The overwhelming majority of recreational golfers do not take lessons. It is another one of those quizzical, only-in-golf mysteries. Most of us could use help and the help is widely available, so, naturally, most golfers instead keep their heads down (or not) and plod on, hoping to master the game on their own.
According to the National Golf Foundation, roughly 11 percent of all golfers take lessons.
Now, some golfers avoid lessons because they believe they cannot be helped. Which just proves what golf can do to you. It’s also most likely not true. Some golfers have taken exactly one lesson, and when they did not improve as much as they had hoped, they never went back — for 15 years now. Some golfers don’t want to spend the money, even though they buy a new driver every spring and hope for the "Quick Fix".
Other golfers, and this is a big group, like to work things out for themselves. I’ve never quite understood this. Did they learn to drive a car by themselves?
Of course not. And we all know golf is infinitely a sport that requires some knowledge of swing dynamics.
One of the real reasons people don’t take lessons is the embarrassment factor. A golfer has to acknowledge needing help and then go to a practice range where other people might be watching and submit to an overhaul of some part of the golf swing.
One new and increasingly prominent dynamic in the instruction landscape is the indoor golf simulator, a device that allows for a more private and multidimensional lesson experience. Lessons given on simulators, have grown in popularity in the last five years, especially among beginners, juniors and women.
“It’s a golf laboratory where people relax and swing without any thought to who is around them — because there really isn’t anyone,” said Randy Henry, a longtime, top-ranked teacher of recreational and tour pros who uses simulators daily in his instruction. “That alone improves the teaching environment. Then we get all the readouts on the swing and video of it too. But it’s more than technology. Yes, we get a thousand readouts of a golfer’s swing. Then, a trained teacher can pick the one thing that will fix a thousand things.”
“The privacy of a simulator studio is important to a beginner or to a golfer who has never taken a lesson before,” said Michael Sole, a teaching pro who gives about seven lessons daily on the simulators. “You know, it’s away from prying eyes. You don’t have to worry about upsetting someone on the range if you hit one sideways.”
John Hobbins, a senior teaching pro at the Chelsea Piers golf complex in Manhattan, said golfers trying to make a swing change focus better on a simulator.
And then there’s the weather advantage. Rain, snow or wind cannot ruin a lesson. Golfers can keep swinging and keep their weekly or monthly lesson schedule all winter in cold climates. If it’s 100 degrees outside, they can go inside to the air-conditioning. Darkness does not stop the instruction either.
Simulators have been around for a couple of decades. Once they were fuzzy, bizarrely inaccurate machines. You hit your ball into what seemed like a quilt hung over a concrete wall. The golf course scene was generic. The system did not reliably replicate chipping or putting.
Now, simulators are highly sophisticated, brightly lighted devices with the engineering to precisely imitate the golf course experience. It’s not the same as being outside — you won’t be fooled into reaching for the sunscreen — but it is remarkably close. It is advanced equipment. The company, aboutGolf, which has supplied numerous high end academies, has multiple simulator models that sell from $50,000 to $80,000. It is a worldwide business. In many Asian countries, there are 10 times as many simulators as there are golf courses.
These devices come with software that allows golfers to play courses from around the world. Going on a trip to Scotland and wish you could get acclimated to links golf beforehand? Go play a few rounds on the Old Course on a simulator near you.
And it is that ability to play golf in a more controlled environment that might be the best use of a simulator.
“For a 12-year-old taking up the game or for a woman who is learning because she wants to play with her husband, the first four months playing the game can be unnerving on the actual golf course,” Henry said. “There are so many different shots to learn and they feel like they’re holding everyone up. Now four gals can come in together, turn on the simulator and play a round by themselves.
There are costs to playing on a simulator, but depending on where you live it may not be more than playing at the local municipal golf course. Many outlets package lessons on a simulator with the purchase of clubs or a club fitting. At The Golfers Academy in Burlington, ON, a 60-minute lesson on a simulator is $90.