Last Updated on Monday, 14 May 2012 14:02
Monday, 14 May 2012 10:53
by Gord Montgomery
At my age it seems a little redundant to be going back to school but then again, supposedly you’re never too old to learn something.
So, two weeks after Bubba Watson donned the latest version of golf’s green jacket with his first Masters win, I headed into two-time Masters champion Nick Faldo’s golf school in Palm Desert, California, hoping to correct the errors of my ways.
There, under the tutelage of senior instructor Mike Ellis at the Marriott’s Shadow Ridge Faldo Golf Institute (FGI), I got one heck of a good start on putting some swagger back into my game.
I’m not a bad player but then again, I could never be classed as a great player.
Thus I limped into the school claming a 14 handicap, but really it was likely higher as my short game and putting were in shambles.
I seemed to be able to get to the green, or close to it, but then things went horribly off-track.
On the first day of class, Ellis first asked what my game was like and where I ran into problems. From there he began rebuilding my swing – not my grip – from the ground up. This, he explained, is the format they take with all students and not just golf writers, and there’s a reason for that.
“We believe in having fun teaching and learning the fundamentals of the game of golf,” he explained of the philosophy here. “There are a lot of things to learn in the game of golf.”
That being said, Ellis was adamant in pointing out that he felt students should look at taking one thing away from each of the day’s sessions, not the whole ball of wax that’s presented over the course of the day because there is a lot of information exchanged.
As well, students aren’t required to hit ball after ball after ball as a drill sergeant towers over them shouting instructions. Rather, the swing tips, presented personally and never in a group larger than 4-to-1 student to instructor ratio, is delivered in a manner that sticks in your mind.
“Our goal is not to overwhelm people,” said Ellis. “Our approach is not to have everybody beat balls for four hours and get tired. It’s for them to have a nice, fun learning experience.
It isn’t to get palms sweaty and blisters on your hands. We move from the putting to the chipping to the full swing and have breaks in between and keep it fun.”
The day is broken down into a four hour learning session in the morning, focusing on areas like putting, the short game, sand play and the full swing. After lunch, the students and pro hit the course to put said lessons learned into play.
Ellis noted he occasionally runs into people looking for a quick, easy solution to their game’s woes but suggested there are no simple remedies.
“Friends can give you a few band-aid fixes but that wears out after a few rounds. I think most people know when they’re going to a golf school they’re here for the long haul type of thing.
They know they won’t leave here with a perfect swing after three days but we will give them a game plan so they can work toward improvement.”
It’s not by accident that Faldo has his name attached to this school with locations in California and the operation’s home base in Orlando, Florida.
“When we were developing the Grande Vista Resort in Orlando we decided to include a first-class golf school and a practice facility with a 9-hole course as an amenity to the resort,” Marriott’s vice president of golf, William R. Nault explained of the perfect pairing between Marriott International Inc/The Ritz Carlton Hotel Co., LLC and the golfing great.
“We had been introduced to Nick Faldo and when he was told of our plans he immediately wanted to be involved. He had recently published an instructional book, 'Swing for Life', and had a real interest in sharing his ideas about how to play the game.
This was a perfect match for us because we did not want just an endorsement - we wanted involvement in the school, and that is exactly what Nick wanted as well.
“So the Orlando Institute was born with Nick's full participation. The teaching syllabus was developed with Nick based on his book.
When we later developed the Shadow Ridge Resort in Palm Desert we opened our second Faldo Golf Institute and Nick also designed the championship golf course (there) for us,” said Nault.
While the Faldo Golf Institute itself is a two or three-day affair, the work on the game continues long after school is out.
Students are e-mailed videos of their swing set alongside that of Faldo (who can be converted to a lefty for the southpaws out there) and voice-over guidance to help improve swing the student’s fundamentals.
“When you get home you go online and watch the video,” Ellis said of this teaching aid. “You write down the set-up changes that we made. You know, shoulder alignment, ball position, is your head behind the ball?
“Then, what are the drills you need to work on? The set-up is always first. Let’s get the set-up in order and then we gradually start working toward improving the swing.”
The biggest key to keeping this fresh, Ellis continued, is by continually looking at the videos and to keep working on your game.
photo credit gord montgomery
After Class In The Morning At The Faldo Golf Institute, Students And Their Instructor Head Onto The Great Shadow Ridge Golf Course, The First North American Design By Nick Faldo
“I don’t think anybody that plays twice a month is going to get better unless they have some practice sessions in between,” he said, noting an hour on the range a couple of times a week that includes putting, hitting wedges and short irons “keeps things fresh.”
“If you’re just going round to round without any practice in between you’re going to see some shades of brilliance but there’s always going to be those holes, ‘Well, if I didn’t have that seven, or that six on my card my score would have been great today.’
Well, that’s because you didn’t practice enough and that’s how you get better because I think all of us have self-doubt over shots, I don’t care what level you’re at.”
Brett Meabon, the PGA director of golf at Shadow Ridge, said more and more people are realizing golf schools, and the Faldo Golf Insitute in particular, are good for their game and the numbers verify that.
“From the golf school itself, we put through around 250 students per year (in Palm Desert) with a maximum of four students per instructor, so it is a pretty high volume,” he commented about the popularity of this particular school. Overall, for their shorter lessons, the FGI serves about 1,500 golfers per year.
Teaching at the Faldo Golf Institute is kept fresh as the instructors continually stay on top of the changes in the game. As well, they are re-certified each year by spending time with Faldo in Florida.
“That’s a great opportunity for the instructors to really stay current on what his philosophies are and going forward with that,” Meabon said of the interaction with one of golf’s greatest.
“We have a curriculum and it’s his philosophy,” Ellis said picking up the topic about Faldo’s teaching of his teachers.
“We all know how to teach so it’s not like ‘when you’re teaching you should do this.’ We talk about different techniques that are out there. We talk Faldo language. We stick with his program.”
Ellis expanded on other programs the Faldo Golf Institute offers, noting they have one hour and three hour sessions in the morning or afternoon focusing on either the short game or the full swing.
“Our short game lessons are 45 minutes each on putting, chipping and sand and then full swing is by itself.”
The practice areas at the Florida and California properties are second to none, Shadow Ridge’s lead instructor pointed out.
photo credit gord montgomery
The Scoring V Used At The Faldo Golf Institute Is One Of The Most Used Areas, As The Instructors Stress The Importance Of The Short Game And Proper Control Of Wedge Shots
“Marriott had the foresight to know they were going to have a wonderful golf school and they wanted to have great teaching venues,” Ellis said of the practice areas’ designs.
“The venues we have, the short game area, the scoring V, our golf school get lots of use out of. We stress the importance of the short game – there’s nothing worse than striking the ball well and you can’t get it in the hole.”
The multi-day schools work well for buddy trips or couples interested in improving their games and wanting to be fully immersed in instruction, Ellis noted.
For those wanting to learn but not quite ready to spend that amount of time doing so, there are also one-hour drop-in classes each weekday evening at the range dealing with various aspects of the game.
A big part of the school scenario is the fact the tuition fees cover not only the instruction and golf but your room cost as well as breakfast and lunch at Nick Faldo’s Bar and Grille each day of the school.
As well, there’s the Clubfitter’s Workshop included in the cost and after your stay is concluded, access to the online Alumni Clubhouse, providing students with tips and drills.
“We have a great promotion with the free lodging for two or three days and a discounted rate for rooms if you wish to stay longer,” Ellis explained of the enrolment special. “It’s such a bargain. If you do some shopping, for the product we offer, that’s why we’re busy. It’s an overall great package.”
Noting there is a lot of competition out there for the golfing dollar, Ellis said there are several factors in his view that should help make the Faldo Golf Institute the learning centre of choice.
“What sets us apart is number one, our very knowledgeable, enthusiastic instructors; our service oriented instructors. Number two, the facility we have to offer. I don’t know of a practice facility like this among our competition, not only with the villas and restaurant but also our golf course.
“We offer a great product from the time of your arrival to your departure. This is the whole package – all the bells and whistles.”
Asked about the type of golfer that would benefit most from such instruction, Ellis said the school is for everyone regardless of their handicap. The rewards, he noted, are worth it for both the student and the instructor.
“Nothing is better to me then when you change someone and they have that magical look in their eye and they go ‘I get it now! That’s what it feels like!’” Ellis ended.
And trust us, you’ll have that feeling more often than not after you head back to school at the Faldo Golf Institute because the instructors are all about the game and adding some swagger to yours by the time you leave.
About the writer:
Gord Montgomery is the sports editor of two weekly newspapers in the Edmonton area and is a member of the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. He has written for Inside Golf for the past four years with the majority of his coverage in north and central Alberta.
He can be reached at
By Gord Montgomery
About the writer: Gord Montgomery is the sports editor of two weekly newspapers in the Edmonton area and is a member of the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. He has written for Inside Golf for the past four years with the majority of his coverage in north and central Alberta. He can be reached at email@example.com.
More articles by Gord Montgomery