by Bill Higgins
The pandemic has been deadly and devastating, but a silver lining is a resurgence in outdoor recreational activities to help cope with the stifling stress of Covid-19. Walking, hiking, biking, boating, fishing, to name a few, all provide open spaces and fit the necessary socially distanced health protocols.
And, of course, there is also golf, which has seen a dramatic surge in popularity. Golf Datatech, an industry research company, reported golfers played 13.9 percent more rounds in 2020 than in 2019. It’s the largest bump in 20-plus years and Cape Cod and the islands have been in step with the increased interest.
Massachusetts was the last state to reopen, allowing players back on the course in May 2020. “And it’s been busy nearly every day since, including through the fall and winter with the mild weather,” says Mike Serijan, administrative assistant at Cranberry Valley in Harwich.
There are almost three dozen public courses in the region and all offer the opportunity to enjoy the camaraderie of friends and a pleasant green-grass walk. If you’re looking to join the fun, we talked with several area golf instructors for suggestions and tips to get you in the swing.
Fitness 500, Hyannis
First things first, especially for newcomers, is having your body physically ready. Jeff Handler is a certified personal trainer at Fitness 500 in Hyannis and has worked with many professional athletes, including former Masters champion Mike Weir. “There are a few keys that need to be in play for the recreational or beginner golfer,” says Handler. “First, the best fitness plan is the one you’ll do consistently. Being realistic about the amount of time you will dedicate to golf fitness is very important. Secondly, think hip and thoracic spine (mid-back area) mobility and glute strength. Improvement in these areas will pay off.”
Handler recommends the website mytpi.com for exercises and suggests seeking a qualified golf strength and conditioning coach to create a program if you are interested in going the extra mile.
Holly Ridge, Sandwich
Darren Falk is director of instruction at Holly Ridge in Sandwich. He was recently featured as one of Golf Digest’s best young teachers in America. “If you’ve never played before, or just beginning, you really do need some direction starting out,” he says. “My belief might be a little different in that I first teach hitting the ball solidly, getting it up in the air, forward and findable. If you can do that, then you can play golf.”
Falk added the biggest flaw he sees in beginners is they hit the ground before the ball. He emphasizes the swing as a circle and teaches bottoming out the swing after the ball. Two other principles he focuses on are hitting the ball far enough, which typically will improve with solid contact, and controlling the direction or curvature of the shot. “Golf shouldn’t be intimidating,” says Falk. “There’s a lot to learn, but understanding the general basics, you can have a good time.”
Falk’s tip: “Trying to make putts you’re likely to miss leads to more three-putts than hole-outs. Try to get medium-to-long-range putts close, but not in. It doesn’t matter if you’re short or long, as long as the next putt is easy. Lagging enlarges your target considerably—and that will free up your stroke.”
Sandwich Hollows, Sandwich
Jane Frost, a LPGA Teaching & Club Professionals Hall of Famer, has been an instructor for 36 years and operates the Jane Frost Golf Performance Center at Sandwich Hollows. Her students have included legends Pat Bradley, Jane Blalock, Nancy Lopez, and Sandra Haynie. Frost preaches “go slow to learn fast” and believes golfers starting out should be honest in their expectations. A par 4 on the scorecard — or par 72 for an 18-hole round — is achievable only for a very small percentage of players. “It’s not an easy game,” she says, “but it is enjoyable if you focus on fundamentals. You’re out there to have fun and not to go mental.”
Frost uses the acronyms SMART & PGA and in her teachings. Set SMART goals — Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-based. And then practice PGA: Posture, Grip, and Aim (alignment), the building blocks for all players. “And I add in L — luck never hurts — making it LPGA,” she says in deference to her standing in the Ladies Professional Golf Association. One more Frost tip: “The ball is not the target. Swing through the ball and finish the swing.”
Kings Way Club, Yarmouth Port
Bob Miller manages the Kings Way Club in Yarmouth Port and has given more than 35,000 golf lessons to beginners and top amateurs, along with coaching three LPGA Tour pros. He has also been a five-time Cape Cod Pro-Am League player of the year. Miller is an advocate of hands-on coaching. “A good teacher can show a player in a short time how to do things correctly versus that player trying to figure out what to do by watching a YouTube or internet video,” he says. “That one-to-one relationship is very important.”
Miller is also a big believer in golf psychology. “Your mindset influences everything you do. My first goal with a student, whether a beginner or someone who has been playing for 40 years, is to get them in a good frame of mind and have a positive attitude.”
Miller’s tip: “Be brilliant at the basics. Practice grip, aim and alignment, stance and posture. Use a mirror to see yourself. These conscious thoughts have to become subconscious to allow you to perform.”