OTTAWA — The secret, golfer Ben Hogan famously declared, is in the dirt. But on Dave Druken's high-tech practice range, there's not a speck of the stuff.
In truth, Golftec's indoor teaching facilities are more laboratory than lesson tee: sensors and video cameras capture the swing in minute detail, while screens around the room display what's happening from every conceivable angle.
With a flip of the club, a "button box" on the ground lets students — sensor-equipped cables dangling from their shoulders and hips — review their positions frame by frame, all without even abandoning their posture at address.
No faded yardage markers. No beat-up tractors gathering range balls in the distance. No divots — no real grass, even. And perhaps most importantly, no snow, not even in the dead of the national capital's infamous off-season.
"It's a great option here in Ottawa to commit to making changes over the winter," says Druken, Golftec's local manager and director of instruction.
"You don't have to worry as much about taking it to the course right away, and that gives you the ability to slow it down and enjoy the journey to better golf."
Welcome to the world many observers see as the future of golf instruction: warm, dry and open for business 12 months a year, with specially trained experts who know how to turn raw numbers into better ball-striking.
Winter may be coming, but long-suffering hackers can take heart: hope springs internal.
"One of them most gratifying things that I see is, people that are a little bit older really picking up the game and doing very well with it," said James Suttie, the chief executive of Vancouver-based Golftec Canada.
So-called experts often say the future of golf depends on introducing the game to new players. Suttie, who understands a thing or two about how frustrating golf can be, knows better.
"It's not just getting people introduced to the game," he says. "It's keeping them in the game."
Canada is fertile ground for Golftec's data-based approach.
On a per-capita basis, some 21 per cent of Canadians have at least a passing interest in golf — second only to New Zealand, and roughly twice that of the United States. And yet when it comes to successful pro players, Canada pales in comparison to smaller places like Sweden and Australia.
"We're golf crazy. The unfortunate thing is we're not necessarily very good," Suttie says. "That is one of the things that I think we really could do a lot better at: getting the country better from a golfing standpoint."
After just seven years in Canada, Golftec represents a whopping 19.5 per cent of all the private lessons taught in Canada, he says. That percentage is just under 26 per cent in the U.S., where Golftec has been in operation since 1995.
"So we're very quickly catching up to the penetration that the U.S. has," Suttie says.
"We have a large percentage of very avid golfers, but we're frankly not as good as the Americans are in golf, which is not a surprise because of the money that's been spent there teaching."
Golfers themselves aren't the only ones reaping the benefits. For teaching professionals, high-tech tools can make traditional outdoor range instruction seem like working with a blindfold on.
"It's huge," says Druken, who like all Golftec instructors underwent a comprehensive training course at the U.S. parent company's Denver headquarters.
Where traditional instruction has often struggled to help students understand the differences between "feel" and "real," the scientific, numbers-oriented approach all but eliminates the uncertainty that can undermine progress, he preaches.
"It's one thing to have theory about what you think the student should do, but to be able to measure gives you clear direction, and allows the student to buy into the process with trust," Druken says.
"For a novice coach, the training they receive and the tools at their disposal allow them to have direction, even when they may not know how to act from previous experience."
To prove his point, Druken quickly diagnoses a visitor's long-standing frustrations with swing plane, spotting a shoulder tilt that's not where it should be. The Golftec system shows a yellow or red number — not good.
He activates an electronic tone that will only sound once the shoulder plane is in the green zone. A couple of false starts, then suddenly — beep! — a picture-perfect position at the top of the swing that looks yanked from the pages of Golf Digest.
"We're a numbers-driven society," says Suttie. "Once you start to understand the numbers, it makes it a lot easier to be able to communicate effectively, so you're working on the right things."
The indoor element makes a difference, too. Working on a swing change in the middle of the golf season borders on the impossible for all but the most dedicated players, since it often means a difficult period of adjustment at the most inopportune time.
Building a new swing in the dead of winter, on the other hand? What else were you planning to do besides shovel the driveway, scrape the ice off the windshield and maybe brave the mall for a relaxing bit of Christmas shopping?
"That is a great way of practicing, as opposed to going to the driving range and pounding balls for an hour, which is what I used to do all the time," says Suttie.
"It never got me better."
James McCarten, The Canadian Press