Join the Club

Golf for Beginners
by Emily Zulz

After hearing from others how much fun golf is, Alison Oaks began to wonder what she was missing out on. Having never played the game, Oaks, philanthropy coordinator for The Nature Conservancy, is ready to give it a try. “A day on the golf course sounds like a good time,” she said. “You are with friends or colleagues for the day, enjoying each other’s company, while at the same time competing against each other.”

As she advances in her professional career, Oaks sees many individuals who golf for business, fundraising events and recreation—but her lack of knowledge and experience prevents her from joining in.

Much the same happened to Jodi Wright, accounts payable and credit manager for Electrolux Home Care Products North America. “Over the last few years, I’ve been getting more and more invitations from business associates to play, and I realized I was missing out on a networking opportunity,” she explained.

Wright started informal lessons with her father, an avid golfer, before beginning formal instruction with the Peoria Park District in June. At this point, she said, she’s thrilled if she can at least make good contact with the ball. “I want to feel comfortable enough on the course to play 18 holes…without fearing the whole time that I am making a fool of myself,” said Wright. “I don’t expect to be good anytime soon, I just want to be able to hang out and participate and understand the flow of the game.” Golf allows her to be outdoors, get some exercise and participate in a social activity.

Perhaps you, too, want to learn how to golf, but don’t know where to start. Here is a look at several area golf courses that offer instruction for golf novices.


WeaverRidge Golf Club

5100 WeaverRidge Blvd., Peoria

(309) 691-3344,

The Learning Center at WeaverRidge Golf Club sees a variety of levels of golfers, from the very beginner up to the accomplished player. “We’ve got a first-class Learning Center, as well as a very qualified staff,” said Jeff Roche, teaching professional at WeaverRidge and men’s golf coach at Bradley University. Roche and the other teaching professional, Ray Kralis, have approximately 40 years of instruction experience between them.

The Learning Center offers a full grass hitting area, practice chipping green, practice putting green and driving range with target greens. The Center offers individual lessons, and group lessons for juniors and adults were added this summer.

The average child Roche teaches is about 11 or 12 years old, but he has started to get calls for children of younger ages—around six and seven. When starting out, Roche teaches children the basic fundamentals, like how to grip the club, how to stand and the really basic concept of a golf swing. “We try to not make it too complicated for the younger ones,” he said. These basic concepts are also applied to the adult beginner students. The only difference would be a stronger capability and, possibly, a wider knowledge of the sport.

Roche’s advice for someone who has never golfed before is to first get with an instructor to learn the basic fundamentals. “You can really enjoy the game once you can understand just a few basic principles,” Roche said. “It can be a game where you can enjoy it within the first couple times of having some lessons.”


Peoria Park District

Golf Learning Center & Academy

7815 N. Radnor Rd., Peoria

(309) 690-7162,

The Golf Learning Center at the Peoria Park District provides a place to learn the sport all year long. Robby Dobelstein is manager and head professional at the Center. “What’s unique about the Learning Center is it’s a full-service practice facility,” he said. “We have coverage stalls for when it’s raining. We have heated hitting spots for the wintertime. You can practice here every single facet of the golf game.” The Center, which is open every day of the year except a handful of holidays, also has virtual golf and indoor nets, as well as a 12,000-square-foot practice putting green and a 22,000-square-foot practice short-game green.

A variety of classes are available through the Learning Center. Youth lessons are offered for three- to six-year-olds, and in three half-hour lessons children can learn to make a full swing, chip and putt. The Pitch and Putt Course at the Center provides a good way for children to start playing. The holes are manageable for a child, at only 40 to 90 yards long. In six one-hour sessions, junior lessons are available for seven- to 17-year-olds to learn the golf basics, full swing and short game.

Group lessons are available for adults ages 18 and up, at all skill levels. If a woman feels intimidated stepping right into one of these lessons, the Center offers a women-only beginner’s class. And family lessons allow for a husband, wife and their kids to take classes and enjoy their time together.

Private lessons are also available at students’ convenience. These would allow the golf pro to individualize what is taught according to the skill level of the student. “My recommendation would be to take your beginner lessons,” Dobelstein said. “You’ll get the basic fundamentals and then after you do that once, or even twice, if you feel like you still might need some help, that would be the time to jump into some private lessons.”


Quail Meadows Golf Course

2215 Centennial Dr., Washington

(309) 694-3139,

Quail Meadows, a Fon du Lac Park District golf course facility located in Washington, offers lessons by appointment only.

Glenn Mason is the teaching professional at Quail Meadows and Illinois Central College. He teaches mostly individuals and couples, but also teaches a few larger groups. His students range in age from 13 to 75 years old, with a range of experience. Mason customizes his lessons according to the needs of each particular student. With beginners, he starts by identifying all of the individual golf clubs and their parts. “We work on the fundamentals,” Mason said. “The fundamentals would be your posture, your grip. The posture’s the most important thing we start out with.”

The main thing for beginners to remember is to have patience and learn the game a little bit at a time, Mason said. “Golf is a game that takes a little patience to learn, so don’t expect to learn it in three or four lessons,” he said. It may be a time-consuming game, but “it’s an easy game, said Mason. “It’s easy to hit golf balls. To play the game takes a little bit of time.”


Other Options

Coyote Creek Golf Course

8201 W. Lancaster, Bartonville

(309) 633-0911

Coyote Creek offers Ladies Night Out from 6 to 7pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays. These group lessons for women give introductory golf instruction, followed by wine or beer, and cheese and crackers. They also have a program for juniors, ages eight to 18. Lessons are also available with a golf professional by appointment.


Fon du Lac Golf Course

123 Par 3 Lane, East Peoria

(309) 699-4222

Fon du Lac Golf Course is home to the annual Just For Kids Golf Tournament, which will take place on July 26th and 27th this year. The tournament is open to children ages two to 15, regardless of skill level, and entries are accepted until July 20th. The golf course also has a Junior Golf Program for children ages seven to 15. Juniors can learn the rules, strategy, history and how to improve their game every Thursday from June 5th to August 14th.


Sunset Hills Golf Club

1620 Summit Drive, Pekin

(309) 347-7553

At Sunset Hills, a teaching area is set aside from the course for single and group lessons. Their learning center offers the latest technology to study and improve your swing, including video golf lessons and a launch monitor. The learning center has a 350-yard driving range featuring five target greens, a 100-yard practice hole, chipping and putting green and a practice bunker.


Don’t Worry About Your Gear

All three golf professionals stressed that beginners should not worry about equipment until after they’ve taken lessons.

The Peoria Park District offers rental clubs, so all beginners need is a pair of tennis shoes. Only after several lessons does Dobelstein suggest talking to your golf professional about buying clubs. “They’re going to make sure that what you get is correct,” he said. “You might go somewhere and they might just sell you something.”

Mason also furnishes equipment for the beginners at Quail Meadows, so they can first learn the rules and see if they are going to enjoy the game.

Roche, of WeaverRidge, suggests beginners take it slow. “I think lessons are the first way to go before you go and spend a lot of money,” he said. Once you take the plunge and buy some clubs, he suggests starting off with some basic equipment. After some lessons, you can get fitted for a set of clubs.


How to Behave on the Green

Most golf instruction includes lessons on the rules and etiquette of the game. Golf etiquette is not just about your manners on the green, but about safety as well. Here are some tips from Glenn Mason of Quail Meadows and Robby Dobelstein of the Peoria Park District:

  1. Always be ready to play when it’s your turn.
  2. Don’t hit off between tees.
  3. Repair the greens when you leave a divot.
  4. Most importantly, if you hear the word fore, duck. If it looks like you’re going to hit someone, yell fore.
  5. Don’t move around while someone else is putting.
  6. When you leave the sand trap, rake it and try to leave it in as good a condition as it was when you played out of it.
  7. Don’t stand with your shadow on the hole. a&s