The Playing Lesson

The Playing Lesson

Not all golfers employ an instructor or coach and not all that do take advantage of a great way to combine instruction and play – the playing lesson.

In two years of instruction I had my first playing lesson recently (and it was the worst weather day of the fall season) and reflecting back the experience was fantastic.  Here are some observations on why it worked for me and why you should consider doing the same with your instructor:

  1. Pressure play – It is rare that I step on the course and not feel nervous. While I love the game, it does not always soothe my anxious tendencies but I have enough experience with this to acknowledge it and address it.  However, playing with my instructor, an accomplished player in his own right, presented unique challenges.  There was a sense on the first tee of not wanting to disappoint and a concurrent goal of showcasing recent progress along with – and this is crazy – a desire to match his strong play.  But there is a reason my index is close to 10 and his is not.  And there is a reason I am taking lessons from him.  My anxiety with golf is another story for another time but I liken this to competitive play where the nerves are heightened and it’s a place where I want to perform my best.  I welcome the pressure although I don’t always respond to it well.  The biggest variable of the day was cold and wet conditions which created a sense of discomfort over the ball for our entire group.  Most of us scored one of our worst scores of the season and after the fourth hole my instructor said to enjoy the day and not worry about performance because the conditions are so difficult to perform well.  My score didn’t improve but my attitude did.  The takeaway: not all lessons are about the swing.

 

  1. Learn from observation – the opportunity to learn is not one-way. It is not simply your instructor serving as a set of eyes and providing feedback on what they see.  In my 4 hours playing with my instructor, I purposefully used it as a chance to see how to prepares, approaches shots and situations on the course.  How does he address adversity on the course?  How does he manage holes and his game?  Does his temperament change over the round?  What is his pre-shot routine?  The observation process gave me to draw from as his feedback on my performance.  And I really valued that.  It reinforced aspects of my game I did not realize were strong (in some cases) and inconsistent (in other cases).  Make no mistake, I asked many questions after he hit shots (often about decision making and preparation/routine) and he asked questions of me after shots (both good and poor ones).  The takeaway: allow for a two-way exchange process. Ask questions. But listen to understand.

 

  1. Mindfulness – Perhaps the better word is acceptance, but I was struck with the matter of fact nature to which my instructor acknowledged – for us all – that the conditions were not going to support great play and scoring. He mentioned early that on days like this (and I assume this to be if conditions are challenging or we’re not bringing our A game) the goal is to be mindful of our game.  I took this to mean try our best, be aware of our game that day and focus more on avoiding big numbers than the pursuit of low numbers.  For him, knowing it was a tough day to get birdies he wanted to focus on the conditions and what he needed to do to get as many pars as possible.  For me, he said to focus more around the greens and keep big numbers off the card.  This meant trusting my technique around the greens and stick to a consistent routine.  It helped and looking back it was a valuable takeaway which I look to employ moving forward.  The takeaway: There will be days in golf where the game is simply more challenging than others.  Acceptance can keep the game fun and allow us to perform our best based on that day.

 

  1. Fun – Not to contradict myself from point 1, but at some point in time I always see the fun in the game. My performance will not impact my tour earnings or world golf rankings.  I scored horribly but hit some shots I am very proud of.  And most importantly, I was able to spend time with someone I consider a friend.  Sure, I’ll be nervous again next time we can schedule a playing lesson but I will also continue to smile on the course, try my best and keep the experience as a positive and fun one.  Because that is what my first-ever playing lesson was; fun.  The takeaway: Golf is a game. Try your best. Seek to learn from mistakes, not beat yourself up over them. Smile and enjoy the experience.

 

Reflecting back on my first playing lesson, this is something I would like to do more regularly…at least once a year.  I learned much – both positively (reinforcing new, positive approaches to my short game) and constructively (the need to commit to a pre-shot routine and establish clear set up fundamentals on the tee).

My instructor is Brian McCann, based out of Brampton Golf and Country Club.  My index has dropped almost 3 strokes since working with him over two years.

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2015 in Review – Best Courses Played

Best Golf Courses Played in 2015

My plans in 2016 are to head west and represent some great courses in my writing over the year. The past few years have had a notable slant on eastern Canada and I am excited about the possibility of some spring golf in BC and AB. The itinerary is not set yet…I’ll be wrapping my golf around business. But looking back here are my standouts:

Crowbush – best public play (Honourable Mention – Grand Niagara)

This is a worthy public play top 10 Canadian course. Unique, challenging, and very enjoyable. I want to get back there and experience it again.  With weather like below this time.

crowbush #7

The 7th hole at Crowbush – Photo Credit – Golf PEI

 

Montebello – underrated gem (Honourable Mention – Springfield GCC)

Playing it as single seemed appropriate as I felt I had stepped back in time. The sense of history was pervasive throughout the day.

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The stunning fireplace in the clubhouse dining area

 

Devil’s Paintbrush – best private play (Honourable Mention – Brampton GCC)

What a tremendous golfing experience. Add to it the opportunity to briefly speak to Dr. Michael Hurdzan about his bunkering design on this course, while playing, was a treat.

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Devil’s Paintbrush – evidence of the steep bunkering

 

South Muskoka – best value play (Honourable Mention – Dundarave)

This course simply doesn’t get the respect it deserves. While other Muskoka resort courses get considerable press, this throwback parkland course is stout, picturesque and a natural beauty.

SouthMuskoka

Between rains at SMGCC. Course was flawless. – Photo Credit – Jill Grande

 

Brampton GCC – best round played (Honourable Mention – Montebello)

One missed putt and two poor shots resulted in a 78 on a course where I can’t remember breaking 90. My best round of the year and marked me turning a corner to better and more consistent play.

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17th Green – BGCC – Photo Credit – bramptongolf.com

 

Stanhope – most relaxed and fun golf experience (Honourable Mention – Angus Glen)

When you see someone walking down 9 with their dog accompanying them, it is a good sign for a relaxed and fun round of golf. The more I reflect on it, the happier the memories. This course has no pretense.

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Stanhope Golf Course – That is my idea of a relaxed round of golf!

A Public Players Member-Guest Experience

A Public Players Member-Guest Experience

I have been very fortunate over the past two weeks to play in two separate Member-Guest (M-G) events at two very nice courses in Ontario. As a public player this experience can offer some nice insight into a club. While David Fay wrote about bad M-G experiences in his 2014 Golf Digest article, my two experiences recently have been outstanding. I referred to my M-G experience last year in July at Brampton when speaking about the Country Club experience and talking positively about Brampton Golf Club. And I have already provided a course review on the underrated South Muskoka Curling and Golf Club. Both courses were in the best condition I have seen them in. More on the courses soon, but for now, my M-G experience. Here are five reflections:

1. Relationships

Being invited is a real privilege and reflects on the friendship between the guest and their member friend. Use that time well to catch up, plan your next golf trip golf trip, and meet some of their friends at their club (we checked off all three boxes successfully). I really enjoyed the quality time, the chance to play as a team and an opportunity to see what it is about their club which they really enjoy. In all of my M-G experiences, the real takeaway was the strengthened relationship I had with my friend over a day of golf.

TeamWildTurkey

Wild Turkey feathers found on the 12th at SMCGC and placed on the back of our hats, unseen in this picture, created team identity.

2. Betting

This is always an interesting aspect to an M-G. The pari-mutuel betting system is, for me, just fun. Not knowing anyone else all too well at the course I placed a bet on our team. I wanted to participate. It allowed my friend to consider a bet on one of their fellow members that they want to support, or feels has a chance to win it all. But make no mistake, the bet is truly a side bet and did not allow for one second the round to become too competitive.

TeamPurple

Looking to create a little intimidation with the matching purple on white look at BGCC.

3. Sportsmanship

Segue from betting to sportsmanship; both days were all about fun. Make no mistake, we tried our best. But we also did not take ourselves too seriously. In our 18 hole round at SMCGC and the three 9-hole matches at BGCC we were consistent in commending our playing partners for good shots and overall good play. This was an important point to note, because the guest should take the lead from their member host. If he/she is playing to win this event and is very serious – and that is fine – it should not detract you as their guest from being sportsmanlike and complementary of good play.

4. Competition

The competition around the day, in my experiences, has never been too intense. I appreciate that because as a single digit handicapper with aspects of my game well in double digits I can use the competitive aspect of the day to create focus, but I don’t need to allow myself to stress (my reaction to ultra-competitiveness on the course) over a day which should be fun. Again, the guest needs to take the lead of the member host here.

5. Thanks

Most important is the aspect of thanks. Your host knows you’re not a member of a course, so direct reciprocity is not possible nor is it expected. But there are some areas here I recommend:
• A personalized gift for your partner. It is a small token of your thanks, but done right will reflect your appreciation for their choice to invite you. Other options – treat them to a round at a public course you really like!
• Seek out the course staff (GM, Head Pro, and Chef) and thank them for the day. It’s just the right thing to do. These people have worked very hard to make the day a special one for you. Your actions will also reflect well on your host.
• Your competitors: regardless of the level of competition, golf etiquette should rule the day. Remove your hat and shake their hand.

David Fay speaks of many potential horrors – ultra competitiveness, pace of play, sandbagging, course set up, and so on. My experiences were horror-free, not surprisingly.

Brampton Golf Club is over 90 years old and its location, with a secluded feel, is very convenient within the Greater Toronto Area. The Robbie Robinson design shows the influence of his mentor, Stanley Thompson, with solid bunkering and a stout layout which requires careful, well thought out shot making. The grounds crew had the greens running very quick – like putting in your bathtub – as Head Pro, Emerson Mahoney mentioned. The conditioning has never been better based on my experiences there and BGCC staff are extremely courteous and professional. Its greatest asset is certainly the people (ok, the course is a close second).

I had written before at South Muskoka Curling and Golf Club. This was their inaugural Member-Guest event and it was exceptional. The M-G experience really complemented the quality of the course, which is a mature parkland style located in downtown Bracebridge. This course contrasts well with newer resort style courses in Muskoka and provides exceptional value. This course will test your game tee to green and is a treat to play. Like Brampton, the conditioning was superb.

Enjoy the Member-Guest experience; it is special and unique golf opportunity for a public player.

Between rains at SMGCC.  Course was flawless.

Between rains at SMGCC. Course was flawless.

Part 1 – Reflections on my ‘journey to better’

This is part one of a three part reflection series on my how golf lessons are helping me improve in 2015.  Thank you for reading and I hope you’re having fun with the game and playing your best.

Reflecting on my ‘journey to better’

I’m playing Srixon golf balls this year so I’m comfortable acknowledging their tagline and borrowing it; check that, owning it. I’m 47 years old and playing the best golf of my life. The qualitative aspect of that statement is important; I’m taking lessons and demonstrating a greater commitment to improve my golf game than ever before. But first, some context; I’m an 8+ handicap and am not a member of a course. I’m what the Golf Association of Ontario classifies as a Public Player. And like many Canadians, I am managing a healthy addiction to the game. I played over the Christmas holidays this year as it was a balmy 6c on Boxing Day. I get about 25 rounds a year in and am beginning to enjoy practice more than ever. I’m seeking to get better at golf and wanted to share some reflections from my experience over the last year. All that to say is I suspect I fit within the ‘avid golfer’ category.

I began lessons for the first time in my life in 2013. I worked with a young instructor who got me set on a good path – solid fundamentals and an identification of key priorities to work on. My schedule and his growing family and business opportunities had us drift apart but I remained committed to exploring a new instructor, someone I feel would have the capacity to support my journey. Simple fact is my golf swing is like my car: it runs but when it doesn’t run as smoothly as I’d like it to I want to take it to a professional for tuning up. A series of fortunate circumstances had me sitting in the main lobby of the Brampton Golf and Country Club on a cold November afternoon talking with CPGA Instructor (and awesome golfer) Brian McCann. A friend and I were seeking semi private lessons and I was charged with the task of interviewing our prospective golf instructor.

This was new. What questions does one ask a golf instructor? I thought about it, researched a little, and ended up going with my gut. My main question revolved around teaching style(s). My friend and I are comparable in terms of our talent and that’s about where things end. Our swings are different, our needs vary but we’re willing to help and support each other along this journey. Brian and I sat and talked for well over an hour. I was able to get a sense that Brian has a passion for the game, he communicates well and clearly, understands the golf swing, has good experience as an instructor and wasn’t shy about working with two golfers who are committed to improving. This interview, ok, call it a conversation if you will, helped reinforce that the relational aspect of the student-instructor relationship is fundamental. I always chuckle when I read lists that rank top golf instructors; it’s so subjective. When I look back over my life and times when I was able to learn effectively it was from someone I could relate well with. Call this my first ‘a-ha’ moment along the way – good instruction is borne from good relational skills.

A-ha Moment One – The Ability to Relate
If you have ever watched Golf Channel you’re likely are familiar with Michael Breed and Martin Hall, both of whom are skilled and experienced instructors. And while they both know the game and are proven teachers, I find that I can relate better to Michael Breed’s instructional approach. For me, things like tone, energy and being able to convey thoughts clearly, sometimes in multiple ways, help me to learn.

For me, my connection with my current instructor came when he was able to visually demonstrate a flaw in my swing. Brian took the time to show me the one important element, ensuring I was listening to understand and not listening to act. He was also patient to teach me the movement, feel and requirements for successfully replicating this properly. It was at that moment when I turned a corner. And also when I knew I had an instructor I could build my game with.

The Importance of the Golf and Country Club

I have intentionally chosen to be a public player. I truly enjoy the variety and diversity of golf courses and golf experiences within Canada. I cherish the freedom and flexibility which I have to play at any given date or time. Convenience, business, value and opportunity are all factors which contribute to the approximately 25 different courses I have played each year since 2008 in Canada. I am the baseball or hockey equivalent of a free agent. I reflect back with great memories of enjoyment and discovery, stumbling upon courses I was not aware of, or, simply would not have made the time to experience otherwise.

This is not to chastise the Golf and Country Club model and experience, quite the opposite. In fact, I’d like to present a contrarian argument for the merits of membership and for me it would start and stop with one factor. The day I join a club it will be for this reason. The obvious factors – finance, course/conditioning, convenience – are straightforward to me. But here is why I can see myself joining a golf club within the next 5 years; belonging.

Last week I teed up with a good friend at the Member-Guest event at the Brampton Golf Club. This is a venerable course designed by a Stanley Thompson protégé, Robbie Robinson. It’s immaculate and presents a very fair test of golf on a course which is walkable. The course can be set up for high level competition such the recent Ontario Women’s Amateur Championships but generally plays at an even higher degree of difficulty (especially, so I hear, around Club Championship time). The course boasts a high volume of play from an active membership. My experience last week, in addition to playing a practice round earlier this month, left me feeling impressed with the community of golfers which exists. My partner and course member happens to be Men’s Captain this year. He seemingly knows everyone there and they know him. The value of these relationships helps create a community which extends, in many cases, to entire families. And while this is nothing new and I may well be describing any number of Golf and Country Clubs across the country, the fact remains that golf is one thing that is a constant for most members in Brampton, allowing them to develop, maintain and build friendships around a game they’re passionate about.

Juxtaposed to this is the experience of a public player who does not have this sense of belonging but trades that in for freedom and flexibility to play at numerous courses and/or often or in my case infrequently. And while I am not paying annual dues or membership fees I also lack access to facilities for practicing. On a personal level this is a very simple and straight forward contrast. The complexity emerges when you get into membership consortiums like ClubLink or Pacific Links. Access to several courses is intriguing to me but the relational aspect of belonging is not quite the same. Similarly for public players, sites like GolfNow or consortia like GTA Golf Club unlock issues of access but to me there is a critical element missing.

That missing piece is belonging.

And it is the sense of belonging which will drive me to join a Golf and Country Club in the future. For now, I’ll enjoy my free agency and the chances to experience all that Canada has to offer in terms of public golf!