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Spring Travel

Going, going, gone

Three of the best golf schools in the country combine top-notch instruction with appealing off-course attractions that a non-golfer will also love.

IN THE SWING Hall of Fame golder Annika Sorenstam gives a big high-five at her Florida academy. IN THE SWING Hall of Fame golder Annika Sorenstam gives a big high-five at her Florida academy. (Annika Sorenstam photograph by Eric Sutton)
By Mike Cullity
March 27, 2011

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Most golfers don’t mind a little hard work on their well-earned vacations – so long as the labor pertains to their swings.

These leading golf schools offer itineraries that include lessons from renowned instructors, high-tech swing analysis, expert club-fitting services, and other game-improvement techniques. And all three give players the chance to rehearse what they’ve learned on some pretty alluring courses.

Shaving a few strokes off your handicap is usually the goal of a golf school getaway, but in some cases the payoff can be much greater. Since spending three days in March 2009 at Annika Academy, a golf and fitness retreat outside Orlando, Florida, Heidi Happy of Worcester has lowered her handicap by five strokes, she says. More significantly, the 44-year-old corporate manager has lost more than 150 pounds and credits the academy’s fitness and nutrition training for spurring her transformation. “I left there with a new commitment to health and to myself,” she says.

Whether you’re pursuing a life change or simply a cure for that pesky slice, here are three golf schools worth considering – all in locales that will appeal to a non-playing partner, too:

Annika Academy

Part of the posh Reunion Resort in Reunion, Florida, near Walt Disney World, Annika Academy is spearheaded by contemporary golf legend Annika Sorenstam. At her golf school, students get in-depth instruction from her closest advisers. A 40-year-old Swedish pro who retired from the Ladies Professional Golf Association in 2008 after a Hall of Fame career, Sorenstam has long been known for her shot-making as well as her workout routine – hence her academy’s emphasis on both golf and fitness.

Sorenstam’s longtime swing coach, Henri Reis, and sister, Charlotta Sorenstam – also an LPGA winner – are two of the school’s lead golf instructors, while Annika’s personal trainer, Kai Fusser, oversees the fitness curriculum. Sorenstam herself participates in select schools, offering clinics and then having lunch with guests; the academy’s ultimate experience, the Soren-Slam, includes a clinic, lunch, and nine holes with her.

The academy offers two- and three-day itineraries from October through May, with classes capped at eight guests and instruction typically taking place in groups of four, says director of operations Pam Kehoe. Most packages include full-swing, short-game, and course-management instruction; a Callaway club-fitting session; video swing analysis; fitness instruction that includes a personalized workout program; and a session on nutrition. All include villa accommodations and golf at Reunion Resort, which has three courses designed by golf greats Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and Tom Watson. Packages start at $2,500 and premium itineraries that include time with Sorenstam range from $4,500 to $10,000 for the Soren-Slam. (Although Sorenstam is expecting her second child this summer, the academy plans to offer packages with her this spring and fall.)

For the non-golfer, there’s a spa, water park, and other amenities . . . plus that little mouse-themed amusement park just minutes away.

Annika Academy, Reunion, Florida, http://www.theannikaacademy.com, 888-266-4522

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The Academy at La Cantera

Perched on a high point in northwest San Antonio, the Westin La Cantera Resort offers Texas Hill Country views, two top-notch courses, and a first-rate golf academy. The director of instruction is Mike Vardeman, a PGA teaching pro who studied under the late Harvey Penick, the legendary Texas golf instructor known for his best-selling volume of golf wisdom, Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book.

La Cantera’s instructors work with all types of golfers, from beginners to aspiring tour pros, Vardeman says, taking into account each player’s physical capabilities and emphasizing strong fundamentals. The academy offers year-round schools that range from a half day to three days, as well as private lessons. A typical one-day itinerary includes three hours of group instruction with at least one instructor for every four students; video swing analysis; lunch with an instructor; and a round of golf.

The academy’s schools cost $299 per person per day, and those who book a golf school are eligible for special room rates at the resort, usually ranging from $179 to $229 per night. La Cantera’s Resort Course was the longtime host of the PGA Tour’s Texas Open, and its second course, the Palmer Course, was designed by Arnold Palmer.

The resort, which has six pools, a spa, and the Westin’s “kids club,” is 15 miles from downtown’s historic River Walk and 14 miles from SeaWorld. Across the street from the course, check out Six Flags Fiesta Texas and the Shops at La Cantera, an upscale outdoor mall.

The Academy at La Cantera, San Antonio, http://www.lacanteragolfclub.com, 888-603-4653

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Hank Haney Golf Academy at Lake of Isles

Adjacent to southeast Connecticut’s Foxwoods Resort Casino, the Lake of Isles golf development has two courses designed by noted course architect Rees Jones and, since early last year, has been home to the Hank Haney Golf Academy. Haney, Tiger Woods’s former swing coach, is also known for his work with golf-challenged celebrities such as Charles Barkley and Rush Limbaugh on a Golf Channel show called The Haney Project. Although Haney rarely teaches at Lake of Isles himself, the academy’s three instructors are certified in his methods, says Derek Hooper, the facility’s director of instruction.

The Haney Golf Academy offers one- to three-day schools from April through November. Schools can include up to 12 students but maintain a ratio of at least one instructor for every four students, Hooper says. The academy also offers personalized schools and private lessons. Using four indoor studios that open up onto Lake of Isles’ practice range, the academy’s instructors can teach even in inclement weather. Standard multi-day itineraries include five hours of instruction per day with personalized computer swing analysis. The academy also offers a two-day “playing school” that comprises one day of instruction and an 18-hole playing lesson the next day, as well as two-day weekend schools just for women. Moreover, those enrolled in a custom school or private lessons can take part in a 3-D swing analysis, in which body sensors and software create a golfing avatar that accurately replicates a student’s swing movements and allows biofeedback; for example, the system can be programmed to beep when a student achieves a desired swing position.

Golfers may combine a school with accommodations at one of four Foxwoods hotels. Although prices vary based on hotel and season, a three-day school with two nights’ accommodation starts at $975. Golf on Lake of Isles’ North Course, which is open to the public, may be added on a day when attending the school for a special student rate of $90 per round. And with the rest of the trip budget, non-golfers can head over to the blackjack tables to play a couple of rounds of their own.

Hank Haney Golf Academy at Lake of Isles, North Stonington, Connecticut, http://www.lakeofisles.com, 888-475-3746
Mike Cullity, a contributing writer for Golf World magazine, lives in New Hampshire. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.