Down The Fairway: Learn to play by focusing on basics
Golf is a game for a lifetime, so even if you missed all the fun as a youngster, it’s never too late to learn how to play.
That’s why Whispering Pines head pro/co-owner Kirk Armstrong enjoys watching adults discover all the same joys that children do once they figure out how to swing the clubs correctly.
“We’ve been doing this for a long time,” said Armstrong, who estimates he and his brothers (Mark and Brett) have been running their golf school on Helderberg Avenue in Rotterdam for more than two decades.
“Hap Duval used to give lessons to almost everybody in Schenectady back in the day,” said Armstrong. “I remember when Hap used to run clinics in the winter and then he’d have a golf school in the spring. Rick Wolcott [current head pro at Rolling Hills Country Club] would help him out.
“Then, Ron Philo started teaching everyone how to play when he owned the driving range. That’s how it all started for me. I remember those guys, and when they stopped, I began to teach people myself.”
Armstrong said that adults share the same problems that youngsters do when it comes to learning how to play the game.
“I don’t try to concentrate on too many mechanics in the beginning, but there are a couple of things that almost everyone has problems with starting out,” he said.
“Most people have a tendency to try to help the ball up in the air. They also want to hit at the ball rather than swing through it. Eliminating both the hitting up on the ball and hitting at the ball are the biggest things we try to correct. They all try to scoop the ball in the beginning. I don’t try to change their mechanics. Instead, I try to change the way they are thinking about the swing. Once they see me hit down on the ball, and they see my divot in front of the ball instead of behind the ball, it boggles their mind.”
Armstrong also tries to use the mechanics of a baseball swing to help adults get the picture of a correct golf swing.
“I try to get them to swing back and forth and let them feel the turn,” he said. “In both baseball and golf, you are standing to the side of the ball, and your back is straight up and down. When they see how the club turns through, they get a better picture of how to do it. The only difference is that you have a tilted spine angle in golf.”
Armstrong said if new golfers walk away with just a few fundamentals, it will help their game tremendously.
“If they can get the feeling of swinging the club instead of hitting at the ball, and if I can get them to hit down on the ball, I’ve accomplished two important goals,” he said.
Armstrong doesn’t focus on the short game until his final lesson, but he admits that putting, chipping and pitching is where all the scoring comes from.
“In the putting department, newcomers have no concept of speed,” he said. “They hit their putts way too hard in the beginning. I try to tell them that there are only two parts to putting, direction and distance. That’s what putting is all about. The direction is obviously important, but I try to focus more on the distance control. They are not going to make every putt from 30 feet, but if they can get that first putt close, they have a great chance to make the next one.”
Armstrong has several easy drills to hone a player’s direction and distance control, and he keeps everything simple.
“I don’t want them thinking too much about direction in the beginning,” he stressed. “They must get the feel of how to control the distance.”
The Whispering Pines Golf School runs for four weeks, and each session is for one hour. Course focus will be grip, stance, swing and rules. Range balls and clubs will be provided, if needed. Class size is limited to 12 per class. Entry fee is $120.
The classes will run from April 23 through May 18, with the choice of Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays or Saturdays. There are several time options available on each day.
Along with the golf school, Whispering Pines is offering a five-week mini league that will include a four-person scramble. Cost is $70. The mini league will be held Tuesdays at 5:30 p.m. or Saturdays at 10 a.m., and will begin once the golf school is over.
“I’ve probably taught more than 3,000 people how to play golf at our school,” said Armstrong. “I used to give them a gift certificate to play the course after we were done, but I found that a lot of our beginners were intimidated and never used the gift certificate. With the five-week mini league, we will help them out on the course. We’ll show them how to play, and we will make it less intimidating. Hopefully, once we get them out there, it won’t be that scary.”
Armstrong said his executive course is perfect for the beginning golfer, because it features mostly very short holes, doesn’t take very long to play and is a lot cheaper than the regular size course.
Call 355-2727 or visit whisperingpinesgolfclub.info.com for more information.
JOIN A LEAGUE
Speaking of golf leagues, now is the time to join a league. It’s a great way to guarantee at least one round per week, and it won’t take much time or money.
“It’s a great way to make a small commitment to your game,” said Van Patten Golf Club head pro Bob Kennedy. “Most of the leagues are only nine-hole leagues, and hopefully, it takes only a maximum of 21⁄2 hours to play. Golf leagues are social as well as competitive. They are also a great way to get some
exercise. At Van Patten, 70 percent of our league members walk the course, and it’s a great form of exercise for all ages.”
Kennedy said if players are just starting out, they should drop by and take some lessons from him and his staff.
“We have a couple of pros here who would be glad to help,” he said. “Golf can be very intimidating in the beginning. It helps if you can have someone to show you around. We can introduce you to the course, show you the first tee and get you acquainted with the driving range.”
CONFIRM MUNY OUTINGS
New Schenectady Municipal Golf Course head pro Matt Daley and his staff are asking anyone who scheduled an outing or a tournament to confirm their dates at the pro shop.
Call 382-5155 or stop by and talk to Daley or one of his assistants. This way, there won’t be any conflicts about dates now that a new staff is taking over.
Speaking of Muny dates, don’t forget that the Gazette sponsors three major tournaments there: the County Amateur June 14-16, the Newspaper in Education Capital District Junior Championship Aug. 2 and the Senior County Amateur Aug. 15-16.
The first chance for local amateurs to get some tournament experience will be at the Stadium Classic, set for May 4-5 at Stadium Golf Club.
The two-day event will have a two-person scramble in the first round and a two-man best-ball format the second round. There will be an open division and a senior division (for players 50 and older). Both rounds will have 8 a.m. shotgun starts, unless there are fewer than 60 teams entered. Entry fee is $300 per team, and includes golf, cart and range balls both days. Maximum field will be 68 teams. There will be more than $7,000 in total prizes, including top prize of $1,100 for the winning team in both divisions. Call Stadium Golf Club at 374-9104 for more information.
u The Northeastern New York PGA will hold its annual Spring Meeting Monday at Wolferts Roost Country Club. Many of the local club pros will receive special honors, including Golf Professional of the Year. A pro-pro tournament follows.
u The five-man group of Ray Dykeman, Roy Dykeman, Gene Bargstedt, Rick Cheney and Roy Lomanto are the new owners of Hales Mills Country Club.
u Chris Matthewson will join head pro Joe Merendo as an assistant pro at Amsterdam Municipal this season. Matthewson graduated from the Golf Academy of America in Myrtle Beach. He is an accomplished player with a -2 handicap.
u The Holland Meadows Ladies Golf League will have an organizational meeting April 30 at 7 p.m. at the course. Dues are $35, and will be collected at the meeting. New members are welcome. Call 883-3318 for more information.
John Wimmer got the season started on the right foot with a hole-in-one on the 180-yard 12th hole with a 3-iron at Stadium Golf Club.
There were two aces in the opening week at Van Patten Golf Club. Kurt Neiswender holed out with a 7-iron on the 153-yard 15th hole, while Ed Guervara used a pitching wedge for an ace on the 135-yard fourth hole.
Mark Squadere eagled the par-5 18th hole at Stadium Golf Club.