The drive to learn
Recorder reporter Kathleen McKiernan discusses different types of golf clubs with her instructor at the Country Club of Greenfield.
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Recorder reporter Kathleen KcKiernan takes a determined swing during her golf lesson at the Country Club of Greenfield.
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A basket of Country Club of Greenfield golf balls.
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The Country Club of Greenfield.
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Into the air, the tiny, white ball soared straight ahead toward its yellow target and rolled gently on the perfectly green grass.
I looked back at Kevin Piecuch of East Longmeadow for approval. He laughed at me. He said I was great.
I shrugged to myself. I really had no idea what I was doing, but apparently I had a knack for this sport.
I was on the golf course at the Country Club of Greenfield for my first-ever golf lesson.
After stretches of cold rain, cloudy days and an aggravating spring snowfall, it was the first sunny Monday afternoon Franklin County had in a while. I took advantage of the spring weather and headed to the golf course for the start of the season, which runs from April to November.
I had played miniature golf plenty of times growing up on family vacations to Cape Cod, where I competed with my siblings through the misty caves and unpredictable traps of Pirates Cove. I also dabbled last summer on the Chip and Putt course off the Mohawk Trail. But this would be the real deal.
I wasn’t too nervous as I headed toward the driving range. The country club is made up of 18 parkland and link style holes, which is manageable for beginners and challenging for expert golfers.
The course on Country Club Road has been offering Franklin County residents and visitors a place to play the game since 1896. One of the oldest golf courses in New England, the country club has a hometown family feel that eased any nerves I may have had. With that in mind, and the many familiar friendly faces around me, I wasn’t embarrassed if I ended up hacking the grass.
While I sent the golf ball sailing smoothly into the air by the end of the lesson, it didn’t start off that easy.
Piecuch, the head golf instructor at the country club and member of the Professional Golf Association, gave me many good tips and pointers to get me on my way to golfing like a pro. He’s been teaching beginner golfers the classic sport for 23 years at the country club.
For my first lesson, Piecuch taught me the proper stance. Contrary to what I initially believed, a golfer keeps his or her eye on the ground at all times. Feet are straight and knees are kept loose in an athletic stance. Next came the frightening part to me — the swing. Watching many golfers on television, I was always impressed with the way they torque and turn their backs in the swing. It was the part I was most worried about.
Piecuch stuck a tee into the ground and placed the white ball on top. The tee was used to get me acclimated. In a typical golf game, players only use the tee for the first drive.
“Many new golfers have difficulty getting the ball into the air,” Piecuch. “That’s why we start hitting off the tee to get the confidence of making contact and getting the ball into the air.”
Piecuch told me to keep my eyes on the ground to make contact with the ball, swing lightly back and let the club come to rest toward my right shoulder. By the end, you’re supposed to stand in golf trophy pose.
To my surprise, I followed through with my swing with ease — a skill I attributed to years of playing softball as a kid.
I was about to take another swing when Piecuch stopped me. He pulled out another club called a wood from the bag.
Woods, which have rounder heads and longer shafts than other club types, are used to hit the ball longer distances. They are typically used for the first shot. While modern woods are made out of metal, they were originally made from hardwood, giving the club its name.
Previously, I had been using an iron golf club.
Irons are characterized by their large, flat, angled faces. They are used in a variety of situations, including teeing off the ground on short holes and extracting the ball from trouble spots.
Irons are numbered. The lower the number, the farther the ball will conceivably go. The reason behind it is the lower the number, the smaller the angle. The more angle, the shorter the ball would travel because it lifts the ball into the air, Piecuch said.
The average player using a 4-iron will hit a ball about 170 yards. A 9-iron carries the ball about 130 yards.
The feel of the wood club connecting with the ball felt natural and effortless for me. ... the ball went flying. I definitely preferred the wood club.
Many beginners, Piecuch said, struggle getting the ball into the air because they bend their back arm.
“A lot of new golfers try to help the golf ball into the air and their arm breaks down,” Piecuch said. “You want to feel like you’re swinging down, driving down into the golf ball. That’ll send it into the air.”
For the first lesson, Piecuch keeps students on the practice range with the tee. During the second lesson, students will hit off the tee for the first 10 minutes and then move onto the turf. By the third lesson, beginners are learning how to chip and putt around the green.
The hard part for me was my pose and stance. My left foot wanted to step forward in my swing as if I was hitting a softball. To fix this bad habit, Piecuch put a black stick next to my left foot that I couldn’t cross.
Nevertheless, my right foot started losing position. Piecuch insisted I finish my swing with my back foot raised, almost to its tippy toes and facing toward the green.
At the end of the 30-minute lesson, Piecuch gave me a card with three tips on the back to better my personal golf game: keep my feet still, hold the trophy pose and don’t step out.
I’d try to remember to quit those bad habits.
As I hit the golf ball again and again, I felt relaxed and tranquil. I could understand the appeal of the sport. I found it to be mentally calming. I was outside in the bright sunshine and all I had to focus on was hitting the ball. All other daily distractions — from my looming town election story deadline to my unfinished 10-page graduate school paper to whether that cute guy I liked was actually going to ask me out this weekend — were gone.
“It’s exercise, camaraderie with friends and you’re outdoors in a beautiful environment,” Piecuch said.
Want a lesson or looking to join? Here’s the basics:
A day of golf at the country club is rather affordable.
It costs $40 per 30-minute lesson and $40 for a full round of golf for regular golfers during the week.
A golf cart costs $5.
On weekends, it costs $45 per person to golf the 18-hole course.
Rental clubs cost $30 per set.
The country club also offers a membership that gives club members full access to the golf course, tournaments and driving range. While a club memberships isn’t cheap, it could be worth it for the avid golfer. The annual price for individuals age 31 to 59 is $1,563. A family membership costs $2,268. A young adult age 26 to 30 pays $1,050, while a senior over age 59 pays $1,422.
Depending on how much you want to golf, a set of clubs may be a good investment. The average set of clubs — with a putter, drive and pitching wedge — costs $1,000. The most popular brands at the country club’s pro shop include Titleist, Cobra, Ping, Calway and Taylor-Made.
Fashion is important in golfing, too. The country club has a dress code for golfers. Players are supposed to wear shorts, a blouse, pants or a collared shirt. The dress code is just a part of golfing tradition.
The KMP Golf Shop at entrance of the country club is open seven days a week during the golf season with a variety of clothing and equipment options.
I donned a blue blouse and baggy black dress pants and sneakers so I could feel comfortable swinging the golf club. It wasn’t ideal, but I didn’t own any of the stylish golf T-shirts and pants.
Typical golf shoes have plastic soft spikes to keep a golfer from slipping.
The country club also offers a variety of golf lessons.
Piecuch, who was recently received an honorable mention as US Kids Golf Top 50 Kids Teachers, offers a golf camp for junior golfers.
From June 23 to June 26 from 9 a.m. to noon, kids in grades kindergarten to Grade 5 can attend the golf camp. The fee is $125 for the first family member and $100 for each additional family member. The deadline to register is June 15.
Beginners can also do three lessons for $99 as part of the PGA’s national Get Golf Ready program.
Over the course of the three lessons, beginners learn the best ways to hold the club and get ready before taking a swing, getting the ball close to the hole, using irons to get the ball in the air and onto the green, and swinging the driver and other big clubs to hit long shots.
Other courses available
Other area golf courses also provide Franklin County residents with ample opportunities to learn golf.
In Bernardston, Crumpin-Fox Club also offers lessons for beginners on its 18-hole course.
Instructional programs are directed by Head Golf Professional Michael A. Zaranek.
A private half-hour lesson costs $45 for members and $50 for nonmembers.
The nine-hole Edge Hill Golf Course in Ashfield provides individual lessons for $40. Three lessons cost $125. While Edge Hill is not offering lessons now, it plans to later in the summer.
Learn the lingo
Before you hit the green, it may be helpful to know some popular golf terms.
Here are some definitions from the PGA to help you talk like a pro.
■ Chicken wing: A swing flaw in which the lead elbow bends at an angle pointed away from the body.
■ Chip and Run: A low-running shot played around the greens where the ball spends more time on the ground than in the air.
■ Hook: A shot that curves sharply from right to left for right-handed players.
■ Off-Green Putting: When a player elects to putt from off the green rather than chip.
■ Scramble: A popular form of team play in which the team members pick the ball in the best position and everyone plays from that spot.
■ Tee Box: The area where players tee to start a hole.
■ Whiff: A complete miss.
For more information, visit www.pga.com.
Staff reporter Kathleen McKiernan has worked at The Recorder since 2012. She covers Deerfield, Conway, Sunderland and Whately. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-772-0261, ext. 268.
Staff photographer Micky Bedell started at The Recorder in 2014. She can be reached at email@example.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 273.