Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

December 10, 2017
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The Missing Links

Find out what's lacking in your game at North Carolina's Pinehurst Resort Golf Academy

In 1895, James Tufts, a rich Yankee who made his fortune in the soda-fountain business, arrived in Southern Pines, North Carolina, to breathe the invigorating air and build a health resort he called Pinehurst. Not long after, the neighbouring dairy farmer complained that a number of the guests were using sticks to whack balls into his pasture, upsetting his cows.

Tufts sensed that this new golf fad might have potential and built a rudimentary nine-hole course. In 1900, he invited Scottish-born golf pro Donald Ross to Pinehurst to redesign course No. 1. Ross ended up staying for 48 years and the rest, as they say, is history. The patriarch and patron saint of American course architecture designed four more courses at Pinehurst and over 400 throughout North America.

Dubbed the home of American golf, Pinehurst Resort now boasts eight courses, three hotels (the Carolina, Holly Inn and the Manor Inn) and a village that's straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

Tufts had a knack for recognizing talent. Frederick Law Olmsted, one of the greatest landscape architects of his day, whose designs include New York's Central Park and Montreal's Mount Royal Park, was commissioned to lay out the Village of Pinehurst. With its neat picket fences, pristine white frame and red brick buildings, the New England-style town is a reminder of gentler, bygone times. You can still sip a root-beer float on a stool at the Pinehurst Sundry and Soda Fountain, purchase some new golfing duds at the Gentlemen's Corner or sign out a book from the town library and sit on a bench under the shade of a pine tree and read it. There are no McDonald's or Wendy's here. Golf Academy

Golf Academy
In order to prepare myself for the challenge of Pinehurst's eight courses, I enrolled in the resort's Golf Advantage School -- three days of dawn-till-dusk drills and on-course practice.

Traipsing down the hallowed halls of the main pro shop early the next morning was like walking through a living museum. Glass cases housed gleaming trophies, winning score cards and other memorabilia. The walls were hung with some of the proudest Kodak moments in golf -- Payne Stewart proudly hoisting his US Open trophy; sepia prints of old-time swingers wearing ties, cardigans and plus-fours. In terms of passion for the game, Pinehurst is the closest thing to St. Andrews in the US. If you're not wearing a pair of soft-spiked shoes you're going to feel like a wallflower.

At the crack of dawn my fellow students and I gathered on the bleachers at the Maniac Hill driving range. We were a diverse group -- high handicappers, beginners, father-and-son teams, couples, singles -- all with lofty ambitions about lowering our scores. After the 13 of us were videotaped, we started slugging balls. Like a team of surgeons, the three teaching pros huddled behind us, clipboards in hand, diagnosing our swings. Mercifully, the philosophy here is to pinpoint major problems and concentrate on improving just one or two weak spots, rather than revamping one's entire swing. In my case, Brian spray-painted an arc on the grass as a guide for my swing path. It worked; after an hour of practice, I had added about 20 yards to my distance. Beside me, a frustrated Meg was struggling with a new grip and shorter backswing. Rebecca, a complete novice, progressed from skitting worm-burners off in all directions to hitting straight balls about 100 yards.

Once each wannabe Tiger was diagnosed and a practice drill prescribed, we whacked balls by the bucketful until lunch. Next to the huge cooler of cold water was a much-needed box of Elastoplasts. Tufts would have been happy to know that a spa, his original dream, will be opening in Pinehurst next spring. No doubt the muscle-weary students of the golf academy will take full advantage of it.

We may not be scratch golfers yet but by the time we hit the lunch buffet we proved to be scratch eaters. Plates piled high with southern-style ribs, salads and cold cuts, we fortified ourselves for an afternoon on No. 3. Each threesome was accompanied by an instructor who provided useful on-course strategy and tips. By dusk we were drinking cocktails on the veranda of the Donald Ross Grill, trading Advil and anecdotes. If it ain't got that swing

If it ain't got that swing
The second morning at the Golf Academy was all about ball flight and how factors such as clubhead path, clubface position, angle of approach, squareness of contact and clubhead speed determine where that dimpled orb eventually lands. We nicknamed our demonstrator Dial-a-Ball-Paul, as the swing master could send balls in all directions upon command. He could even strike two balls at once and make one fade and the other draw.

By the time we moved into the bunkers and over to the putting green, blisters were becoming calluses. That afternoon I played No.1 with Rebecca and Dale, a couple from Georgia. Obviously, the instruction was paying off: Rebecca finally stopped topping the ball and made her first par and Dale broke 100, also a first. We celebrated with martinis and thick steaks at the Holly Inn's Tavern.

Golf school guests stay at The Carolina, a magnificent structure with copper cupola, stately columns and white rocking chairs on the veranda looking across an emerald expanse of lawn and begonia beds. Dubbed the "Queen of the South" and the "White House of Golf," it's the kind of place where you'd like to put your feet up and order a mint julep.

 

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