Story by Diane Haynes Woodburn | Photography by Bob Bangerter
“Just whack it,” Beverly tells us in her friendly southern drawl. “Sure,” I laugh. “I’d love to.”
It’s a glorious morning on Lana‘i. I’ve come for three days of golf, beginning with a warm-up on the driving range of The Experience at Ko‘ele. It just doesn’t get any prettier than this: at 2,000-foot elevation, we are amid dramatic highland terrain, cool breezes, and breathtaking views of Maui and Moloka‘i. The only thing not pretty is my swing. That’s why I’m here.
I am one of four women on a mission: Learn to better our golf skills. And LPGA instructor Beverly Fergusson, of Insight Golf Schools, is here to teach us how at Hotel Lana‘i’s Girlfriends’ Golf Getaway—the brainchild of Hotel Lana‘i owner Mary Charles.
“I took the course at the Sycuan Golf Academy in San Diego, California,” Charles tells me. Beverly and her business partner, Shari Hayes, LPGA & PGA, “simplified golf by teaching me how to use my thinking strengths.” Charles learned that one of her greatest strengths is her analytic and decisive mind. Beverly and Shari encouraged her to trust her instincts rather than the accepted norm when approaching a problem shot or a particularly challenging hole. “That [knowledge] improved both my game and my enjoyment. I was so impressed, I thought, Why not do something like this on Lana‘i?”
Beverly and Shari were instantly on course—and brought Insight Golf Schools to Lana‘i in 2010. The three- or four-day getaways include full-day lessons at Lana‘i’s two championship courses, The Experience at Ko‘ele and The Challenge at Manele, plus lodging at the historic and oh-so-charming Hotel Lana‘i. Class sizes are limited to four women per instructor. The getaways are designed not just to teach, but to bring women together for relaxation and camaraderie. Beverly and Shari take the frustration out and put the fun back into the game.
Although our three days have a basic format, it is clear even before we begin that the course will take its shape based on our personal needs and learning styles. Weeks before the class began, we each received questionnaires designed to determine our attitudes and problem-solving styles. “We all learn in different ways,” Beverly explains, “and respond differently to specific approaches in teaching.” She then summarizes our test results—which are a surprisingly accurate reflection of our individual personalities. Understanding that none of us is expected to be like any other puts us at ease. “We don’t focus on what is wrong,” says Beverly. “We focus on giving you instruction and guidance on how to do it right, and we keep in mind your strengths, your learning style, and your goals—mentally, physically and emotionally.”
“The most important thing is relaxation,” she tells us. We learn that women usually carry tension in their shoulders and extremities. I’m a perfect example: when I am tense, my posture hunches into a C shape. From that position I swing my club up, instead of out. By straightening my back and rotating out, I was able to swing naturally and effortlessly. One correction. I hit the ball 185 yards. I think I’m going to like this.
On the putting green, I am close to hopeless, showing no concept of distance or aim. Beverly sets up a line of string for us twelve feet away. “Learn how much of a stroke it takes for you to hit twelve feet,” she says. “When you have that down, try six feet.” In a very short time, I begin to sense exactly how far back I need to swing to hit twelve feet.
But is it straight? “Doesn’t matter how you aim, if you can’t hit along the line you’re aiming at,” says Beverly. “If the ball is not rolling in a straight line, test your setup. Is your eye over the ball?” To test, hold another ball to your left eye and let the ball drop; if it doesn’t fall on the ball you’ve set up, you are not in position, and your putt will not be straight.
After these two exercises, we all putt again, with amazing improvement. Clunk in the hole, clunk in the hole, one after the other—even mine.
Even the more experienced golfers in our foursome did not know the secret to controlling a chip. Here it is: Keep your feet close together, the ball off the inside of the right big toe, and your feet turned slightly toward the hole. Weight is on the left; the shaft of your club should lean forward toward the hole. Keep your balance and shorten your swing. “Hold it right there.” Beverly documents my stance on her camera. “Now hit.” Voila! The ball goes up into a short, controlled arc, lands softly and rolls. And it works, every time.
Here we learn to use the body a little more. Hands stay low and swing is in the wrist. I learn that when I am afraid of the shot, I inhibit my swing by not completely turning my chest to the target. Beverly reminds me, “Wherever the club head goes, your chest follows. Focus on what you want to do, not on the target.” I do, and the ball obeys.
I’ve learned more in one morning that in ten years of hacking and wondering, Why can’t I hit it? For me, it’s posture and intent, which translates, in golfese, to rotation and follow-through.
At lunch, Beverly shows us photos of our corrected stances. Each of us now fully understands—we can improve and it isn’t complicated. Later, we take our newfound skills back on the course to play a few holes. We are definitely having more fun.
Back at Hotel Lana‘i, we gather at the bar and share stories with each other, and with locals who congregate here for a night of good cheer. We even learn about the tourist who shooed a chicken out of his rented jeep—only to find an egg on the driver’s seat. The stories flow, and the laughter is contagious.
If you haven’t dined at Hotel Lana‘i lately, you are in for a treat. The food is fabulous. I have the steamed fish, which comes wrapped in ti-leaves and herbs. We all chatter at once about how much we have learned. “The most important thing,” Beverly tells us, “is to keep your spirit up and your intent clear. And don’t be afraid to define your boundaries.” When you’re on the course and things go wrong, everyone has an opinion. “Don’t take it in,” she warns us. “Ask yourself a specific question, such as, ‘Is my club pointing up in the air?’ The answer can only be yes or no. You take control.”
The next morning we meet at The Challenge. Throughout the day, Beverly takes photos of our proper setups and we fill our notebooks with tips and reminders. In the afternoon, we play the course and remember to have fun; it would be impossible to do otherwise. We even find time to shop and sightsee in picturesque Lana‘i City. By our third day, we are not just veterans of a remarkable golfing experience, we are friends.
At our last lunch, it’s a challenge to absorb all we have learned. To our delight, Beverly presents us with our notebooks, which she had collected from us the previous evening. They are now filled with photos of our lessons and our best stance for each shot practiced. It will serve as my golf bible for years to come.
“What did you find most surprising about the getaway?” I ask the group.
“That someone was willing to know me before they started to teach me,” Janice answers. “Because of that, I got the most out of the course.“
“I was surprised at how many balls I could hit in the air!” Joan smiles. “The most helpful lesson for me was ‘practice with purpose.’”
“I realized I was never taught how to properly stand and address the ball,” says Ruth. “But the biggest surprise was using the putter to chip! That alone could take a stroke off each hole.”
“I learned that men teach differently from women,” says Joan. “Bev’s method was more intuitive for my body, my size, my style—and more meaningful.”
“It’s not just physical; it’s emotional too,” says Janice. “By the end of the day, Beverly could read my mind!”
“Well,” I chime in, “that’s not hard. I can read all our minds. We are definitely coming back.”
Girlfriend, Get Your Game On!
Join Beverly Fergusson and Sheri Hayes at the next Girlfriends’ Golf Getaway, Feb. 18–21. (Short-game school Feb. 24–27.) The $2,030 fee includes three nights at Hotel Lana‘i, three days of instruction, daily golf, ground transportation, workbook and more. Register at (760) 807-8220 or www.insightgolfschools.com.