Golf teaching is traditionally done at close-quarters, but now many professionals are swapping driving ranges for Zoom calls. By Will Trinkwon
How Online Lessons Are Booming During The Covid-19 Pandemic
He sets the ball down on the turf and checks his setup. He readjusts his grip, while the pro looks critically on.
“Remember that left hand – not too tight. And watch that you don’t sink that left heel.”
He focuses on following the pro’s advice.
The shot feels crisp.
You probably think you’re reading about a golf lesson, and you are.
But unlike most, this lesson isn’t taking place on a driving range, or on a golf course.
Instead, the pupil is in his back garden, hitting shots into a makeshift net (an inventive affair comprising an old bed sheet draped over a washing line) and the pro is communicating via Zoom from over 100 miles away.
This is a golf lesson for the Covid-19 age, taken entirely online.
Online tuition has been a part of the golf landscape since at least the 2010s, when a group of programmes, such as Skillest, Gasp and Coach Now, burst onto the scene, providing platforms for coaches and students to share comments, post and analyse clips and live chat over video.
Many pros have used online platforms in some way for a while, but demand for the technology is increasing as the coronavirus pandemic makes face-to-face lessons riskier and, especially in the teeth of lockdown bans, coaches and pupils are looking for other ways of interacting.
Mike Donald, the Head PGA Professional at High Legh Park Golf Club, Cheshire, is one of those who has embraced online lessons and seen a sharp spike in demand.
“From the coronavirus lockdowns I’ve had a huge, huge influx of online golf lessons,” says Mike, who normally does face-to-face teaching and online lessons on the side.
“My diary was full for three weeks coming out of it. Demand has gone up by around 400%.”
Mike was doing up to ten lessons a day from his studio at peak, although he says that demand does drop off when golfers can return to the course.
Still, Covid-19 has massively accelerated his online business.
What does an online golf lesson consist of?
Mike says that while lessons vary from professional to professional, most rely heavily on video.
The typical lesson for Mike begins with students sending him two videos of their swings, one from behind and one from the side – “those are the two angles I really need to identify swing changes,” he says.
Related: 5 Biggest Golf Coaching Myths
Then, he uses Coach Now to analyse the swings.
“I create a 20-minute video, beginning with a breakdown of what I think is wrong with their swing, what I’d do to change it and then end with some basic drills.”
During the video, Mike compares the submitted swing clips to a model from a professional.
“I compare them to a pro that’s specific to them.
“If you’ve got a more athletic guy I’ll probably use Tiger Woods. If you’ve got an older guy, I might use Colin Montgomerie.”
An online lesson with Mike costs £30.
In the face of lockdown restrictions and pandemic fears, Mike says that he’s found online lessons are a “brilliant” way to attract new students (he has had people send him videos from places as far afield as the Middle East) and keep in touch with long-term clients, but the platform is not without its challenges.
Ian Clark, Head Professional at the Ian Clark Golf Academy has also been doing more online lessons during the pandemic, but finds the utility of the medium can be limited.
“Not knowing where the ball’s gone is a problem,” he says.
“I have a student in the States who sent me her swing and said ‘the ball’s going right’.
“And I’m looking at it and looking at it and it looks okay. So we’re looking at her trackman numbers. Well, that shouldn’t be going right.
“We’re looking at the video. There’s nothing there to make the ball go right.
“But because you can’t see the strike, you don’t know.”
In the end, Ian had the pupil spray the face of her club with paint, which revealed that she was mishitting shots on the heel.
But that was impossible to see from just the video.
Mike concurs. “You’ll get a guy in his back garden on his doormat, with his missus filming him, at all sorts of angles, and you’ll sometimes just get that and nothing else.
“You constantly find yourself getting frustrated that you can’t just go and speak to the person, or put the club into the right position.”
If pupils and coaches are willing to put in the effort, however, it’s difficult to argue that online golf lessons don’t have an increasingly large place in golf tuition, especially as golfers are cut off from courses by lockdown.
Tom Dry, a keen amateur golfer who has recently started taking lessons with an online component, reckons that a hybrid approach is the ideal.
“I think online lessons work best as a kind of booster jab,” he says.
“Online lessons won’t be embraced by everyone, but they do have a place.”
Related: 5 Important Golf Lessons