School’s in Session: My Lesson at Marriott Golf Academy

I enjoy golfing with friends and colleagues, but my swing could use some work (said every golfer ever). So I headed to the Marriott Golf AcademySM in Orlando, Florida, to learn how to raise my game to the next level.

When I arrived at the sunny, state-of-the-art facility, my certified instructor, Dave Dolengowski, assured me he works with all skill levels, from A to Z. As a recreational golfer, I would place myself closer to the A end of that spectrum, but Dave was ready to help. Now a senior instructor at the school, he’s been there for 21 years — since day one.

Dave is a big fan of golf and of Orlando’s weather, which is nearly perfect for the sport. The day of my lesson dawned clear and balmy, with a high of 84 degrees. As my friends up north endured February’s freezing temps and blizzards, I wore short sleeves, ready to improve my swing and have some fun while doing so.

Golf Goals

Orlando’s Marriott Golf Academy features expansive practice facilities with putting and chipping greens and driving ranges. Out on the driving range, soaking in the Florida sunshine, Dave and I focused on swing essentials.

“My first goal,” he explained, “is to create a good comfort level, to get to know you and your goals. Then I piece together a plan to address what you’re trying to improve on.”

I told Dave I’d like to be more consistent, and he said it’s a popular goal among his students. I also wanted more power — to see the ball really travel. As I lined up to take a few swings, sure enough, the ball seemed to have a mind of its own. I sliced into a stand of palm trees on one attempt; another try sent the ball skipping along the ground.

Dave pinpointed the problem immediately: during my back swing, my wrist wasn’t cocking enough to create a hinge.

“I call it a letter L,” he explained. “That helps you get more club-head speed.” With an effective wrist hinge, he explained, the club hits the ball on its way down, not on its upward trajectory.

Practice Makes Perfect

I practiced a few times without the ball, aiming to strike the ground in the same spot every time, like a hammer. I was also instructed to shift my weight all the way around on my finish — “getting the right knee to kiss the left knee,” as Dave put it — and to keep my left arm and wrist flat and straight, like a door.

Hammers, kisses, doors — Dave’s instruction was full of memorable analogies. And he was full of encouragement, as I began to see improvements in less than an hour. He urged me to make contact with the ground, saying, “People are afraid to mess up the nice grass, but divots are good.”

He also gave me practice strategies to use at home, pointing out that I don’t even need a ball to work on my hinging-wrist hammer action. After all, if I can’t hit the same spot on the lawn predictably, I won’t be able to hit a ball consistently either.

Quick Tip:

Marriott Golf Academy operates two locations: at Marriott’s Grande Vista, in Orlando, Florida, and at Marriott’s Shadow Ridge, in Palm Desert, California.

Putting It All Together

From the green, we moved inside to the TrackMan Swing Studio, where Dave filmed my swing and summarized our lesson on video, so I could review the highlights later. I already felt more comfortable playing — looser, more natural. And, as a student of the academy, I had exclusive access to the online Alumni Clubhouse Knowledge Center, which is stocked with ultra-helpful video drills.

Dave had kept me well hydrated during our lesson, but all that swinging left me craving a generous lunch. I found sustenance at The Grill, which features sandwiches, soups, salads and burgers, as well as sharable items like chicken wings and blackened mahi-mahi tacos. Students enrolled in the academy’s popular two- and three-day schools share lunch with their instructor at The Grill after a morning of lessons before playing a round on the nine-hole, Ron Garl–designed golf course in the afternoon.

Dave assured me that after two or three days of training in a small group (with one instructor for every four students), friendships are forged. Some students return annually to fine-tune and elevate their game, requesting the same instructor every time.

As for me, I left feeling rejuvenated by my day and swinging better than I had before. Sounds like a major win-win to me.

Quick Tip:

The Marriott Golf Academy provides equipment if you don’t have it with you. You can also schedule a custom club fitting at the Golf Fitting Studios, which is available at both locations.

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