The Kendall Academy houses three of the top five instructors in the state, according to Golf Digest, and its Elite Players’ Association of Michigan attracts top amateur and college players to train year-round. Kendall relentlessly researches new teaching techniques for his students. “To be successful in teaching, you have to care about your students,” Kendall said. “My students are most of my friends.”
The Cluboratory next door complements the academy by providing cutting edge technology with the Trackman, a Doppler radar golf measuring device widely hailed as the industry’s best, and the TOMI Putting System.
The two locations of Carl’s Golfland, the Foundation Golf Center in Coldwater and the King Par Superstore in Flushing not only sell clubs but boast excellent instructors and driving ranges for lessons. Joe Portfilio, the co-head pro at the original Carl’s Golfland (www.carlsgolfland.com) in Bloomfield Township, has given 2,300 lessons a year since 1988, many to local celebrities like Steve Yzerman. Respected PGA professional Bill Baldwin was hired in 2006 to lead the newly built King Par Golf Academy (www.kingpar.com) that features a Sam Putt Lab, the Vector Pro Launch System and V1 technology and club-fitting. The headliner of the four instructors at the Foundation Golf Center (www.foundationgolfcenter.com) is Gary Robinson, a former Michigan PGA teacher of the year.
GolfTEC (www.golftech.com) became a new player in metro Detroit when Daryn Lawson opened his Southfield location in 2005. Two other GolfTEC locations followed later, now operating at Golfsmith stores in the Lakeside Mall in Clinton Township and in Troy. GolfTEC, an indoor program launched nationally in 1995, delivers a patented SEVA system that integrates video, 3-D motion analysis, impact analysis and biofeedback technology. Golfers strap on a harness with sensors that provide feedback on swings by making different beeps and buzzes. Players use the sounds and video coaching from Lawson’s staff to distinguish the difference between good and bad swings.
“It helps people understand themselves better, how to make changes in their swing that can really benefit their games,” Lawson said.
Only For Women
Many golf schools offer programs specifically for women. A few stand out.
Pam Phipps, the director of golf at Black Lake (www.blacklakegolf.com) in Onaway, has created a popular women-only golf school, which includes several days of instruction, lodging at the UAW’s Walter and May Reuther Family Education Center and afternoon play on one of the state’s premier courses.
The Crystal Mountain Golf School’s women’s program, run by Ina Davis, is rated among the top five in the nation by Golf for Women.
New this summer, the Treetops Resort in Gaylord will promote a “ladies golf escape.” Instead of focusing strictly on teaching golf, this program allows more flexibility in scheduling. Women can opt out of instruction for other things, like spa visits or a day off from golf.
The Garland Resort Golf Academy (www.garlandusa.com) in Lewiston offers four-day sessions for ladies with head pro Don White.
The Claire Batista Golf Academy (www.clairebatistagolfacademy.com) at The Legacy by Arthur Hills in Ottawa Lake features programs working with Batista, the former Toledo Rockets women’s golf coach rated among the top 50 teachers in the nation by Golf for Women in 2002.
Growing junior golf
Several teaching academies play a big role in junior golf, driving growth of the game. More than 800 junior golfers call the Fox Hills Golf and Banquet Center home, a big reason its Fox Hills Learning Center (www.foxhills.com) and Strategic Fox course hosts the local Drive-Chip-Putt Championships sponsored by the Golf Channel. Fox Hill instructor Dan Thomas founded the budding Top 50 Jr. Golf Tour, which awards free tournament play and college scholarship opportunities.
Head professional Steve Scheuermann, named among the top 100 junior instructors in the nation by U.S. Kid’s Golf from 2004-07, runs a program at the The Highlands Golf Academy (www.highlandsgr.com) in Grand Rapids that annually attracts 300 juniors. This classic Donald Ross-designed course, home to a Senior PGA Tour event from 1986-93, went semi-private in 2008 while celebrating its 100th anniversary.
In its sixth year in Augusta near Battle Creek, the Gull Lake View Resort’s Junior Golf Program (www.gulllakeview.com) won the National Golf Course Owners Association’s 2008 Player Development Award. The program delivers three weeks of instruction (two hours per week) led by Bill Johnson, head professional at the resort’s Stonehedge courses, and ends with a tournament that gives many players their first taste of competition.
Boyne Mountain Resort (www.boyne.com) in Boyne Falls offers four-day NIKE Junior Golf Camps for players ages 10-18.