The prospect sounds so appealing: Take a few days off from all work and family obligations, steal away to a beautiful resort and immerse yourself in the personalized teachings of some of the most accomplished instructors in golf. The dozens of golf schools that have sprung up across the country and abroad cater to the desire so many of us have to, once and for all, master this difficult sport. And yes, attending one of these intensive academies can certainly improve your game; however, it's best to keep your expectations modest. Sitting through chalkboard sessions, beating countless balls and studying video of your swing for several days straight won't undo a lifetime of ingrained flaws. And rarely does anyone return home playing at their best, as incorporating swing changes takes time.
Since the philosophy and methods of golf schools vary, choose among them carefully. Are you a beginner seeking a basic grounding?A low-handicapper looking for that breakthrough to edge you closer to scratch?A woman who wants to improve without the distractions of men?Or will you be going as a couple, in search of luxury—pampering spa treatments, sumptuous meals, plush accommodations—as much as a smoother swing?Here are our recommendations of the top golf schools tailored to suit each of these goals.
Golfers just getting started in the game should look for a basic multiday academy that focuses on the fundamentals: grip, stance, alignment and swing plane. Although classes can sometimes be large, most of these schools keep the studentteacher ratio at four or five to one.
JOHN JACOBS GOLF SCHOOL
One of the oldest and most proven academies, this school was founded in 1971 by Shelby Futch and named after a former English Ryder Cup player. Futch has modeled the school on principles he learned in the U.S. Army: precise scheduling and well-rehearsed lesson plans. You won't have to run six miles a day with a heavy backpack, but you're sure to receive quality instruction.
Philosophy: With proper fundamentals, golfers can significantly improve. "If we can get you to hit good shots 80 percent of the time," Futch says, "we've done our job."
Method: Class begins early, usually at 8 a.m., with everyone gathering for introductions and a pep talk. Then students are divided into small groups and assigned to one of the teaching areas: practice range, chipping green, bunkers or putting green. Every few hours they rotate, or head inside to analyze their swings on video.
Locations and Cost: More than two dozen locations from California to Wisconsin to Florida. Three-day schools from $595 to $1,525 (all prices include lodging unless otherwise noted). 800-472-5007, jacobsgolf.com.
Other Good Choices
Ben Sutton Golf School Extensive fifty-acre practice facilities at two sites, one in Sun City Center, Florida, and the other in Windham, New York. Three-day schools from $830 to $955. 800-225-6923, golfschool.com.
Roland Stafford Golf School Summer sessions in upstate New York; winter programs at Deer Creek Golf Club in Deerfield Beach, Florida. Three-day schools from $899 to $1,036. 800-447-8894, staffordgolf.com.
For Single-Digit Players
You've already got game and don't want to entrust just anybody with helping you reach the next level. You need a teacher who's worked with scratch players, someone who can fine-tune your swing, show you a new finesse shot or two and sharpen your course-management skills. Your best option is to try one of a number of schools run by big-name instructors such as David Leadbetter and Butch Harmon. In most cases, the gurus whose names and faces are on the brochures only rarely show up (they're busy working with their Tour pros), but the instruction is first-rate just the same.
RICK SMITH GOLF ACADEMY
A close call in a crowded field, but this program offers top-notch teaching in two excellent settings. From October through April, Smith, who coaches Phil Mickelson on the full swing, runs his academy at Tiburon Golf Club at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort in Naples, Florida. From May through September, it's at Treetops Resort in Michigan.
Philosophy: Think before you swing, and conceptualize a shot before making it. Technique is dictated by the type of shot you face.
Method: No more than four students per class, with a studentteacher ratio of two to one. Days begin at 8 or 9 a.m. and end at 2 or 3 p.m., depending on the time of year. Students get to play the courses at the twilight rate after each day's session.
Cost: Three-day schools offered at Treetops ($1,495) and at Tiburon ($1,900); lodging not included. 800-881-0765, ricksmith.com.
Other Good Choices
Butch Harmon School of Golf Based at Rio Secco Golf Club in Hendersonville, Nevada, near Las Vegas, the school offers the choice of three-day sessions with staff instructors ($2,900) or with Harmon—Tiger Woods's original coach on Tour—himself ($5,900). 888-867-3226, butchharmongolfschools.com.
David Leadbetter Golf Academies Leadbetter's flagship is in Florida, at the Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate. Other locations include Half Moon in Jamaica, Grand Wailea Resort in Hawaii and Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Pennsylvania. Three-day schools from $2,400 to $3,000. 888-633-5323, davidleadbetter.com.
Faldo Golf Institute T+L GOLF Playing Editor Nick Faldo's academies are affiliated with Marriott resorts, including Grande Vista in Orlando, Shadow Ridge in Palm Desert, California, and Seaview Resort & Spa in New Jersey. Three-day schools from $835 to $1,255, lodging not included. 888-463-2536, gofaldo.com.
A long weekend at a luxury resort can be the perfect romantic getaway . . . and an excellent chance to improve your golf game. There are plenty of destinations that can meet both of these desires in high style.
PEBBLE BEACH GOLF ACADEMY
One hardly needs an excuse to go to Pebble Beach, whether it's for the golf or the scenery of the Monterey Peninsula. But it happens that Laird Small's academy is as relaxing as one of the exquisite treatments in the spa here. The school is tucked away on the ranges of Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill. Deer stop by to graze, and the barking of sea lions carries up from the ocean below.
Philosophy: In their effort to collect swing tips from a variety of sources, most golfers have a "skipped gradient," as Small puts it, a missing piece in their development. He and his staff try to pinpoint these gaps and suggest ways to address them.
Method: Classes consist of three to five students and two instructors. The academy uses launch monitors, video and a wireless vest designed to measure the body's degrees of speed and rotation. Small keeps in touch with students after they get home to discuss their progress.
Cost: Two-day academy, $3,780, based on double occupancy, including three nights lodging at the Inn at Spanish Bay and tee times at Pebble Beach and Spanish Bay. 831-622-8650, pebblebeach.com.
Other Good Choices
Jim McLean Golf School McLean's range, bristling with the latest in high-tech swing tools, is just part of the appeal at Doral Golf Resort & Spa. Three-day schools from $1,670; three-day Player's School featuring McLean himself, $3,950. Lodging not included. 800-723-6725, doralresort.com.
Kiawah Island Golf Academy Programs include three days of instruction at this spectacular South Carolina resort's Turtle Point course, plus romantic lodging at the oceanfront Sanctuary hotel. Three-day schools from $1,046. 800-576-1570, kiawahgolf.com.
Sea Island Golf Learning Center Instructors Jack Lumpkin, Todd Anderson and Gale Peterson oversee one of the best practice facilities in the world, including an elaborate short-game area and a high-tech video studio. Three-day programs: $3,300, lodging not included. 912-638-5119, seaisland.com.
For Women Only
Many golf instructors say they would much rather teach women than men. As this thinking goes, women have no trouble admitting they need help and will actually try what a teacher suggests. And many women golfers say they prefer to attend golf schools with other women, without the distraction of competitive, results-oriented men.
PINE NEEDLES INN
Peggy Kirk Bell, a charter member of the LPGA, and her family own and operate the homey Pine Needles Inn in Southern Pines, North Carolina, down the road from Pinehurst. "Ma" Bell started teaching back in 1953 and, now into her eighth decade, she still gets out on the range almost every day. Her daughters, Peggy Bell Miller and Bonnie Bell McGowan, teach here too.
Philosophy: People learn best when they're relaxed and not intimidated; a sense of humor also helps.
Method: Run like summer camp for adults, with evening cocktails and cookouts followed by movies and card games, classes are limited to sixteen students. Exceptions to this are the school's popular "Golfaris," which include 160 students and thirty-two teachers. Each afternoon pupils play with their instructors at the Donald Rossdesigned Pine Needles, site of the 2007 U.S. Women's Open.
Cost: Three-day schools from $875 to $925; five-day Golfaris, $1,695, based on double occupancy. 800-747-7272, golfari.com.
Another Good Choice
Craft-Zavichas Golf Schools Penny Zavichas and her staff have been teaching women since 1968. Locations include Walking Stick Golf Club in Pueblo, Colorado, and Pala Mesa Resort near Carlsbad, California. Three-day schools: $745 at Walking Stick, $1,125 at Pala Mesa; lodging not included. 800-858-9633, czgolfschool.com.
We live in an age of specialization, and golf schools are no exception. There are academies that focus on just the short game; ones that teach the distinct set of skills required to play links golf; and others that address the mental and social elements of golf.
DAVE PELZ SCORING GAME SCHOOLS
Former NASA engineer Dave Pelz analyzed reams of data about the short game, and based on his conclusions he founded these schools. The figures don't lie: 60 to 65 percent of one's score comes from a hundred yards and in, which is why you need to bring only five clubs or fewer to a Pelz school—up to four wedges and a putter.
Philosophy: Golfers must know what they need to learn, how to learn it, and how to internalize and use it.
Method: Pelz pioneered the design of multifaceted short-game practice areas. At Cordillera there's an entire course designed for this purpose.
Cost: Three-day schools from $2,820 to $3,740. Locations include Reynolds Plantation in Georgia and the Lodge & Spa at Cordillera in Colorado. 800-833-7370, pelzgolf.com.
Other Good Choices
Colin Montgomerie Links Golf Academy Want to learn how to hit a knockdown shot or escape from a pot bunker?Sign up for the "Full Monty," a three-hour lesson followed by a nine-hole playing lesson with one of Montgomerie's staff instructors at Scotland's Westin Turnberry Resort. From $55 to $450, lodging not included. 011-44/1655-334-190, turnberry.co.uk.
Golf Academy at Bandon Dunes Mellow maestro Grant Rogers runs a similar links school at the mecca on the gorse-studded southern Oregon coast, the best place to play links golf on this side of the pond. Three-day schools from $1,325 to $1,595, double occupancy. 888-345-6008, bandondunesgolf.com.