When it comes to this year’s Calgary golf, getting ready for the season is more challenging and different than ever. “After a cold and snowy long winter combined with the COVID commotion of isolation, social distancing and lockdowns,” says the upbeat and anxious Terry Carter, owner of the National Golf Academy/The Golf Dome, twice PGA of Alberta Teacher of the Year and visiting golf pro at Calgary’s Shaganappi, Confederation Park and McCall Lake, “hopefully it’s nearing the end and we are ready, over-ready, to get on with Calgary’s 2021 golf season.
“It’s almost spring and, for most of us, our whole golf game will need work. Like simple stretching exercises and a few lessons will help get our game back on track quickly. Since our body is the motor of our golf swing, we need to make sure it is tuned up and ready to go for the season. First, lots of stretching is important. Muscles will tighten up and will make it difficult to move the body properly after such a period of inactivity. Stretch the back, hamstrings, hips, shoulders, arms and wrists. Okay, okay. Stretch the whole body.”
According to a recent PGA survey, 60 per cent of low handicapper players and 40 per cent of high handicappers suffer one or more golf injuries every season. The survey also suggests that the high injury rate is traceable to the repetitive nature of the golf swing, with the risk increasing due to the fact that most golfers appear not to participate in off-season strength training or sufficient pre-game warmup, essential for developing the specific golf flexibility required for the repetitive swing.
It is estimated that the golfers’ body has to absorb a compression force of up to eight times their body weight on each swing. And the swing happens between 70 and100 times (maybe more) over an 18-hole course.
Medical experts and golf professionals agree on specifics: back pain is the most common golf injury. The diagnosis is straightforward. Golfers spend four to five hours in a bent position while applying pressure to the spine and back muscles. The repetitive movement of the golf swing during those hours puts considerable strain on the back.
Tendonitis is the most common injury of the elbow. Commonly referred to as golfer’s elbow, it is soreness and inflammation of the outer or inner tendon of the elbow. It happens when routine activities require repetitive movements – such as hitting golf balls. Putting strain on a weak knee to stabilize the hip rotation at the beginning of the swing can cause severe knee pain and extreme force applied on the knee can cause torn or sprained ligaments and kneecap injuries. A golfers’ most common wrist injury is tendinitis, from the repetitive movement of the wrist during the swing and the force applied to the tendons responsible for wrist movements.
Personable Greg Nikirk, head pro at Calgary’s Mickelson National Golf Club agrees that getting the body ready is a crucial aspect of enjoying the Calgary golf season. “Glutes. Quads. The pelvic girdle. They are key areas that have to be worked on.
“The average golfer swings the club up to 200 times a round. Practice swings do add up! So, the base in the golf swings needs to be strengthened and maintained all season long,” he points out. “A dynamic, athletic swing includes a loading sequence in the backswing, stability in transition and firing in the downswing, which all rely on larger, lower body muscle activation.”
With more than 25 years of being a teaching pro in Calgary, Carter grins and shakes his head about probably seeing it all, especially the quirky and crazy things and unorthodox golf swings. Despite all those golfy aspects, he admits that the most common problem he notices is – bad posture. “It’s much more common and problematic than even a bad grip.
“I understand it, I get it and it does make sense. Why would a golfer think about their posture when they are busy looking at a little white ball on the ground, have a club in their hand and are trying to hit the ball as hard as they can towards a target 200 yards away? But to execute a proper and effective golf swing, you need to swing the club around your spine to create a consistent arc and circular motion to hit the ball consistently,” he emphasizes.
“Bending over from our hips to get the club at approximately 90 degrees to our spine, then coiling back and through will allow the club to swing around our spine. If you round your back or do not bend the correct amount you will lose your angles and ultimately lose your golf swing. So, posture is important.”
For Alberta’s weekend warriors, the transition between hibernation and a new golf season hasn’t been as drastic and severe since the popularity of indoor driving ranges, chipping areas, putting greens and other features of indoor golf, and particularly the tremendous evolution of sophisticated golf simulator technology, providing virtual rounds of golf on courses 24/7 while winter is howling outside.
Simulator technology is bridging the gap between virtual golf and the real thing, and although indoor simulators could never replace a sunshiny round at a favorite Calgary course, simulators constantly evolve to provide a realistic golf experience.
Calgary’s Terry Carter enthusiastically embraces simulator technology and admits to having used them for more than 25 years. “Simulators have evolved from just playing golf with buddies to sophisticated club fitting and teaching tools,” he explains. “Infrared sensors and radar technology tracks the persons clubhead, ball speed, spin rates, launch angle and much more. It’s also a great way to fit equipment and a helpful tool for teaching pros to identify problems and how to fix them.”
Indoor golf, aside from pandemic lockdown interruptions, is already a popular way for off-season Calgary golfers to ready for a new season. This year, Windmill Golf Group is building two state-of-the-indoor golf-art LaunchPad locations — at Mickelson National in late spring and Heritage Pointe in the fall. The facilities will have a heating system and retractable screen setup that will allow the two Calgary-area complexes to be open year-round, the latest technology, two floors with 40 hitting stalls, dining, an open-style kitchen and full-service bar.
Indoor or (soon) outdoor, the Calgary golfer is the most important aspect of being ready for the golf season. “Make sure that the clubs are the correct length, flex and have the proper grip size,” Carter cautions. “An average size male or female will likely be okay because manufacturers make equipment for the masses, not the 5’ or 6’5” golfer. Existing clubs can typically be altered for about $10 per club plus the cost of a grip.”
As many Calgary golfers know, other than the focus on the swing and the accuracy of the drive, there are so many other golf details to get ready. “Three things to work on,” Greg Nikirk counts down on his fingers. “Short game. Short game. And short game. Most golfers have mental patterning to swing the club the same way for many years. Change is hard and requires many proper repetitions, time and dedication. But emphasis on putting, chipping, pitching and sand play. It’s easier on the body, yields immediate results and makes it more enjoyable to play golf. The best lesson that money is spent on is for improving for 60 yards and in.”