BOBBY DUVALL, co-owner of Club Golf in Gaithersburg, is putting me through the paces of my first- and last-ever "golf physical," and let me say this: I do not get the same bang for my buck out of my HMO. In fact, the last time I remember being asked to perform so many awkward bodily maneuvers all in a row was in high school gym class.
I stand on one foot with my eyes closed, sobriety-check style, while Duvall waits for me to tip over; I get on my knees and throw a rubber ball the size of a prize-winning pumpkin as far as I can; I twist my torso until it hurts: up, down, forward, back, to this side and then the other; I test my vertical leap by touching the wall as high up as I can (15 sorry inches, incidentally). When the examination is over, Duvall, a physical therapist and "gait specialist" by training, registers his verdict: "Your left side doesn't know what your right side is doing," he says, matter-of-factly. "They've never even met."
If you're not a golfer, this doesn't make much sense. In fact, if you're not a golfer, nothing about Club Golf makes much sense. But if you are -- and you've always suspected your aching knees and abs of clay have been getting in the way of your game -- the appeal of Club Golf may not need much explaining.
Founded in 1999 by former golf instructor Ken Alperin and chiropractor Greg Rose, Club Golf is dedicated to the deceptively simple proposition that before you can fix what's wrong with your swing, you'd better fix what's wrong with your body.
"We're looking at what we call the 'body-swing' connection," Rose says. He's a young man -- 32 -- with an impressive track record of helping big-shot professional and no-shot amateur golfers improve their games through better fitness. Like his business, he comes equipped with the standard-issue sports-club brand of energy -- gregarious and always on -- mixed with the more relaxed polo shirt-and-khakis mentality of golf.
"We're weird here," Rose continues. "The number one goal of most fitness clubs is better health, but here that's just a side effect -- our number one goal is better golf. If we tell golfers, 'Come in to our club and you'll live longer,' that doesn't get their attention. But if we tell them, 'Come in and we'll lower your handicap,' that's where we find our membership."
My golf physical is actually the second piece of my initiation to Club Golf. Earlier, I joined Duvall in what club employees call "Area 51" to check out my swing. More officially known as the Private Diagnostic Studio, the room is home to two cameras and two computers used to record and analyze the swing moment-by-moment, from the back and from the side. (There's also a vest full of motion sensors used for "3-D" analysis, but we don't get to that on my visit.)
It's a type of technological setup commonly used for golf lessons, but the difference here is that Duvall isn't all that interested in fixing my technique. Rather, he's interested in solving the physical problems that prevent golfers from implementing their teachers' suggestions in the first place.
"A big part of what we do here is retraining muscle coordination," he says. "Think of NASCAR -- we're the pit crew and your golf pro is the driver. We do look for swing faults, but then we ask, 'Is there something going on physically that's getting in the way?' For just about every golfer, the answer is yes."
Well, sure, for me, but for the pros? Rose and Duvall often can be found flying to cities hosting PGA Tour events. There, they examine, analyze and catalogue the fitness needs of golfers sponsored by equipment manufacturing behemoth Titleist. The attention given to a Phil Mickelson or Vijay Singh, explains Rose, is essentially the same given to me, and the need for improvement just as evident, though usually not as extensive.
"Golf, as a sport, is still very naive about fitness," Rose says. "Tiger Woods came along with a different attitude -- You want to beat me, you'd better get into great shape.
"You're seeing a lot of PGA guys with personal trainers, just lifting weights and running a lot, but what we're doing is tailoring programs to the needs of specific golfers. Some might need work on flexibility, some on balance, some on strength, some on all of it."
For the record, I fall into the last category. Now that I've finished day one of Club Golf's fitness evaluation -- required of all new members and included in the initiation fee -- I'll be returning for day two, when Duvall will tailor a specific fitness plan to my particular set of physical concerns.
Club Golf is set up with 80,000 square feet of weight machines, swing cages, short-game practice areas, a putting green and self-serve video cameras and even offers golf-specific yoga and Pilates. Membership, explains Rose, will be capped at 500 people (compared with 8,500 and counting at next-door Rio Sport & Health Club, a conventional sport and fitness center allied with Club Golf) to allow members plenty of personal attention and plenty of room to move, lift and swing.
"What we've got here is unique," Rose says. "I can say truthfully that we're the only full-service fitness center in the country devoted entirely to golf."
Rose and Duvall might not be conventional fitness gurus, but in one way they're the same as every aerobics instructor, weight trainer and physical therapist you've ever met: They, and their charges, seem to thrive on a little tyranny. "I really can guarantee you results," Rose says, with a grin. "But only if you do exactly what I say."
CLUB GOLF FITNESS CENTER -- 9811 Washingtonian Blvd., Gaithersburg. 301-519-1920. www.clubgolf.com. Initiation fees $99 and up, monthly dues $89.95 and up, depending on type and length of membership. Couple and family rates also available. Monthly dues include membership privileges at Rio Sport & Health Club.