It was clear to me 30 seconds after we met that Ross Nettles was not going to play ball.
This was supposed to be a "hilarious tale of misery and humiliation on the green." At least, that's how I pitched the story. But I made a gross miscalculation when I thought Nettles, the head golf pro at Marty Sanchez Links de Santa Fe, was gonna be the guy to help me with that plan.
To be clear: I didn't want to do that story just because writers love tales of fear, doubt, suffering and failure (and we do!). I sincerely believed if I went to take a golf lesson, the result would be misery and humiliation. It was the only obvious conclusion.
Because listen, I am not a jock. Not even close. I'm not "sporty" or "athletic" or even particularly "fit." I'm so not-outdoorsy that I'm actually indoorsy. I've got more muffin top than the blueberry muffins at Counter Culture (and that's a lot of muffin top). And my lovely lady lumps? I really thought there was no way I could actually swing a golf club past those serious impediments.
But I was wrong, wrong, wrong about everything. Nettles, a four-time Sun Country PGA Teacher of the Year, promised it would be painless and he delivered on that promise. He mapped out the plan of our lesson (grip, stance, swing) and then guided me through it. He was comforting, reassuring, encouraging.
What? Encouraging? This was not part of the plan. At the end of our 30-minute private lesson, I actually felt successful—much to my professional disappointment but personal delight.
In fact, after the lesson I was so pleased with my new skillz I asked Nettles if I could spend a few minutes alone with my nine iron so I could just hit golf balls for a few minutes. And hit them I did, one after the other after the other. Up! In the air! In a forward direction! There were a few personal pan pizza-sized divots but, otherwise, no casualties. Shocking, but true.
I thought this story would be a big funny joke with me as the tubby, hopelessly uncoordinated punch line. But now I'm seriously considering taking a series of five group lessons. (If you know me, this is the part of the story where you laugh so hard that the milk/beer/coffee comes out rushing out through your nose.)
Nettles has been at Marty Sanchez since it opened 11 years ago. An Albuquerque native, he grew up playing at Arroyo del Oso, a public course there that is managed by the same company. These days he has three assistant pros and, all totaled, they teach more than 1,000 aspiring golfers every year.
Nettles mostly teaches individual lessons, while the assistants teach group lessons. The individual lessons provide lots of personal attention, but they cost more ($45) and are shorter (30 minutes). The group classes last an hour and a half, and more or less follow the same pattern as one-on-one instruction.
The first class, like the one I took, focuses on three things: grip, stance and posture, and learning a half swing. In the second session, students switch to a seven iron and work on a full swing and follow-through. The third class introduces the woods (read: clubs used to hit the ball far), while the fourth teaches chipping and putting. During the last class at Marty Sanchez, students move to the nine-hole course to put all their new skills together and play a few holes.
Here's something else I learned during my first lesson: the difference between public and private golf courses. One of the great things about public golf courses is their commitment to teaching new golfers and making it easy for new players to fit in. Because more new golfers = more customers for them.
So Marty Sanchez offers inexpensive lessons. The pro shop will lend you a club to use at the driving range, where a bucket of balls costs less than a six-pack. And it's got the Great 28, a nine-hole, par 28 short course that Travel and Leisure magazine named one of the "Top Five Big Little Courses."
After a series of five lessons, private or group, Nettles says he's confident most students feel comfortable out on the course, knowing where to go, where to stand and what to do. They're not going to play like Tiger, but neither is anybody else.
And here is the most shocking thing of all: I believe him. Ross Nettles made me see a clear path from where I started (absolute suckitude) to where I was at the end of our lesson (hitting balls!) to being out on the course, playing with my friends (not at work!).
Yes, I have friends who play golf. And by "friends" I do not mean "grandparents" or "my mortgage broker." I mean guys with lots of tattoos and ironic mustaches, and women in my knitting club—people I envy when they tell me how they spent Tuesday afternoon walking around in the sunshine, drinking beer and playing a game with clubs and balls.
The most important thing Nettles told me, the thing that keeps repeating in my head as I make plans for a series of group lessons, is this: You don't have to be great to have fun.
I can dig that. Because you know what? I'm great at a few things already. Golf doesn't have to be one of them. It just has to be a good time.
Take a tip from a Pro
Ross Nettles, head golf pro at Marty Sanchez Links de Santa Fe has these suggestions for beginners:
1. Do yourself a favor and start with at least one or two lessons. Your game will develop and improve faster.
2. Don’t buy your clubs just yet. Wait until you’ve had some lessons and have a better idea of what you’re looking for.
3. Practice, practice, practice. Almost every public course will have clubs to borrow at the driving range. And a basket of 70 balls only costs $6 at Marty Sanchez Links de Santa Fe.
4. Wear comfortable, loose clothing you can move around in. Jeans and a T-shirt are fine. And don’t forget the sunblock!
6. Most of all, remember: You don’t have to be great to have fun.
From public to private, there’s plenty of options when you want to swing some clubs.
The Sunrise and Sunset courses at Las Campanas, a private club, sit at 7,000 feet, just high enough for the ball to fly a little farther than it would on other courses.
132 Clubhouse Drive, 505-995-3500
Marty Sanchez Links de Santa Fe
This is a great course for the whole family, with youth programs, a ladies’ and men’s association, and green fees that are easy on the pocketbook.
205 Caja del Rio Road, 505-955-4400
Quail Run Golf Course
This private course boasts a tight layout that challenges beginners and old pros alike.
3101 Old Pecos Trail, 505-986-2200
Santa Fe Country Club
This country club welcomes everyone (everyone in a collared shirt, that is). Green fees start at $13 for nine holes and cap out at $44 for 18.
601 Airport Road, 505-471-2626
Towa Golf Resort
Mix and match your course from the four nine-hole courses, designed by Hale Irwin and William Phillips, at Towa at the new Buffalo Thunder Resort.
47 Towa Golf Road, Pojoaque, 505-455-9000,