SAN DIEGO -- You can get golf instruction just about anywhere, even at private clubs where you might not be a member. But hey, why not combine it with vacation if you can?
For that, you'll want to check out a golf school or get instruction at a resort. In my travels, I've been able to take advantage of just that over the years.
Most recently, I was at the world-class golf academy at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar resort. I got a full-swing lesson -- where once again we attempted to straighten out my old backswing faults. But perhaps even more telling was the putting lesson I got from Lead Golf Instructor Derek Uyeda, about four hours' worth as it turned out, and it went by rather quickly.
Using high-speed video, lasers and other tricks of the trade, Uyeda showed me things about my putting stroke and aim I'm not sure I wanted to know. But having that knowledge translated into better putting as I played a round on the The Grand Golf Club.
If you're a serious player and serious about improving, this kind of help -- which can cost $150 an hour or more (less in group lessons) -- is how you get better. And you can also book all-day lessons, both in putting, short game and full swing.
The nice part about what Uyeda does is that you see immediate improvement. The old adage that you've got to get worse before you get better is certainly something Uyeda and Grand Golf Club Director of Golf Shawn Cox don't believe in. Plus, at The Grand Golf Club they've got superior practice facilities and equipment. Overlooking the range is a teaching center that has the SAM Putting Lab and TrackMan systems, just to name a couple of the technologies available.
Uyeda and Cox are among the top instructors in California. It's not uncommon to see tour players and high-level college players working on their games here. After all, the weather is pretty much perfect year-round and the facilities match the weather.
There's another bonus at The Grand Golf Club. Beyond Uyeda and Cox, the legendary Phil Rodgers also teaches there. So you could conceivably get schooled by one of the world's foremost authorities on the short game, especially bunker play.
Of course, there are many resorts around the country that offer instruction. Some are better than others, and I've only received instruction at a fraction of them. With that said, however, here are six more of my favorite locations:
Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
The golf resorts, clubs and facilities around Hilton Head Island feature some of the best instructors and golf schools in the country. And they operate at premier facilities. From the Palmetto Dunes Golf Academy at Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort to the Golf Academy at Sea Pines Resort, local golfers and visitors alike can make real improvements in a well structured pleasant environment. Doug Weaver heads the Palmetto Dunes Golf Academy and played on the PGA Tour. "The idea is not to have a perfect swing, but to allow them to be the athletic golfer they are, keep their personality and be the best player they can be," he said.
The Golf Learning Center at Sea Pines Resort also has an impressive pedigree. Headed up by PGA Master Professional Tim Cooke, the Golf Learning Center features two- and three-day golf schools run by Skip Malek, who has taught at Oakmont in Pennsylvania, Coral Ridge Country Club in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., and Pine Needles Resort in North Carolina. At Sea Island as well as Palmetto Dunes, custom fitting is part of the curriculum. Instructional programs can also include rounds of golf, which can be played on the famous Harbour Town Golf Links, home of the PGA Tour's RBC Heritage.
Omni Orlando at ChampionsGate, Florida
Besides having two Greg Norman-designed golf courses (International and National), The Omni Orlando at ChampionsGate near Orlando also has the David Leadbetter Golf Academy. This is the famed instructor's headquarters and he employs some of the top instructors in the business, pretty much all the technology that's been invented and expansive practice facilities. There's a lighted par-3 course at ChampionsGate, where you can perfect what you worked on. With more than 700 rooms at the resort, outstanding dining and a lazy river, the Omni Orlando is also a first-class stay.
It should also be noted that Leadbetter has other academies as well, most notably at PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, a couple hours south of Orlando.
Westin Kierland Resort, Scottsdale, Arizona
There are lots of great instructors in the Phoenix-Scottsdale area, but one of my favorites is the pair of Mike and Sandy LaBauve at the Westin Kierland in Scottsdale. These two have long been among the best instructors not only in Arizona, but in the nation as well. Even better is that the Westin Kierland has a whole staff of instructors, excellent range and practice facilities and a beautiful resort that includes 27 very playable holes. I also love the Westin Kierland's commitment to innovation with Golf Bikes, Segways and even air conditioning on the carts. Years ago, I got a lesson from Mike LaBauve and immediately followed with one of the best rounds of my life, so no, you don't have to get worse before you get better.
Reynolds Lake Oconee, Greensboro, Georgia
All of the instructors on this list are exceptional, but Charlie King, who heads up the teaching program at the Reynolds Kingdom of Golf presented by TaylorMade in Greensboro, Ga., is a little different. King isn't a former PGA Tour player turned instructor; he's more of an everyman, so he can really relate to average golfers just as well as pros. In fact, he's written the New Rules of Golf Instruction, in which he uses a very common sense approach to the golf swing, especially the short game. And speaking of short game, Reynolds has some of the best practice facilities in the world, including a short-game scoring course. When King and his staff are done with you, you've got six terrific golf courses you can play, dining, fishing and great accommodations, including the Ritz-Carlton Lodge at Reynolds Lake Oconee, a popular haunt for folks who make their way to the Masters each year.
JW Marriott Resort, TPC San Antonio (Texas)
Most of the TPC facilities around the world have great teaching programs -- including TPC Sawgrass in Florida -- but I'm going to single out the TPC San Antonio here. With 36 holes of golf used by both the PGA Tour and Champions Tour, golf is central at the impressive 1,002-room JW Marriott Resort, which opened in 2010. The TOURAcademy offers everything from beginner lessons to Elite Training Golf Schools, which include every aspect of the game from conditioning and swing to the mental part of the game. As you might expect, practice facilities include everything from a teaching range to chipping greens to practice bunkers.
Pebble Beach (California) Resort
For years, one of the knocks on Pebble Beach Resort was that it didn't have practice facilities that matched the world-class golf. That's no longer the case. In 2014, the new Pebble Beach Golf Academy (headed by Laird Small, a Golf Digest Top 50 instructor) and practice facility opened. Located up a hill from the first tee and across the street from the nine-hole, par-3 Peter Hay Golf Course, it features a 350-yard, double-ended driving range with target greens that simulate the approach shots on the course. There's also a 40,000-square-foot short-game area, and the golf academy houses three indoor instruction studios for lessons and golf schools, complete with all the gadgets, including one of the new RoboGolf swing trainers. Spend about a year on one of those (yes, that would be expensive) and you might be able to play golf for a living.