Mastering the Links

Clients can work on their game with Wailea Golf Academy

By: Marty Wentzel

Before I met Eddie Lee, my one-and-only golf experience was a disaster. I swung desperately, unable to connect the club with the ball, and a pro who was watching finally threw up his hands and advised me to take up another sport.

Recently, I decided to give the game another chance. This time my guru was Eddie Lee, one of the pros at Wailea Golf Academy in southwest Maui. At the end of the 30-minute private lesson, he not only had me hitting the ball, but wanting to keep playing.

If I had known that Golf Digest ranked Lee as the top golf teacher in Hawaii, I might have thought twice about taking the lesson. I wouldn’t have wanted to waste his time. But the congenial Lee immediately put me at ease, telling me that 60 to 70 percent of his students are first-timers.

“I love teaching beginners,” he said. “They’re like sponges. They come to me without bad habits.”

So, together we embarked on what he called Golf 101, the goal of which was to get me off the driving range and onto the course.

In 2004, Lee and fellow PGA pro Tim Mitchell collaborated and launched the Wailea Golf Academy, the personalized program based at Wailea Golf Club’s 12-acre outdoor training facility. The setting alone inspires great things. Perched at the top of a bluff on the lower slopes of Haleakala Volcano, the private lesson area offers a stunning panorama of the sea.

“I love the view from up here,” said Lee. “It feels like you’re hitting the ball right into the water.”

Set up like a mini-course with a fairway bunker, chipping green, practice green and two teeing grounds, the lesson area has everything instructors need to address the concerns of all levels of players.

Home to prestigious annual tournaments like the Wendy’s Champions Skins Game, Wailea attracts hordes of clients who want to experience the course where famous people have played.

“I teach a lot of celebrities who come here to vacation,” said Lee, mentioning clients like Mike Myers, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Maria Shriver, Damon Wayans and Freddie Prinze Jr. “Everyone needs a coach, even the pros. Heck, after 30 years of playing golf, I’m still working on my grip.”

Still, Lee’s true passion is seeing improvement in every level of golfer, which was just what I needed to hear.

Using phrases that were downright poetic like, “feel the heartbeat of the swing,” Lee said that I should think first, as I’m preparing to hit the ball, and then not think.

“Just react,” he said. “I’ll do the thinking for you.”

As he walked me through each step of the grip, stance and swing, Lee explained his teaching philosophy.

“I focus on the principle of balance, establishing and maintaining a balanced club shaft and body motion through the swing,” he said. “Without balance, the club and body counters left and right, front to back, in order to seek it.”

Lee gave me positive, personable feedback. With each practice swing, I started feeling better. Soon, he was putting tees into the ground for me to hit. Once I hit five in a row, he started actually placing golf balls on the tees.

Whack! I hit the first ball and off it flew in the right direction, no less.

“All right!” Lee said. “Let’s do it again.”

At the end of the lesson, I asked Lee if he thought I had what it takes to be a golfer.

“After the first lesson, the game gets progressively harder,” he said. “People start to think too much.”

“So,” I countered, “why should I continue playing golf after today?”

“Because it’s a sociable, enjoyable game,” said Lee. “The course is the purest part of the game. If you see it for what it is a game then go for it and have fun.”

In my cart, heading back to the clubhouse, I saw other golfers and noticed what they were doing right, and wrong. I decided I had time for a few extra swings.



Wailea Golf Academy

Rates for individualized instruction: $95 per adult (one hour), $50 per adult (half-hour), $60 per junior 17 years or younger (one hour), $35 per junior (half-hour), $135 for a group of up to four people (one hour) and $70 per group (half-hour).

Wailea Golf Academy also offers playing lessons for
more experienced golfers ($225 per person for nine holes or two hours).

One-hour video lessons are available to help students work on their swing ($125 per person).