Golf Courses of Study: Great Resorts That Will Teach You a Lesson

The Island Green at the Villas of Grand Cypress, in Orlando. No Mickey Mouse golf instruction here.

One thing I never expected to learn at golf school was how to really wind up and throw my golf clubs.  But at Fred Shoemaker’s School for Extraordinary Golf we not only practiced flinging seven irons, but Fred also videotaped our efforts, and played the videos back to us right after playing videos of our group of students hitting actual golf shots with the same clubs.  Our room full of intermediate and advanced students was amazed to see that while the tapes of our golf shots revealed a huge variety of swing flaws—from reverse pivots to over-the-top-moves— the films of our club throwing displayed fluid, natural swings that we barely recognized even when they were our own.

When it comes to education, some students excel at math while others respond positively to philosophy class.  And when it comes to golf education, there are golfers who’d prefer to learn by pounding balls at the range until their hands grow raw, others who prefer to studiously consult visual images of their swings, and still others who can perfect their games more easily through metaphor.

The good news is that various golf schools have been developed to help you no matter how you learn.  The even better news is that most of them are located at or associated with great resorts that not only offer terrific golf courses to test out your new-found knowledge, but the room and board options are way better than you’d find at even the top institutions of higher learning.  Following are eight courses of golf study that also include opportunities to study great courses, and to end the day with fine dining and cozy accommodations.

Fred Shoemaker’s School for Extraordinary Golf is a traveling road show of unexpected instructional techniques intended to teach students to coach themselves through development of awareness.  The club-throwing exercise is just a single example of how Shoemaker’s methods reveal that we each possess a fluid, natural golf swing; we just need to learn to eliminate the interference that comes between us and that swing. Shoemaker himself is a Zen master of teaching better golf without necessarily focusing primarily on golf.  The school’s home base is the Carmel Valley Ranch Resort, but it travels to Palm Springs, the East Coast, Canada, Japan, and elsewhere.  Three-day sessions include instruction in the short game, full-swing, curving the ball, contact, pre-shot routine, and even the time between shots.  Lessons are highly personalized, taking into account how each student learns best.

The newly refurbished Carmel Valley Ranch Resort luxuriates across a 500-acre countryside estate in the foothills of the Santa Lucia Mountains in Carmel, close to wineries, 17-Mile Drive, and a few other golf courses you may have heard of (such as Pebble Beach).  The resort’s par-70 Pete Dye golf course, which rolls through woods and mountains, recently underwent a major renovation that included reseeding of the entire layout with Bentgrass and enlargement of all the greens.  Accommodations are in spacious, renovated suites.

The curriculum at the Grand Cypress Academy of Golf, in Orlando, FL is nearly as wide-ranging as the rides at nearby theme parks.  This GOLF Magazine Top 25 school spreads across 21 acres of grassy golf laboratories.  The most intensive course of study is in the Fred Griffin Players School, a three-day program with only six students and two instructors including GOLF Magazine Top 100 instructor Fred Griffin himself.  The school employs use of a ModelGolf swing analysis overlay, club recommendations based on the latest swing analysis and launch monitor data, two nine-hole playing lessons, and a one-year membership in the Academy’s on-line Personal Improvement Program.  Grand Cypress also offers a variety of other schools ranging from the Mental Impact program— Dr. Ryan Caserta’s curriculum that teaches the mental game through sport-specific eye training— to women’s’ and junior programs.

After school, and while staying at the luxe Villas at Grand Cypress or the nearby affiliated Hyatt Hotel, enjoy play on 45 holes of Jack Nicklaus crafted golf.  While your graduate degree might not have you playing quite like the Golden Bear himself, you’ll be able to practice shots to the ledged fairways, shaggy mounds, and plateau greens of the North and South Courses; take on the more wooded, less-bunkered East Course; or don your kilts for the St. Andrews-inspired New Course, with double greens, flowing burns, pot bunkers, and stone walls and bridges.

Plantation Course at Kapalua. You’ll need a lesson to take this one on.

Designed by Hale Irwin across 23 acres of gorgeous, wind-blown Hawaiian topography, the Kapalua Golf Academy features highly personalized instruction under the watchful eye of GOLF Magazine Top 100 Instructor Jerry King.  Facilities include 85,000 sq ft of grass teeing areas (down to 84,000 due to the divots chunked out during my visit), indoor bays, an 18-hole putting course, 2,500-sq ft learning center, and more.  Instructional programs range from a half-day tune-up to “players schools” for golfers with handicaps of 12 or lower.  The academy also offers corporate clinics and will even make house calls.  Consider the Insights to Hawaii Golf program—which teaches how to play off uneven lies, in wind, and on Bermuda grass, all of which you’ll need to take on the resort’s daunting Plantation Course.

Plantation is an 18-headed monster that plays host to the SBS Championship (formerly the Mercedes-Benz Championship), where the previous year’s winners on the PGA Tour battle wind,  length, forced carries, and each other over the evil love-child of Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore.  If you didn’t win on tour last year, or have a limited supply of golf balls, consider Kapalua’s Bay Course, gently designed by Arnold Palmer, as a sensible alternative.  Guests at Kapalua can choose from a variety of accommodations including The Kapalua Villas and a Ritz Carlton hotel that’s as elegant as the Plantation Course is challenging.

If your kids aren’t quite ready for college yet but you still want to further their education, the best possible family golf school destination may be Central Oregon’s legendary Sunriver Resort.  Now featuring Golf Magazine Top 100 Instructor Shawn Humphries’ Golf Performance School, the Sunriver programs analyze students’ ball flight tendencies, swing paths, and putting planes to get at the root causes of their personal challenges (a nice way of describing swing flaws).  Shawn and the other teachers will develop an eight-principled program for you to take home with you to ensure on-going improvement.

At Sunriver you’ll also learn what makes for one of the best golf resorts on the planet, namely terrific and terrifically varied golf.  Choose from the family-friendly nine-hole Caldera Links; the Woodlands, a classically-styled Robert Trent Jones II course laid out among condos and Ponderosa pines; Bob Cupp’s world-class Crosswater, boasting length, forced carries, risk-reward conundrums, and views of the snow-covered Cascade Mountains; and the kinder, gentler Meadows Course, which plays out in open flats behind the resort’s main lodge.  Lodging choices  include guestrooms, condos, cabins, and river lodges that make great bases for such activities as hiking, biking, fishing, rafting, and other “ING” sports.

Don’t let the rustic old-west appearance of the Golf Academy at Old Greenwood, in Truckee, CA fool you.  Inside the weathered wooden headquarters building lies a secret hideaway of high tech analytics and the highest-caliber instructional brainpower.  The 1,500 sq ft center contains flat screen TVs, lockers, Internet access, and a full reception staff in addition to various launch monitors, club-fitting systems, and much more.  The Academy takes a shot-by-shot, performance-based approach to instruction, helping beginners to steer clear of forming bad habits, intermediates capture more fluid and powerful swings, and advanced players shave enough strokes off their games to reach the next level.  Instructors consider your game, body, and equipment to develop a total picture and then devise a personal plan to help you improve.  Club fitting and fitness assessments are also part of this individualistic course of instruction.

The luckiest students will choose to live on campus here— steps from the practice tees— in the Villas at Old Greenwood, upscale three-bedroom/three-bath cabins with hot tubs, decks, fireplaces, and luxurious appointments.  Villa guests will also be close by to a Jack Nicklaus golf course playing through pines and blue sage.  The 7518-yard track was the first course in California to receive Audubon International’s Gold Signature Sanctuary status.

If you’re the type who appreciates “old school,” then Len Harvey, an instructor at the Predator Ridge Golf Performance Centre, outside Kelowna, BC, may be the right teacher for you.  The gruffly charming Harvey has been teaching golf for more than 50 years—longer than most current PGA TOUR pros have been alive.  The winner of several Manitoba Opens, and a representative of Canada at the World Golf Championship at Royal Birkdale, Harvey brings a true competitor’s edge and perspective to the resort’s instruction.  The Centre offers all modern instructional programs and technologies, but with a more experienced view.

Lodgings at Predator Ridge.

Golf at Predator Ridge is good enough to have hosted two Skins Games, and the 36 holes all bear the stamp of Canadian architect Doug Carrick, who recently renovated some holes and built a number of new ones.  The Predator Course features elevated green complexes, linksy bunkering, and fescue-covered dunes.  The Ridge Course boasts long fairways, granite outcroppings, and views of Lake Okanagan.  On-site lodging options in the Craftsman-style dreamland around the resort include suites and cottages.

Between Cancun and Playa Del Carmen on Mexico’s Riviera Maya, renowned instructor Jim McClean has set up his only golf school in Mexico, the Jim McClean Golf School Mayakoba, at the resort of the same name.  One- and two-day schools may encompass biodynamic training, whereby the highest tech equipment creates biomechanical reports on the golfer’s body motions during the swing.  These communicate information on the real time position and orientation of the head, shoulders, arms, hips, and clubs, rendered in three dimensions.  These images can be viewed from any angle and even superimposed upon images of other swings, to either compare a student’s swing to those of more successful golfers (which is to say actual TOUR pros), or to his own swing to measure progress.  The program also offers biofeedback training so that students can see whether they have achieved their desired swing changes.  It is considered by many to be the top golf teaching facility in Mexico.

After school programs include golf on the Greg Norman-designed El Camaleon Golf Course, which has hosted the only PGA TOUR event held outside the US—the Mayakoba Golf Classic.  The course plays through three distinct topographies: tropical jungle, dense mangroves, and oceanside dunes.  Some holes parallel long limestone canals, which add to the hazards presented by lagoons, ample white-sand bunkering, and cenotes—natural underground lakes.  The gorgeous modern clubhouse is home to an Argentine steakhouse.  Students staying on property can choose between five-star Rosewood, Fairmont, and Banyan Tree hotels.

While Idaho’s Coeur d’ Alene Resort is most famous for its moveable, floating island green, CDA’s renowned golf instruction program will teach you how to approach the other seventeen greens, as well.  The resort now offers Randy Henry’s Dynamic Golf School, taught by the renowned teacher who developed one of the very first (and best) club fitting protocols, at Henry-Griffitts Golf.  The school operates on the theory that if you’ve tried emulating the swings of Palmer, Nicklaus, and Woods, it might be time to focus on your own natural swing, based on your own actual abilities.  The school employs state-of-the-art technology to analyze and improve your technique, physical and mental abilities, and equipment.  Sessions include indoor lessons on the aboutGolf PGA Tour Simulator, and at putting and club evaluation stations, followed by one-to-one outdoor instruction.

Following classes, play one of the best-conditioned courses in the known world—Scott Miller’s 6,803-yard par 71 perfect carpet of Bentgrass punctuated by more than 60,000 flowers.  Elevation changes and mountain and lake views add to the enjoyment.  On the famous floating green hole—the putting surface of which you approach in a wooden boat—hit a shot of between 95-200 yards, depending upon where it’s been moved to that day.  Accommodations in the resort’s lakeside tower include mountain or river view rooms with fireplaces, all a short distance from a $2 million wine cellar in Beverly’s restaurant.

Former rocket scientist Dave Pelz gave up his high tech career to work on something truly difficult—improving your golf score.  Pelz’s research shows that golfers lose almost 80% of their shots to par inside of 100 yards, and hit 60-65% of all shots from that distance.  The Dave Pelz Scoring Game Schooladdresses distance wedges, pitches, chips, sand shots, and putting in a concentrated effort to improve your ability to hit the shots you hit most.  The school’s practical, scientific approach has been honed through extensive research.

Although Pelz schools are located at six resorts around the country, consider enrolling at the Cimarron Golf Resort in Palm Springs, CA.  Practice said short game on the par-58 executive Pebble Course—also great for a Skins Game with your buddies (or spouse).  Or hit big and little shots on Boulder, a par-71 championship layout designed by John Fought.  The course features sod walled bunkers filled with crushed marble, curvy, rolling fairways punctuated by waste bunkers and framed by prairie grasses, and some of the best greens in the Coachella Valley.  Guests wishing to stay close to the action can bed down at Cimarron’s Raintree Vacation Club condos.

If one of these terrific golf instructional programs isn’t right for you, consider taking up tennis.

Driving range, mountain range, at Cimarron.

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