Mike Cornell, Director of Instruction at Champions Run in Omaha, Neb., Scott Reilly, Head Golf Professional at Philadelphia Country Club, and Al Peterson III, Director of Golf at Field Club of Omaha in Omaha, Neb., tell Senior Editor Phil Keren that they see plenty of new golfers interested in learning the game when a new season dawns.
For clubs in colder climates, April is typically the month when the golf season begins in earnest. I recently engaged in one of my favorite annual rituals when I went out to my garage, found my golf bag, and checked to see if it was fully stocked with balls, tees, divot tools, ball markers, gloves and shoes. During the winter, I brought my pitching wedge and putter inside for practice sessions in the basement. So, with the weather improving, I returned those short game clubs to the bag, and cleaned the clubfaces. I loaded the bag into the trunk of my car, and I’m now ready for another season of drives, approach shots, pitches, chips and putts. I’m certain other golfers like me who live in colder weather followed a similar process.
As veteran golfers like myself prepared for another season, many people who have never swung a club are deciding they want to take up the game. The ones who belong to a country club or golf club may sign up to take lessons from one of the pros at their facility. I wondered if head pros see an influx of first-time players in the spring, and if they had any advice for beginners who want to start taking lessons. I asked a few pros for their thoughts.
Mike Cornell, Director of Instruction at Champions Run in Omaha, Neb., Scott Reilly, Head Golf Professional at Philadelphia Country Club, and Al Peterson III, Director of Golf at Field Club of Omaha in Omaha, Neb. all say they see plenty of new golfers interested in learning the game when a new season dawns.
Cornell says that adult beginners often want to learn to golf so they can spend more time with family and friends, as well as utilize the club more. Reilly notes common reasons given by adult newcomers for taking lessons include: joining friends; having more time to try golf due to working remotely; having to play golf in connection with their job; and getting outdoors. Spending time with friends or their significant other, as well as taking clients out for a round of golf are some of the reasons that Peterson says he hears from beginners who want to learn how to play.
Cornell estimates that 30% of adult beginners take one golf lesson and never return for another session, while about 40% take more than one lesson, but do not continue receiving instruction throughout the season and just 10% take lessons for a full year. At his club, Reilly says about 20% of newcomers take one lesson and don’t return for more, while approximately 25% take more than one lesson, but do not continue receiving instruction throughout the season, and approximately 55% take lessons the entire year. Peterson estimates about 25% of newbies take one lesson and don’t return, 40% take more than one lesson, but don’t continue with lessons for the whole season and 35% stay with lessons for the whole golf season.
Both Cornell and Reilly say typical reasons for not continuing with lessons usually center on not having enough time.
“They get too busy in the summer, they lose interest and without repetition they don’t see improvement,” Cornell notes.
Similarly, Reilly adds that other time commitments hinder first-time players, which means they don’t play as much as they hoped they would and they’re not improving.
Meanwhile, Peterson believes lack of fun is the main reason beginners stop taking lessons.
“If you don’t see improvement or have fun while taking a lesson, then the likelihood of that student coming back is very slim,” Peterson says. “…You must keep the student engaged the entire time. Otherwise, you won’t have success.”
As a longtime golfer, I can confirm that golf requires a lot of patience and willingness to endure mistakes and learn from them. I also know that many adults are busy and it’s tough to find enough time to absorb the information that an instructor provides. Cornell says beginners who want to learn the game should carve out time to practice basic skills, but should also try to “make [their] time to learn very productive in a shorter time of practice.”
“Learning golf does not mean being on the range for hours,” Cornell adds. “The great thing about golf is the trial and error that you can experience for yourself in learning.”
I agree with Reilly when he says beginners should “come [to a lesson] with an open mind and your expectations very low.” He also encourages first-time golfers to find a reputable instructor close to where they live or work, and says newcomers should be willing to do some homework if they want to make progress. Reilly suggests finding a friend who also wants to learn to play, take a few lessons together and then enjoy dinner or drinks afterward. That sounds like an excellent plan.
As a first step, Peterson suggests that beginners speak with a local golf instructor about taking lessons.
“Find out if you can have a normal conversation with that individual, find out if you ‘click’ with each other, Peterson says. “…Golf is a patient game and it takes time. Give yourself a realistic goal but keep in mind that understanding the game of golf can take a lifetime. The key is having fun to keep your enjoyment high.”
If you’re a general manager or head pro at a club, do you see a surge in the amount of newcomers who want to begin taking golf lessons when spring arrives? Does your club offer any incentives to encourage non-golfing members to learn the game? Feel free to share thoughts with me at [email protected]. And if you’re teeing it up for the first time or the 1,000th time, I wish you the best of luck for a successful 2023 golf season. Fore!
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