The Zen of Golf

After seriously taking up golf a few years ago, Southern California resident Lynn Silberstein has become quite passionate about the game. So, when Lynne’s husband, Michael, gave her the choice to go somewhere special last October for her birthday, Lynne, 61, jumped at the opportunity to, well, go play golf.

When the Silbersteins signed up for Miraval Resort’s Miraval Golf Experience in Tucson, Ariz., they expected the usual upscale golf environment first-class golf course amenities and equipment, state-of-the-art video coaching and the latest in swing tips and techniques. What they didn’t expect was a mind-altering experience that not only helped them become more successful golfers, but better people as well.

It changed my life, it really did change my life,” Lynne Silberstein says. “I’m a real Type-A kind of perfectionist, a real driven kind of person and I’ve never let a lot of it go. But as golfers know, it’s just the opposite in golf. The harder you try and the more you force, the less you can achieve. I really had to let that go and work really hard at relaxing and breathing, and yoga, and everything just to try and get my game moving forward.

What Miraval did was basically taught me to open up my mind and really just work on the mental side and breathe. It’s all about what happens between the shots — the self talk. For example, don’t berate yourself so much anymore. You have to think it’s just a bad shot kind of thing and move on, instead of carrying it forward.”

First-time golfer Leslie Zucker, 41, also had an “amazing experience” at Miraval, and she, too, learned a few things that certainly transcended the game.

(The Miraval Golf Experience) gives you a sense of mastery and sense of confidence to try something new,” says Zucker, a 41-year-old business owner from Chicago. “It forced me into just being mindful and really being present in the moment. Not worrying about what’s going to happen if you can’t get (the ball) in the hole or letting the fear of, ‘I’m going to look completely ridiculous out there,’ get the best of you.

“Basically, you’re not getting caught up in that whole mind chatter, and you’re just going to go out there and try. Worst comes to worst, ‘OK, so maybe I won’t be such a great golfer,’ but at least I’m going to try and that’s exactly what I did. I literally had such a great time that I’m definitely going to golf again.”

The lessons learned are already being incorporated into Zucker’s family life.

“Absolutely,” says Zucker, who is married with two boys. “Again, it’s just being in that moment and not worrying about all those if-then scenarios. Sometimes you just have to throw that out the door and be in the moment. …

“It’s just staying calm, being calm and not getting worked up. It’s letting things happen. You can’t control everything. So the biggest issue is sometimes you just have to let go and just let things happen as they’re going to happen. You can only prepare so much.”

This profound approach to golf and life are the fundamental principles of a new breed of golf instructors. Now, golf resort lessons can be just as much about mind, body and spirit as it is about grips, shafts and clubheads.

Arguably there is no better place to start this alternative golf journey than Miraval Resort, an innovative and highly rated health and wellness destination largely owned by AOL founder Steve Case. Nestled in the foothills of the picturesque Catalina Mountains, Miraval is noted for its “mindfulness” programming – a variety of experiences whereby guests are immersed in a number of practices that link body, mind and heart in the “moment.”

This state of mindfulness, or being present in the moment, according to Miraval, is one of the most effective ways of discovering one’s unique self and living a balanced life. This notion of mindfulness is also one of the fundamental elements that make the Miraval Golf Experience so meaningful.

At Miraval’s four-day golf school run by renowned coach and Extraordinary Golf founder Fred Shoemaker, two of the main principles explored at the nearby Golf Club at Vistoso are freedom and awareness. For example, one popular drill is having the class alternate between hitting a ball and throwing a club. Soon, students “feel” the difference in the swing.

Extraordinary Golf CEO Jo Hardy, whose company helped co-design Miraval’s golf program, says another core component of the Miraval Golf Experience is concentration.
“Ask professionals what the most important skill is for golf, and they’ll say concentration,” adds Hardy, whose Miraval program costs $4,063 per single occupancy and $3,708 per double occupancy. “Now if you ask them if they coach it, they’ll probably say no. If you ask them if they’ve ever been coached in it, they’ll also say no!”

“So our program, and many of our exercises, are designed to have golfers recognize whether they’re present or not. For instance, if we ask students to track the clubhead all the way through the arc of their swing, at first, many wouldn’t be able to. But, they would start realizing that they check out, which is a great first step. When students expand their capacity to stay present, learning happens rapidly. That’s the essence of concentration and it’s something that can make you better in life or work.”

Pilates, Gyrotonics and Kinematics

If that sounds like an exercise regimen more befitting of Olympic athletes, think again. Sure, golfers haven’t traditionally been confused with being true athletes, but times have changed. So, after years of eschewing exercise, golfers have come to grips over that last decade that strength, flexibility and overall fitness plays a critical role in the game (credit studly Tiger Woods for that change).

One property that embraces this philosophy as much as anywhere is Pebble Beach Resorts in Monterey, Calif. Under the longtime watch of Laird Small, Pebble Beach Golf Academy is a place where golfers are exposed to as much kinesiology as golfology, learning to use a special Pilates system such as Gyrotonics or going through the unique Kinematics Lab.

“The reason why we think (Gyrotonics) is so important is traditional weightlifting is done on a single plane motion,” says Small, who is in his 20th year at Pebble Beach. “You do a curl and it’s right in front of you – up and down. But that motion has no relationship to your golf swing because you don’t do that motion in your golf swing.

“The Gyrotonic is a special machine in the Pilates world that has cables with a pulley system with weights attached to them. What it does is because the cables are free moving, you can start to move your arms in a multi-plane fashion very much like you’re doing in your golf swing. What we’re trying to do is train in the same modality that people are actually applying the skill.”

A more high-tech tool used by Pebble Beach is Kinematics, which helps golfers understand how joint movement happens, and ultimately, helps them have more efficient movement patterns.

How it works is golfers’ swings are captured on videotape and transmitted to lab director Chris Welch, who digitizes each of the 13 major joints within a millimeter of the joint head.

“Then, through movement, we can see how the golfer’s body is moving,” Small points out. “Are they joints moving in the correct sequence? Or is one joint not moving and another joint taking its place, which means you don’t have the right chain or the right kinectic linking.”

Another way to picture this is imagine someone awkwardly throwing a ball off their back foot, rather than stepping forward, coiling the body and then throwing.

“We find that the Pilates system and the Gyrotonics System combined really help golfers identify the correct patterns of movement,” Small says. “It’s a new way of thinking about it. Not everybody is doing it, but they will be.

“Golf at its core is a game of stability. The more stable that you are, the more balanced that you are, the more force that you can apply and the more speed you can create. And the more dynamic you can be as an athlete.

Yoga, Anyone?

This peaceful New Age ritual might seem out of place in the male-dominated world of golf, but the breathing and stretching techniques once reserved for religious retreats are fast becoming the mainstream domain of luxury resorts.

In fact, dozens of great hotels and resorts are touting yoga and other alternative fitness-related programs as the newest way to hone one’s handicap. Katherine Roberts, whose Scottsdale-based Yoga for Golfers program is part of the traveling ESPN Golf School, is one of the pioneers.

“It’s grown dramatically in the 10 years since I started the program,” says Roberts, who counts the San Diego Padres as one of her clients as well as numerous professional golfers and top amateurs. “Ten years ago, when I started talking about blending golf and yoga, the average person would say, ‘well, I’m not very flexible.’ Or, the image they had was chanting, burning incense and sitting in the lotus position.

“The truth is, everything you get in yoga. … The flexibility, strength, balance, breathing and core strength of being able to quiet your mind, all has a direct correlation to golf performance.”

Indeed, the marriage of golf and yoga is a natural union in many ways. For instance, the process of learning yoga postures is remarkably similar to learning to swing a golf club. Also, a calm centered mental state so central to proper yoga technique is an essential element to being successful on the golf course.

“The whole concept of fitness and golf is really taking off,” Roberts says. “If you’re a resort, you have to offer something more than just swing lessons today. I’m seeing more resorts embrace (yoga) because what we’re offering isn’t just a means to better golf. What we’re offering is a better lifestyle.”

Simply put, veteran PGA Tour golfer Scott Gump says yoga has become “just huge.”

“The core strength alone and the strength it gives you in golf is so valuable,” Gump says. “But just the movement in yoga, your flexibility, your strength and your coordination, if you think about it, ‘Hey, that’s like making a golf swing. What’s the difference.’

“You used to associate yoga with ‘go hug a tree’ or ‘go rub a rock.’ That’s no longer the case. It’s a like a circle of life; everything’s connected.”

Indeed, even that ancient game of golf.


For more information on where to try some of these alternative golf experiences go to:

Miraval – 800-232-3969;

Pebble Beach Resorts – 831-622-8650;

Carmel Valley Ranch Resort – 866-282-4745;

Ojai Valley Inn & Spa – 800-422-6524;

Turning Stone Resort & Casino 1-800-771-7711;

ChampionsGate 407-787-golf;

The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa – 707-938-9000;

Extraordinary Golf – 800-541-2444;

Katherine Roberts/Yoga for Golfers/ESPN Golf Schools – 602-317-4998;;

Kris Moe Golf Schools – 707-939-0523;


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