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Michigan's top instructors feel they are among the elite

Kiel ChristiansonBy Kiel Christianson,
Senior Writer

LANSING, Mich. -- Golfers familiar with the Michigan golf scene are generally aware that the state, despite a four-month snow-covered off-season, is home to more public golf courses than any other state in the nation. And on a per-capita basis, there are more courses in Michigan (public, private, and resort) than in any other state besides California and Florida. And every year, there is at least one 5-star course from the Wolverine State on Golf Digest's elite Best Of list.

Given this abundance of golf holes, it is perhaps somewhat surprising that the state isn't represented more conspicuously on other prominent golf-related lists. I'm thinking here in particular Golf Magazine's Top 100 Teachers List, the 2002 version of which was released not long ago.

With only three instructors on that list based only part of the year in Michigan, the relative lack of representation belies the state's rich golf heritage. The key in this case, however, is quality over quantity. The three instructors who call Michigan their home during the golf season - Rick Smith, Jim Flick, and Rina Ritson - constitute perhaps the most influential instructional triumvirates anywhere outside of Florida.

For Michigan golfers who are dead serious about improving their games, no matter the price, these three gurus are the creme de la creme of the golf world.

Rick Smith, Treetops Resort, Gaylord

If golf had a Renaissance Man award, Rick Smith would unquestionably be a yearly contender for the title. Smith is not only a top-five instructor, whose students include Phil Mickelson, Lee Janzen, Matt Kuchar, Rocco Mediate, and Jerry Kelly. He is an accomplished course architect, whose designs include the Signature, Tradition, and Threetops layouts at Treetops Resort, along with the highly-rated and visually spectacular Arcadia Bluffs in Arcadia, Michigan.

And if Smith had a busy schedule in 2001, his workload tripled when he lead a small group of investors who purchased Treetops in 2002. According to Smith, he and the other new owners have initiated a "phenomenal Land Development Plan, [which will include] villas, condos, a sports complex, and a new private club component at Treetops North." The exclusive private course, says Smith is "my [design] focus right now. That will be the latest and greatest."

Needless to say, trying to book a private lesson with Smith - whose reputation as a "full-swing" shaman for players of varying body-types is becoming legendary - is well-nigh impossible, unless you have both connections to tour pros and the scratch to foot his $1,000+ per hour fee. The good news, however, is that Smith has hand-picked an outstanding instructional staff at Treetops. Boasting on of the finest practice facilities and teaching corps in Michigan, the silver-medal resort offers individual and group lessons for golfers of every age and skill level. There 's even a childcare center at the resort, so haggard parents can relax and work on their games in peace.

And who knows? You might even run into a PGA Tour player on the range.

Jim Flick, Boyne Highlands, Harbor Springs

Jim Flick, the ninth person inducted into the World Golf Teachers Hall of Fame, calls Michigan his home from June through early September (after which he heads south to Desert Mountain in Scottsdale, Ariz.). He co-founded the renowned Nicklaus/Flick Golf Schools, and now heads his own Jim Flick Premier Golf Schools. Also this year, he has aligned himself with ESPN to form the ESPN Golf Schools.

Flick, who has "done more three-day golf schools than anyone in history" is a self-proclaimed "set-up nut" whose teaching philosophy is influenced heavily by the likes of Bob Toski, Jack Nicklaus, Sam Snead, and Byron Nelson. "I teach people to use the head of the golf club," says Flick. "Their body reacts to the swing - the arms move the shoulders, not the other way around. I am not a big-muscle guy."

Students at Flick's Boyne Highlands academy can access the wisdom gathered by Flick in his 30+ years of instructional experience for $300 or less per hour. And this is a particularly good time to seek out top instructors like Flick, who reports that "[t]he golf school industry has been dramatically effected by 9-11 and the economy." So scheduling that chance-of-a-lifetime session with one of the game's great teachers should be easier than ever during the coming season.

Rina Ritson, Pine Trace, Rochester Hills

When Rina Ritson, one of the original Top 50 Teachers, looks back at her youth in South Africa, she chuckles: "Everyone thought I was crazy. I was the only person in my family to play golf." Today, this admitted "golfaholic" has three sons, who are also all golf pros, and her own collection of golf schools, with locations at Falcon's Fire Golf Club in Kissimmee, Florida, Pine Trace, and Japan.

Ritson, long-time head pro at Walt Disney World, is (as opposed to Jim Flick) a "big muscle" teacher, who has produced her own series of instructional videos called "The Effortless Power System." She generally does not use video in her lessons, however. "The first thing women say when they see themselves on video is 'Oh my God, I can't believe I look so fat!' The lesson is basically over at that point." But, says Ritson, men are just as vain. "Men want to look athletic, and are embarrassed when they see that they don't look like tour pros when they swing."

This vanity is one thing Ritson works to overcome in her instruction. "You can't mimic somebody else's mannerisms," she stresses. "I'm a very strong believer in fundamentals. Once [my students] have the fundamentals, then it' s golf their way." And since Ritson specializes in private lessons (approximately $150 per hour) during her summers at Pine Trace, she represents perhaps your best opportunity to spend some quality time with one of the nation's Top 100 Instructors.

Contact Information

Rick Smith
(888) 732-5060

Jim Flick
(888) 546-3542 or (800) GO-BOYNE

Rina Ritson

Falcon's Fire Golf Club (407) 876-0150
Pine Trace Golf Club (248) 852-7100

Kiel Christianson has lived, worked, traveled and golfed extensively on three continents. As senior writer and equipment editor for WorldGolf.com, he has reviewed courses, resorts, and golf academies from California to Ireland, including his home course, Lake of the Woods G.C. in Mahomet, Ill. Read his golf blog here and follow him on Twitter @GolfWriterKiel.

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