Picture a classroom, only it's open air, with tee boxes instead of desks. Imagine a higher-learning establishment without textbooks, except perhaps the textbook swing. Forget tests, or diplomas, but expect personalized attention.
This is the Golf Academy, in its second year as part of Blue Heron Pines Golf Club. It meets at 5 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, where a $35 "tuition" payment yields one hour of instruction, nine holes of golf and a snack.
The current Wednesday group began as a Ladies Night outing for members of Tilton Fitness, a business partner of Blue Heron. The class has expanded to include teenagers, 70-somethings and the occasional male participant.
"Everyone is accepted regardless of their ability level. Everyone can participate at their own level and everyone goes home happy," says Julianne Dods, not only vice-president and general manager of Tilton Fitness and founder of this clinic, but also a participant. "There is always something you can pick up on."
Instructors are David Lee, who captured a state championship while playing for Egg Harbor Township High School in 1994, and Bruce Chelucci, a16-year teaching professional from Wilmington, Del. Each also works with high-ranking players.
Chelucci instructs Mays Landing native Joanna Coe, a three-time collegiate All-American at Rollins College in Florida, and a participant for an at-large berth at the ShopRite LPGA Classic later this month at Seaview Country Club. Lee works with Mays Landing native Pete Barron, a sectional finalist for the men's U.S. Open, and Harin Lee, a New York high school state champion.
Participants at the Blue Heron clinics aren't aiming to dominate leaderboards; they simply want to snare some pointers. Since many return each week, instructors get a good idea of what to address in their games.
"We pick a common denominator that the entire group has trouble with and start with that," Chelucci says. "While people work on that, we can offer one-on-one tips on a particular area of concern for an individual. There is so much that can come into play. We focus on course management, the mental game, putting, physical fitness and certain shots people may want to work on."
The instruction is intensive, yet low key. A recent session - which attracted 15 people, although class size varies weekly - began with stretching techniques from Paul Brones, Tilton Fitness director of fitness. Chelucci and Lee followed by demonstrating the full-shoulder turn, using clubs and one another as props. They displayed the proper weight transfer needed to produce power, showing both the right and wrong way players come through the ball. The instructors also spoke to players one-on-one.
Chelucci and Lee put their patrons at ease. Balancing instruction with subtle encouragement, they addressed a core concern of the golf public. Many players already feel intimidated by hitting shots in front of an audience. A group clinic can make them feel like they joined Hackers Anonymous.
But that does not happen here, and the manner of instruction paid off handsomely. Nearly every player began launching high, straight shots after the lesson and some tinkering with their swing. The distance was inconsequential. What mattered was the satisfaction of making good contact.
Golf establishments continue offering deals for people with some disposable income. A membership at Tilton Fitness now provides an automatic associate membership at Blue Heron, a value of about $450.