Tim Terwilliger - Brookside Golf Course
I have been at Brookside Golf Course since 1982. It is a 36 hole facility adjacent to the Rose Bowl. It is a unique facility due to the location but also because we have 3 different businesses working together. Course operations are run by American Golf, the food and beverage by Levy Corp. and I own the shop and direct the instruction. It’s been a pleasure knowing that all we have to focus on is retail and instruction which allows us to separate ourselves from alot of other public facilties. My wife Angela who runs the shop with me, handles, thankfully all of the accounting, alot of the buying and is the most organized person I have ever known. She performs the tough tasks which I cannot begin to explain how vital that is. We have two daughters, Alyson and Jordan.
How old were you when you got started in golf and what eventually pulled you into becoming a golf professional?
I did not have the usual experience that most Professionals have as I did not start playing golf until I was around 18. I played baseball year round and had the dream of playing professionally. As a result I had no time to play golf. Even though I didn’t play then I was always watching on TV and was fascinated by the tour players, how they dressed, how they conducted themselves and the incredibly beautiful locations they played, like Pebble, Torrey Pines, etc. It was the 70s and golf wasn’t nearly as popular with kids as it is now so all my baseball friends thought I was nuts.
Then it happened, my junior year in high school my best friend on the team said he had some tickets to go to the LA Open at Riviera. I had never seen a professional hit a ball in person before. We walked down to the 10th tee and Tom Weiskopf was playing with Lany Wadkins. I was standing right against the ropes about 20 yards from the tee and Weiskopf hit first. Those were the days of persimmon and balata, and he smashed his drive that started low and rose quickly like a jet taking off from a carrier and the ball made that hissing noise as it went past me. That was it, I was hooked right then and there. Shortly after that I was offered a rookie contract, nothing big and I was advised to pass it up and play baseball in college. Let’s just say I started going to the golf course instead of class.
A friend of mine at the time was a assistant here at Brookside and told me they were looking for a young assistant that they could train and mold. I said that I had no experience and had only just started playing. He responded that they were looking for someone just like me who was willing to learn and do anything. It was the best decision I had ever made. I learned retail from John Wells who was a legend in golf retail in SoCal and I learned to play and teach from a gentleman named Allan Jones who grew up in Fort Worth and caddied at Glen Garden with Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson. Allan played on the tour in the 40s. I was so fortunate to be at a facility where extremely talented professionals took the time to not only teach me the business and the playing of the game but they had a sincere interest in my future. Not a single day goes by where I don’t think about John and Allan and how much they taught me.
How do you stay current with the latest developments in teaching methods?
I am probably no different that any other avid golfer or “swing nerd.” I watch a lot of swings on YouTube and a fair amount of great teachers Online and Social Media. I follow George Gankas, Dana Dahlquist, Bradley Hughes and Robert Rock to name a few. I especially like Robert Rock because he is a throwback as while he is a teacher he is still playing on the European Tour. His information and concepts are very similar to Mac O’Grady who I was lucky enough to spend quite a bit of time with. I don’t believe anyone had more of an influence on how the swing is taught in this era than Mac. That being said I would like to offer another perspective. While I keep up with the latest concepts and teaching methods I do believe it is equally important to study and learn from great teachers from the past, such as Percy Boomer, Ernest Jones, Alex Morrison and Bobby Jones. While the modern golfer is bigger, stronger and more athletic, the basic tenets of a golf swing have not changed. Even though today’s equipment is more technologically advanced, the ball is still round and you are hitting it with a clubhead at the end of a shaft, and more importantly the human anatomy has not changed, therefore the science and physics to propel a ball properly has to be the same as it was since golf began. Michael Hebron in his great book, “Golf Swing Secrets ….Lies” arguably said it best, “For over 500 years-efficient, repeatable golf swings have been founded on Golf’s Physical Basics. Nature know no other possibilities.”
The fact is the great players and teachers from the past figured all this stuff out without video cameras, Trackman, 3D imagery, pressure plates, etc.
I love to read what the legendary teachers had to say because they laid the groundwork and provide an endless repository of nuggets that have been vital to my success as a teacher. Combine that with all the modern equipment and today’s great teachers can now explain why things happen and they are armed with more certainty as to what really makes a ball react a certain way or how you make a ball spin and what the proper angle of attack should be. There is no other sport on the planet that crams so much information into a 1.8 second action, not even close. Making sure that information is pertinent to each individual student and player is about the most important aspect you should develop to become a good teacher. Listen, we all develop opinions as teachers over time as to what we like and don’t like but you better be able to mold and devise a personal game plan for each individual. No one learns the same, swings the same or develops the same. The only constant is what moves the ball correctly, which is good physics and geometry. The specifics of how you achieve that doesn’t matter. So the bottom line is I do make it a priority to keep up with modern teaching, but I also look to greats from the past to expand my knowledge. As Henry Cotton, winner of the ’34, 37 & ’48 Open Championship said, “You must develop your own style, as you follow general principles, Discover what is useful to you and what is not, tips from others only work for a few days.” Modern teaching has allowed learning to become more intelligent without the guesswork or reliance on tips, but the greatest instruction comes from a continuous study of both past and present.
What are 2 trends in golf that you’re excited about?
Well, the trend I have witnessed that gets me the most excited has been developing for a few years now. With the explosion and popularity of junior golf I see more boys and girls playing than ever before. The biggest growth has been with girls which I think is vital to the games future. What that does is that it gets families playing together and to me that is the most important thing.
A few years ago I did a clinic here at Brookside with the 1995 PGA Champion Steve Elkington. During the clinic he pulled one of my junior players out of the crowd to demonstrate a few shots. Yes, it was staged as Elk asked me if I had any really good juniors in the gallery. It wasn’t so much that little Eric’s shots went booming down the fairway that was great, although that was cool, it was his answer to a question Elk asked him. He asked 11 year old Eric what is the best thing about golf? Eric simply answered, “Golf is the best game because you can play it for the rest of your life and you can play with your family.” Now how great is that?
The other trend that gets me excited relates to the earlier question, I believe with a strong conviction that the game is being taught better than ever before. There are way fewer “tips” being suggested to people and golf is being taught in a manner than provides long term learning and more importantly allows golfers to raise what I call their “Golf IQ.”
Golfers are now armed with ways to teach themselves when they are not with their instructors. If golfers can do that more players will stick with the game and not leave it because of the frustration and a feeling of failure. So I see more golfers embracing the process which I believe develops golfers for a lifetime.
Do you specialize in teaching any facets of the game?
I have some close friends that would be considered specialists, especially in the short game. Dave Pelz comes to mind as a instructor who first started to focus on a specific segment of the game. Now there are more that have joined the ranks of specialists. I think that is wonderful for some to go about teaching a certain part of golf but I am too curious and fascinated by all aspects of the game to specialize in just one part. I enjoy being able to work with a student and help them with their swings, short game, putting, course management and for my students that play competitive golf its fun to put on your sports psychology hat and improve their mind and confidence. So, I don’t specialize in any one facet of the game, I will say that I have developed a little bit of a following helping one particular group of golfers. I have had success instructing women golfers who are fairly new to the game.
Most of the newer women golfers I instruct are members at country clubs in the area and are wanting to join their female friends or husbands on the course. As you can imagine they feel intimidated at first to go out and play. It is so exciting to see them go from being worried about how they look to the point where they can’t wait to get out there. I have found as probably alot of teachers have that new women golfers are constantly bombarded with advice from their husbands which can make learning very difficult. A common trend is that during the first couple of lessons I have to spend a significant amount of time trying to get women students to clear their head of all the endless pieces of advice they have heard from their significant other. So indirectly it seems one of my specialties is to get women not to listen to their husbands regarding golf.
What sets you apart from other golf professionals?
I don’t feel like I purposely try to set myself apart from other professionals as much as I might go about doing things a little differently or maybe emphasize certain aspects of the job more than others. I think any person in any job has their own personal style and a uniqueness on how they go about doing things, so does that set them apart or are we all just a little different? I do have one main daily goal that I believe is important, I try to ensure that I enhance the experience of every golfer, customer or student I come into contact with. To me if that is your goal you and your facility will always be busy. One thing I constantly remind my teaching staff is that most of our students look at golf as the main way they like to enjoy their precious free time. We owe it to our students to do everything possible to help them enjoy their time on the course and anywhere on the property.
There are a couple of things I do that might be a little different, I feel by operating a retail store and teaching quite a bit is unique in the golf business. I don’t think many professionals do both, but that is based on our business model and not necessarily trying to set myself apart from other professionals. Lastly, there is one thing I do that might be looked upon as setting myself apart and I will even admit is a conscious effort. I love the traditions of the game and how elegant the clothing and style was in past generations. I think golf has lost a little of that elegance and style. I believe that elegance was part of golf’s identity. I am aware that the dry-fit materials are supposed to be cooler and easier to take care of and that the athletic looking golf shoes are more comfortable. Clearly I sell a lot of synthetic shirts and athletic type shoes but it doesn’t mean I wear them. I wear nice wool slacks with classic shoes and mostly natural fiber shirts. During cooler weather I like v-neck or cardigan merino wool sweaters instead of the zip neck long sleeve that everybody seems to wear. I do try to bring back some of the elegance of golf by the way I dress.
What’s the most exciting thing on the horizon for you personally or professionally?
I think just being able to teach and be around golfers during such uncertain and scary times is good for the mind. So many people have been through such hardship and sadly many have experienced so much grief that the fact I get to be at a job where people get to escape the realities of life and enjoy themselves for 4-5 hours makes me feel really fortunate. I don’t have anything on the horizon currently that makes me excited except for when we all as a society start to feel like there is a return to some sort of normalcy.
What has been your most challenging experience with a student and how did you handle it? How did you overcome it?
Since I have been teaching for 38 years it is hard to name “the most challenging student.” I can say with certainty the most challenging demographic. There are quite a few country clubs in the area so I tend to get a lot of students from these clubs. There is one club close by where I have worked with a number of members. I want to be clear that this is not a critique of this specific club, it is just an observation about teaching Male golfers in their 50-60s.
Generally if you are a member at a club you have been successful at some sort of occupation, such as a doctor, attorney, finance, business owner or any other number of things. In short, most of these men are not used to being told they are not good at something. So let’s say I instruct one of the members for 6 or more months and he is able to go from a 25 handicap to a 18, well his buddies that are about the same handicap are starting to frequently lose money to this guy. The next thing you know is you have group of golfers coming over for lessons. This is where the challenge starts, a lot of the golfers that start coming down for lessons do not notice or take into account that their buddy has been working on their game and making adjustments in their swing for over 6 months, they just know they have been recently forking over money. In their mind this happened over night, so right off the bat that is bad. I will just call this student Mr. Smith, he gives me a call and sets up a lesson. He is a 25 handicap and has had maybe brief snippets of decent golf but really never becomes close to a golfer that can hit consistent shots and lower his handicap. Keep in mind he has taken lessons from probably every teacher at his club.
So Mr. Smith shows up and hits the typical weak slice, strikes the ground behind the ball with his irons which means he is adding loft at impact thus there is no distance and the strike sounds and feels terrible. After watching 10-12 swings I will start to explain some concepts to Mr. Smith and show him some video. One rule I try to follow is that I will never suggest a concept to a student unless I explain why I am having him work on it. Initially you might look at the video of Mr. Smith’s swing and see 5 or 6 things that have to be cleaned up but you cannot discuss all that, you have to start with the 1 or 2 things that are causing the most issues. Maybe because he is hitting a weak slice I explain to him that he is wide open and and its because he has a very weak grip and has alot of forearm rotation going back. We work on the grip which looks wonderful, then start rehearsing the takeaway which now has the club square or maybe even slightly shut and then what does Mr. Smith say? “Well, that doesn’t feel right!” That is the one phrase that drives me crazy. Now he might actually hit one with a little hooking ball flight and he will say again, “That doesn’t feel right!” At first I will try to talk to Mr. Smith and say that any adjustment is going to feel different and if you are truly doing something that you haven’t experienced before of course it will be strange and that is a positive. Well after a few more minutes he continues to say, “That doesn’t feel right.”
That is when I have to step in and make certain Mr. Smith and I reach a crossroads in our session. It will either help him become a better learner or he will continue to struggle. I will then say directly to him, “Mr. Smith you are so bad how in the heck would you even know what feels right?” Truth be told I tend to use a little different language than that to emphasize my point. Then here comes one of two reactions, either he says, “You can talk to me that way!” I will reply, “I bet you have heard this stuff before from the staff at your club and you just dismissed it because it didn’t feel right.” The young professional is worried about his job so of course he is going to back down. This golfer will continue to play poor golf for probably the rest of his life. Or……Mr. Smith says, “You know, no one has ever had the guts to talk to me that way and I have never thought about how to learn new swing concepts in that manner. A very important concept I tell every new student is that if you have to make a adjustment in your swing be prepared to practice drills or explore concepts that will feel strange and exaggerated.
If you embrace that you have a great opportunity to play golf that you could have only dreamed about. The challenging thing is sometimes you have to be stern with a student, doesn’t mean you have to raise your voice or swear but with some you have to lay the law down.
Do you actively play competitive golf? Any recent bragworthy performances you’d like to share?
Sadly, I do not have the time to play competitive golf. So I have to live vicariously through the performance of my elite junior students and other pupils that play in competition. That being the case I will brag about one of my junior students. He has only been playing 18 months. He is 17 and just started playing in some tournaments and even though he has no junior golf pedigree his goal is to play in college. When he is playing a casual round or a practice round for a upcoming event he routinely shoots in the 60s. Recently he played in big event in San Diego and played poorly the first day. I told him for months now he had to play in events and don’t be afraid to get beat up a little bit as that experience will be good for him. The second day he doubled the first hole and didn’t let that affect him. He played the next 17 holes in 5 under and finished 5th. He hit 15 greens and hit it 50 yards past his playing partners all day. He said he now feels different when he is playing with some pressure. We believe he had his breakthrough.
Is there a highlight from your career in golf that stands out above the rest?
It is hard for me to pick out a single highlight but there are two things that I am most proud of.
Our shop was named by Golf Digest Business as one of the Top 100 Shops in the Country for 18 consecutive years.
In 2016 we were named Best Shop in Southern California by the members of the Southern California Golf Association. That award meant a lot because that was voted on by the golfing public.
Any advice for someone considering pursuing a career as a golf teaching professional?
I would recommend to anyone that is considering a career as a teaching professional to seek out a current teacher and ask them some questions.
The main thing I would ask a teacher is if I could shadow them for a day and watch them go through the routine of preparing for their students for that day and then see how they instruct each individual student. I believe it is vital for anyone who is possibly considering a career as a golf instructor to see first hand what the job truly entails. I am not saying it is a “hard” job or profession in the physical sense, but I think they will see that it is more challenging than they might think. A full day on the lesson tee can be tiring and quite challenging. It took me many years to give 100% effort to my 8th lesson of the day as I did to my first couple lessons of the day.
I would also recommend that the teacher he or she seeks out is a successful and highly thought of instructor, because I would definitely ask questions about who influenced their approach to teaching and what concepts they believe in. I would suggest that they research many current teachers and great instructors from the past to get a broad and vast knowledge of how to teach and the varied styles. As a teacher you will learn that a single approach doesn’t work the same for every student. We all have steadfast fundamentals that are important for all golfers but I believe you need different ways to communicate and explain the concepts. Another question I would ask is how the teacher modifies their instruction for beginners, juniors, women, seniors and lower handicap golfers. To be successful you should be able to instruct any level of golfer. The biggest piece of advice is do your research and ask a lot of questions.
Anything else you’d like to comment on while we have you?
Even after 38 years of teaching and operating a shop I still look forward to coming to the course everyday. I feel so fortunate that I was able to have a career in the golf business. Like most golf professionals I enjoy all sports but I am convinced golf is the best of all games and its something you can enjoy for a lifetime. You always feel that you can learn more or get better at a certain aspect of the game and as a teacher it is rewarding to be able to pass that knowledge down to students.
Every year in January I have a meeting with the teaching staff. We discuss the business of teaching but also at times discuss certain trends in our profession or perhaps ways we might be able to reach more golfers. One year I started the meeting with a question to the staff. Before I asked the question I said, “you know what is kind of cool about our title, PGA Professional?” We have a similar title to the players we see on TV, and customers and students look up to us because of that. It is important to conduct ourselves in manner that lives up to that title. I then asked the staff what is the difference between a PGA Professional and a PGA Tour Professional, and I added I don’t want the obvious answer, that a tour player is more talented and they have more zeroes in their bank account. Clearly that was going to be the answer because I did not get a response from anyone. I said the main difference between a PGA Tour Professional and a PGA Professional is that a tour player gets more enjoyment from the great shots they hit versus the shots of other golfers whereas a PGA Professional gets more enjoyment out of the great shots others hit than their own great shots. To me that is a sign of someone who sincerely wants to help others enjoy the best game ever invented.