World-class golf schools at world-class resorts in Florida combine lessons, luxury

By Leigh MacKay, Contributor

Have you been considering taking your game to a new level? Having your swing videotaped and analyzed? Adding some finesse to your short game?

PGA TOUR Golf Academy
The PGA TOUR Golf Academy is part of the World Golf Village in historic St. Augustine, Fla.
PGA TOUR Golf AcademyGrand Cypress Academy of GolfANNIKA Academy at Reunion ResortPGA Center for Golf Learning and PerformanceJim McLean Golf School at Doral
If you go

One of the best ways to shave strokes from your handicap is to attend a golf school, but which ones should you consider? My bailiwick for the past decade has been the golf-rich east coast of Florida and the Orlando area, year-round destinations, especially with their many attractions and winter allure.

I can recommend, without reservation, five world-class golf schools: The PGA TOUR Golf Academy at the World Golf Village, Fred Griffin's Grand Cypress Academy of Golf, ANNIKA Academy at Reunion Resort, The Academy at PGA Golf Club and Jim McLean's Golf School at Trump National Doral. That these five schools are integral facets of world-class golf resorts also promises world-class vacations.

What the curriculum entails

In general, their programs range from one to four days, usually offer a 4-to-1 student-teacher ratio and build solid swing foundations. Instructors will suggest changes in your mental approach, method of practice and on-course strategy. You should also receive a training manual that has room for notes. All-weather hitting bays keep lessons on schedule.

Technology will usually include video analysis, a launch monitor, a swing simulator, a putting lab, a weight transfer scale and club fitting. Golf on the resort's courses is sometimes a part of the school, and, most often, playing lessons are included, too. At the end of the session, you should receive a CD that includes replays of your swing with voice-over instruction, a game plan and other important data. The cost per day should run around $500.

A Hall of Fame schooling

This trail begins in historic St. Augustine. The PGA TOUR Golf Academy is part of the World Golf Village, home to the World Golf Hall of Fame & Museum, the renovated Renaissance Resort and two of Florida's most popular resort layouts, the Slammer & Squire, named after Sam Snead and Gene Sarazen, and the King & Bear, designed by Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. The PGA TOUR Golf Academy is one of nine schools around the country run by PGA TOUR Experiences. The master instructors, as the academy name implies, gather much of their teaching techniques from studying professional golfers and then translate that information to the average player.

Making the grade in Orlando

Next stop is Orlando and the Grand Cypress Academy of Golf at the luxurious Hyatt Regency. In the heart of Orlando's action, this resort has long been a tourist favorite with its 45 holes designed by Jack Nicklaus, tennis facility and spa services. The 27-hole East/North/South layout and the links-like New Course provide a suitable backdrop for the Golf Magazine "Top 25 Schools" of Fred Griffin, a Golf Digest top-50 instructor, and his staff, all members of the Golf Digest top-teachers-in-Florida list. Griffin, who started his academy in 1986, combines instruction with play as the three practice holes -- par 3, 4, and 5 -- designed by Nicklaus allow for the re-creation of any shot you would encounter on the course.

Only six miles from Walt Disney World is the ANNIKA Academy at Reunion Resort, a boutique-style golf school at "the ultimate escape" resort. The expansive 2,300-acre community offers superior accommodations and three impressive signature designs by Nicklaus, Palmer and Tom Watson. Annika encourages golfers to "share her passion" for golf, fitness and nutrition with her Callaway Performance Center and her master instructors, including sister Charlotta. The academy also offers special programs to students who want to interact and golf with Annika. In addition, Frank Thomas, technical director of the USGA for 26 years, is now operating his Frankly Golf Putting PAD (performance, analysis, and development) on the Reunion grounds.

Advanced degrees in Port St. Lucie and Miami

What better place to take lessons than at PGA Golf Club, the PGA of America's flagship property? Located in Port St. Lucie on the Treasure Coast, its reputation comes from its four championship courses, its 35-acre Center for Golf Learning and Performance, its PGA Museum of Golf, and its golf academy. Lodging at the Perfect Drive Golf Villas puts you within walking distance of the club. A main objective of the PGA -- to grow the game -- is the philosophy behind the academy, which is located at the Center for Golf Learning. The quality of the instruction, the uniqueness of the facility and the use of technology are designed to improve the games of all skill levels from juniors to seniors and to make the game fun.

The final stop is Trump National Doral Miami and the Jim McLean Golf School, a staple at Doral since 1991 and a member of the "Top 25 Schools" list by Golf Magazine. The Donald purchased Doral in 2012 and has poured $250 million into the iconic resort to restore the hotel and its five courses to their former five-star grandeur. Trump has also enhanced and redesigned the Blue Monster Course, home of the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship. Jim McLean's philosophy is simple and effective: to evaluate each swing individually and then, according to the natural ability and power of the student, to work on the swing's strengths and decrease its weaknesses. McLean, a Top 50 Teacher by Golf Magazine, is also available for lessons.

Short-game guru Dave Pelz always warns his students, "practice makes permanent." A brief stay at one of these golf schools, however, can help make both your practice and your scores permanently satisfying.

Leigh MacKayLeigh MacKay, Contributor

Leigh MacKay is a freelance golf writer who specializes in features and travel reviews. A member of Golf Writers Association of America, Golf Travel Writers, and International Network of Golf, he writes a monthly column, "Celebrity Golfer," for New England Golf Monthly and splits his time between Port St. Lucie, Fla., and Plymouth, Mass.

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