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Head to a golf academy to get your game "unstuck"

By Katharine Dyson, Special Contributor

It was just 7:30 a.m. when I pulled into the Lake of Isles Golf Academy in northeastern Connecticut. For the next two days, I along with four other ladies would hit balls, be videotaped (before and after) and have in-depth golf instruction from two energetic lady pros, Dawn Mercer, a Golf For Women Top 50 Instructor from Innisbrook Resort in Florida, and Sue Cart, a PGA Professional at Lake of Isles.

Lake of Isles
PGA Professional Sue Cart, right, offers a little grip instruction at Lake of Isles Golf Academy.
Lake of Isles

As we talked over power egg sandwiches, fruit and coffee, we all mentioned different goals.

"I'm stuck in second gear," said Molly, a peppy working mom of two small children who lived nearby.

"Me too," said Susan. "When I started to play, everyone in my life had an opinion as to what I should do. I want to get back on track and understand just what it is I have to stay with to improve my game."

"Fundamentals. If I learn what they are and practice them, I can't go wrong," said Karen, who had driven down from Maine.

"I want more distance," said Pat, a slim, attractive lady from Scarsdale, N.Y., who had just retired and sold her physical therapy business. "And I'd like to improve my flexibility. As you get older, you get stiffer."

"It's my short game. I need help," said Jan, a young woman with a power-packed swing.

My personal goals? I wanted to find out how to get out of bunkers in one shot, and I needed serious surgery on my direction control so I could reach more greens in regulation.

But we all had two things in common: we were women, and we wanted to improve our golf game.

How many of us for months, even years, start running in place, plateau out? We don't understand why we can't break 100, 90 or 80.

Trying to improve, we listen to everyone - our husbands, our boyfriends, our friends' husbands and boyfriends. Even the well-intentioned hot shot kid who mows our lawn.

We read all the tips in every magazine we can get our hands on, and that really confuses us. One tip says you open your face when addressing the ball in the bunker; another says you don't. We read tricks to keep our swing in plane and ways to practice our putting.

We even take occasional lessons and clinics. But in trying to put into practice what we've learned, we actually get worse and go back to old bad habits, dropping shoulders, not focusing and swinging like a slug.

We play a lot but we're pathetic.

So what does it take to turn things around?

Take five ladies, two exceptional pros, and two days of intense instruction on and off the course with follow-up: the Lake of Isles Golf Academy (www.lakeofisles.com).

After warming up, we start on the range hitting our 9-irons while Dawn and Sue patrol the line evaluating our swing. Then we go on to longer irons, our pyramids of balls diminishing.

Each of us gets videotaped — nothing like a picture to wake you up.

After a break for lunch in the clubhouse, we head back to the Academy for chipping, pitching and putting instruction.

All the while, Dawn and Sue give us good one-on-one time instruction, tweaking this and that. To help me with my bad habit of pulling up - Sue places a broken tee in front of my ball.

"Hit that on your follow-through," she says. I try. Miss it the first time, then on the third try, hit it. My shot miraculously soars. Straight.

That evening, while Karen heads to the Norwich Spa for a massage, Molly goes home and Pat and I get to know each other over dinner in one of the Foxwoods' restaurants, the one where the line is shortest.

The next morning we all met for breakfast.

Molly says, "I was in full throttle as soon as I got home. I didn't take off my golf shoes until 6. One good thing, this is all peaking my daughter's interest in golf."

Pat says she needs to take a couple of Advil. I put a precautionary bandage on a finger waiting for a blister, but in general, we all feel remarkably ready to go. We talk golf.

"Sue's tip, 'back to target, front to target' helped me," said Pat.

"Dawn's suggestion to hold out my club straight out after I've addressed the ball to make sure the leading edge is lined up," works for me, said Jan.

Back on the range we continue to build on what we've learned the day before. In the afternoon, Sue and Dawn take us out on the course where we play a scramble and are given tips on course management, target and shot selection and reading the greens.

"Want to break 90? Instead of thinking of a 525-yard par 5 as a hard hole, try breaking it up into segments," explains Dawn. "You don't even have to use your driver. Try playing your 150-yard club from the tee, then two more 150 clubs. That leaves you a 75-yard pitch to the green. You'll be putting for par, but should get a bogie. If you bogie the course all the way around, you could easily break 90."

I like her thinking.


About a week after the Academy, I receive the "Smarter Student V1 Swing Analysis Home Edition" video, a 12-month subscription as a Smarter Golfer, online access to my personal swing video with customized drill tips and a 12-month subscription to Golf Digest, though not sure since the magazine is filled with tips, that it would be the wisest reading material. I'm already buying into staying with one teacher, one set of instructions.

Or as Dawn says, "There are a million ways to hit the golf ball, but you have to find what works best for you."

In our instruction book section, "Chart Your Progress," I read, "Greens hit in regulation is the most important statistic in golf. The more greens you can hit in regulation, the more birdie putts you will have."

I also like, "No matter how well you hit the ball, the putting green is where all players are equal."

I plan on working on what I've learned. I plan on following up with Karen, Jan, Molly and Pat and I'll let you know when we feel ready for the Tour. We've bonded.

Golf Academy

The Golf Academy is adjacent to the two spectacular Lake of Isles golf courses (North and South). Teaching studios are equipped with V1 swing analysis, and there are four covered bays, 60,000 square feet of teeing space, putting, chipping and bunker practice areas.

Accommodations: Foxwoods Resort is right across the road. Ask about a golf school discount.

Cost: $675 for 11 hours of instruction (low teacher to pupil ratio), goodie bag, two breakfasts, two lunches and special discounts.

Katharine DysonKatharine Dyson, Special Contributor

Katharine Dyson is a golf and travel writer for several national publications as well as guidebook author and radio commentator. Her journeys have taken her around the world playing courses and finding unique places to stay. She is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America, Metropolitan Golf Writers of America; Golf Travel Writers Organization and Society of American Travel Writers. Follow Katharine on Twitter at @kathiegolf.

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