On-Course Instruction: Coaches’ Attitudes, Protocols and Strategies

Apr 16, 2024 | News

By David Gould, Staff Editor            

For both the golfer and the teacher, the driving range can be a comfort zone that gets a bit too comfortable. Logic suggests that better on-course performance by the student will almost always require coach and golfer to spend time on the golf course together.

Doing so raises logistical and perhaps even financial complications that coaches need to factor in. Curious about how top instructors navigate these angles, we put together a 12-question survey and circulated it to our members earlier this month. What follows is a summary of what you told us.

Enthusiasm for coaching on-course came through in responses to this question: “In season, how many playing lessons do you teach in a typical month?” Over 15 percent said they give “more than 20,” which makes on-course coaching basically a daily activity for that sub-group. Another 14 percent said they gave 11 to 20 playing lessons while 69 percent gave between one and 10 per month.

We asked respondents whether they agree or disagree with this statement: “I would conduct considerably more playing lessons if I had more access to getting students on the course.”  A reply of “Definitely” was checked by 48 percent, which truly caught our attention. Meanwhile, 27 percent said “Probably” they would. Coaches answering either “Not likely” or “No” amounted to only 22 percent of the group.

A related question asked, “Which best describes the policy governing use of the course for instruction?” The first two options said, respectively, “plainly stated” and “not plainly stated but fairly easy to navigate.” Close to nine out of 10 who answered chose one of those two. “It’s not plainly stated and therefore it’s a source of frequent awkwardness” was checked by 9.3 percent—this latter response was likely selected by most of the coaches who complained about limited access.

In the brief sequence of survey questions that related to payments and pricing for bringing students on course, the answers generally seemed to indicate reasonable policies. Private-club instructors had things the easiest, with 93 percent of them saying they weren’t charged anything to bring students out—only 65 percent of coaches at public-access facilities gave that response.

We included a “when”-type question that went like this: “Once you take on a new student—one who has explicit goals and shows commitment—how many sessions will you conduct before deciding it’s time for some on-course work?” Interestingly, 22 percent said, “I like to see the student play during our first lesson.” For another 56 percent the answer was “Usually 1 to 5 sessions on the lesson tee”—after that the process gets taken on-course. Just under 14 percent of respondents said they generally stay at the range for six to 10 lessons before the first on-course session. The percentage who wait longer than 10 lessons was minimal.

Do group teaching and on-course teaching go together? We came into this exercise not exactly thinking that they did, so the responses had an impact. Only 27 percent of survey-takers said that “all or nearly all” of their on-course coaching sessions are private. Another 35 percent said that “most are private, but I take groups on-course also.” A full 29 percent said “I’m as likely to take a group on-course as a single student” and nine percent said “I only go on a playing lesson when I’ve lined up more than one student.”

It’s sometimes an impromptu decision to move a session from range to golf course, and that can be a simple maneuver at some clubs or courses. So we asked: “Are you required to reserve time on the tee sheet for on-course coaching, or can you ride out in a cart and look for an empty stretch of holes?” The response option, “I’m required to book a tee time” was checked by only 28 percent of Proponent members, while 71 percent said “I’m able to ride out and find empty holes.”

There’s more than one way to skin a cat, during the on-course training process. One of the survey’s final questions asked this: “When you’re doing on-course coaching, how much do you play, yourself?” The answer, “I don’t bring my clubs” was checked by 14 percent; “I don’t play, though I might demo a few shots” was selected by 47 percent; “In some cases I’ll demo many shots” was selected by 23 percent and “I play along with the student” was the answer selected by 16 percent.

Finally, in a nod to the thriving popularity of sim-golf, we tossed in a question about “on-course” coaching that involved simulated courses—it was phrased this way: “If you told a student it was time for a playing lesson, and they asked if the playing lesson could take place in a simulator, which best describes what you would tell them?” For 25 percent the checked answer was a simple “Yes, we can do that.” Another 33 percent said they would reply, “Yes, we could do it, but it would be significantly less productive.” For 26 percent there was no choice but to reply, “No, it’s not useful to teach on-course skills in a simulator.” This being a relatively recent sort of proposition, the “Not sure” response was selected by a full 16 percent of those who took the survey.

NOTE: Respondents were divided evenly between private and public facilities.