Golfers in the Lower Hudson Valley no longer have to put the clubs away for the winter. Private clubs and public ranges offer players an opportunity to keep hitting balls.
By Mike Dougherty
Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night can stay some resolute golfers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.
In other words, Mother Nature isn’t playing through.
An increasing number of dedicated golfers in the Lower Hudson Valley are taking advantage of a growing trend. Numerous clubs have built indoor learning centers over the last decade, and they are more popular than ever.
“Ours is booked solid,” said Rob Labritz, director of golf at GlenArbor in Bedford Hills. “I could stay here and teach all day every day.”
Learning centers are normally on the driving range, and they’re stocked with the latest technology for instant feedback. Keeping players involved when the snowflakes begin to fly requires little more than rolling up the hitting bay door and turning on the heat.
It beats pounding balls into a net.
“This keeps golf clubs in peoples’ hands,” said Carl Alexander, Golf Club of Purchase’s director of golf. “And it definitely takes instruction to the next level.”
Jim McLean was among the first club professionals in the area to bring in a dedicated teaching facility. The 20-foot trailer he dropped on the back of the range at Sleepy Hollow Country Club some 25 years ago is now a punch line. The newest learning centers now feature 3-D video analysis, pressure plates and launch monitors.
These computer-driven gizmos capture and quantify each movement from the ground up. Every swing produces instant feedback that helps teaching professionals immediately adjust everything from a poor weight shift to a faulty swing plane. Trial and error is now an old-school technique.
GlenArbor’s facility was up and running in 2001. Sleepy Hollow pushed the McLean trailer over in 2005 and brought a new learning center online a short time later.
“It’s more than just an investment in a building,” Met PGA executive director Charlie Robson said. “They are fitting them with the technology that makes hitting in the winter still valuable. It’s like putting in a fitness center. This gives people another reason to come to the club when the weather is bad, whether it be summer or winter.”
The Apawamis Club in Rye recently built a learning center, and Westchester Country Club in Harrison opened the John Kennedy Learning Center at the end of the summer. It’s a 2,500-square-foot gem that has five hitting bays.
Construction of a new facility at Saint Andrew’s Golf Club in Ardsley that will include three bays along with a putting studio is nearing completion.
“We’re open five days a week,” said Kennedy, the longtime director of golf at Westchester Country Club. “We have 20 people on average using the building on weekdays and 40 to 60 people in on weekends. I think maybe 25 percent of them found a way to hit balls over the winter in the past, but for the other 75 percent of the members, it’s a new experience.”
This is a new revenue stream for clubs.
A number of clubs such as Old Oaks in Purchase and Quaker Ridge in Scarsdale have converted garages into learning centers. When there are no functions planned at New City’s Paramount Country Club in January and February, head professional Steve Scott puts a net up in the ballroom and lays down an indoor putting surface.
“I taught a good amount last winter, and some of the people I saw didn’t take a lesson all summer,” he said. “And they all seemed to be more engaged in the winter than they would ever be in the summer.”
Golfers are more receptive to changes in the off season.
“We find people are making adjustments quicker in the learning center because they are getting instantaneous feedback,” Kennedy said. “And when a player isn’t performance-oriented, they are more committed to making a grip change or a swing change.”
Quality of life also improves for teaching professionals who have a facility on site.
“Teachers can be as busy as they want to be in the winter,” Alexander said. “And this allows some of us to stay. In the past, I went back and forth between New York and Florida, and there are lots of challenges associated with that. When your kids start going to school, it’s very difficult. This allows us to become part of the neighborhood.”
Golfers who do not have access to a club with a learning center do not have to leave their clubs in the corner. Fairview Golf Center in Elmsford, Yorktown Golf and Baseball, and Old Tappan Driving Range have between 12 and 36 heated bays.
Head professional Michael Laudien is enclosing three bays on the driving range at Rotella Memorial Golf Course in Thiells. He expects to be open in January for lessons, for junior clinics and, when available, for the public to hit range balls.
“There are a lot of people out there who are looking to get better,” GlenArbor’s Labritz said. “This is another way to grow the game.”
Golfers who hope to hit the fairways running in the spring need to focus on a number of areas over the winter. Here are five areas to address from married couple Kevin Sprecher, the director of instruction at Sleepy Hollow Country Club, and Deb Doniger, the director of instruction at GlenArbor Golf Club:
1. Body rotation and club speed
2. Fitness assessment
4. Trackman Combine (a standardized test that establishes benchmarks)
5. Balance and footwork