As a golf teacher who has given more than 3,000 lessons, Art Scott has witnessed every golfing malady known to mad. Those banana-ball slices, swooping duck hooks and wormburners that Scott observes are results of golfers' attacking that little dimpled ball in sometimes grotesque fashion.
As teaching pro at the new Prince George's Country Club in Mitchellville, Scott usually makes minor adjustments to the swings of players familiar with golf. But it's at his moonlighting job at busy Hogan's Driving Range on Pennsylvania Avenue in Upper Marlboro that Scott has close encounters of all kinds, from rank duffers who make figure-eight motions with their backswings, to more skilled players who need just a few pointers and a confidence-builder.
Personable, easy-going Scott is a golf-swing doctor who speaks in laymen's language; after five minutes of witnessing a sick swing, he's got a diagnosis. The cure may take longer, but Scott is a good practicioner.
"I had a fellow last year who was a cross-handed player and was absolutely pitiful," said Scott. "He couldn't get the ball off the ground. He was shankin' it, toppin' it and rollin' it. I switched his hands around and he hit a half a bucket of balls and he was really much improved. I scheduled him for another lesson but he never came back. I think he probably went back to his old crosshanded style. I changed him and I don't think he wanted to change.
"Then there's the guy who comes to the driving range with his girl. The first thing he does is he's gotta take his shirt off. He takes a club from the rack but he can't hit the ball past the 100-yard marker. Sometimes he gets real frustrated."
On a busy day, Scott starts giving lessons at 7:30 a.m. at Hogan's, and by the time he has finished at Prince George's, he may have given as many as 25 lessons. On a good weekend night, Hogan's Ranges sees 700 golfers smacking balls, costing $2.25 for a large bucket of about 75, or $1.25 for a bucket of 30 to 35. Hogan's has 25 rubber-matted tees and an additional grassy expanse for more experienced players.
Last year Scott gave between 500 and 600 lessons, ranging in price from $8 to $15 for a half-hour session. Though he maintains "you can never teach one person the same as the next," there are a few basic strains running through most of Scott's lessons.
"I've learned that the most difficult to teach are people that have learned from a book. I would say that 90 per cent of the articles written in golf magazines pertain to the individual who wrote them, not to the ones who read them. And a lot of people are trying to make something more difficult than it really it is.
"Whenever a person comes to me, my objective is to teach him the opposite of what he's doing wrong. If he's slicing, I teach him to hook. After teaching the opposite, it's much easier for him to learn the correct method."
Another Scott theme is tempo, which he puts to good use as a twice-a-week player on the Middle Atlantic PGA circuit, where he's a consistent money-winner. "I try to say that the speed of the swing must be as consistent as possible; the speed of the swing should never be any faster than what the individual can balance."
Scott sometimes puts blindfolds on beginning golfers to emphasize the importance of swinging through the ball rather than hitting at the ball.
He sees the driving range as good therapy for the businessman on lunch hour who comes to relax and relieve office tensions by hitting a bucket of balls. It beats two martinis.
"I woulnd't trade my life as a teaching pro, even for a head-pro job that paid a lot more money. I never get bored teaching golf." IN GOLF-MAD Japan, where country club initiation fees sometimes approach housing prices, and waiting lists are years long, golfers are visible beating golf balls from dawn until dusk at triple-decker driving ranges.
The Washington area's answer is the double-tiered Rocky Gorge range on U.S. 29 between Silver Spring and Columbia. Rocky Gorge is open every day of the year except Christmas Eve, with natural gas-fired tee cubicles available for a quarter per half-hour. "We have people who come out here when its real cold," said John Moretti, the groundskeeper of Rocky Gorge's 15 acres. "The fanatics will even come during a blizzard. But we usually do our best business when it's about 25 degrees."
"We do our best business in February and March," said owner Gus Novotny.
"As soon as the TV golf comes on, people get the itch."
Flint Hill in Chantilly has in addition to its range on automatic baseball and softball pitching machine.
The Northern Virginia Golf Center Range in Centreville plans to add sand traps, trees and even a lake to its range to simulate an actual golf hole. s
Skyrocketing land costs, prohibitive zoning and Metro have reduced the number of ranges in Montgomery County to three, Air Park in Gaithersburg, Fernway in Olney and Al's Range in Burtonsville.
"If you rent the land to run a range (most driving range proprietors rent or lease), the rent and taxes are so high you can barely profit from it," said Nadine Ward, who helps her husband, Ray, run Air Park. "My husband has been looking for an additional place for four years, but everything is so high. It's also hard work."
At Air Park, small airplanes fly into Montgomery Air Park just beyond the golf range. "Some of our golfers think they'll hit the planes, but they really can't," said Nadine Ward, smiling.
Metro forced closing of Paige Linton's Brae Burn iron range and its long-entrenched driving range neighbor next door.
Popular PGA Tour player Lee Travino learned much of his golf working at a Texas driving range. There Trevino would wager he could outdrive other golfers. They would use a standard golf driver and Trevino would use a taped jumbo Dr. Pepper bottle. Guess who usually won.