RIDGEFIELD, CONNECTICUT | I had never thought much about the golf facility near my home in upper Fairfield County. When I first saw the place some 20 years ago, it appeared to be rinky-dink and rundown, with a wooden deck driving range and a mini-golf course. Being the sort who has long preferred playing to practicing, I had no interest in stopping by. And those sentiments did not change even after I noticed a decade ago that a new owner was dramatically upgrading the operation.
But my thinking changed during a recent call on a completely unrelated subject with Rob Collins, the course architect who with his partner Tad King created the cult favorite Sweetens Cove course outside Chattanooga, Tennessee. After learning that I had long lived in the Nutmeg State, Collins told me that one of his first collaborations with King was a short course at that place I passed by on occasion.
“It’s a cool spot,” he said. “You should check it out.”
So last week, I did just that. What I discovered was not only a state-of-the-art practice facility with an expansive range and a pair of practice putting greens but also a golf academy that caters to youngsters, most of whom hope to play in high school and college, and adults looking to improve their own games. Called the Golf Performance Center, it boasts two levels of indoor/outdoor hitting bays equipped with advanced technology for swing analysis and club fitting, such as Gears, K-Motion and TrackMan. There is also a SAM PuttLab as well as a gym, pro shop and film and meeting rooms. And just down the road is the so-called main campus, where those academy members who are boarders eat, sleep and study as part of GPC’s Achieve Program.
Oh, and there’s the Collins-King creation, a nine-hole track that is playfully dubbed GPC National and routed on the grounds of the range. The course features small, undulating bent-grass greens guarded by gaping bunkers and is designed so golfers can practice a variety of short-game shots on holes that range in length from 30 to 100 yards. Maintained by a full-time superintendent, the layout and range can be illuminated by lights for night-time play and practice.
“Years ago, when I was teaching at an indoor facility just up the road, I started thinking about creating a year-round academy where would could develop junior golfers in the Northeast while also giving adults a way to get better,” said GPC founder and chief executive officer Roger Knick, a PGA of America professional who is also TPI-certified. “It would start with assessing and evaluating athletes and then creating a plan to match their goals in golf and help realize them.”
Knick formally founded the Golf Performance Center in 2006, and his concepts certainly seem to be working, for nearly 100 GPC alumni have gone on to compete at more than 80 different colleges. A number of his former charges have also qualified for USGA championships and played in professional tour events.
Thanks to that record, the center has come to be regarded as one of the top golf academies in the land, with weekend, summer and after-school sessions as well as a full-time Achieve Program that combines academics with golf for both day students and boarders.
GPC has also earned accolades for assisting dozens of adults in lowering their handicaps – and in some cases winning club championships and other local golf events.
From the beginning, Knick believed there was a market for the facility he had in mind. “I knew there were not a lot of good practice and development centers in the Northeast,” he explained. “Places where you can help with the physical and mental aspects of the game while also building the necessary skills as golfers. And I had a pretty good sense that people in this area, both adults and juniors, wanted to acquire that knowledge and have the ability to train year-round.”
One of his earliest brainstorms was creating a proprietary Player Development Index that gave Knick and his coaches a way to assess academy golfers on a regular basis and continually fine-tune the programs they produced for each one. Golf Channel analyst and former PGA Tour professional Notah Begay has described it as “the most accurate performance measure in the industry.”
At first, GPC was just an indoor operation. Knick also knew that he needed an outside element, which is why he jumped at the opportunity to purchase the old driving range when it came on the market in 2010. “It was a great spot, about eight acres in size and with everything I needed to enhance what we were already doing,” he said.
Seven years later, Knick brought in King and Collins, and once they were done, the Golf Performance Center had its short course. “It gave us more targets for players hitting balls from the bays and more practice areas for chipping and putting,” Knick said. “We also had a place where we could replicate situations our athletes might find during a competitive round and transition the things they were learning indoors.”
The center was bustling the day I visited. A handful of golfers in the adult program were working on a practice green with a coach, while a twosome of juniors from the Achieve Program played the short course.
GPC’s director of coaching, Dennis Hillman, showed me around the center, which is open only to members. We stopped by the bay where the PDI assessments are conducted and then the one where the club fitters operate. A couple of other juniors were honing their flatstick strokes in the Sam PuttLab. Signs on the walls reiterated some of the philosophies that Knick and his staffers frequently espouse. “Function dictates Form,” read one. Another laid out what he calls the “Five Elements of Success,” which deal with desire; coaching; physical performance and nutrition; the mental game; and having the right equipment in the bag.
“All told, we currently have 33 junior golfers,” said Hillman, a TPI-certified coach and Class A PGA of America professional who was an All-American golfer at Tulsa University – and whose competitive claim to fame is beating Tiger Woods in the semis of the 1990 U.S. Junior Amateur. “More than half of those are in the Achieve program, with 11 of them boarding.”
As for GPC’s adult offerings, they cater today to more than 40 golfers.
“We try to get as much information as we can on each golfer before we start coaching, using all the technology we have at our disposal,” said Hillman. “Then we go to work, setting up a good practice and training regimen and a good mechanism for feedback and reassessment as time goes on.”
Those also include organizing “play days” at local courses during the warmer months, so their charges have plenty of on-course experience. And Hillman makes an annual, four-week trip to Florida each spring with those juniors in the Achieve Program to burnish their skills and prepare for the upcoming season.
“I think we have developed something quite special,” said Knick.
I was glad I finally stopped by.
Photos courtesy Golf Performance Center.
© 2021 Global Golf Post LLC
We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!
Tell us how we can improve this post?