4 Top-Notch Golf Schools Where You Can Learn to Play Golf
Never held a club? Want to polish your swing? No problem. Westchester offers numerous places to learn the game. PLUS: Golf leagues for women, Armonk teen Lee Hammerschmidt gives up football for golf, and Brynwood debuts its boot camp
Andrew Farrell shapes a young swing at Doral Arrowwood in Rye Brook
Photographs by John Fortunato
A self-taught golfer can expect just about as much success on the course as a self-taught brain surgeon would have in the operating theater. And he causes just about as much damage, too. If you want to play better, don’t ask your butcher, baker, or barber for some swing tips — get a real golf education. From sleep-over golf schools for the hardcore golfer to casual social group lessons for rank beginners, there are numerous places to learn the game and plenty of PGA professionals to teach it to you.
Raise Your Grades at Golf School
Whether you’re looking for a complete swing makeover or just want to experience total-immersion golf, there’s a golf school that’s right for you. Schools range from one-day tune-ups to weeklong extravaganzas. Most feature breakfast-to-bedtime instruction, drills, testing, practice rounds, and more instruction from top teachers and their assistants. As you might expect, schools aren’t for the faint of heart — nor, quite frankly, are they a good place to learn the game for rank beginners. They also don’t take the place of regular lessons from your local PGA club professional. Think of golf school more like shock therapy for your game.
While you may want to fly to one of the big-name schools in Florida or the Carolinas, it’s not really necessary; many of them have branches locally or within easy driving distance. The instruction level is the same, the facilities are just as good if not better, and you’ll be learning on the same type of courses you normally play — which isn’t a bad thing at all.
Mitchell Spearman Golf Academy
Doral Arrowwood Golf Course, Rye Brook; www.spearmangolfacademy.com
From individual private lessons to half-day group sessions and even four-week (or more!) junior programs and camps, Mitchell Spearman combines the latest high-tech tools with personal instruction to help you — and your kids — get the most out of your game. Kids as young as three can sign up for clinics, although most of the emphasis is on those seven and older, where the Spearman method of tracking and monitoring progression can lead to substantial game improvement. For the serious junior, there’s the summer camp program, which includes full-day instruction and course play five days a week that leads from learning the fundamentals of the game to tournament competition.
Michael Breed Golf Academy
Manhattan Woods Golf Club, West Nyack; www.michaelbreed.com
You’ve seen him on the Golf Channel’s The Golf Fix, and watched him win the 2012 PGA National Teacher of the Year award. Now you can experience Michael Breed’s intensely energetic teaching style up close and personal. Last year, he launched the Michael Breed Golf Academy at Manhattan Woods in West Nyack. “I’ve always wanted to expose more and more people to the great game of golf,” Breed says. “That’s what led me to The Golf Fix, and now it’s what I’m doing with the academy.”
The Leadbetter Golf Academy
Crystal Springs Resort, Hamburg, NJ; www.davidleadbetter.com
David Leadbetter basically invented the business of golf instruction; today, he operates 28 golf academies around the globe, including one that opened three years ago at Crystal Springs Resort in New Jersey. The well-known guru has coached dozens of tour stars around the world, who together have amassed more than a dozen major championship titles and upwards of 100 individual worldwide tournament victories. The school offers mini-schools, private lessons, retreats, and corporate events, as well as junior player-development programs. It’s also a great place to take your lessons to one of the seven courses at the resort.
Dave Pelz Scoring Game School
Centennial Golf Club, Carmel; www.pelzgolf.com
Every golfer knows the short game is what matters when it comes to shooting lower scores. Dave Pelz, a former NASA scientist and perhaps the most data-driven instructor in the business, has helped the best of the best — like Phil Mickelson — hone their short game. Pelz’s clinics and one-, two-, and three-day schools at Centennial will help you as well. With student-to-instructor ratios as low as four to one — along with the fabulous four-acre short-game facility at Centennial — you are bound to improve your putting, chipping, pitching, wedge, and sand play.
Congeniality Marks EWGA Clinics
Membership in the Executive Women’s Golf Association opens the door to golf for hundreds of women in Westchester. There are not only golf leagues and tournaments for players of all levels — including beginners — but numerous opportunities to learn the game as well. The organization sponsors clinics from February to June, using the heated bays at Fairview Golf Center in the winter months and local public and private course facilities when the weather permits.
The teachers are a who’s who of golf instructors in Westchester, too. Clinics are led by Paula Slivinsky, Ralph Garofano, Julie Peluso, Monique Thoresz, and Jason Gobleck. Topics range from on-course fundamentals for beginners to total game improvement for players at all levels. Some of the workshops meet an hour a week for four or five weeks, others once for a couple of hours, depending on the topic. Rates start as low as $40.
Migliaccio applied some imagination to the problem. “We invited non-golfing women members to a little get-together in May for a glass of wine and a social gathering to talk about golf,” Migliaccio says. “It was a hit.”
As many as 25 women showed up to talk about everything from what to wear on the course to where to find various practice areas — like the short-game area and the par-three course — at the sprawling country club. The emphasis is on helping potential golfers become comfortable in the golf environment, which can be overwhelming.
The first thing Migliaccio had to overcome was the intimidation factor. After all, if you don’t know anything about golf except what you see on TV, it can be a bit scary. “It’s not about instruction,” she says. “It’s about taking some of the mystery out of the game. I’ve had women come for lessons and they’re frightened to walk out on the range by themselves.”
The chats progressed to simple clinics and lessons, then to nine-hole scrambles from the family tees on the South Course, which measures about 3,066 yard — making it perfect for kids and beginners of all ages. As Migliaccio says, “It’s really nice to hit a nine iron into a hole just like a PGA tour pro would do without having to hit a 300-yard drive to get in position to do it.”
Once the women realized that golf is a game for everyone — not just PGA Tour stars — they learned to relax and enjoy the fresh air, camaraderie, and good times that social golf is all about. As Migliaccio says, “We try to make the game more accessible and fun.”
Brynwood Debuts Boot Camp
Brynwood Golf and Country Club introduced a full weekend boot camp for new (and existing) members this year. “It includes golf instruction, fitness, healthy food and beverage, and some fun contests with prizes worth up to $25,000,” explains General Manager Josh Lowney. Troon Golf Academy will be part of it, as will TPI-certified instructors. “We’re going to do everything from on-course management to driver and wedge fitting and play,” Lowney says. “It’s meant to cover everything you need to know at the beginning part of the season to get you ready.” In addition to the pure golf aspects, other events include 3K and 5K runs, classes on healthy cooking, and rules seminars. At normal lesson rates, the weekend would be worth $2,000, but Lowney says all members at the club can participate for free.
Full-Immersion Golf School for Armonk Teen
Lee Hammerschmidt gave up a quarterback spot on the Byram Hills football team this year to take the plunge into serious golf at the International Junior Golf Academy on Hilton Head Island.
“I’ve gotten a lot out of it, especially competing every weekend,” he says. “I can also see a definite improvement in my swing after the first semester. I’m going to be working on my scoring game in the second half of the year.”
AT IJGA, Hammerschmidt attends school for five hours every weekday at Heritage Academy, then spends his afternoons getting daily golf instruction in all facets of the game. On-course practice is held at four Hilton Head courses. Most weekends are spent competing in International Junior Golf Tour and American Junior Golf Association events around the country.
The 17-year-old high school junior picked up a love of the game playing with his father, Gerry, at Whippoorwill in Armonk, where they live near the course. He’s undecided about where he’ll spend his senior year, but hopes IJGA will help him land a golf scholarship at a Division I college.