GOLF EQUIPMENT

Teaching Aid or Gimmick?
Let the Pros Decide

By Shane Sharp,
Contributing Writer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Oct. 9, 2002) - You can't take yourself seriously wearing this thing. It is called the Takeaway Trainer, and perhaps it has some redeeming value. But hanging from my thigh like some kind of Styrofoam shark's fin, I just can't get past the absurdity of it all.

Each year, millions of golfers invest in teaching aids to help cure what ails them. Slices, hooks, coming over the top, coming too far inside, the shanks - they are all fixable by way of some gadget offered on a 30-minute infomercial running at some ridiculous hour of the morning.

But before you pick up the phone to order that weighted club or that laser swing guide, or even this Takeaway Trainer, ask a local teaching pro to accurately diagnose your problems.

"If I don't know for sure what my problem is and I am using my friends to tell me what it is and I buy a teaching aid to tell me what's wrong, it will probably get worse," says Dana Rader, a Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher. "First go to a good professional who uses teaching aids in their programs. If its not transferring the feel to the full swing, then it's not working."

No sport or game has inspired the creation of more gadgets than golf. And with a cable television channel dedicated to the game, 24 hours a day seven days a week, huge blocks of programming space are available for manufactures of teaching aids and equipment manufacturers to sell their wares. According to Rader, many of these products have been spawned because of the complexity of the golf swing.

"The golf swing has been taught so many ways. If it was standardized there would be less confusion," Rader says. "You can lay 50 books about running out and they will say about the same thing. You lay 50 golf books out and no two of them will be the same. Teaching aids have come to fruition because of all the different ways we teach the game."

But should all these gadgets be dismissed as gimmicks? It may come as a surprise to many, but Rader believes that most teaching aids were not created to fleece desperate recreational golfers.

"I think almost all of them have your best interest in mind," says Rader. "There have only been a couple times that I have looked at a product and said this is absurd. A lot of manufactures base their product on the troubles they've had with the game."

Rader does add, though, that some manufacturers cross an ethical line when they start making specific guarantees about improving your game.

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"What I don't like is when they do testimonials like 'this took 20 strokes off my game in three days,' " she says. "It should be used to transfer feel and not guarantee distance or lower scores."

In fact, a variety of teaching aids are sitting around the practice stations at Rader's golf school at the Ballantyne Resort in south Charlotte while Rader is off in her corner with a student hitting into an impact bag. A few spots down, instructor Jason Sutton is using a swing plane board to teach a free-swinging teenage boy a proper swing path. Rader's school is one of the most sophisticated in the Southeast. It's equipped with computer swing analysis tools, video cameras and other gear.

Yet despite the high tech feel oozing from every nook and cranny of the school, Rader says she likes to keep her instructional methods simple.

"I am a big fan of mirrors and simple videos," she says. "You would be surprised at how many people have never seen themselves swing. The takeaway and blending it into the next step is the hardest thing to define for people and sometimes video just works best."

Tools of the Trade

Rader says she is not a big fan of weighted clubs. Some teachers swear by them, but Rader doesn't believe that swinging a heavier club translates into a better swing with a regular club out on the course. Rader and her staff stress the importance of a good takeaway, so swing plane boards are the most popular teaching aids at her golf school. Rader says she has also used the "Grip Mentor" to teach students how to grip club.

Shane Sharp is a Contributing Writer with TravelGolf.com where he covers golf equipment and instruction. Email him at sharp@travelgolf.com

Learn more about the Dana Rader Golf School at www.ballantyneresort.com

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