Beyond Face Time

By | October 19th, 2017

Dustin Johnson Golf School, TPC Myrtle Beach, Murrells Inlet, S.C.

Golf instruction has gone high-tech, as teaching pros find that the extra cost for new tools that go well beyond the capabilities of one-dimensional video can be justified by faster and more precise analysis of all that goes into a student’s swing.

It wasn’t that long ago that the only technology found on the practice tee was, at best, a one-dimensional video recorder providing visual proof of the swing flaws a teaching professional had spotted.

Today’s teaching technology—for those instructors who embrace it and can afford it—makes that old video camera technology seem as if it should only be used to record the swings of golfers using hickory-shafted clubs and gutta percha balls.

• Golf instruction technology has advanced well beyond simple video technology to provide instructors with tools that can help them diagnose issues with body, club and ball movement, and equipment needs, with much greater speed and precision.
• The Topgolf phenomenon has spawned growth and adaptation of games and scoring systems as effective additions to teaching methods.
• Teaching pros who have invested heavily in high-tech teaching aids justify the extra cost through more satisfied customers and a better connection with younger generations of players and prospects.

It is a rare golf lesson these days that doesn’t involve some form of multi-dimensional video recording, analysis and feedback for body, club and ball movement, in addition to the time-honored grip demonstrations and admonitions to keep your head down and eyes on the ball.

“Personally, I use TrackMan, K-Vest, the Sam PuttLab, BodiTrak and FocusBand, and I’m about to buy a Swing Catalyst 3D motion plate system,” says John Dunigan, Director of Coaching at White Manor Country Club in Malvern, Pa., and proprietor of the John Dunigan Golf School, in describing how golf instruction has definitely gone high-tech.

“Technology helps me to recognize patterns way quicker than the naked eye, and I’m willing to use any technology that can help the student learn,” Dunigan explains. “I know some people are afraid of it, but in my opinion, technology makes it simpler to learn, not more complex.

“I’ve heard a bunch of times from students that ‘People told me to do this before, but they never said it like that,’” he adds. “Where you can show somebody what they’re doing, it’s easier for them to fix it.”

Using some form of enhanced video has become almost as common as a large bucket of range balls on most courses’ lesson tees. Virtually every teaching pro has long since acknowledged that showing a student what they’re doing is more effective than telling them about it. And when it can be shown in 3-D and real time, it’s even better.

4ORE!, the practice and instructional facilities managed by Troon Golf that have been designed to emulate the successful Topgolf model, are employing a variety of high-tech tools in their teaching programming, including FlightScope, TrackMan, BodiTrak and KVest, in addition to integrating fitness and conditioning principles from the Titleist Performance Institute.

“I use JC Video every day,” says Tom VanHaaren, Director of Instruction at the Pronghorn Resort’s Pronghorn Academy in Bend, Ore. “It’s easy to operate and very fast, and comes with two pretty good screens—one facing the golfer and one behind.

“I also use FlightScope and Gears 3D, which is about as high-tech as anything you see, with eight cameras that can record 350 movements a second from a golfer wearing a vest and sensors on the knees,” VanHaaren adds. “That’s generally for better players, but there’s a second mode that’s a little simpler and uses sensors on the club.

“Gears 3D is expensive, but we charge a higher rate for people who want to use that—there are only two places in Oregon that have it,” VanHaaren notes. “I use FlightScope with about half the people we see, and always when we do [club] fitting.”

Endorsed by the Pros
It’s relatively easy to guess the most distinguished student and principal of the Dustin Johnson Golf School at TPC Myrtle Beach in Murrells Inlet, S.C., which is run by Johnson’s college coach and partner, Director of Coaching Allen Terrell, PGA. When he’s not on Tour, Johnson spends a lot of time being put through his paces by Terrell and checking the readouts from TrackMan and My Swing 3D.

“My Swing has 17 different sensors to various parts of the body,” Terrell says. “It calibrates the data during the swing and makes an avatar for the student.
“It’s really beneficial for showing tilts and angles that impact your swing such as the spine angle, which shows how much you bend forward during the swing,” Terrell adds. “That’s really beneficial with [a taller player like] Dustin [Johnson], whose forward bend moves quite a lot. It’s very beneficial for teaching posture and body motion.”

TrackMan is a constant at the school, for a variety of reasons. Terrell uses it for his regular students and uses the custom gaming software to develop Johnson’s “homework.” Terrell programs the TrackMan gaming software to rate Johnson’s performance from 0 to 100, and says that Johnson has to repeat the drill if he doesn’t hit his target score.

The soaring popularity of Topgolf and the technology its entertainment centers use to help players track the accuracy and distance of their shots has been adopted by many golf teaching professionals to bring a more game-oriented element to their instruction.

Games for Learning the Game

Today’s fascination with video games, the inherent difficulty in mastering real golf, and many younger players’ reluctance to commit five-plus hours to a round of golf have combined to produce the overwhelming success of Topgolf and a number of imitators, such as 4ORE! Golf, a Troon Golf enterprise.

The use of radio frequency identification (RFID) tags within Topgolf’s range balls identify the customer who hit each ball, and Doppler radar pinpoints ball flight and landing area to create a score for each customer. Combine that with rock-and-roll music, wall-to-wall TVs showing sporting events and other entertainment media in a sports bar and restaurant environment, and you have an experience that’s proving irresistible in markets throughout the U.S. and the world.

Some teaching professionals have capitalized on these trends to enhance their instruction methodologies. JJ Killeen, who heads the golf academy adjacent to the 4ORE! Golf facility in Lubbock, Texas, uses the gamification and scoring system with some of his more advanced students, to hone their games by measuring and recording their shot-making accuracy. And next door, many customers who may have never before picked up a golf club in earnest now compete with one another using the same technology on the facility’s 55,000-sq. ft. lighted range.

At The Grand Golf Club at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar resort in San Diego, Director of Golf Shawn Cox has had considerable success with a number of his students after introducing them to a game produced by TrackMan using the Foresight Quad launch monitor. Students’ shots are compared to other juniors, taking 60 shots to varying distances and generating a score from 1 to 100.

TrackMan has even added to the fun by creating a worldwide competition for those using the game, offering a $5,000 first prize to the winner. One of Cox’s 10-year-old students, who achieved a score that was better than those of college-level players, went on to win the Drive, Chip & Putt competition at the Masters tournament in her age group.

While the debate continues as to whether quasi-golf facilities such as Topgolf actually develop future golfers, there is no doubt that the entertainment centers are at least exposing a significant number of potential new golfers to the experience of swinging a club and having fun doing it, which can’t be a bad thing for the game. Cox, for one, is a firm believer in the positive effect. “I think Topgolf is the coolest thing to happen in golf in the last 10 to 15 years,” he says.

“We have TrackMan running all the time,” Terrell says. “We’re one of the few facilities in the state that has one, and the only one on the beach. I can’t imagine doing a [club] fitting without TrackMan. I get a lot of business from people who were fitted indoors with a simulator, and their clubs don’t fit.”

Shawn Cox, Director of Golf at The Grand Golf Club at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar resort in San Diego, agrees that the latest instruction technology quickly proves its value when applied correctly.

“Most people now have a launch monitor,” Cox says. “I use it to manage my golf lessons. I get not only club data but ball data, clubhead speed and integrated video, and a comparison to a professional’s swing.

“TrackMan has taught a lot of us as instructors how to teach people why the ball is going a certain way,“ Cox adds. “It’s one big reason why a lot of these kids who are coming onto the Tour have such beautiful swings.”

The Topgolf Effect
High-tech golf instruction is by no means being confined just to golf clubs or courses these days, either. In Lubbock, Texas, former PGA Tour pro JJ Killeen heads up the 4ORE! Golf academy adjacent to the Troon Golf-managed 4ORE! Golf driving range cum sports bar, which emulates the successful Topgolf model that has taken hold throughout the U.S. and other parts of the world.

At The Grand Golf Club at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar resort, Director of Golf Shawn Cox uses launch monitors to manage golf lessons that provide data on clubhead speed and ball impact, integrated video, and a comparison to a professional player’s swing.

Killeen’s 2,500-sq. ft. academy includes indoor and outdoor putting greens, along with sand traps. For his students, Killeen employs teaching tools including FlightScope, TrackMan, BodiTrak and KVest, as well as fitness and conditioning principles from the Titleist Performance Institute.

Today’s cell-phone technology is so advanced that Killeen and fellow instructor Wade Fullingim don’t necessarily have to have their students present to work on their games.

Justifying High-Tech’s Higher Cost
While some instructors haven’t hesitated to plunge in and invest heavily in the latest forms of teaching technology, not every teaching pro can afford the tab. A basic TrackMan system starts at around $20,000, and TrackMan simulators that can be used for teaching or indoor competitions go for around $50,000. MySwing Golf models are more affordable, ranging from $1,200 to $6,000 for the 3D model, while the K-Vest human-motion learning system goes for $6,000 for the 3D model and $11,000 for the 6D version.

At the Dustin Johnson School at TPC Myrtle Beach, Director of Coaching Allen Terrell relies on technology like TrackMan and MySwing to help calibrate data
during a student’s swing and create an avatar for them. The high-tech tools also help the school provide more precise club-fitting services.

Not many teaching pros share the situation that Dunigan enjoys at White Manor, where he stays busy teaching not only club members, but also members of the public. That makes it easier for him to invest in any technology he feels will help him and his students—and, not incidentally, help to generate the word of mouth from satisfied customers that can help pay for high-tech tools.

“I’m willing to buy anything that will help the student and will help me,” Dunigan says. “I don’t absolutely need technology, but the process is so much faster now. I don’t know if some other teachers are scared of it, or don’t want to pay for it, but I’ve found that if it produces better outcomes, you’ll never be at a loss for students.”

Tim Mahoney, Director of Instruction for Troon Golf, agrees. “If you’re just using video, you’re probably not doing as much as possible to improve people’s games,” he says.

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