20 Years of Golf: Learning the game through GCA


(Editor’s note: Golf Channel turns 20 years old on Jan. 17. In recognition, we are looking back at golf over the last two decades with a series of articles and photo galleries throughout the week.)

To this day I have never taken a formal, 1-on-1 lesson. Each summer my parents used to budget $350 for a junior membership at CenterPointe Country Club in Canandaigua, N.Y., which meant I had to find answers on the back nine – not the back of the range with the head pro.

This plan worked well enough. Eventually, I consistently shot in the mid-70s. I routinely took money off my friends. And in 2004, during my senior year of high school, I won the district championship in my area. (Truth to tell, it required little more than a pulse.)

For that, I should thank my esteemed team of instructors – men I have never met.

You see, I learned how to hit a draw off the tee by watching Rick Smith.

I learned how to hit a crisp iron shot by mimicking Jim Flick and Jim McLean.

I learned how to hit a flop shot by listening to Dave Pelz.

Quite simply, I learned how to play golf – I learned to love the game – by watching “Golf Channel Academy” on a regular basis. That’s it.

20 Years of Golf: Articles and photo galleries

There were no DVRs back in the late-’90s, of course, and golf clubs weren’t allowed in the house, so I oftentimes had to improvise. I scribbled notes on Post-its, turned a broom upside down and rehearsed the moves that I saw on our 20-inch Zenith TV until it felt natural. Then I’d smack beat-up Top-Flites into the net that hung perilously in the garage. Or I’d whack a Wiffle ball in the front yard. Or, if I felt like getting grounded, I’d hit 90-yard wedge shots off what little grass was left near the deck steps.

Oh, sure, at times I thought about how cool it’d be to live like Philip Francis, the former child prodigy who would stripe shots at a lush driving range on a postcard day in Arizona under the watchful eye of the legendary Flick. But over time I became content just to stuff my crumpled-up notes in my golf bag and take it to CenterPointe, anxious to see what little tip stuck that day.

It’s not unreasonable to assume that there are hundreds, maybe even thousands of people just like me whose first exposure to the game came through those 30-minute instructional shows, which were often sandwiched between infomercials for the Medicus or The Hammer or the Perfect Club.

These days, “Golf Channel Academy” is all grown up. Viewers today are encouraged to submit a question using the hashtag #GCAcademy. World-class instructors frequently appear on the show. There is a Facebook page and a touch screen and even a simulator.

So, really, not much has changed since 1995. Who needs a formal, 1-on-1 lesson?