Looking to fine tune your game, but want get out of town at the same time (or maybe not)? Look no further than the multiple locations of the Bird Golf School.
Location(s): Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa, Chandler, AZ … plus multiple other locations in Arizona, Colorado, California, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Tennessee
Total Distance from Denver: Approximately 930 miles
Estimated Drive Time in Mark Knudson’s Minivan: 13 hours
Sometimes, the thought of paying for golf when you’re not at the top of your game doesn’t sit well. Glancing at a scorecard that reflects a score in the triple digits, while simultaneously combing the calendar for a free weekend in which to take a golf getaway, can seem contradictory. Vacations, especially ones involving golf, can be downright expensive. No one wants to pay top dollar for a golfing experience and then rub salt in the wound by playing poorly.
Golfers sometimes make light of a less-than-desirable score. “Well, by shooting 103, each shot cost me less than the guy who shot par,” they quip, offering a humorous justification for their lackluster effort. But if you’ve played the game, you know that most golfers would pay double to turn in a respectable scorecard.
If you think a luxurious golf getaway might be a waste of your time and money because you’re not playing well, we’ve got the perfect solution for you – Bird Golf Academy.
In short, Bird Golf Academy offers a perfect solution for the individual who loves golf and golf-related vacations, but isn’t necessarily happy with how they’re playing. Jay Ewing, who founded Bird Golf Academy in 1999, has an answer for such a golfer.
“It’s not a typical golf school at all,” he says. “I didn’t see why someone couldn’t get the best instruction and still play at some of the greatest courses in the world. I never wanted this to be just lessons. I wanted to be the best golf school in the country.”
What Ewing is referring to is a vision he had when deciding to change the format of how Bird Golf conducted lessons. Like most golf schools, Bird Golf was teaching larger groups with a lot of time between lessons. Ewing wanted to change that.
“Building the best golf school was my dream,” he says.
Ewing set out to accomplish this dream by deciding to offer a one-on-one or one-on-two ratio of instructors to students. Golf cannot be learned by generalizing and broad sweeping instruction, he deducted.
“Each golfer is different; it’s impossible to teach them all the same way,” he explains.
Aside from adapting this new philosophy, he became set on hiring some of the best instructors in the world.
“In the end, it’s all about who is teaching you,” says Ewing.
Today, Bird Golf Academy has an impressive stack of résumés in its arsenal of instructors. Sharon Miller, the LPGA’s national teacher of the year in 1989 is the Academy’s national head professional. The East Coast director of instruction is Mary Mills, the 1963 U.S. Women’s Open champion, and winner of the 1964 and 1973 LPGA Championships and nine LPGA tour events. Jim Samsing, a PGA professional for 30 years, is the Academy’s West Coast director of instruction. From there, the list of top teaching pros employed by Bird Golf gets even longer. Instructors are handpicked from all over the world and then appointed to one of Bird Golf’s 14 locations around the country.
Oh, yes – the locations.
This is a “road trip recommendation” feature, correct? So let’s start with Bird’s two great Colorado facilities. First, the Golf Club at Crested Butte has aptly served as the Bird Golf Academy’s Colorado hub. As Coloradoans know, Crested Butte is still and unharmed, innocent from commercial influence, destination of choice. Ewing was attracted to the area and how it fit into his master plan.
“It’s just one of those spots you love, but the golf is so phenomenal it made a lot of sense,” he says.
But perhaps even more exciting is the Academy’s newly formed relationship with Pelican Lakes Golf Club in Windsor. Pelican Lakes (as we’ve recommended in this very feature), is one of northern Colorado’s premier golf destinations. It’s immaculate course with miles of shoreline adds a perfect dimension to Bird’s Colorado offering. Plus, it’s within an hour of Denver, so Colorado students can get in a round and a lesson even when they’re not on vacation.
“We’re very excited about Pelican Lakes,” says Ewing. “The course provides us with an excellent option for our Denver customers.”
Despite the more than adequate locations in Colorado (those are the ones you can “come back” to) we wouldn’t want to insist on staying with the Centennial State’s borders. Bird Golf Academy offers a multitude of vacationing options, each with golf courses and lodging accommodations that are second to none. This is where Ewing’s vision for a world-class golf school gets interesting.
“A lot of people told me it would never work,” recalls Ewing, who started with just two locations in Arizona. “I didn’t listen.”
Ewing began building his dream course by course, student by student. He carefully formed a network of top-rate facilities, but not just places that offered well-kept greens – he wanted the whole package.
“People pay a lot for this game. I wanted to offer only the best,” says Ewing.
And that’s exactly what anyone attending the Bird Golf Academy will get. The company’s mission statement clearly defines what this means:
The Bird Golf Schools will provide each of our students with the “Ultimate Golf Learning Experience®” by providing each student with the finest PGA, LPGA and other allied professionals; golf facilities; and the most luxurious accommodations available. In every way, it is our goal to provide our students with the best.
As mentioned, there are 14 different resort locations (in Arizona, Colorado , California, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Tennessee). However, we strongly suggest the original – the one-of-a-kind Wild Horse Pass Resort and Spa.
Wild Horse Pass is widely considered one of the finest golf resort destinations in the Southwest. It’s nestled between the Sierra Estrella and South Mountains, just 15 minutes from Phoenix airport. The course’s rugged beauty that ironically sits in the middle of the desert, also sits atop a Native American reservation. It’s truly a unique setting, offering a rich history and sense of culture. The Gila Indian community still resides there, but more specifically the Pima tribe has inhabited the lands for more than 2,400 years.
Students of the Bird Golf Academy – at least the ones in Arizona – speak most highly of the incredible Whirlwind Golf Club. This 36-hole masterpiece was designed by Gary Panks and was voted by Golf Magazine as one of the Top 25 “New courses in the U.S.” in 2004. Whirlwind is also home to the PGA Nationwide Tour’s Gila River Classic. In fact, Whirlwind was Troon Golf’s 2004, “Facility of the Year” (out of 140 course worldwide).
Furthermore, the resort has already been the recipient of several awards. Recognized by the Zagat survey 2005 as one of America’s Finest Resorts and featured in Travel and Leisure Magazine (January 2005), this resort offers much more than just golf lessons. There are five restaurants on property, including the award-winning, five-diamond Kai Restaurant, which features a menu rich in creativity, history and Native American culture.
And in case you’re the only one in the family trying to shave strokes, there are plenty of other options at the resort. The acclaimed Aji Spa and Salon is one of the finest spas in the entire country and the horseback riding will entertain the kids for hours. And there are plans for world-class shopping developments within the next five years.
But if you’re not sold yet – perhaps you just want to become a better golfer – there are plenty of testimonials that are sure to convince you that vacation can me more than just relaxing. After all, over 52 percent of Bird’s customer base comes from repeat or referral customers.
Take Sandy Cable, for example. Ewing recalls when Cable first showed up with a desire to become a better golfer.
“She was 55 years old, not extremely athletic and hadn’t cracked 123 in 20 years of playing,” he says, describing a project he and his staff gladly accepted.
Just five months ago, Cable shot a 79, and quite frequently shoots in the 80s.
“It’s changed her life,” beams Ewing. “We’re really proud of her. She’s a great example of what we’re able to do when someone dedicates themselves to improving their game.”
Another similar example is a woman who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, who actually had to switch from playing right-handed to swinging as a lefty. She quickly moved from a 20 handicap to a 12. She’s just another example of how Ewing’s vision for Bird Golf Academy has been a success.
For Coloradoan’s, though, Ewing’s school offers both a vacation and a “local” solution to becoming a better player. Get on the plane and head south to Arizona to enjoy the roots of Bird Golf Academy at Wild Horse Pass; and then return home to refine the lessons you’ve begun.
Go ahead, do more than make your next golf vacation relaxing; make it productive by becoming the golfer you’ve always wanted to be.
Did You Know? A lot of business gets done on the golf course; don’t you wish your office was a little more “capable” on the links? Not to worry, Bird Golf Academy offers packages and lessons for entire corporate functions. Executive golf programs are hosted at the flagship site, the Wild Horse Pass and Golf Club, at Jekyll Island, Ga., and at the Mission Inn Golf and Tennis Resort near Orlando, Fla. It’s all part of the Academy’s mission to address each client’s need in a unique and customized manner. Just think how much business would get done if your entire office could respectfully hit the links?
Hotel Recommendations: We don’t mean to take the easy way out, but you’d be foolish not to stay anywhere other than the amazing Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Spa and Resort itself. Sure, you could probably crash at a nearby Holiday Inn, but why not spoil yourself? There are 500 luxurious rooms, the aforementioned Aji Spa, the Koli Equestrian Center for horseback riding, five restaurants on site and a staff that understands what you’re looking for when you’re trying to “relax.” You may pay a little extra, but the additional cost is well worth it. Don’t cut corners; do it right by staying at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Spa and Resort.
Restaurant Recommendations: Again, we could scour the Phoenix yellow pages for a healthy set of recommendations, but seriously, you don’t need to leave the resort. Specifically, don’t miss your chance to dine in the fabulous Kai Restaurant , just one of five eateries on site. The Kai offers an interesting menu to say the least. But don’t be intimidated, it’s not different for the sake of “being different.” Simply put, we’re willing to bet you haven’t had anything like it, ever. The menu is creative and offers a taste of the local Native American culture. If you don’t like it, we’ll eat crow and buy you a gift certificate to McDonalds.
Hey Par Shooters! (A Tip from Teddy Y.): “Superman. Batman. Captain America. And Jay Ewing. That’s my shortlist of superheroes. Seriously, Ewing’s concept of being able to improve your golf game, all while lapping up the good life at some of the world’s greatest resorts, works and works well. I’m not sure why no one else ever thought of this brilliant concept, but thank goodness Ewing did. I’m not afraid to say it – golfers can be snooty and demanding. But that’s not a problem for Ewing, who addressed everything the high-maintenance vacationer could ever want before they ever hit the links. Plus, once you pay for your instruction, the golf is free! That’s right, sign up for the school and then play as much as you want on the actual course – not some three-hole practice track. I’ll take someone who can shave six strokes off my scorecard, all while my wife is at the spa, over a caped guy who can leap tall buildings in a single bound any day. Thanks, Jay – you get us golfers.”
Reprinted with Permission Mile High Sports Magazine