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Play Away: Getting Schooled at the Nicklaus Golf Academy

Even back in the dawn of tech civilization when VHS tapes ruled, Jack Nicklaus was the pacesetter in enhancing the method of teaching golf with his classic Golf My Way series. Fast forward to the 21st century, with his competitive playing days sealed in the history books, the winner of a record 18 major golf championships still continues to dot the ‘i’ in instruction with those original lessons now available on DVDs, eBooks and an iPhone app.

I’ll be the first to admit the way I tackle 18 holes could use some improvement and if you don’t believe me, just ask anyone I’ve ever played with. I’m quite confident with my skills as a self-taught golfer, however, as Nicklaus once stated, “confidence is the most important single factor in this game, and no matter how great your natural talent, there is only one way to obtain and sustain it: work.” But like millions of other wide-eyed golf amateurs, witnessing Nicklaus and countless other pros swing a golf club always begs the question, ‘how do they do that?’

Chances are I am not going to get the opportunity to learn any secrets with a one-on-one session with The Master. So, what’s the next best thing? For me, it was a visit to DragonRidge Country Club, located at Las Vegas’ premier luxury community, MacDonald Highlands (where high-profile residents like entertainer Marie Osmand and an un-named dweller making a living rating pornography films are able to co-exist), to experience one of the well-tuned claws of the Golden Bear’s empire – Nicklaus Academies.

“We do our best to create a personalized golf experience,” says Ted Simons, Executive Vice President and Chief Operations Officer of the Nicklaus Academies. “The cookie-cutter golf school has been successful in the past but we feel the game and instruction is very individualized. We make an investment into the student to find out what their goals are and what they want the outcome to be. We’ll perform an assessment on them physically, on their game, their equipment and then we have a roadmap for their instruction.”

At the Nicklaus Academies, only the most highly qualified golf instructors, all of whom are trained and certified to instruct and preach the Nicklaus philosophy, are allowed entry into the teaching family. So, whether you’re rookie linkster or a battle-scarred competitor, it makes absolute sense to learn from the finest in the business.

“The ideal profile for us is really someone who not only wants to get better but has the desire to get better. There’s a difference,” says Seth Glasco, Director of Instruction at the Jack Nicklaus Academy of Golf at DragonRidge CC. “Everyone wants to be better but if you have the desire than you’ll put forth work and the effort to do it. The Jack Nicklaus Academy is the ultimate diagnostic center that includes a combination of the most advanced technology in-house and, in my opinion, the secret weapon in the teaching world with Mike Malaska, who was hand picked by Nicklaus and spent seven years studying anatomical function under Dr. Pete Egosque, one of the world’s leading authorities on how the body functions with athletic movements.”

Now, I consider myself a fairly athletic individual – although, I am vertically challenged by basketball – but, unless I’ve got the correct body rotation to get into proper position at the top of my golf swing, there isn’t much room for game improvement.

“Someone can hit balls from dawn to dusk for the rest of his life and never get any better because his flexibility quotient doesn’t match up,” says Glasco. “So, unless you get to the source of the problem, there’s no sense helping someone fix a swing that they’re not physically able to do. Since we’re representing the best player who ever played the game, we do go that extra mile to make sure the experience is top-shelf to protect the integrity of that brand.”

Entering into the academy’s main portal, my eyes became fixated on state-of-the-art training equipment and proprietary analysis software worth over $100,000. That translates to a lot of lessons! With techie gadgets like high-speed cameras, pressure/balance mat, a Doppler radar ball flight monitor and a MotionGolf 3-D Imaging system, how could I not come out swinging like The Golden Bear?

The imitation part was easy but after all I learned during my cram lession, that now iconic slogan of “whatever happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” rang true on my first round of golf back home. So, with respect to the “Golfer of the (20th) Century,” I’ll just continue to play golf my way.