About Utah: GolfTEC Center brings lessons to a strip mall

Published: Sunday, March 27 2011 11:16 p.m. MDT

Billy Casper demonstrates the GolfTEC technology.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY – It's not surprising to find a person with the name of Byron Casper — two of the most famous names in golf — working at a practice range, teaching people how to properly swing a golf club.

What is surprising is that the range is in a strip mall and could easily fit inside a medium-sized sand trap at Augusta.

"Welcome to my office," says Casper, as he stands next to a tee box made of artificial turf. No more than 20 feet away is a large canvas screen, with a target smack in the middle.

Want to hit it a mile? Want to shave strokes off your score? Want to follow through like Hogan? This is where it all starts — aiming at that canvas.

The new wave of golf instruction has moved inside.

"It's always 70 degrees and sunny in a GolfTEC Center," says Casper.

GolfTEC was started 14 years ago by two golf pros in Denver who thought with everything else being computerized, why not golf lessons?

But instead of putting their instruction centers at golf courses and country clubs, they put them where the masses work — in strip malls, next to office buildings and industrial centers — easy-to-get-to locations where a person can have a golf lesson for lunch.

Utah's first GolfTEC, which opened in December, is located in the middle of the Salt Lake Valley, just off the I-215 freeway at 6582 S. It's surrounded by office towers, restaurants, dry cleaners and banks.

Casper explains that what would at first appear to be a disadvantage — not being able to see where the ball ends up — is actually a plus.

"On an outdoor range you worry more about ball flight, about the end result, about how it looks," says Casper. "Here we're worried about building a repeatable swing. It's about input, not output."

Cameras and computers measure swing motion from all angles, providing input that is not only instantaneous but also incontrovertible.

"You'd be amazed at how many people look at their own video and insist 'I don't swing like that,'" says Casper.

For comparison purposes, the computers also pull up the swings of hundreds of professional golfers, both men and women. A little tweak here, an elbow tuck there, and you can be on the same plane as Tiger.

The lesson footage is then loaded onto a personal web page, allowing for unlimited review and homework.

This technological approach to golf instruction has gained steady traction. In 14 years GolfTEC has grown to more than 125 centers across America, currently accounting for 20 percent of all golf lessons given nationally.

Utah's first GolfTEC opened with a staff of three — owner Simon Mason and two instructors, Casper and Barry Schenk.

Mason, a native of England who worked previously in Utah, was living in Indiana when his son got a GolfTEC lesson. He was so impressed he asked for one too. Not a lesson, a franchise.

"I asked if they had anything in Utah," Mason says. "When they said not yet, I went about making it happen."

Adding Byron Casper to the staff brought in a resume that links old school golf with new school golf.

Born in 1968, his first name comes from legendary golfer Byron Nelson and his last name from his father, legendary golfer Billy Casper.

The elder Casper played on the 1965 Ryder Cup team that was captained by Byron Nelson — and was so impressed that when he had a son three years later he gave him his captain's name.

On the list of the winningest golfers in the history of the PGA Tour, Byron Nelson ranks No. 6 with 52 victories and Billy Casper ranks No. 7 with 51.

Last week, Byron Casper brought his famous father to the GolfTEC studios to film his swing.

"Amazing," he said when he looked at the computerized analysis of his dad's golf swing at age 79 and compared it to the swings of modern pros the likes of Tiger Woods and Stuart Appleby. "He still has all the fundamentals that make up a beautiful repeatable swing."

"Dad opened the world of golf to me," says Byron, who spent three years caddying for his father when he played on the Champions Tour. "Because of him I was able to see thousands and thousands of swings. Getting people to hit the ball the right way has become like a mission to me."

"I can see a huge value in this type of instruction," said Billy Casper as he viewed the new technology of his old swing. "What's important is that it gives you a visual aid. It lets you see exactly what you're doing."

"I've taught the old-fashioned way on a range," says Byron. "This gets better results — and it's more fun."

Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Monday and Friday. Email: benson@desnews.com.

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