Better to Practice, Or Buy a Better Game?

Are golfers actually practicing more?

One might think so based on the number of new practice facilities opening in the GTA. There was the Titleist facility at Eagles Nest, TaylorMade’s remarkable MATT system, and the Jim McLean Golf School at Angus Glen (which opened this spring). Add to all of this McLean’s facility in Niagara Falls, Dave Smallwood’s new practice area at Whistle Bear Golf Club and Hank Haney’s school in Deerhurst and one might think golfers are continually hitting balls in an effort to improve.

The latest to open is the new Golf Institute at Bond Head, led by noted instructor Bruce McCarrol, formerly at King Valley. Nigel Hollidge, who is running Bond Head, has invested a lot of time and cash in creating what he thinks is the best practice facility in the area. I haven’t seen it yet — I’m off to Bond Head today — but it sounds impressive, taking in biomechanics, psychology and offering top notch instructors, the institute says it can address a golfer’s needs in a holistic manner. I’ve seen lots of places that offer a quick swing fix, but this sounds like it goes well beyond the ordinary. I’m excited to see if it measures up to its billing.

That said, I still think my initial question is right — how many people actually practice their golf game. I hit balls twice over the weekend and played once — at the terrific Tarandowah Golf Club — and I’ll admit that I’m working through a pretty major change at the moment. But I enjoy hitting balls; however, I’m not so big on putting or chipping for hours. That simply bores me.

When I head to the local range in Toronto’s Beaches, I typically see a bunch of people swinging clubs. Sometimes they hit the ball and sometimes they don’t. But they rarely seem to be working on anything more than making consistent contact.

That’s what makes Bond Head’s new facility intriguing — as it is clearly aimed at the better golfer. I just don’t know quite how many of those there are out there. I suppose every golfer wants to get better, it is just a question of how they chose to get there. Do they invest in another $500 driver that will never fully address their issue, in essence chasing a phantom, or do they grit their teeth, drop some cash on an instructor and hit the range. I think more often than not they do the former, though I’d bet more would benefit from picking up a bucket and hitting the mats.

Here’s the article I wrote for the Post a few weeks back on the growing trend of golf schools in Canada:

Taught by tiger’s teacher; Golf schools are bringing out the stars

Golf is a hard game — damned hard. It causes the religious
to curse and the agnostic to consider the existence of a higher
power. It bedevils even those that play the game at the highest
level. Not even Tiger Woods can master it every time he tees it up.

That difficulty, as well as the popularity of the sport, explains
the explosion in training facilities and golf schools across Canada.
It also explains the battle between golf schools for students.
Schools such as the ESPN Golf School with Hank Haney or the David
Leadbetter Golf School, promote their lessons through the marketable
name of a top golf instructor. Mr. Haney, for example, is the
teacher for Tiger Woods, while Mr. Leadbetter is coach to the likes
of Ernie Els and is credited with reworking the swing of Nick Faldo,
turning him into one of the game’s greats.

The question for many is whether these schools, with fees ranging
from around $100 to thousands of dollars, can actually make one a
better golfer.

Nigel Hollidge, director of golf properties at the Club at Bond
Head, north of Toronto, says his organization’s new golf institute
will have the technology and support to match any top golf facility
in the United States, adding that students will also have access to
Bruce McCarrol, regarded as one of the top golf instructors in

“A lot of schools are affiliated with a name,” says Mr. Hollidge.
“Whether those instructors are famous or infamous, there is one
thing for sure — none of those people are going to be teaching at
the facilities that use their name.”

Mr. McCarrol, on the other hand, will be very involved in teaching
at the new school, which opens this month. The institute will also
offer access to a sports psychologist and biometrics experts.

While you won’t be taught by Mr. Leadbetter at his school in
Whistler, B.C., Greg Lown, director of golf at Fairmont’s Chateau
Whistler, where the school resides, says golfers still receive a
remarkable amount of personal attention from well-trained pros.

“Our professionals generally work for three or four years to be
certified in Leadbetter’s teaching philosophy,” says Mr. Lown.

Not only a better swing, but a better attitude toward the game, are
the key aims at Hank Haney’s schools, which include a location at
Deerhurst Resort in Huntsville, Ont. Mr. Haney says it is important
his instructors, who are taught by him or his lead teachers, find
creative ways to disseminate the information so that it catches the
interest and imagination of students.

“It is not just who is teaching, but how they teach it. They follow
my philosophy and I’ve set the concept of how we teach at the
school,” says Mr. Haney. “Our curriculum is based on basic
fundamentals. It is not based on anything revolutionary. It is more
about our approach and how we come across to students.”

His back-to-basics approach has resonated with students, Mr. Haney
says, adding the schools have been received positively by 98% of
attendees in post-teaching surveys.

Like Mr. Haney’s school, the Jim McLean Golf School is marketed by
its links to famous pupils like Sergio Garcia.

Baird Cumberland, director of instruction at the school, which is
run out of Angus Glen Golf Club in Markham, Ont., says students who
come for lessons are looking for more than just a marketable name.

Mr. Cumberland says one of the school’s distinguishing
characteristics is the use of Mr. Mc- Lean’s “hands-on” approach to

“Jim really wants you to get involved with the student,” says Mr.
Cumberland, a former U.S. college player. “But our No. 1 goal is to
understand what you are doing with your golf swing now, make you
understand what you should do instead and how to make the necessary

In the end, one of the only things all golf instructors seem to
agree on is that it isn’t possible to create a skilled golfer out of
a weekend hacker overnight. It takes work and extensive practice to
develop a golf swing that is repeatable and works well.

“You’ve got to make a commitment to fixing your golf game,” says
Bond Head’s Mr. McCarrol. “There is no quick-fix solution.”

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

3 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Tiger’s teacher was his dad, the others joined the team WHEN HE WAS THE BEST PLAYER IN THE WORLD. Who will be his next “coach”?
    Jack Grout was Nicklaus’s teacher, some guy in Hawaii is Michelle Wies’ teacher, Rick Smith and Leadbeater came later.
    It was pretty sickening seeing Phril and Butch hugging each other walking to the scorer’s tent – but great to see Butch turn back to make sure everyone got the picture. Did Butch and Pelz have to wear the same orange shirt?
    Great to see so many Pros teaching the swing, how many are teaching the game?

  • As a teacher in the GTA, Iknow the swing makes up about 25-30% of shooting a low score. And 95% of students want to spend 95% of their time on their swing, and 80% of that devoted to the driver. Same goes for golfers from Japan to Woodbridge. Human nature. I try to change the mold by spending time trying to make preshot routines and short games fun to practice…cause they’re surely the ONLY way to lower your scores.

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