Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 24, 2021
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Into The Rough

Track birdies, eagles and a herd of swinging beasts on a Golfari in North Carolina

My golf game was in a severe slump. My score was soaring, my drive dwindling and my putts plentiful. Fortunately, there was a space available at the Golfari Clinic at Pine Needles Lodge in North Carolina, where Peggy Kirk Bell could fix me right up.

Named one of America s top teachers by Golf Magazine and Golf Digest, Peggy is a living legend. She s a founding member of the LPGA, the winner of numerous amateur and professional tournaments and a North Carolina Sports Hall of Famer. Today at 81, with her new titanium hip, she's still banging buckets of balls and mentoring.

Pine Needles, her home turf, was rated the third-best golf location in the world by Golf Digest. The practice facilities — including three ranges, mirrors, impact bags, state-of-the-art video, bunkers, greens, even a challenging four-hole loop -- are superb. Not to mention the Donald Ross-designed championship golf course, home to the 1996, 2001 and 2007 Women's Open. Walk these fairways and you'll be following in the footsteps, eagles and birdies of Juli Inkster, Se Ri Pak, Karrie Webb and Annika SÜrenstam, who won here in '96.

Peggy's golfing and teaching career began by happenstance. Someone talked her dad into buying a family membership at a golf club one summer. No one else in the family had any interest in the silly game so she decided to give it a shot. "I couldn't do it," she recalls. "I'd lost my only three balls before I got to the first green, so I stomped into the pro shop and asked if there was a teacher." The pro, Leonard Schmutte, took her under his wing and taught her for years. She went on to become a pro herself and marry her hometown sweetheart, Warren "Bullet" Bell, with whom she bought Pine Needles Resort.

One day in 1955, a female guest asked if she could have a lesson. Bullet volunteered his wife. "I told her everything I knew," says Peggy. "Nothing worked." After two hours the bedraggled woman begged to quit. But that inauspicious beginning piqued Peggy's interest in teaching. Four years later, ladies-only Golfaris were born. The name, a take-off on safari, refers to the weeklong excursion into the heart of golf.

Now, more than four decades later, the Monday to Friday clinics run flawlessly. Before arriving, participants mail in a form indicating handicap, rental and dietary requirements. When they arrive their group (level A, B, C or D) and number are on a name badge. All they have to do is find the golf cart with their number and follow the leader from session to session.

Home on the Range
After checking in I joined my 50 Golfari sisters at a buffet lunch. About half of the group were grads from previous sessions so the dining room had the ambience of a college reunion. The group was diverse, with everyone from a college student who could hit it a mile to an 80-year-old rookie. Doctors, vice-presidents, housewives and a nun were all here striving for a better swing. Likewise, the team of instructors ranged from Peggy and some of her octogenarian cronies to whippersnappers in their 30s. With this diverse group of teachers, chances are good that at least a few will match your learning style.

The mantra at Golfari is "Golf is fun. Golf is recreation. I am relaxed and confident over all of my shots." But before we could get to recreation we needed some evaluation. After lunch, we set out to the practice range to have our swings videotaped and analyzed. You may think your left arm is straight and that your feet are firmly planted but a picture really is worth a thousand words. Back on the range, Peggy, a stickler for a proper grip, scrutinized the line of swingers and used a felt pen on our gloves, marking where we should place the club in the fingers - not the palm -- of our left hand and how the right hand should overlap so both work in unison.

We then headed to the auditorium where Pat McGowan, director of instruction, dispensed training grips and statistics. Did we realize that putts make up 43 percent of most golf scores? "You may not be able to pound them like Annika but with practice you can putt as well as she does," he enthused. "Spend a lot of time with the flat stick and you'll eliminate the three-putt syndrome."

With that, we were sent out to the putting range. Before drills, each of us was given an "Aha" notebook to tuck into our back pockets and jot down whatever nuggets of information we felt to be especially poignant. Sometimes basics, like getting your eyes directly over the ball, come as a revelation.


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