Consultants of swing: golf school vacations

Golf schools offer vacationers sun, scenery and a chance to brush up on their game.

School was never my favorite place when I was a teenager, but these days there is one type of school I love to visit. The subject of study? Golf. The curriculum? As varied as golfers themselves.

Two of my favorite golf schools illustrate the diversity that’s available. The Dave Pelz clinic in sunny Boca Raton, Fla., aims to calibrate your short game using scientific principles. The Colin Montgomerie academy in windblown Turnberry, Scotland, hardens you for the traditional British “links” experience using time-honored techniques.

Either course makes for a great start to a vacation, because they’re surrounded by plenty of other diversions. So if you’re part of one of those unfortunate mixed marriages ? by which, of course, I mean a union between a golfer and a non-golfer ? you can rest assured that your partner will find lots to do while you’re getting one of the most enjoyable golf lessons of your life.

Getting dune

Links get their name because they’re the sandy coastal strips of land that link true oceanfront to inland farms. Mother Nature sculpted the great links courses of Britain, carving them from dunes with few or no trees, constant winds, long sea grasses and gorse. Links golf is golf at its purest. Also at its windiest and most challenging.

Do yourself a favor. Start your swing through Scotland at The Colin Montgomerie Links Golf Academy at the Westin Turnberry Resort on the rugged Ayrshire coast. My half-hour Introduction to Links Golf with head pro, Chris Brown, was £30 well spent. The world’s first golf school specializing in links logistics overlooks the spectacular Alisa course, regularly ranked in the top 20 on the planet.

Under Brown’s eye, I practiced the punch shot, handy in a howling wind. With a six-iron, Brown demonstrated what he called the BLT (Ball back in stance, Lean 60% of weight on left leg, hands toward the Target). Brown also had a few tips up his sleeve for digging out of treacherous gorse, playing uneven lies and digging the ball out of deep, grass-sodded pot bunkers. “Visualize the shot and relax,” he prompted me in a rich Scottish burr. It seemed to work. I swung, the ball plopped out of its sandy dungeon, and ran up close to the hole.

Non-golfers will also find lots to like in Turnberry. At the spa you can book a hot-stone massage in a candlelit room or take a swim beneath the poolside waterfall. At the outdoor activity centre you can sign up for clay target shooting or a day of salmon fishing. Just down the road, you can visit the thatched cottage where Scotland’s beloved bard Robbie Burns was born. And when your golfing partner starts to brag about breaking par, you can escape to Turnberry’s cozy Whisky Bar for a wee dram.

The sweet science

According to Dave Pelz, about 65% of all golf shots occur within 90 m of the hole. Thus, to improve your overall game, you must improve your short game.

Pelz has made a science of doing just that. A former NASA physicist, he turned to studying the trajectory of flying golf balls a few decades ago, and since that time he has helped train some of the world’s greatest pros, including Vijay Singh and Annika Sorenstam.

I signed up for a one-day clinic on the Pelz method at the Boca Raton Resort & Club in the heart of Palm Beach County, Fla. The subject: what the Pelz folks call the finesse swing. “This is not a cut-down version of the power swing,” teaching pro Guy Ashley told me. Pelz has used his background in rocket science to prove that a short backswing and a longer follow-through force you to accelerate through impact, thus creating a solid and consistent shot.

Wedges in tow, we headed out to the practice area and began pitching balls toward a netted target about 35 m away. Pelz’s research indicates that after about 45 minutes of learning a new skill people become mentally fatigued, so at that point, we switched to bunker shots, followed by low running chips. The afternoon was devoted to putting which, according to Pelz, accounts for 43% of strokes made per game and about 80% of the anguish and frustration.

How did it work? I’d like to boast about my brilliant bunker shots, controlled chips and single putts, but I may have been suffering from information overload. At least I had new understanding of my stroke, based upon all the physics I had ignored back in high school.

And I certainly had no difficulty luring my non-golfing mate to Boca to enjoy the experiment with me. While I was swinging a club, he spent the morning wielding a tennis racquet on one of 30 clay courts and his afternoon deep-sea fishing. Later, he took the resort’s private launch over to the beach club. That evening we indulged in thick steaks and fries drizzled in truffle oil at the Boca’s Lucca Tuscan restaurant. It was a meal even a rocket scientist would have loved.

The Colin Montgomerie Links Golf Academy
Courses range from half-hour introductions all the way up to The Full Monty (£250), which includes three hours of intensive instruction, lunch in the clubhouse and nine holes with a pro.

Dave Pelz Scoring Game Schools (1-800-735-9868)
One-day clinic, $350 (U.S.), includes three hours of wedge and three hours of putting instruction. Student-teacher ratio is 6:1. Lunch and snacks included. Three-day and half-day clinics also available.