ShowsBefore You GoBulletin BoardContactAboutSearch
Show and Features |
Culture Watch | Question of the Week | Letters of the Week |
Traveler's Aid | Library | Host's View
Improving Your Swing

According to the Professional Golf Association, 300,000 people took up the sport last year. It's a phenomenon that's spawning all sorts of programs, schools and camps designed to teach people how to play. One of the country's oldest is the Stratton Golf School in Vermont. The Savvy Traveler's Pippin Ross and her husband, John, recently took a course where they dismantled their swings, hit hundreds of balls and found that in golf -- and marriage -- fun is the perfect antidote to frustration.

Improving Your Swing
by Pippin Ross

Real Audio Listen with RealAudio          help Need audio help?

Pulling up to the Stratton Mountain Golf School, we are met by a group of very friendly golf instructors dressed in snappy -- and identical -- golf outfits.

Though the instructors are trying to make us feel comfortable, I feel more like a kid on the first day of school -- awkward and shy. My husband John can barely get out of the car.

John: "It's also, y'know, golf is a very humbling sport so when you're surrounded by a group of strangers. It's as though you're naked...and fat." [Laughter]

golf course

We join fifty other students in a room for a briefing on what to expect. Although we're a physically and geographically diverse group, we share a common goal -- vast improvment in a game that requires a mysterious blend of patience, focus, and discpline, traits neither John nor I posess in great abundance. At the very least, school director Rich Setter assures us, we'll get in plenty of practice over the next two days.

Setter: "We figure on average each of you will hit four maybe five hundred balls today. And for most of you that will be more than an average round of golf." [Laughter]

I can't help but find humor in the time and money we've all comitted to improving our ability to move a small, dimpled ball around approximately four miles of perfectly mowed grass.

Setter: "I've got Pippin Ross, John Williamson..."

We are divided into groups based on ability, except when golfers request -- as John and I have -- to be together. John has played golf for ten years. He's an average golfer, happy if he scores in the eighties. I began playing golf about a year ago. I'm better than awful but still not very good. The third member of our group is conveniently named John and has a 22 handicap similar to my John. The theory, according to our instructor Rick Clark, is that I'll rally to their level and they won't stoop to mine. Rick, like most golf instructors, loves to compare golf to life. I like him instantly.

Clark: "Women are a lot more attentive. Where a guy can challenge you, especially a guy who's been playing forever. Where with women, even if they've been playing for a long time they'll still take what your saying to the heart and they won't really challenge you as much. I say women are so much better! [Laugher] That's what my wife says!"

driving range

Golf is a game of ever-changing shots. Some must be hundreds of yards long, others just feet or inches. Some need to pop up into the air, others must curve and arc slightly to the left or right. A good golf course is filled with obstacles such as water, sand, hills and valleys--and every golfer knows that the deceptively pristine grass can be a nightmare: fast, slow, thick, rough, ball gobbling and Velcro-ish. To prepare our games for the maddening diversity, every 45 minutes we move to a different station at the several acre golf school that simulates some moment in the game. Eventually we traipse over to the driving range to practice clocking the ball off the tee--golf's important and dramatic opening long shot. One I mostly stink at, and due to some mysterious recent ailment in his swing, John is haunted by.

I'm reminded of John's naked remark when Rick videotapes our swings and brings us into an austere room for blow-by-blow analysis. An effective but excruciating process.

The camera justifies Rick's decision to introduce a new and beautifully effective alteration to my back swing. Much to John's dismay, Rick changes the way John holds his golf club. Changing something as fundamental as a golf grip is very disconcerting. At lunch, John tries hard to rally.

John: "So now my fears are confirmed and what a wonderful world this is that I can figure out what my problems are in the morning and fix them in the afternoon.

Pippin: "Yeah, but what's really important is, does my butt look as big as it did in the video?"

John: "No. It doesn't. It's not nearly that large, but..."

Pippin: "But?"

John: "You swing's a lot better than mine, I hate to admit it."

Pippin: "Is that what this is about? [Laughter]

When school is over for the day, John and I take our unending competition to Stratton's golf course. We are mentally and physically exhausted and our usual ribbing takes a dangerous turn toward digging, so, after nine holes we decide to call it a day.

Lying in bed the next morning, we talk about golf the way most couples talk about the night before.

Pippin: "You know what I really liked the best? Was lining up the logo and the line on the putter head. You liked that didn't you?"

John: "Uh-uh."

Pippin: "You didn't like that? Why?"

John: "My putting is fine. I don't want to change it. If I did that when I was playing with the guys, they'd all know I just came back from golf school."


Pippin: "That's of concern?

John: "What?"

Pippin: "That the guys will say 'he just came back from golf school!'"

John: "Yeah."

Pippin: "I'm going to get you a scarlet 'G.'"

John: "What's that for?"

Pippin: "So everyone will know you just came back from golf school."

Although day two of golf school is similar in content to the day before, the drills are more personalized as Rick zeros in on banishing our bad habits and fortifying the good ones. There is a profound feeling of satisfaction as it all begins to gel. John's grip change has given him a whole new reason to live.

John: "All this time, just think I could have been shaving ten, twenty strokes off my score if I'd only known."

Pippin: "Yeah, you'd probably be on the tour by now."

John: "Yeah I'd be a wealthy man, I'd probably have a trophy wife and be really happy."

Pippin: "Hey Rick? Can I have a different class!?"

When the final bell sounds everyone lingers at the practice area trying to cap the experience by hitting one more beauty. Our instructors herd us indoors to fill in evaluation forms and give us post-mortems.

Clark: "I think both of you have golf careers ahead of you, I'd advise you to stay away from each other on the golf course. [Laughs] You guys really hammer each other, you're hysterical. Actually you remind me of my wife and I."

Pippin: "It's either that or death or divorce."

Rick: "Yeah, I'd love to see you guys play in a tournament together. You could call it the 'Divorce Open.'" [Laughter]

Pippin: "Aw, c'mon."

We are sent home with the advice to go easy on ourselves, Rick tells us it takes 21 days of daily practice for new information to penetrate the musculature and there will be set-backs. As we drive home we talk of golf ad nauseam. We can't wait to get out on the course. In a gentle moment, we confess our dedication to continuing to play each other. After all, it's only a game -- not.

In Vermont, I'm Pippin Ross for The Savvy Traveler.

Savvy Resources for Improving Your Swing:

American Public Media
American Public Media Home | Search | How to Listen
©2004 American Public Media |
Terms of Use | Privacy Policy