Sharpen Your Swing at Six Top Golf Schools

PGA Tour organizers hope Tiger Woods' return to competitive golf will provide an economic jolt to the game. Clearly, all is not well on the links.

If you're a golfer who has managed to weather the recession with money to spare or if you just need a break, maybe it's time to go back to school. After a few days at one of the country's top golf schools, you might shave strokes off your handicap and return to work refreshed.

Choosing a school: There are hundreds of golf schools in the U.S., mostly in California, Nevada, Arizona and Florida. Choosing the right one is a matter of budget, location and teaching style.

Programs usually last two to five days. A three-day stay can cost $600 to $6,000, including lodging, lessons and use of the course.

When evaluating programs, consider how you want to spend your time. Demanding programs might seem like a working vacation, with day-long sessions on the practice range. Others are more leisurely, with lessons taught during casual games. There are also specialty schools that focus on chipping and putting.

Figure out how much you're willing to spend. If you travel, you might have to pay for your airfare, lodging and meals. Local schools might offer cheaper rates for commuters.

Once you've set your budget, evaluate the programs. Some only provide driving ranges, while others offer multiple golf courses on their campuses. Are you looking for group instruction or one-on-one lessons?

To help you narrow the search, here are six schools that offer personalized instruction. Each is affiliated with a well-regarded teacher or organization, and at least one well-known course:

Butch Harmon School of Golf: Woods' longtime swing coach teaches in Las Vegas. His three-day classes cost $2,900 to $5,900 with lodging. The higher-priced packages include personal instruction with Harmon and rounds at the top local courses.

PGA TOUR Academy: Members of the Professional Golfers Association teach at six locations, on a traveling "campus" and aboard a cruise ship.

Arnold Palmer Golf Academy: Three days of instruction at the Orlando, Florida, facility start at $749. Packages cost as much as $2,532 for three days, including a stay at the Bay Hill Club & Lodge and access to the "Championship Course," the site of the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Crystal Mountain Golf Schools: The northern Michigan school offers more than 100 programs that cater to players at all levels. Three-day rates start at $799, including lodging. There's a $599 commuter rate for local golfers.

Stratton Mountain's Golf University: True to its name, the Vermont school offers three-day "core" classes that focus on basic skills for $599. There are also courses for children, families and companies.

Pinehurst Golf Academy: North Carolina's Pinehurst offers three-day programs for $2,295 to $2,715, with access to eight courses, including its venue for the U.S. Open.

Other schools: Golf Digest offers an annual ranking of the 50 best teachers, all of which are affiliated with schools. Golf.com lists its top 100 instructors and 25 golf schools. ShawGuides, a Web site of schools and camps, lists schools by month and location, and offers suggestions for seniors, singles, women, children and disabled players.

Mike Woelflein is a business and personal finance freelance writer. A former senior industry specialist with Standard & Poor's and managing editor of ColoradoBiz magazine, he has also written for The Denver Post and American Express.

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