With so many quality instructors, Naples has an embarrassment of riches

By Jeff Berlinicke, Contributor

NAPLES, Fla. -- You can walk into any convenience store in Naples and get a golf tip. They are that plentiful.

Full Swing
In this golf bastion of southwest Florida, everyone has advice and the secret to the game of golf.
Full Swing
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Golf instructors outnumber McDonald's employees in this golf bastion in southwest Florida. Everyone has advice and the secret to the game of golf.

Instructors may be a dime a dozen but they cost a lot more than a dime. Quality instruction can run anywhere between $35 an hour to hundreds of dollars for a customized session at some of the area's higher-rent locales.

One of the better bargains for the buck comes from Cec McFarlane, a golf teacher at the nondescript Briarwood Driving Range. The range may not be impressive, sitting right next to Naples' small airport but McFarlane brings many years of experience as well as a different outlook on the game that separates him in many ways from some of the more renowned golf instructors in the area. Some might call him eccentric in a way, but his ideas work.(More on that in a bit.)

Most of his ideas are expressed in his book "Throw It, Don't Hit It," which came out in 2002. McFarlane explains, over and over, the worst thing to do on the golf course is to think about what you are doing. It's kind of a novel approach in a sport that emphasizes concentration among all else but McFarlane, whose clientele is among the largest in southwest Florida, says the idea behind the perfect swing is to just throw the club at the ball and let the club do all the work.

"You have to keep it simple," McFarlane said, as the remnants of Hurricane Charlie rained down upon the practice range. "So many people expect this game to be so hard and it isn't. Once you learn the game and learn that it isn't so hard, it gets easier, but you have to learn that it is easy in the first place."

At 6-foot-3 I have more body movement than most off the tee or anywhere else on the course for that matter, and that's usually a bad thing. McFarlane asked me to take a few swings. Not too bad, it turned out, somewhat straight, but not too long.

After three swings, McFarlane, a no-nonsense character who says whatever is on his mind whenever he feels like it, looked at me and asked if I played basketball.

"Yeah, all the time, when I'm not trying to break 80 out here," I said.

McFarlane told be to get into a defensive basketball crouch, as if I were guarding Michael Jordan. I bent at the waist, relaxed the arms and posed as if Mike was trying to get past me.

"Now, slowly move your hands, only your hands, towards where the 7-iron would be, if you had one in front of you," McFarlane said.

So, in my defensive crouch, I did as instructed and grabbed the 7-iron and hit the ball 170 and straight.

"Do it again," I was told, and it was another 170, straight.

Tiger and the boys can go way past 170 with a 7-iron but it was an epiphany of sorts since mine normally go 150, and at an angle.

That's the kind of advice McFarlane has been doling out for years in the southwest Florida area. He rubs other teachers the wrong way and that's fine with him.

"You can take 100 professional teachers and listen to what they tell you and you can't tell the difference and I don't care who they are," McFarlane said. "They first thing anyone needs to teach is that it's all about alignment and getting the rest of the BS that everyone teaches out of their head."

McFarlane says the idea behind the swing is as simple as it can be.

"You just put the club down, tee it up, release with the hands and get square with the target line," he said. "You just let the muscles take over. It's all mental and the computer that is your brain can take over from there. Once you understand those simple things, you have it."

McFarlane started playing at the age of 17 and shot an 86 his first time out, playing with rental clubs.

"I always had an ugly swing but you'd better never bet any money against me," he said as the rain started to pound off the roof of his small pro shop. "I've won my share of events."

McFarlane has been a teacher for 43 years, 23 of them in Naples. He describes himself as one of the best professional instructors in the nation but he knows his theories are somewhat unorthodox in an atmosphere where >every aspect of the swing is broken down into quantum physics.

"I just shake my head at all the crap that's out there," McFarlane said. "There's so much out there that makes it too complicated. Just throw the damned ball, don't make it any more complicated than that. It's so easy."

Other Naples golf schools

Naples Grande Golf Club

Tom Patri Golf School .

Patri, one of Golf Magazine's Top 100 Teachers in America, is director of instruction at Naples Grande Golf Club, where he started in 2001 after being named one of the top 25 golf instructors in the state of New York by Golf Magazine. He captured the 1981 NCAA Division II title while attending Florida Southern College and has just written his first book, "The Six Spoke Approach to Better Golf Learning."

Guests at the TP Golf Schools can stay at the beachfront Edgewater Beach Hotel & Club and have access to the course, a water-lined layout, a Rees Jones-designed course with plenty of water. Guests can receive private lessons or participate in clinics. The school recently added instructor Chad Vaughn, formerly of the prestigious Baltimore Country Club.

Women's and junior's programs are also offered.

Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort

Rick Smith Golf Academy

Smith's academy is known throughout the golfing world, and even though Smith himself isn't usually on hand, he has instructors who follow his rules to the letter

The school is part of the Tiburon Golf Club, designed by Greg Norman, and features excellent amenities as well as personalized instruction.

Smith's Golf Academies pack a lot for the instruction but it comes at a price.

Jeff BerlinickeJeff Berlinicke, Contributor

Jeff Berlinicke is a golf writer based in Tampa, Fla. He writes for multiple publications including the Tampa Tribune, Golf Fitness Magazine, and the Associated Press. He has also received multiple honors from the Florida Press Association.

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