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Opinion & Analysis

Golf Training Aids: Do They Ever Actually Work?

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Swing gadgets and training aids have been around in some form or another since… forever, I suppose. Some are really good, while others are really bad. Some serve a specific problem and some are more universal in their intent. Do they work? It’s a fair question.

If I had to choose the one thing that has amazed me more thing else over the years, it’s how ingenious and creative golfers are. Golfers are really adept at finding the golf ball. By hook or crook, if they play enough, they will find a way to put the club on the ball. This is a skill called “proprioception,” and it also plays a huge part in the inconsistency of golfers and their related inability to score better.

Here’s why: A compensatory move in the downswing that corrects a faulty position in the backswing is ingenious… but also costly. When the golf club gets to the top of the swing out of position, golfers — especially those who play often — will adjust the club coming down to find a way (any way) to get the golf club on the golf ball. This happens at all levels, of course, including the top players in the world.

Let’s consider some swing positions that have to be re-routed in the downswing:

  • A golf club that is “laid off” at the top of the swing is effectively outside the hands. It has to be brought back into line to avoid shanking and hitting the heel.
  •  A golf club that is across the line at the top is effectively inside the hands, and it has to be brought back into line to avoid hitting off the toe.
  • A golf clubface that is wide open at the top of the swing has to be closed coming into impact.
  • A golf clubface that is too closed at the top of the swing has to be opened on the way down to square it.

And in transition…

  • A golf club that starts down too steeply has to be flattened to get it into a better incline to come down into the golf ball.
  • A hand path that goes out to start the downswing requires a fall back inside to get the bottom of the arc to the ball.
  • A hand path that is vertical or tight coming down requires a club head that is swinging more out than down to avoid hitting the toe.

Swing trainers are designed for a specific purpose often miss the cause of the swing flaw and attempt to re-train the fault itself. Consider the example of getting way ahead of the ball. Most of the time, golfers who run ahead of the ball do so because they release the club far too early. The movement ahead is to avoid hitting the ground behind the ball. Well, if you find a device that helps you stay behind the ball better and you still release too early, guess what happens? Fat shots, of course. Conversely, if you find a device that helps you hold the angle a little longer and you continue to run ahead of it… well, you guessed it. Skulls and late tops.

Another: Let’s say you find a device that helps you get off the rear foot into impact. It’s one designed to help you get “through the ball” better. Well, if you were “hanging back” because the golf club is coming down far too steeply and you simply improve the “turn-through” motion, you will hit the ball fat, late, and sometimes shank it. Why? Because the steep transition was not corrected. So you’re off your back foot, that’s alright, but if your club face is wide open and you’re steep into impact, you’ll likely also be really late. That means a lot of thin shots and some shanks.

And Another: You find a device that helps you stop coming over the top, and you’re able to get the club more inside coming down. Great… but a lot of over-the-toppers shift their weight to the back foot in order to get the bottom of the swing arc near the ball. In fact, many single-digit handicaps have this move! You see, if you’re over the top, you’re moving the bottom of the arc forward. Many more experienced golfers feel this, and instinctively they shift their weight back to get the golf club to bottom out a little earlier.

See the point?

If the root cause of your swing issue is not corrected, the device that’s designed to correct the reaction is not enough. The bottom line is you have to correct the core swing issue to eventually avoid the reaction. Work with an instructor to help you identify the root cause and go from there.

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Dennis Clark is a PGA Master Professional. Clark has taught the game of golf for more than 30 years to golfers all across the country, and is recognized as one of the leading teachers in the country by all the major golf publications. He is also is a seven-time PGA award winner who has earned the following distinctions: -- Teacher of the Year, Philadelphia Section PGA -- Teacher of the Year, Golfers Journal -- Top Teacher in Pennsylvania, Golf Magazine -- Top Teacher in Mid Atlantic Region, Golf Digest -- Earned PGA Advanced Specialty certification in Teaching/Coaching Golf -- Achieved Master Professional Status (held by less than 2 percent of PGA members) -- PGA Merchandiser of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Golf Professional of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Presidents Plaque Award for Promotion and Growth of the Game of Golf -- Junior Golf Leader, Tri State section PGA -- Served on Tri State PGA Board of Directors Clark is also former Director of Golf and Instruction at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort. He now directs his own school, The Dennis Clark Golf Academy at the JW Marriott Marco Island in Naples, Fla.. He can be reached at dennisclarkgolf@gmail.com

13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. anthony aguilar

    Oct 25, 2017 at 1:51 pm

    A great training club will instantly give you correct feel and feedback every time you use it. A great training aid will show your flaws and showing you make a pure stroke.It will give you great Rhythm and timing so you can repeat itself and shoot your lowest score ever. Putting alone is almost half your score! see flexputter.com

  2. Dennis clark

    Sep 27, 2017 at 8:53 pm

    Moguls , simple mounds of dirt are some of the very best training aids one can use. And there is always one available.

  3. chinchbugs

    Sep 27, 2017 at 10:22 am

    I gave this a like and didn’t even read it purely based on the excellent photo choice used for the cover. Well done!

  4. larrybud

    Sep 27, 2017 at 7:28 am

    Absolutely spot on, and I was a training aid collector (some bought, some home built) before I understood that if you don’t fix the root cause, you’ll just revert back to your old habits.

    So to those training aids which “force” your body into a certain position, those don’t work. But I have had aids, such as a putting mirror, which gives me feedback which I then fix myself (such as poor shoulder alignment at setup), which lasts a long time. To expand on that:

    My problem was I would cut across the ball. I tried a device which would control the path of my putter, and it worked when I used the device. But take me off of it, and in 4 or 5 strokes I would revert back. Why? Because I didn’t fix the root cause of the issue, which was poor shoulder alignment. The device was just artificially creating the proper path of the putter rather than fixing why that putter had a bad path to begin with.

    • Gearhead

      Sep 27, 2017 at 11:25 am

      The root cause is that you’re human, and just not very good at the game, no matter what you try. lol

      • LD

        Sep 27, 2017 at 12:22 pm

        Your first sentence was spot-on, and then you had to needlessly throw in an insult.

        • Gearhead

          Sep 28, 2017 at 3:05 am

          Idiot, it’s human to thrown in insults. Where would we be without it

  5. OB

    Sep 26, 2017 at 10:57 pm

    Before you can utilize any golf training aid that attempts to help you hit the ball you must first prepare your body with general conditioning. If your body is not properly conditioned any sport-specific training aid will not work… plain and simple.
    Golfers want to cheat and go directly into sport-specific training and avoid general conditioning which takes a lot of time and consistent effort for physical preparation. Golfers who want to believe some training contraption will fix their swing are gullible. They buy the gizmo, try it a few times and then run to the golf course/range to see what will happen. Squat happens because their body is not conditioned for proprioceptive activity. IOW, they are too decrepit to swing consistently after training with these gizmos.

  6. Caroline

    Sep 26, 2017 at 6:18 pm

    do they work, yes they do, for the better not always…I played to a 11 15 years ago playing from a open stance and hitting every club with a little fade…then on vacation I saw an add for a “swing Magic club”, did it work, well yes and no after practicing with it at home for hours because it just felt neat I went out for my first round with this neat feeling I had gained…first shot a nine iron on a short par 3, first hook I had seen in years, right out of bounds…ok no more open stance, second 9 iron hooked right out of bounds…finished the day loosing 8 golf balls where I never loose any…15 years later still cannot find that fade I had and cannot get down from a 16…..

  7. HeineyLite

    Sep 26, 2017 at 3:56 pm

    When used for feedback and working slowly on your swing…

  8. JE

    Sep 26, 2017 at 12:33 pm

    Do you have a golf watch?

  9. WFWP

    Sep 26, 2017 at 12:19 pm

    Hello Dennis,
    Your reasoning for the limited application of swing aids can be applied to swing drills, too. Drills and swing aids need to be used with understanding and technique to create positive changes. There are many skills to develop to produce a reliable swing. Calling “proprioception” a skill is a stretch since it is simplification of the bodies dynamic mental and physical system of coordinating movement (https://www.bettermovement.org/blog/2008/proprioception-the-3-d-map-of-the-body, retrieved 2017). Developing awareness of the movement of the hands arms, torso, core, feet and legs are skills, which improve proprioception. In my opinion, having awareness of the clubhead (14 clubs) in golf is the challenge for the proprioceptive system as the club is an external component. I agree: equilibrium, safety and pain avoidance create adaptive moves in golf as well as other sports activities, so seeking guidance from a skilled individual is important to obtaining safety, efficiency and performance potential. However, certain swing aids and drills have wide reaching benefits and have stood the test of time.
    Jon

    • Dennis Clark

      Sep 26, 2017 at 2:09 pm

      No question Jon; some training aids are very effective and work across a wide spectrum. Particularly those that assist in getting to the player to the top of the swing effectively. In my experience compensating moves are the result of a poor club face, poor plane or direction or a misdirected center of pressure. The training aids that help us to the top are great for reducing the amount of compensation coming down. Golfer are VERY creative, VERY creative in avoiding the horrible shot! Thx for reading…

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Opinion & Analysis

The History of Course Design is Yours to Play at Oglebay

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There is a much-talked about “New Golden Age” of golf course design underway that is driven by demand for ever-more spectacular courses at the top end of the resort golf market. Destinations such as Streamsong, Bandon Dunes, Cabot Links, Sand Valley and others provide the traveling golfer a spectacular golf experience; unfortunately, it comes at a price tag that is equally spectacular. When a week playing golf in Florida can cost as much as a week in Scotland, where do you go for a golf getaway that doesn’t require a second mortgage?

Oglebay Golf Resort in Wheeling, West Virginia, doesn’t just provide an affordable golf vacation option; with its three golf courses, it provides players the chance to experience a condensed history of American golf course design through its three courses. The resort sits on land that was once owned by a wealthy industrialist and is now a part of the city park system. Located about an hour from Pittsburgh, Oglebay draws the majority of its golfers from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia. It’s kind of cool that when you drive to Oglebay from the Washington, D.C., you hit all of those states except Ohio, which is just a few minutes away from Wheeling. The area is especially picturesque in the autumn months when the changing colors of the leaves are at their peak.

The property has a rich history in the business and sporting history of West Virginia, but the three golf courses, Crispin, are a special prize that taken together form a primer on the history of golf design in the past 90 years. The 5,670-yard Crispin course is a one-off design by local golf enthusiast Robert Biery that was completed in 1930 and is a fascinating study of design techniques of that era. The slopes and elevation are severe and extreme by today’s standards. A clue was the raised eyebrow of the assistant pro when I said that I would walk the course. Uneven lies are the order of the day, the product of a time when there was neither the money nor equipment readily available to create gentle slopes and even surfaces; the course is true to the original contours of the West Virginia hillside.  There is little relief on the greens, which run a little slower than typical greens but make up for it in size and slope. It is by far the shortest of the three courses but the par-4 8th hole and par-5 9th holes are a thousand yards of joy and pain.

Hole No. 6 at the Klieves course

The Klieves Course is a 6,800-yard, par-71 Arnold Palmer design that was completed in 2000. The design features broad fairways, mildly undulating greens and opportunities for heroics on short par-4’s, all the prototypical characteristics of modern resort golf courses. While some architects choose to torture and torment, Palmer courses put a premium on fun and this one is no exception. The par-5, 515 yard 6th is a great example of the risk/reward available without that challenges the resort golfer without the need to humiliate. The course is very well maintained tee to green, and you’ll want to keep a fully charged battery to take photos of the vistas from the elevated tee boxes.

Hole No. 13 at the Jones course

In my humble opinion, the true gem is the Robert Trent Jones course. The 7,004-yard, par-72 Course carries a healthy 75.1 rating/141 slope from the back tees. It utilizes a gorgeous piece of land that meanders across the West Virginia hills to give a mesmerizing collection of holes that are equal parts scenery and challenge. Both nines start from elevated tee boxes hitting down into valleys that offer classic risk/reward propositions. Usually I have no problem identifying a favorite hole or two, but on this course it’s difficult. Having said that, the stretch of No. 4 (par 3, 193 yards), No. 5 (par-5, 511 yards) and No. 6 (par-4, 420 yards) are among the best I have played anywhere as a show of nature’s beauty and the at of laying out a golf hole. And the four par 3’s are not the place to pic up an easy birdie. The only one less that 190 yards from the tips is the 158-yard 15th, which is protected by a small, undulating green. All in all, it’s a perfect representation of the genius of Robert Trent Jones.

The golf is good at Oglebay and the prices are better. You can get in 18 at the Oglebay courses for as little as $32…on the weekend. And when you’re not playing golf, you can take advantage of the myriad of outdoor sports activities, tour the Oglebay mansion, hit the spa or visit the Glass Museum on the property (I promise it’s a lot more interesting than it sounds). There’s a lot of great new golf resorts out there and that’s a good thing for the golf industry, but destinations like Oglebay prove that there’s a lot of life left in the old classics as well.

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