Another early start for me as I head off to Portugal for my first golf school at this venue. I had, of course, played there a number of times but I was really excited to find how it compared with the many other venues I use for schools. The hotel is about 40 years old and is best described as “Old England” and traditional in its presentation. There is a championship course and a 9 hole academy course. Its reputation of having excellent greens is not an overstatement. They are a real pleasure to putt on. The driving range is big with a lot a room for everyone, a good size bunker, again with plenty of room for practice and 3 putting greens for practice and coaching.

The week is planned to cover the long and short game, bunker play, putting and how to handle difficult lies. On the first day we started with videoing each member of the group and assessing their strengths and weaknesses, setting priorities for each individual to work on. We talked about ‘the grid’ and how to use it to improve their practice sessions both here and at their home club. To start with we concentrated on making sure shoulders, hips and feet are all aligned together, keeping their body centred and hitting the ground in the same place every time. We spent the morning practicing this and finding how their ball contact, flight and direction improved. After lunch we headed off to the championship course to put into practice what had been covered in the morning. It is very satisfying for me to see the things covered in the morning being tried out into practice – with varying degrees of success but with everyone showing determination to improve.

To begin day 2 we went over what had been covered, practiced and played on day one. What was evident was that ball striking had improved with may good shots but also not always in the right direction. So, we now worked on alignment and proper pre-shot routines. Some very good progress was made. Moving on we turned attention to the short game and concentrated on aspects of how to play chip and run shots. The task is to select the point where the ball needs to land given how long it will run out to the hole. There are 3 elements to achieve – trajectory, landing point and run out, as well as direction of course. Ball contact and maintaining tempo are vitally important. Once this is understood it’s a matter maintaining a swing path with the length of back swing and follow through. For each individual it’s a matter of getting a “feel” and relating this to the result. Then practice, practice and practice. After lunch we played the 9 hole resort course which is not as long as the Championship Course, but tight and requiring accuracy. It is ideal for concentrating on the short game, and practice what had been covered in the morning. It also introduces the skills of course management which are best coached in live situations. I always enjoy this aspect of coaching and suggesting options in live situations

Day 3 opened with reference back to the long game. After dinner the previous evening we had worked through all the videos from day 1. Everyone was able to appreciate what the video portrayed compared to the way they were hitting practice shots and shots on the 9 hole course the previous day. Its like a light switch moment when there is a realisation what the coaching and practice was all, about, particularly staying centred, the low point with ball striking and following through.. We moved to playing in sand, which is always a fun session. I started with explanations of maintaining stance with weight favoured on the front foot and crucially not looking at the ball but 1″ – 2″ behind the ball. Perhaps the most difficult points are maintaining stability and having a longer follow through than the length of the back-swing. It is necessary to remember that when the club hits the sand it often slows down (and can stop). The technique is to make a bigger swing not harder or faster, just fuller. It was a great session as usual and it’s interesting to see how everyone improves rapidly without the pressure having to get the ball out and near the hole. Just being relaxed and capture the feeling and replicate it on the course – don’t let pressure get to you! After lunch we set out on the Championship Course again with everyone keen to improve on their round earlier in the week. It was fun to see how everyone had improved their course management, club selection and shot making. I love this course which was made famous by Sir Henry Cotton. I am proud to say that I met him once with his wife “Toots”. What a very nice man he was.

Day 4 is supposed to be a rest day but some either run, use the gym, practice or just relax. I had a run around the course before breakfast, then spent an hour hitting balls before playing a round on the Resort Course with Kristin and Trini which was great fun.

The morning on day 4 was spent coaching the long game, pitching, largely consolidating club selection, targets, landing points and roll out and tackling different challenges. The desire to everyone trying to fit shots to the circumstances was good to see. After lunch the weather changed for the worst and we played the Resort Course in the rain, this time with a card in hand. Everyone did well in the circumstances but were glad to dry out and have a hot bath before dinner.

The last day came around to quickly, as always. I feel that everyone had fun, getting to know new people and working out how to tackle different situations on the golf course. The weather continued to be wet and we set up some indoor putting practice. Good fun was had with everyone trying to hit putts with their eyes closed. This might seem frivolous but it is a serious way of working on hitting the ball with the centre of the putter blade. Because of the weather some played in the afternoon and some practiced, not ideal but in the circumstances and given it’s not a qualifying competition for which players have signed up for so flexibility must prevail – after all the schools and both for improvement and fun. Sometimes having to play is very poor conditions does nothing for confidence!

It was a great week and a lot of fun was had with opened minded people. Everyone has drills and challenges to work on – I look forward to hearing from everyone.

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