Fairway to Heaven

A Visit to the #1 Golf School in America

Just a few weeks ago, professional golfer Lexi Thompson came to the Jim McLean Golf School at the Biltmore Hotel. The LPGA Tour pro was experiencing a problem with her swing, so she took a private lesson with Jim McLean himself, who had coached her early on in her career. 

McLean is known throughout the golf world as the de facto coach for all things golf — his school, headquartered at the Biltmore, has been ranked number one in the U.S. for years and he has personally coached many of the greats, including Cristie Kerr, Gary Woodland, and Curtis Strange. His resume, which includes membership in four golf Halls of Fame, is far too long to list here.

I visited with McLean to learn the ins and outs of golf and what running an international school with locations in such places as Seoul, South Korea and Playa del Carmen, Mexico is like. I may not be the next Lexi Thompson, but after a tour of the facilities and a lesson with one of the school’s assistants, it felt tantalizingly possible.

Golf School

Lessons at the Jim McLean Golf School (beginning at $145 or one hour) start simply for amateurs, with a few swings of a sand wedge club, aiming to just brush the ground past a line chalked into the turf. Once that’s been mastered, you advance to hitting a tee, and then, finally, an actual golf ball. All the while, the instructor gives you advice on your stance, swing, and body movement.

The objective on the first day is simple: make good contact with the ball. According to McLean, this is the best way to build a swing. His philosophy? “Start small.”

The coolest part of the lesson is the equipment. At some point, you’ll enter a small room where you’ll be filmed hitting balls. Then, the instructor will use software to compare your movements and placement with that of a professional — and yes, you can pick who you want to see. My first video was nothing short of an abomination — all sway and no hips. But after comparing myself to a video of Lexi Thompson from a few years ago, I could see exactly where I needed to improve.

“That’s basically my way of teaching,” says McLean, who offers private lessons himself, ranging from $750 to $3,500. “We bring up pro examples and show you some of the things they do. It’s not that you have to be perfect. There really is no ‘perfect’ in golf. You have to allow for some individuality.”

He references athletes like Patrick Mahomes, the quarterback of the Kansas City Chiefs football team, who has an unorthodox throw but is already one of the most respected players in the game. “The greatest players always have a little bit of their own.”

That probably just means swaying around like a palm tree in the breeze for me, but McLean assures me that my lack of knowledge is actually for the best. Bad habits in golf can be fixed, but it requires a lot of time and effort. As McLean says, “Even when you’re great, you still go back to the fundamentals.”