EPGA is turning heads

November 9, 2017

Robert Bicknell has spent the past 20 years championing the need for a top quality Junior Golf programme in Vietnam. With the arrival of the Els Performance Academy he has finally got his wish.

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Okay, let me say this straight off the bat – if you want to improve your game or if you have a child that wants to learn how to play golf, and you haven’t checked out the Els Performance Golf Academy (aka EPGA) in Hanoi – you’re crazy.

I went there the other day at the urging of a friend and, frankly, I was blown away by the scope of this project. They spared no expense to deliver a first rate golf academy with all the bells and whistles anyone could ever want.

When people in Vietnam think of “Golf Schools,” they think “Driving Range” with a few pseudo teachers running around loose and hustling lessons.

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EPGA is not that – not even close.

Walking in the door of the Els Academy to meet Wayne Johnson (Senior Director of Operations), the first thing I noticed off to the right of the reception desk was a high-quality physical training centre. Yes, that is a fancy name for a gym, but one that is specifically designed to work golf muscles. I am sure you could get a great overall workout too, but this place is about golf.

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They also have a massage therapy room where experts can help relieve stressed out muscles.

Next door to the gym are two indoor hitting bays with high-speed video, the V1 Professional Golf Analysis system, Trackman (radar), Pressure plates (to check weight shift and ground force) and even more gizmos which even I am not up to speed on.

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Yes, I am getting old and senile, but even so, I am still aware of what these tools can do in the hands of a highly skilled teacher and Els Performance Golf Academy has those as well.

And, of course, it has a full size driving range with mats and grass tees, a short game practice area and the “Academy Course” which is a nice Par 3 course which will test what you learned.

Wayne Johnson is a member of the Professional Golfers Association of Great Britain & Ireland and worked as teaching professional with Butch Harmon in many of his coaching sessions with Tiger Woods, Adam Scott, Darren Clarke, Lee Westwood and Jose Maria Olazabal at his golf schools in the USA and Bahamas.

Yes, he knows his stuff.

The Senior Teaching Professional is Mario van Zyl from Johannesburg South Africa and assisted Claude Harmon III with the opening and day-to-day operations at the Butch Harmon School of Golf, Dubai. As an instructor at the Butch Harmon School of Golf he created and ran the most successful junior development programme in the region.

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Which brings me to the actual reason for my visit.

Everyone knows I have been screaming for 20 years about the need for a top quality Junior Golf programme in Vietnam and it looks like the Els Performance Academy is going to do it, singlehandedly if necessary.

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Wayne Johnson knows how vital a junior golf programme is to the development of golf in a country and has devised a system which looks quite promising. They call it “Little Easy Young Athlete Programme”. But, don’t get fooled by the name as it’s just a play on the nickname of the founder, Ernie Els, who is known as “Big Easy”.

In a nutshell, they have three levels for juniors: Learn, Improve, & Play. Each level has a specific set of requirements that the student must meet.

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The “Learn” level is based on getting kids set up with the right equipment for their size and teaching them the fundamentals over an eight-week period.

The “Improve” level is also eight-weeks, but includes fitness, improving swing fundamentals and learning basic shot-making skills.

The “Play” level is a more comprehensive development programme aimed at gaining an in-depth understanding of their individual swing, ball flight control, short game techniques, course management and shot strategy.

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Driving around the facility with Wayne, I saw he’s also keen on teaching young players to rake bunkers themselves, fix their own pitchmarks and divots. You will not see caddies on the small course and this is the way it should be.

One huge problem in Vietnam is that people do not learn to do these simple, basic chores that golfers automatically do everywhere else in the world.

Most counties don’t have caddies. Players pull their own clubs on a hand trolley, or carry a lightweight bag, fix their own divots and pitchmarks, and rake their own bunkers.

If a person doesn’t do this, I do not consider them to be a “real golfer”, but rather someone who just “plays golf.” This is all part of the game and it is best learned at a young age. Even if they have caddies later in life, they will know what the caddie is supposed to do and help if necessary.

Etiquette, rules and course maintenance are all vital parts of learning the game. It’s not just about swing techniques and the Els Performance Golf Academy knows this.

As I said, if you haven’t gone there yet, you should because these guys are doing it right.

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