Golf lessons are embracing technology to help novice players learn like the pros
Golf, if you watch the seemingly endless slew of TV tournaments, is an effortless sport – from Ernie Els’ kinetic swing to Lee Westwood’s muscular hitting, it’s all made to look easy, even though they’re thwacking a two-inch ball into a three-inch cup from more than 500 yards away – and usually in less than four shots.
So, when I’m desperately thrusting on all fours in the Butch Harmon School of Golf, trying to find my pelvic muscles, switching between cat and dog stances, I’m a little bemused. Surely this isn’t how Tiger Woods trains? In fact, it may well be – the school’s founder, Butch Harmon, was Tiger’s long-time coach, and his son Claude (who runs the Dubai branch) is a close friend of El Tigre. The school’s philosophy is that it’s the small details – in this case controlling your pelvic tilt to help generate power in your golf swing – that differentiate you from the rest of the hackers.
It’s an idea that’s reinforced when senior teacher Justin Parsons walks me through the school’s facilities. At the far end is a large gym (the scene of our vigorous thrusting) that’s kitted out with weights and cardio equipment, and comes with its own 3D electromagnetic field – when used with body sensors, this can map your golf swing and help to improve your ball-hitting efficiency. Justin is keen to point out that it’s not just for pros, but is part of the holistic approach they take to teaching golf.
However, before you play with the 3D-mapping technology, the instructors aim to find out what you want from the lessons – be it to lower your handicap, rectify a slice (my particular offence) or completely overhaul your game. From there they assess your swing and break down your grip, your stance and your attack (the moment you hit the ball). And here’s when the technology comes in. The booths are equipped with four video cameras, full-length mirrors and a hi-tech computer and video system.
Every visitor has their swing minutely analysed and compared to a similar-sized professional player: mine was Lee Westwood (think current gym-hardened Lee, rather than lardy Lee, thank you very much). Lee’s swing coach can probably rest easy for the minute – the opportunity to see my flaws highlighted in super-slow-mo glory is illuminating. Yet despite all the shiny technology, the basics are still taught: further lessons with Justin will involve stretching and yoga to get closer to my toes and strengthen my pelvic muscles.
Justin’s next task is to put my swing back together – the first few balls fizzle out of the coaching bay, but my last stroke soars effortlessly beyond 100ft (and that’s with an eight iron). The benefits of the lesson are already showing, a fact emphasised when Justin displays the still images of my swing. On the left is my initial strike, which looks like a hungover Neanderthal playing the first round of proto-golf, while on the right is me as a semi-pro golfer who appreciates the importance of stance, grip and body positioning. What’s more, the school will supply you with a video from each lesson, replete with commentary, so you can remind yourself of the key points.
My verdict? The basics of the lesson remain the same at Butch Harmon, but thanks to the school’s early adoption of technology, the manner in which the message is relayed to you and the speed with which they can begin correcting your game is remarkable. The hi-res shots of before (slovenly ape-man) to after (semi-pro golfer) are the ample – and rather embarrassing – proof. Butch Harmon School of Golf, Els Course, Dubai Sports City (04 425 1040), www.butchharmondubai.com. A 50-minute lesson costs Dhs600. Read more about the technology at www.butchharmondubai.com/blog.