Lesson no. 1: topflight instructor improves swing

Golf is a physical diversion that helps develop focus and technique. In many business circles, it's also the outdoor boardroom. For either or both reasons, people are taking up golfing in droves. But first they need to learn to play.

Jill Bertram, a member of the Ladies Professional Golf Association, recommends starting with the basics.

"The first point when beginning golf or striving for improvement is the importance of good fundamentals and a basic understanding of the golf swing," said Bertram, a golf instructor at the Creve Coeur Recreation Complex on Creve Coeur Mill Road. "Your first experience with golf will be the stepping stones from which your golf career will be built upon."

She also recommends talking to several golf professionals before choosing an instructor.

The Creve Coeur Recreation Complex offers several types of lessons:

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  • * Beginner group lessons - a series of five, one-hour lessons for a golfer with little or no experience. The focus is on grip, stance, setup and alignment, along with an overview of swing fundamentals, the short game, putting and general discussions about the game.
  • * Intermediate group lessons - for golfers who already understand the fundamentals. The focus is on developing a sound golf swing. Participants work with a variety of clubs and learn to adjust to different lines on the golf course.

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  • * Advanced group lessons - with a focus on advanced golf situations and shot-making skills. Participants work on pitch and run, chip and putting - the true scoring shots in the game. The ideal number for group lessons is between four and eight, Bertram said.
  • * Semiprivate group lessons - a series of five, one-hour lessons for two golfers who intend to play and practice together. Participants get one-on-one instruction and learn to monitor each others' swing.
  • * Private lessons - five, half-hour lessons. The instructor works one-on-one with the student at the student's own pace. Practice time between lessons is essential.
  • * One, half-hour lesson - designed for working on a single golfing skill.

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The schedule at the complex includes day, evening and weekend classes. Bertram said the complex is flexible about setting up half-day golf clinics for groups and corporations.

Professional Golfers' Association of America member Jeff Hanson teaches golf at Sunset Lakes Golf Center on West Watson Road in Sunset Hills. One of the most popular classes he teaches is a four-day program on golf fundamentals.

On the fourth day, Hanson videotapes his students' swing and technique. He gives them their own copy of the videotape along with some additional pointers for improving their game.

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The camp is recommended for children ages 7 to 15. The instructor focuses on a different aspect of the game each week - such as chipping and putting and using irons and woods. The cost per lesson is $10, which includes instruction, loaner clubs and a bucket of golf balls.

"The dad usually hits balls while it's going on anyway," Hanson said.

The real demand for group instruction is with the beginners, he said. More advanced players usually prefer taking private lessons from an instructor with whom they feel comfortable.

Private sessions usually last 30 or 45 minutes and often cost as many dollars, Hanson said, adding that he finds the shorter duration to be the most effective.

"The biggest thing is that you have to be compatible with the teacher," he said. "I can say the same information to you as somebody else does. It's the way you do that makes the lesson."

He recommended seeking out an instructor who is a certified, full-fledged PGA or LPGA member. Such membership requires a minimum of five years in the business as well as being trained to be an instructor, he said.

Hanson said that people are taking up the sport in droves.

"It's one of the few sports that people take up beyond childhood - often in their 30s and 40s," he said. "Many of those latecomers feel uncomfortable among their more experienced peers.

"We prepare a person to be comfortable on the course and not to be anxious about playing."

Some take up the game on the spur of the moment, he said.

"There are company tournaments and outings and playing with the boss and family social events," Hanson said. "I get people all the time who want 'cram' lessons right before a tournament.

"I do whatever I can for them, but you can't really cram in golf."

More couples also are seeking instruction and playing together, he said.

Steve Housmann is a teaching professional at Algonquin Country Club in Glendale. Algonquin, a private club, offers clinics for its members.

But Housmann also offers one-on-one instruction to nonmembers.

Housmann believes anyone can learn to play golf with the right kind of instruction, dedication and practice.

"A lot of people want to learn but don't want to put the time in," he said. "You need to be dedicated. You have to want to do it."

Housmann offers private instruction for one or two people. Groups seldom take lessons at Algonquin, he said.

"I think we are finding more women getting into golf," he said.

He said someone who is serious about getting into the game could wind up spending about $1,000 on shoes, clubs and equipment.

Tower Tee West on Old State Road in Ellisville augments its PGA pros with high-tech, computerized equipment. Video cameras record the student's swing from three angles. Instructors also can play back the video frame by frame, illustrate suggested improvements in stance or position with on-screen graphics and superimpose a PGA tour player's swing over the student's swing.

Post Author: Lester Happer