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I have been playing golf for almost 20 years, and have had the good fortune of living in good golf places like Seattle, Palm Desert and Orange County. Each offer facilities where golfers of all income and ability levels can enjoy and improve at the game throughout the year. Being an avid golfer in the greater Los Angeles area is far from marvelous, however, and has been a totally different experience all together.

The main obstacle to Los Angeles golf is that there are only two ways to play. The first option is the best; you’re lucky enough to call Riviera, Bel Air, Los Angeles Country Club or Wilshire your golfing home. For most golfers, however, option two is the only choice: playing one of the very few (and very crowded) municipal courses in town. Much like the U.S. economy, Los Angeles golf has no middle class.

There’s no question that there’s great golf to be had in Los Angeles. Rancho Park Municipal is legendary, and designed by William Johnson and William Bell, famous for their work at Bel Air and the Stanford Golf Course. Good luck getting a tee time, though. The course is visited by more golfers every year than any other municipal track in the country. Golfers can also find gems if they’re willing to drive 30 miles or more away from the city. Rustic Canyon in Moorpark, California, for example, is one of best the hidden masterpieces in all of the U.S. The links-style Gil Hanse, Geoff Shackelford and Jim Wagner course was voted Golf Magazine’s No. 1 Best Value in the U.S. in 2010. At $43 during weekly prime hours and $66 on the weekends, it’s almost like stealing. But Rustic Canyons are few and far between in Los Angeles county.

Let me be clear: I don’t think using public or even private money to develop more courses is necessarily the answer for Los Angeles golf. The city has extremely limited space, and land is very expensive. Better utilizing the space Los Angeles DOES have is the key. That will take people who care about growing golf, and are willing to innovate the system. The good news is I found a few of them, and I think they can change Los Angeles golf for the better.

Urban Golf Performance

I’ve been a GolfWRX Member since the site was founded in 2005, so it’s no coincidence that I discovered Urban Golf Performance in my search for a new custom club fitter. UGP was recently voted the Best Place to Get Custom Fit in Los Angeles by Golf Digest, and a Top-100 fitter in the U.S. But being a GolfWRXer, I looked deep into the UGP’s Yelp page before I decided to give them a call. Most of the reviews seemed to contain the same phrases: “Everyone at UGP was either amazing, helpful, patient, knowledgeable or passionate,” and five-star ratings were plentiful. That prompted me to reach out to UGP Founder, Mackenzie “Mac” Todd, for this story.

I walked into Urban Golf Performance on a cool crisp morning. It’s in West Los Angeles, in an unassuming, cement-colored building wedged between local sandwich shops and furniture outlets. Once you walk thru the door, though, the experience is full golf bliss. To put it simply, it’s an elegant space with all things technology built into it. I was greeted by a friendly staff member, who took my clubs, parked my car and got me a beverage. Country-club treatment, but you don’t get the vibe that you’re at a country club. Case in point, Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall was blaring from the house speakers when I arrived.

UGP’s space is set up in a very specific way, complementing the approach the company takes to help golfers improve their scores. The first thing I noticed was the fitness/rehabilitation area. In some cases, the UGP team won’t put a club in a golfer’s hands until they have been throughly evaluated from a health standpoint. That’s rare in this industry, given the turn-and-burn mentality that often dominates the golf instruction. It’s risky, too. Most golfers want to be hitting shots as soon as they arrive for their lesson or fitting, and to risk disappointing a consumer by challenging their expectations takes a lot of conviction.

Past the main greeting area and fitness lab is a set of French doors, which lead golfers into UGP’s golf laboratory. It’s literally wall to wall with indoor hitting bays, each of them equipped with a Trackman and a SwingCatalyst mat. There are tables of golf clubs components that will make most GolfWRX members drool, too: PXG, Ping, Mizuno, Edel, Miura, Titleist… on and on.

After taking the tour, I sat down with UGP head swing coach Ben Smock, as well as Kris Brennan who specializes in bio-mechanics. I wasn’t conducting the interview, though; they were. Why did I love golf? How did I start? Who coached me? What sports did I play as a kid? Did I have any injuries? What was my handicap? What were my golf goals? It was like golf emotional therapy, and I could feel that the plan wasn’t to fix anything that day. They were learning who I was as a student, first and foremost, and I was, too.

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Finally, we made our way to the hitting bay, but before I touched a club Brennan put me through a full physical-capability screening. He tested my flexibility and rotary movement using specific movements as identifiers for the good, the bad and the ugly. In another assessment, Smock and Brennan pinpointed the things in my swing that I did well. They explained how my body moved from the ground up, and how my physical limitations “could” cause issues. They stayed away from discussions of swing theories or specific fixes, however.

“It’s easier to make someone worse than it is to make them better, so you have to be discerning, must have perspective, must have integrity and you need to know your stuff,” Smock said.

What I liked about Ben’s approach during the evaluation was that he wanted to build my swing around the functional, athletic movements I already had, because according to him, “You always want to hang on to the good stuff that you can’t teach.” It made sense. How could I not develop faster with a foundation that allowed me to move naturally?

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I hit balls for 45 minutes with all my different clubs to gather launch monitor data, and then was taken to the fitness area to spend some time with Director of Physical Therapy Noolee Kim, which was by far the most humbling experience. The simple exercises Dr. Kim had me doing required every fiber of my being to accomplish. I’ve had a tight right shoulder for years, but I’ve never had any of feedback from a swing coach that identified this as a key area to work on or discuss. I always heard, “the club is too far inside” or “you’re across the line … you’re stuck and you pop out of your posture.” All true, but no one ever told me why. Why does my body move that way, and what am I physically doing to compensate for it? Good info to have, I think.

It’s not that I’m expecting my coaches to be doctors, but it does say something about the amount of thought that went into UGP. If Ben Smock was my regular instructor, he would have access to someone onsite who knew my physical limitations. The best example I can think of is for someone trying to lose weight; training at UGP is like having your nutritionist, trainer, cook and physical therapist all in one place at the same time. Sounds like fantasy land, right? For a lot of golfers, the cost and availability of such experts make the experience impossible. UGP is trying to change that.

At the end of my day, I sat down for the part of the experience that led me to UGP. Master club builder Matt Mora told me his philosophy on fitting and building custom clubs, and how it has evolved during his time at UGP. It felt different than I expected, though. Equipment was starting to feel like a piece of my golfing puzzle, rather than the object of obsession I’ve tended to make it in the past. And Mora explained why all the different clubs I’ve used haven’t done much to lower my handicap.

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“I now understand why traditional instruction and fitting don’t improve handicaps by themselves,” Mora said. “In a traditional fitting session, the player is fit for clubs, swing flaws included. I’ve spoken with other fitters about improving the flaws, but majority feel it is not their place.”

There are two main obstacles Mora said he faces consistently with players; the first is preferred performance. What that means is, on average, most weekend players just want to hit a draw and will get whatever club allows that. This leads to the second dilemma Mora faces, which is re-educating players to seek what clubs they need to actually get better. It matters what clubs golfers like, but only to a certain point. This is where the focused teaching of UGP comes in, developing the whole player.

You might be surprised to hear that three notable equipment companies do not have a presence at UGP: TaylorMade, Callaway and Nike. It isn’t because they’re not up to performance standards, though. Mora called the products from all the leading equipment companies “exceptional,” but he chooses his components based not only on quality, but also release frequencies. From a builder standpoint, it’s hard to fine-tune a set for a player if their driver head changes every six months. It may work for PGA Tour players, but for the average player changing clubs can have the same damaging effect of changing swing philosophies every six months.

It’s also true that equipment sometimes has to change with the player, according to Mora. While instruction has improved with modern technology, it does not always address club specifications as the possible cause of swing flaws. Golfers can have a great practice session and feel really good about their game, but then find themselves struggling the next round. Sometimes it’s physical or mechanical, but poor-fitting clubs can also be the catalyst of reverting golfers into their bad habits. In a sense, clubs are living, breathing thing that can be adjusted, much like a golfer’s swing.

“For every development in swing dynamic, there should be a change within the club specifications to reinforce the changes,” Mora said. “My primary goal is to educate the player about how their clubs affect their swing, either positively or negatively. I then attempt to cater the club specifications to where the swing should be in order to ensure efficiency and consistency. I see the club as a template that should reflect proper swing dynamic in correlation with the player’s physical ability.”

Plans for growth

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UGP’s plans to grow the are simple; do it organically. Short, specific expansion is refining the company’s second location in Inglewood near Los Angeles International Airport, where UGP will be the Swing Catalyst Research Center for the U.S. Over the next two-to-three years, the company plans to add locations in the San Fernando Valley, Orange County and establish a few more locations in Los Angeles.

The biggest roadblock? Like all premium products in the golf industry, it’s price. An assessment at UGP costs $195, and a single coaching session costs $165. There’s a discount for 10 sessions ($1,450), and the rate improves as golfers buy 20 sessions ($2,500) or 50 sessions ($5,500). Golfers will react to those price points differently, of course, but it’s clear that golfers aren’t just paying for a better game. UGP sees a broader path for its clients than lowering their scores and hitting better shots.

Founder MacKenzie “Mac” Todd told me a story about one UGP golfer in particular. His professional career was flourishing, but like most people he struggled to seriously improve his game. And with his busy schedule, he didn’t believe UGP could help him. He was gifted UGP sessions for his birthday, and decided to give it a shot. He would spend an hour at UGP, and then go back to living his life. After working with Todd and his team, the man is passionate about golf again. More importantly, his awareness of who he is as a golfer has transcended his game. Now he’s balancing his busy schedule better, despite spending more time on his golf game. He’s enjoying golf more, he says, and enjoying life more, too.

In my experience, it’s the golfers who are most resistant to change who tend to be the most vocal about how impossible golf is, and how it isn’t any fun. A case could be made that places like UGP should have been built sooner, before the game’s much detailed decline. The technology wasn’t really there yet, however. That being said, UGP really isn’t about its machines.

UGP and its staff are challenging what many golfers and many in the golf industry want to believe. There’s no new club, exercise or swing tip that’s going to immediately change a golfer’s game. It takes commitment, and an investment of time and money. In a nutshell the conviction to know what you are doing is the right path regardless of the obstacles: financial or social.

What kind of person has the money and time to engage in something like this? Truthfully, probably the same group of Los Angeles golfer who belong to the elite country clubs most of us yearn to play. But this Los Angeles case study still could be perfect. People are always moving in and out of the city, and for that reason they’re often compelled to try new things. If UGP is right, its practices could spread across the golf world and make an important difference. If UGP is wrong, we will know quickly; LA has a big mouth. But so far the proof is in the pudding. There are a lot of 5-star Yelp reviews, membership is growing by the week and the UGP staff is having as much fun as ever watching its vision becomes a reality.

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Johnny Wunder is the Director of Original Content, Instagram Manager and Host of “The Gear Dive” Podcast for GolfWRX.com. He was born in Seattle, Wash., and grew up playing at Rainier G&CC. John is also a partner with The Traveling Picture Show Company having most recently produced JOSIE with Game of Thrones star Sophie Turner. In 1997 Johnny had the rare opportunity of being a clubhouse attendant for the Anaheim Angels. He now resides in Toronto, On with his wife and two sons. @johnny_wunder on IG

45 Comments

45 Comments

  1. pat gau

    Nov 3, 2019 at 7:11 am

    Hi i am learning a lot whit you guys thank’s a lot

  2. Scott D

    Jun 19, 2016 at 3:53 pm

    A huge Thank You and shout out to Mackenzie for taking an hour of his time to provide information and insight into UGP. He answered all of my questions and even invited me to visit to help me gain an understanding of the level of detail and information provided to each player and how they have maximized their space within their main location. I have talked to several other owners of various facilities around the country and none have been as forthcoming and open as Mackenzie. For those of you near UGP looking to improve your game the right way, you will have access to cutting edge technology and even better people. Great stuff and thanks again, Mackenzie!

  3. Steve

    Jun 19, 2016 at 11:07 am

    Amazing looking facility that combines fitness, instruction, and fitting. Where do you plan to open in OC and where, if you don’t mind me asking.

  4. Mac Todd

    Jun 15, 2016 at 9:11 pm

    Thanks everyone for all the replies and feedback, if anyone has any questions please feel free to email me directly at Mac@ugp.la or just post directly to this message board

    Mac Todd
    Founder
    Urban Golf Performance

  5. Brett

    Jun 14, 2016 at 1:40 pm

    I’ve had the pleasure of doing business with Mac and the group at UGP since the week they opened their doors. These are real golf guys, super passionate, smart, humble, stud players, forward thinking and caring. It was just a few years ago Mac and Ben had a vision and I’m incredibly happy that they’ve been able to execute that vision with exceptional precision. There are only a couple areas of golf that are growing, indoor golf Is one of them. The industry has unfortunately suffered because golf takes too long to play and it’s intimidating to newbies. Beyond that, very few instructors are able to effectively teach with the old fashioned, outdated methodology. Top notch facilities like this, run by good people, is just what the doctor ordered. If you question whether or not the principles they (UGP) operate under can change the golf landscape, simple, pay attention…you’ll learn something. Keep up the great work, guys.

  6. Juan Carlos Zerpa

    Jun 14, 2016 at 1:38 pm

    UN comentario en español.
    Soy de Venezuela…y estuve de paseo en LA hace un mes. Aproveché la oportunidad y me acerqué a UGP. Fue mi primera experiencia haciendo un fitting. Y la verdad, la atención es el valor agregado de esta gente. CUalquier pregunta, cualquier comentario fue comentado y contestado. Y tuvieron toda la paciencia del mundo para trabajar con un cuarentón con un 20 hcp. Sólo por curiosidad fui a una sesión de fitting en una cadena…nada que ver. COmo decimos en Venezuela…aquello fue un “mateo” en comparación al nivel de atención a los detalles que obtuve en UGP.
    A la fecha, no he podido utilizar mis nuevos palos de golf. Pero tengo la certeza de que no desperdicié mi tiempo y mi dinero. Espero poder confirmarlo más adelante.

    Gracias al equipo de UGP.

    • Mac Todd

      Jun 15, 2016 at 8:50 am

      Juan Carlos-

      Muchas gracias por tu recomendacion y apoyo de UGP. Estamos a tus ordenes!

      MAC

  7. b

    Jun 14, 2016 at 2:30 am

    This place sounds like an amazing experience. I’m going to make it a priority to get an appointment when I’m home on leave in the winter! The drive up from Thousand oaks should be well worth it.

  8. TinkerR

    Jun 13, 2016 at 10:43 am

    I’ve been to UGP a 3 times. Great facility. Really nicely done. Seem like good guys. I’m someone who belongs to one of the aforementioned “elite” clubs in LA. I stopped going to UGP because i felt the prices were too steep. I know a number of guys who feel the same way. If it was a bit more reasonable I would be a regular customer.

    • Mac Todd

      Jun 13, 2016 at 1:37 pm

      Hey TinkerR!

      Thanks for commenting and taking the time to read our story, and also for the support you’ve already shown coming into UGP! We definitely would love to have you back in!

      Our sessions range anywhere from $145-$110 depending on the volume of sessions you purchase. You can use them across the fitting, fitness and coaching segments of our business. Each UGP golf bay cost us about $85,000 and training a new coach to get up to UGP standards and use the technology seamlessly costs us around $20K minimum depending on experience. We don’t see a profit on a new hire for at least 6-9 months. It’s always an investment on everyone’s part. We spend countless hours behind the scenes improving the collaboration between departments and continuing education to ensure our coaches are always fresh and on the cutting edge. We have a business infrastructure behind the scenes, along with a solid front line support system that manages appointments and serves as a “concierge” to members at no additional cost. We valet cars, and go above and beyond to ensure that our students are progressing and enjoying the experience. I promise you in spite of our awesome growth, we truly grind as hard as possible to ensure its a “valuable” experience, and that we are priced accordingly.

      The average “elite” golf instructor utilizing Trackman (we also have $10K balance plates, high speed cameras, and a plethora of other training equipment) in Los Angeles is $150. The average private fitness training session at a comparable facility like Equinox charges also around $150. The average fitting experience at a place like Cool Clubs can go well over $300, we charge $195. If you have a package you can pay as little as $110 for a premium service at your fingertips whenever you want it 6am-9pm weekdays and 6am-5pm weekends.

      We’ve put a lot of thought and consideration into our pricing model and value proposition, and trust me I’ve nearly tried every service out there nationwide that is similar to what we have built here in LA. You’ll be hard pressed to find this value and experience elsewhere.

      All I can say is that we will strive and grind as hard as we can to consistently provide value, innovate the standard practices we see in the industry today, and educate a new generation of golf instructors, trainers, and club fitters/builders that believe and share the holistic approach to golf development.

      I really do appreciate all your support and the fact that you took the time to read the story and comment! (Email me at mac@ugp.la and I’d be happy to extend a complimentary session for your loyalty)

  9. Stan Parless

    Jun 12, 2016 at 11:51 pm

    “In a nutshell the conviction to know what you are doing is the right path regardless of the obstacles: financial or social”

    Try telling that to the missus.

    Place sounds awesome and I’m sure they mean well but “change golf culture in Los Angeles”? By what? Catering to the well off country club golfer? Calling themselves “urban” while based out of West LA? Maybe when some golfers who work in a Pico Rivera warehouse can afford it I’ll buy into that statement.

    • Mac Todd

      Jun 13, 2016 at 1:51 pm

      Hey Stan-

      Thanks for taking the time to read our story and comment.

      Check out this video we did in support of the Heroes Golf Course at the Veterans Affairs facility here in West Los Angeles (http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=NJ6zX6skYlg). We raised nearly $10K to support their initiatives, and hosted a function that brought more awareness to the conditions our veterans face right in the middle of the wealthy backyard of West LA. This is one of the over 50+ causes locally and regionally we have shifted our focus to as we continue to grow and gain support. Our intentions and purpose are pure, and I can guarantee you we will continue to expand upon this mentality as we grow.

      Appreciate you taking the time to read our story!

  10. Mac Todd

    Jun 11, 2016 at 9:45 pm

    No plans to sell, but who knows that’s the American Dream right?

    We’re really just a really good group of people that work really hard to make an impact on the game we love and our community. Purely grass roots concept from our collective experiences.

    Appreciate your comments!

  11. Bob Gotsen

    Jun 11, 2016 at 6:42 pm

    Incredible stuff. I’ve been playing golf for 32 years, and I am beyond messed up physically. I have had tons of coaches, but nobody tells me my actually problems. What UGP is doing sounds like a reboot for the healthcare system, as well as golf.

    • Mac Todd

      Jun 12, 2016 at 11:09 am

      Thanks for taking the time to read our story Bob, we’ll keep pushing the envelope!

  12. John Goldberg

    Jun 11, 2016 at 4:26 pm

    Place looks amazing. When are you guys coming to Phoenix?

  13. Albatross Hunter

    Jun 11, 2016 at 4:24 pm

    Where was this place when I was growing up! It looks and sounds like these guys are sturring the pot, in a incredible way! Bring one to Wisconsin, we need you this winter.

  14. Tru

    Jun 11, 2016 at 4:08 pm

    The antithesis to “Play Golf America!” by making golf unaffordable

    • Mac Todd

      Jun 12, 2016 at 11:07 am

      That’s too bad that’s all you can comment about this article. A baseless statement about how we are the antithesis to “Play Golf America”.

      Philanthropy is a major part of our focus, and the fact that our wealthy customer base is passionate about golf, health, community, and education makes us a perfect vessel for working with non-profits in and out of the golf sector to make actual change and improvement in our community. Watch what we do, and learn how there still are good people out there with pure intentions to make this world a better place.

      Appreciate you taking the time to read our story!

      • Clu

        Jun 12, 2016 at 2:32 pm

        The fact that you have to come back on here and scramble a defense statement says it all about yuor insecurity and lack of understanding of your own customer base, a lack of disrespect for who’s paying your bills and how much you know you’re overcharging the innocent people who come into your shop seeking advice for proper equipment. You’re clueless.

        • Lol

          Jun 12, 2016 at 2:48 pm

          Clu, did you actually read the article? His comments as a whole?

          It sounds like Mac is proud of what he is doing and his comments reflect that. Not understanding your point at all. How can you fault someone for trying to make things better?

        • Mac Todd

          Jun 12, 2016 at 4:06 pm

          That’s pretty harsh Clu. The reality is that I’m only on here trying to foster more discussion about the article, answer questions, and clarify our intentions.

          I’m here to learn and grow. What are you here for?

          How does your statement do anything but promote disrespect for the innovative possibilities of small business? This story should be an inspiration for others that they are the catalyst for the change we need to see in golf and in society. There is a better way to do things, and we need to be the ones that push for answers.

          Also your statement that I have a “lack of disrespect for who’s paying your bills…”doesn’t make any sense, but I get what are you trying to say. Read our customer reviews, talk to our wide range of partners, and you’ll find out that what you’re saying couldn’t be further from the truth. We’ve changed lives, helped thousands not just improve their golf games, but their health, relationships, and much more. This is just the beginning. Our club fitting and building departments are relentless when it comes to precision and craftsmanship, something lost in all the marketing the golf industry does these days. I’ll leave you with a quote that helps me keep perspective as we manage the awesome growth we are experiencing, and the myriad of issues and opinions that arise in parallel.

          “What goes on around you…compares little with what goes on inside you.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

          I do appreciate you taking the time to read our story and comment!

        • PEtiger

          Jun 13, 2016 at 11:44 am

          Clu,
          Luckily we live in a free market society. If it turns out these guys are off base and can’t get anyone to walk through the door at $195/pop then they will either be forced to lower the price or close the doors for good. Until then, I don’t think it is instructive for you to berate them just because you cannot afford what they are offering. These guys look like they have made some serious technology investments and deserve to make a return on their time and capital. I assume you expect the same out of your work. Until then, there is always the $10 bucket at the local muni that serves as a competing substitute to their product.

          • Jack

            Jul 5, 2016 at 7:03 am

            I don’t think it’s priced high at all. Look at the people they have. They are very highly qualified professionals. There is an abundance of high tech equipment that is very pricey. Lessons are not cheap. You can also mix these sessions in with other coaching sessions as well. That said, this really doesn’t solve the issue that golf in LA is a terrible predicament as the courses are too crowded and you have to drive far to get some breathing room and decent courses.

  15. Jerry Watkins

    Jun 11, 2016 at 3:51 pm

    Great stuff! Three of my buddies are regulars @ UGP…this article solidifies why they’ve all have been beating me on the course lately. UGP you’ll be seeing me soon!

  16. Lululemon

    Jun 11, 2016 at 3:47 pm

    This place looks amazing!!!

  17. Kate

    Jun 11, 2016 at 2:44 pm

    Congrats you guys. I know it’s a labor of love. Happy to see the hard work paying off.

  18. Brian Gallagher

    Jun 11, 2016 at 2:37 pm

    Awesome article! Great to see UGP getting recognition for our pursuit to help golfers of all ages and abilities improve their game!

  19. Kyle Van Haselen

    Jun 11, 2016 at 2:16 pm

    I am humbled everyday by my team and clients. We continue to grow and develop together, which is what it’s all about. If the mindset is to grow on your own terms and not be willing to learn with others you will become static and never grow. For some that’s okay to them (Ooffa) but for us we focus on growth. KEEP THE GAME GREAT!

  20. Jedi

    Jun 11, 2016 at 2:07 pm

    Wow!!!! This place looks DOPE!!! Great article. Ive heard great things about UGP and now you sold me. Im makin the trek from OC!!

    • Mac Todd

      Jun 11, 2016 at 2:14 pm

      We will be opening down there later this year. Lots of good things to come! Thanks for the support!

  21. ThreeSticks

    Jun 11, 2016 at 1:55 pm

    Regardless of any negative comments, its refreshing to see someone put their money where their mouth is. Good on ya UGP. Golf needs a reboot for sure and you all are really trying.

  22. ooffa

    Jun 11, 2016 at 1:39 pm

    “Can this performance center change golf culture in Los Angeles?”
    Answer: No.
    Next article please.

    • Mac Todd

      Jun 11, 2016 at 1:44 pm

      Dude you’re on every article on golfWRX talking jive for no reason, and not even with substance. Say something productive and don’t muddle the conversation with ignorance.

      • Jamie

        Jun 11, 2016 at 4:16 pm

        Amen brother

      • Ben

        Jun 11, 2016 at 4:56 pm

        I disagree with oofa’s bluntness, but I think that the title of the article wasn’t delivered on. It’s a great review of a place that I would absolutely love to visit (seriously…I was excited reading about it). However, the opening of the article was about how you either belong to an elite CC in LA or you fight for time on a public course…”there is no middle class.” That’s what I perceive to be the golf culture referenced in the title…and really, the article does nothing to answer the question posed in the title. On top of that, the author goes on to say that UGP’s clients are likely members of elite CC’s in LA.

        So…how could UGP change golf culture in LA?

        • Mac Todd

          Jun 11, 2016 at 9:40 pm

          Ben-

          That’s a good question, and something we were concerned about as we get our name out there.

          The UGP Vision Statement is to to constantly redefine and develop the standards in which people learn and connect with the game of golf.

          We are starting with a discerning market that can help fuel our growth, but our goals are big. We’ve been in 50+ charity golf tournaments since we started UGP, supporting many causes that make big impacts on the golf world and the community as a whole. We are working with Tiger Woods Foundation in Anaheim, and the First Tee of Los Angeles to help junior golf where it needs it most.

          We give junior golfers big discounts on products and services, and under many circumstances we’ve sponsored local kids in their development even when we had mounting bills getting this bootstrapped business off the ground. Our intentions and purpose are pure.

          This is just a start, we came at this with no big investment team and a big dream. In 3 years we’ve put together 20+ employees and 3 locations. Stay tuned, we’re not stopping there.

          Appreciate the feedback and support!

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Opinion & Analysis

Inside the ropes with the fittest on Tour

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Before the world hit pause, I had the awesome opportunity to go out to Torrey Pines and the 2020 Farmers Insurance Open and spend the week with former champ Scott Stallings.

The link was fitness, and this was my opportunity to go and learn from the best about all aspects of performance.

That’s how I got to know Scott a couple of years ago—a similar path to improved health and fitness directly, and indirectly, linked to golf performance.

So, what does a week on tour really look like from the player’s perspective?

Pretty busy.

I flew in late Monday evening, and Tuesday at 8 AM, it was time to meet up with Scott—in the gym of course. Scott, Adam his trainer, and a couple of players were already fired up and ready to go.

A one-hour session of dumbbells, med balls, kettlebells, and sleds finished with a “vanity pump” session that was more than enough to get a serious sweat going in the California hills.

After freshening up with a solid post-workout breakfast, it’s time to hit the course. As a past winner, Scott knew all about Torrey As a newbie from England, I can tell you that place is as good as you think it is!

Scott joined workout partners Trey Mullinax and Scott Brown, as well as Sepp Straka, to go play the North Course. At this point, it was clear the players were feeling out their games as much as they are the course—a couple of challenges here and a few extra chip shots there, the mood is pretty laid back as the players do their thing.

Off the course, and it’s time to refuel again. This kind of schedule is asking a lot of the body. Then you guessed it, it’s back to the gym. This time it’s a lighter focus to let the body wind down and only around 40 minutes long. Then its time to loosen up, get a massage, and the day is largely done.

In the current age of performance tracking and performance data, sleep and recovery are almost as important as anything else going on here. Scott is at the forefront here as well, being one of the first to use the extremely popular Whoop Bands to track a whole bunch of physical data. Keeping yourself in the green can be a pretty big deal if you want to feel and perform your best!

Wednesday is pro-am day, and with 36 holes at Torrey, everyone is in. An early tee time means no specific gym work in the morning, rather a quick functional mobility session before heading to the range—increasing the heart rate, moving the body and basically waking up all of the movements patterns needed for the body to hit the range to start getting dialed in.

After the “steadily paced” round, Scott fuels up ready to hit the gym with a different workout partner. A certain curly-haired Irishman got in touch with Scott to set up an early season workout to gauge performance, maybe learn a few things, and for sure do some work!

Fitness on tour is a continuing revolution, with almost all players now understanding the huge benefits of increased physical performance for their games but also for their health. The benefits of increased speed, fitness, and overall performance, when you’re playing at the highest level seems fairly straightforward. But players also have to consider their schedules, travel, work demands and a bunch more stressors that affect mental, physical, and hormonal function.

Having earned his reputation through an accelerated journey from poor health to fitness junkie, Scott is more than happy to spend time with other pros talking all things, health, fitness, and performance.

This is how the game will continue to move forwards and also how it will feed down into all levels of golf. There is a clear spectrum emerging within this for the golf world: using golf as a motivating factor to get in better shape and overall health all the way up to using specific fitness work to further golf performance.

Basically you gotta be doing something!

Anyway, fresh from an all out sweat session, it’s head down and prep for a Thursday morning tee time—same deal, physical therapy, good nutrition, and as much rest as possible.

With a 9:10 AM tee time Thursday morning, the preparations are much like that for the pro-am and the body is ready and warm headed to the tee.

Then, it’s go time. Stepping onto the first tee in competition and everything changes. This was one of the most noticeable and impressive things watching Scott and all the other players in this incredible field.

There is a visible, almost palpable, change in demeanor, and it’s all-out competition mode.

This is a part of the mental toughness and preparation learned through years of hard work and the desire to do what is needed. This, in my opinion, is where all golfers can take so much from the best in the game—just compete and grind to get the best score possible whatever the circumstance. Don’t over-think technique, don’t overreact, just play each shot as best as you possibly can and count them up at the end.

Scott is also playing the first round on the brutal, but incredible, South Course in tough conditions and posts up a 1-under 71 to sit nicely on the leaderboard after day one. This was a mentally and physically challenging day with high temperatures, a tough course and an incredible field. On course nutrition, and even more so, hydration, are on point and the hours of work in the gym all stack up for optimal performance.

After a good day’s work, more food, and just enough rest, we hit the gym for my last workout at Torrey: 30 minutes of hard effort including rowing, stepper, med balls, and squats—there really is no holding back.

Training is always individual and even more so at this level. Training hard after a five-plus hour round of golf is no easy workload, but it depends on the body. If you are consistently putting in the work, it feels best to keep the body operating at that level. If you’re not doing all that much and decide to do this mid-tournament, it is not likely to end well!

And that’s what it is all about: finding how you can be your best in all areas! For a Tour pro, it’s probably not as easy as you might think. Balancing performance with all the factors listed above, the grueling (normal) season schedule and the time taken to be at this level requires huge commitment and consistency on so many levels. Scott has shown this better than anyone with his newfound commitment to health, fitness, and all things performance.

I took off back to the UK Friday, and Scott went on to play the weekend finishing in the top 50. Each of the four competitive days required the same level of physical commitment, and every day Scott was in there getting the work done.

Gaining this direct insight into the week of a PGA Tour pro gave me a new appreciation for the time and work required as well as an even greater foundation to help to continue and develop the relationship between health, fitness, and golf at all levels.

It comes down to attitude and effort. Rent is due on both.

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Opinion & Analysis

So you wanna work in golf media…

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I get this question all the time: “So, how does someone get a job in golf media?”

Hmm…I could give you a bunch of tips, ideas, resume suggestions, etc. I’m not going to. All I know is how I got here. It’s a story of passion, initiative, blind luck, God, and desperation.

I feel like in the telling of how I got here you will see a path but not the only path.

My story—condensed into the point golf gear took over my life.

It’s 1993, and I’m a sophomore in high school at John F. Kennedy Memorial in Burien, Washington. I was a baseball player my whole life, and for whatever reason that summer, I decided it wasn’t for me anymore, and I wanted to go scrub clubs, pick balls and have the occasional lung dart with my buddies at the local country club. At that time, golf was something to me just shy of an afterthought. I had played the occasional short 9 as a kid, went to a camp or two, but in all honesty, it was just another game.

Fast forward to my first week working at Rainier G&CC—the second assistant was a guy named Mike Montegomery (DOG at Glendale CC now), and he took me to the range to help pick balls and hit some into the net. After about 30 mins of pounding balls, I was hooked. Hook, line, and sinker.

I’m an obsessive person by nature, so when I get into something, it becomes a bit scary—I want to know everything. That’s when the equipment junkie revealed himself, and it all started with a trip to the dentist and an issue of Golf Digest.

This one…

Golf Digest, February issue, 1993

This magazine started the whole thing. No, it wasn’t the fact that Phil Mickelson graced the cover, it was the advertisements. The color codes of Ping, the black and gold of Cobra, Titleist Tour Balata, Founders Club, and on and on. Everything looked just so damn awesome. I wanted to try, see, touch and feel everything I could. And I did. From that point, until even today, golf and golf gear dominate a good chunk of my thoughts every day.

Lesson #1: To do this job well….you have to obsessed.

Now we are in 2005. I’m working in Irvine, California, for LendingTree slanging equity loans to the A paper client,s and in the search engine, I type David Duval golf clubs…

Before I go further it must be acknowledged that my good friend Nico Bollini and I used to spend HOURS on Getty images and at the local Wajamaya scouring pictures of players bags in Golf Classic magazine and any close-ups Getty would catch. Instead of going to parties and chasing girls as normal people do, we were trying to see what shaft Ray Floyd had in his Bridgestone J’s driver.

Back to DD. I type in “David Duval golf clubs,” and I land on this weird forum thing called BombSquad Golf. It was a site that not only talked gear in-depth like Nico and I did, but they had some dude taking pics at tour events. It was golf porn. I was in. Eventually, BSG became nothing, and Richard Audi and GolfWRX.com took over. That story is very well told, so I won’t go into it.

That fueled my golf junkie for a long time. It wasn’t until 2012 and the urging from my then-girlfriend that I began writing for WRX. Since I was on the site so much and had so many opinions, she jokingly said, “You should write for them,” to which I replied, “I should.”

This is where luck comes in. I found the contact info at the bottom of the site and ended emailing Zak, the editor at the time.

“Hi Zak,

My name is John Wunder and I am extremely excited and interested in writing for Golfwrx! I have been a member of this site for over 6 years now and I have always admired the professionalism and in-depth coverage that your site provides. I am what they would call in the golfing streets a “Junky”. Tour news, college news, equipment trends, companies, in the bag info, history, etc. You name it, I know it. I’m a lifer and the only thing I have left to do to get my fix is either learn how to putt and play the mini-tours or start writing. Unfortunately, even the belly putter was of no use to me so writing it is! As writing goes my experience is limited with the exception of the occasional Facebook comment but my knowledge of the game and its culture is undeniable.  I’m dying to be apart of this thing and if I had not been scrolling to the bottom of the page I would not have noticed the link to you. Maybe it’s a sign from the Golfing Gods, you never know. Any information you can give would be much appreciated.  I Look forward to hearing from you.”

Lesson #2: You won’t know what’s possible until you ask.

Eventually, Zak gave me a shot and from 2012 to 2018 I wrote roughly 30-40 articles for WRX. For fun, for free, for the love of the game. I wrote opinion pieces, did some video articles, reviews, tournament recaps, etc. Every time they asked, I said HELL YES. Why not? Golf content is what I think about all day anyway. It requires no real study or extra work to execute. It’s something I can just sit down and do, sometimes quickly.

Now we find ourselves in 2018. It’s late January. My son Seve had just been born and my main source of income at the time (film/tv) was slow and unpredictable. I had two months of savings left, no consistent income coming in to speak of, and with two kids and my girl that I am supporting. Things got scary. Desperate is a better word. In that desperation, a decision was made. I wanted to finally do the thing I’ve always wanted to do. Work in the golf business.

I sat down and mapped out my plan…

Lesson #3: Don’t be afraid of desperation. God can be found there.

But how? What can I bring to the table?

Remember obsession? Remember the power of asking?

I knew my knowledge of the tour and golf equipment was abnormal, to say the least. It still is. I knew that I had a Rolodex to choke a horse, and I had the email of someone at WRX that I could plead my case to. The editor at the time, Andrew Tursky. My email to him was very similar to my email to Zak. I plainly told what I wanted to do, why they needed me, and left it at that.

The term the squeaky wheel gets the grease is so true in my case—every job I have ever chased, there were two things I made sure were in place…

  1. I knew my passion equaled my knowledge
  2. I was willing to hear NO multiple times until the right YES came along.

Lesson #4: Know where you want to go (and tell people).

That email turned into a face-to-face with the GolfWRX brass, to a “yes we will hire you,” to getting a job doing what I love.

The job I was hired for has mutated into something way different. Every person at GolfWRX.com does multiple jobs—there is really no definitive titles or boxes we fit in. It’s a passionate, nimble crew and to a person, everyone is a golf junkie degenerate, including the owner, Rich. That was the deciding factor of going down this path. Yes, I wanted the job, but after meeting Richard Audi and discovering he was just as crazy as I am, I knew I had to work for that man.

The moral of the story is this: Golf media is not a box anymore. You don’t need a degree in journalism or your doctorate in Bill Shakespeare.  It’s the time of the hustler. So, if you have something to say, say it, something to show, show it, and most importantly if you want to get in, ASK. ASK. ASK. Someone will say yes eventually and when they do, what you do with that YES is up to you.

Hope this gives you a hint that like anything else, there is not one door, there are multiple. Knock, scream, kick, and do it with some fire.

Lesson #5: ANYTHING is possible if you want it bad enough

 

 

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Instruction

Confessions of a hacker: Chipping yips and equipment fixes

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There’s a saying in golf that, paraphrasing here, it’s the person holding the weapon, not the weapon. Basically, if you hit a bad shot, it’s almost certain that it was your fault, not the fault of the golf club. It has a better design than your swing. And while that truism is often correct, it ain’t necessarily so.

For example, if I were to try to hit one of those long drive drivers, I’d probably mis-hit it so badly that the ball might not be findable. That stick is way too long, stiff, and heavy for me. Similarly, if I were to use one of those senior flex drivers, I’d probably hit it badly, because it would be too floppy for my swing. It’s clear that there are arrows that this Indian can’t shoot well. Maybe a pro could adapt to whatever club you put in his hand, but there’s no reason he would accept less than a perfect fit. And there’s little reason why any amateur ought to accept less than a good fit.

I was never a competitive athlete, although I’m a competitive person. My path led a different direction, and as my medical career reached its mature years, I was introduced to our wonderful and frustrating game.

Being one who hates playing poorly, I immediately sought instruction. After fifteen years, multiple instructors, a wallet full of videos, and a wall full of clubs, I am finally learning how to do one particularly vexing part of the game reasonable well. I can chip! But as you may have guessed, the largest part of this journey has to do with the arrow, not the Indian.

We may immediately dismiss the golf shaft as a significant issue since chipping generally involves a low-speed movement. And as long as the grip is a reasonable fit for the hands, it’s not a big deal either. The rubber meets the road at the clubhead.

Manufacturers have worked hard to get the best ball spin out of the grooves. Their shape is precisely milled, and then smaller grooves and roughness are added to the exact maximum allowed under the rules. Various weighting schemes have been tried, with some success in tailoring wedges to players. And some manufacturers market the “newest” designs to make it impossible to screw up wedge shots. And yet, nothing seemed to solve my yips.

So I went on a mission. I studied all sorts of chipping techniques. Some advocate placing the ball far back to strike a descending blow. Others place it near the center of the stance. The swing must have no wrist hinge. The swing must have a hinge that is held. It should be a short swing. It should be a long swing. The face should be square. The face should be open. There should be a “pop.” There should be no power added.

If you are confused, join my club. So I went on a different mission. I started looking at sole construction. Ever since Gene Sarazen popularized a sole with bounce for use in the sand, manufacturers have been creating massive numbers of “different” sand wedges. They have one thing in common. They are generally all built to 55 or 56-degrees of loft.

The basic design feature of the sand wedge is that the sole extends down and aft from the leading edge at some angle. This generally ranges from 6 to 18-degrees. Its purpose is to allow the wedge to dig into the sand, but not too far. As the club goes down into the sand, the “bounce” pushes it back up.

 

One problem with having a lot of bounce on the wedge is that it can’t be opened up to allow certain specialty shots or have a higher effective loft. When the player does that, the leading edge lifts, resulting in thin shots. So manufacturers do various things to make the wedge more versatile, typically by removing bounce in the heel area.

At my last count, I have eight 56-degree wedges in my collection. Each one was thought to be a solution to my yips. Yet, until I listened to an interview with Dave Edel, I had almost no real understanding of why I was laying sod over a lot of my chips. Since gardening did not reduce my scores, I had to find another solution.

My first step was to look at the effective loft of a wedge in various ball positions. (Pictures were shot with the butt of the club at the left hip, in a recommended forward lean position. Since the protractor is not exactly lined up with the face, the angles are approximate.)

I had no idea that there was so much forward lean with a simple chip. If I were to use the most extreme rearward position, I would have to have 21-degrees of bounce just to keep the leading edge from digging in at impact. If there were the slightest error in my swing, I would be auditioning for greenskeeper.

My appreciation for the pros who can chip from this position suddenly became immense. For an amateur like me, the complete lack of forgiveness in this technique suddenly removed it from my alleged repertoire.

My next step was to look at bounce. As I commented before, bounce on sand wedges ranges between 6 and 18-degrees. As the drawing above shows, that’s a simple angle measurement. If I were to chip from the forward position, a 6-degree bounce sand wedge would have an effective bounce of 1-degree. That’s only fractionally better than the impossible chip behind my right foot. So I went to my local PGA Superstore to look at wedges with my Maltby Triangle Gauge in hand.

As you can see from the photos, there is a wide variation in wedges. What’s most curious, however, is that this variation is between two designs that are within one degree of the same nominal bounce. Could it be that “bounce is not bounce is not bounce?” Or should I say that “12-degrees is not 12-degrees is not 12-degrees?” If one looks below the name on the gauge, a curious bit of text appears. “Measuring effective bounce on wedges.” Hmmm… What is “effective bounce?”

The Maltby Triangle Gauge allows you to measure three things: leading-edge height, sole tangent point, and leading-edge sharpness. The last is the most obvious. If I’m chipping at the hairy edge of an adequate bounce, a sharp leading edge will dig in more easily than a blunt one. So if I’m using that far back ball position, I’ll need the 1OutPlus for safety, since its leading edge is the bluntest of the blunt. Even in that position, its 11-degree bounce keeps the leading edge an eighth of an inch up.

Wait a minute! How can that be? In the back position, the wedge is at 35-degrees effective loft, and 11-degrees of bounce ought to be 10-degrees less than we need. The difference here is found in combining all three parameters measured by the gauge, and not just the angle of the bounce.

The 1OutPlus is a very wide sole wedge. Its tangent point is a massive 1.7″ back. The leading edge rises .36″ off the ground and is very blunt. In other words, it has every possible design feature to create safety in case the chip from back in the stance isn’t as perfect as it might be. Since a golf ball is 1.68″ in diameter, that’s still less than halfway up to the center of the ball. But if you play the ball forward, this may not be the wedge for you.

Here are the measurements for the eight sand wedges that happen to be in my garage. All are either 56-degrees from the factory or bent to 56-degrees.

A couple of things jump out from this table. The Callaway PM Grind at 13-degrees has a lower leading edge (.26 inches) than the 11-degree Bazooka 1OutPlus (.36 inches). How can a lower bounce have a higher leading edge? Simple geometry suggests that if you want a higher leading edge, you will need a higher bounce angle. But it gets worse. The Wishon WS (wide sole) at 6-degrees (55-degree wedge bent to 56-degrees) has a leading-edge height of .28 inches, higher than the Callaway which has over twice the nominal bounce angle!

One thing is missing from this simple discussion of angles.

If I place one line at 34-degrees above the horizontal (loft is measured from the vertical), and then extend another at some angle below horizontal, the height above ground where the two join depends on how long the lower line is. This means that an 18-degree bounce with a narrow “C” grind will raise the leading edge a little bit. A 6-degree bounce on a wide sole may raise it more because the end of the bounce on the first wedge is so close to the leading edge.

 

Let’s look at this in the picture. If the red line of the bounce is very short, it doesn’t get far below the black ground line. But if it goes further, it gets lower. This is the difference between narrow and wide soles.

This diagram describes the mathematical description of these relationships.

Our first task is to realize that the angle 0 in this diagram is the complement of the 56-degree loft of the wedge, or 90 – 56 = 34-degrees since loft is measured from vertical, not horizontal. But the angle 0 in the bounce equation is just that, the bounce value. These two angles will now allow us to calculate the theoretical values of various parts of the wedge, and then compare them to our real-world examples.

My PM Grind Callaway wedge has its 3rd groove, the supposed “perfect” impact point, 0.54 inches above the leading edge. This should put it 0.8 inches back from the leading edge, roughly matching the measured 0.82 inches. So far, so good. (I’m using the gauge correctly!)

The 13-degree bounce at 1.14″ calculates out to 0.284″ of leading-edge rise. I measured 0.26″, so Callaway seems to be doing the numbers properly, until I realize that the leading edge is already .45″ back, given a real tangent of .69″. Something is out of whack. Re-doing the math suggests that the real bounce is 20-degrees, 40 min. Hmmm…

Maybe that bounce angle measurement isn’t such a good number to look at. Without digging through all the different wedges (which would make you cross-eyed), we should go back to basics. What is it that we really need?

Most instructors will suggest that striking the ball on about the third groove will give the best results. It will put the ball close to the center of mass (sweet spot) of the wedge and give the best spin action. If my wedge is at an effective 45-degree angle (about my right big toe), it will strike the ball about half-way up to its equator. It will also be close to the third groove. But to make that strike with minimal risk of gardening, I have to enough protection to keep the edge out of the turf if I mis-hit the ball by a little bit. That can be determined by the leading edge height! The higher the edge, the more forgiveness there is on a mis-hit.

Now this is an incomplete answer. If the bounce is short, with a sharp back side, it will tend to dig into the turf a bit. It may not do it a lot, but it will have more resistance than a wider, smoother bounce. In the extreme case, the 1OutPlus will simply glide over the ground on anything less than a ridiculous angle.

The amount of leading-edge height you need will depend on your style. If you play the ball forward, you may not need much. But as you move the ball back, you’ll need to increase it. And if you are still inconsistent, a wider sole with a smooth contour will help you avoid episodes of extreme gardening. A blunt leading edge will also help. It may slow your club in the sand, but it will protect your chips.

There is no substitute for practice, but if you’re practicing chips from behind your right foot using a wedge with a sharp, low leading edge, you’re asking for frustration. If you’re chipping from a forward position with a blunt, wide sole wedge, you’ll be blading a lot of balls. So look at your chipping style and find a leading-edge height and profile that match your technique. Forget about the “high bounce” and “low bounce” wedges. That language doesn’t answer the right question.

Get a wedge that presents the club to the ball with the leading edge far enough off the ground to provide you with some forgiveness. Then knock ’em stiff!

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