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 Co-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 co-founder and 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.
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?
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.
“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
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.
A different perspective
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to play a round with two of the greens keepers at a local golf course and it was a fascinating experience. It gave me a chance to get a behind-the-scenes view of what it takes to make a golf course great.
Many of us play at public courses, and sometimes its luck of the draw if the course we are at is in good condition. In my case, if I find a course that is well maintained and taken care of, I make it a regular stop. In this case, I was at Ridgeview Ranch in Plano Texas and it is a great public course and I play here at least once a month.
The two guys I played with were Tony Arellano and Jose Marguez. Both were great guys to share a round with. Tony shared what it’s like to make sure that all the greens are maintained properly and watered correctly. He showed me where there were some issues with one of the greens that I would never have noticed. We talked about how the invasion of Poa annua grass forces his guys to pull it out by hand with a tool that is smaller than a divot repair tool. It became clear to me that as a golf community, we need to lift up the people that do this labor-intensive work and thank them for all they do. Ridgeview Ranch is without a doubt one of the better public courses in my area, and it is because of the hard work these men do that keeps it this way.
As we watched the Masters tournament a few weeks ago we were awestruck by the awesome beauty of Augusta National and in my case I believe that is what heaven looks like. I think we take that kind of beauty for granted and forget the massive amount of time and hard work that go into making a golf course look good. These people have to deal with all of the different factors that Mother Nature throws at them and be prepared for anything. In addition to that, they also have to make sure the watering system is maintained as well as all of their equipment.
I have played at other courses in the DFW area that have a terrible staff and a superintendent that either don’t care about the course or don’t know how to stop it from falling apart. The course won’t spend the money to go get the right people that will take pride in their work. Some of these places will charge you more than $80 per round, and when you get to the first green that has dry spots that are without any grass you feel like you have been ripped off.
We all love this game not because it’s easy but because it’s a challenge and being good at it takes a ton of effort. We also love it because it gives us a chance to hang out with friends and family and enjoy time outside in the sun– hopefully without cell phone interruptions and other distractions of our modern day. We spend a ton of money on green fees, equipment and sometimes travel. We want to get what we pay for and we want to have a great course to spend the day at.
I wanted to write this article to thank all of those men and women that start work in the early hours of the day and work through the hottest stretches of the summer to keep our golf courses in great shape. They are people that never get the credit they deserve and we should always thank them whenever possible. Tony and Jose are just two examples of the people who work so hard for all of us. Ridgeview Ranch is lucky to have these two men who not only work hard but were fantastic representatives of their course. So next time you are out there and you see these people working hard, maybe stop and say thank you let them know what they do really makes a difference.
5 most common golf injuries (and how to deal with them)
You might not think about golf as a physically intensive game, but that doesn’t change the fact it is still a sport. And as with every sport, there’s a possibility you’ll sustain an injury while playing golf. Here’s a list of the five most common injuries you might sustain when playing the game, along with tips on how to deal with them in the best way possible so you heal quickly.
While not directly an injury, it’s paramount to talk about sunburns when talking about golf. A typical golf game is played outside in the open field, and it lasts for around four hours. This makes it extremely likely you’ll get sunburnt, especially if your skin is susceptible to it.
That’s why you should be quite careful when you play golf
Apply sunscreen every hour – since you’re moving around quite a lot on a golf course, sunscreen won’t last as long as it normally does.
Wear a golf hat – aside from making you look like a professional, the hat will provide additional protection for your face.
If you’re extra sensitive to the sun, you should check the weather and plan games when the weather is overcast.
Rotator Cuff Injury
A rotator cuff is a group of four muscles that surround the shoulder joint. This group are the main muscles responsible for swing movements in your arms. It’s no surprise then that in golf, where the main activity consists of swinging your arms, there’s a real chance this muscle group might sustain an injury.
To avoid injuries to this group, it’s imperative you practice the correct form of swinging the club. Before playing, you should also consider some stretching.
If you get an injury, however, you can recover faster by following RICE:
Rest: resting is extremely important for recovery. After an injury, the muscles are extremely vulnerable to further injury, and that’s why you should immediately stop playing and try to get some rest.
Ice: applying ice to the injured area during the first day or two can help. It reduces inflammation and relaxes the muscles.
Compress: bandage the rotator cuff group muscle and compress the muscles. This speeds up the muscle healing process.
Elevate: elevate the muscles above your heart to help achieve better circulation of blood and minimize fluids from gathering.
Wrist tendons can sustain injuries when playing golf. Especially if you enjoy playing with a heavy club, it can put some strain on the wrist and cause wrist tendonitis, which is characterized by inflammation and irritation.
You should start by putting your wrist in a splint or a cast – it is necessary to immobilize your wrist to facilitate healing.
Anti-inflammatory medicine can relieve some of the pain and swelling you’ll have to deal with during the healing process. While it might not help your wrist heal much quicker, it’ll increase your comfort.
A professional hand therapist knows about the complexities of the wrist and the hand and can help you heal quicker by inspecting and treating your hands.
A golf game is long, sometimes taking up to 6 hours. This long a period of standing upright, walking, swinging clubs, etc. can put stress on your back, especially in people who aren’t used to a lot of physical activities:
If you feel like you’re not up for it, you should take a break mid-game and then continue after a decent rest. A golf game doesn’t have any particular time constraints, so it should be simple to agree to a short break.
If you don’t, consider renting a golf cart, it makes movement much easier. If that’s not possible, you can always buy a pushcart, which you can easily store all the equipment in. Take a look at golf push cart reviews to know which of them best suits your needs.
Better posture – a good posture distributes physical strain throughout your body and not only on your back, which means a good posture will prevent back pain and help you deal with it better during a game.
Medically known as medial epicondylitis, golfer’s elbow occurs due to strain on the tendons connecting the elbow and forearm. It can also occur if you overuse and over-exhaust the muscles in your forearm that allow you to grip and rotate your arm:
A nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug is the way to go to alleviate the most severe symptoms of the injury at the beginning.
Lift the club properly, and if you think there’s a mismatch between your wrist and the weight of the club, you should get a lighter one.
Learn when you’ve reached your limit. Don’t overexert yourself – when you know your elbow is starting to cause you problems, take a short break!
TG2: Our PGA picks were spot on…and Rob hit a school bus with a golf ball
Whats in the Bag3 weeks ago
Max Homa’s winning WITB: 2019 Wells Fargo Championship
Opinion & Analysis1 week ago
The Wedge Guy: The highest loft you should carry
Whats in the Bag4 days ago
Brooks Koepka’s winning WITB: 2019 PGA Championship
Tour Photo Galleries1 week ago
Tuesday’s photos from the 2019 PGA Championship
Whats in the Bag1 week ago
Jason Dufner WITB: 2019 PGA Championship
Equipment3 weeks ago
PXG launches more affordable, cast 0211 irons
Tour Photo Galleries2 weeks ago
Monday’s photos from the 2019 PGA Championship
Equipment4 days ago
Ping Blueprint irons are officially coming to retail