What's in the Jim McLean Golf School?

by Brian Dobak
September 27, 2011

In my experience of working with instructors and speaking with them, one thing I’ve noticed is the residual impact that the Jim Mclean Golf School has had on the development of our games instructors. There are a slew of top instructors out there that have ties to the JMGS. What it is that makes the JMGS such an invaluable training ground for aspiring teaching professionals?

For many reasons to be discussed, JMGS is unarguably the most successful teaching program in the world. If you are an amateur and your desire is to step up your game, JMGS is your place to go. If you are a tour professional and your desire is to raise your game to the next level, then JMGS is your place to go. Just ask guys like Vaughn Taylor, Fred Funk, J.J. Henry, Ben Crane, Webb Simpson, Rory Sabatini, Erik Compton, and Andres Romero. What the amateurs and even professionals may tend to overlook is how all of this gets done and how JMGS is so successful. What goes on behind the scenes is what this article sheds light on.

To truly understand the JMGS, we should probably get to know Jim Mclean first. Jim is a 1973 graduate of University of Houston, B.A. Economics and he played on the schools golf team all four years with the likes of Fuzzy Zoeller, Bobby Wadkins, and Bruce Lietzke. Jim got his first gig in the business as a Teaching Professional in 1975 at Westchester CC in Rye, New York. In 1979, he attained his first Head Professional position at Sunningdale CC in Scarsdale, New York. In the winter of 1982, Jim took a shot at playing on the PGA Tour. In 1983, he attained a Head Professional position at Quaker Ridge GC in Scarsdale. While there he was the 1986 Metropolitan PGA Teacher of the Year and the Metropolitan PGA Horton Smith Award winner. In 1987, he earned his first Director of Golf position at Tamarisk CC in Rancho Mirage, California. In 1988, he took an opportunity to come back to the New York area for a Director of Golf position at Sleepy Hollow CC in Scarborough, NY. During his time at Sleepy Hollow, Jim attained PGA Master Professional certification in 1990. Shortly after his departure of Sleepy Hollow in 1993, Jim was awarded with the 1994 PGA National Teacher of the Year Award.

Jim has worked extensively with many top teachers including Jimmy Ballard, Art Bell, Jackie Burke, Harry Cooper, Jack Grout, Claude Harmon, Johnny Revolta, Bob Toski, Ken Venturi, Butch Harmon, Manuel De La Torre, among many others. Jim has taught more than 100 PGA Tour, LPGA and Senior PGA Tour players including: Dana Quigley, Hal Sutton, Brad Faxon, Tom Kite, Sergio Garcia, Lenny Mattiace, Curtis Strange, Bernhard Langer, Cristie Kerr, Blaine McCallister, Ben Crenshaw, Jerry Pate, Gary Player, Liselotte Neuman, Peter Jacobsen & Steve Elkington.

There are eight Master Instructors who have worked under Jim that have been named to America's "Top 100 Instructors" list and nineteen on The Golf Digest top teacher list.
If that’s not enough to convey to you the impact that the JMGS has had, we can take it deeper.

What It Takes To Become Jim McLean Certified

The golf instructors at the JMGS are the most qualified and best trained teaching professionals in the world. No other school requires their teachers to undergo the extensive training that Jim McLean demands of his professionals. The process is intensive and lasts between one and two years depending on the individual.

The first step is to simply make it through the interview process and be hired as an assistant professional. This may be the most difficult step of all. They only hire candidates who have a passion for teaching and who have demonstrated the professional skills necessary to be a world class teaching professional. Many of their new hires are young professionals who come from the top private clubs in America. Some of their professionals in training have come from Merion GC, Baltusrol GC, Pine Valley GC, Augusta National GC, The Country Club, Caves Valley GC, The Inverness Club, Scioto CC, Maidestone GC, and Atlantic GC to name a few.

The second step is to spend at least one year and sometimes two years, working as an assistant at one of their schools. It's an extremely demanding year with less than half of the candidates moving on to teaching professional status. It is this time where it seems like you receive your gritty education and in some ways it is golf instructions own "School of Hard Knocks". During this period the assistant will:

  • Attend two 1.5 hour training sessions every week which are led by either Jim McLean or the school's Director of Instruction.
  • Complete the rigorous Jim McLean Certification Test. This comprehensive test on The Jim McLean Teaching System takes five months to complete and also requires the assistant to film themselves giving 18 different presentations on Jim's teaching system.
  • Compete in staff tournaments throughout the year to improve their own game and competitive skills.
  • Conduct their own golf swing research projects from the school's unparalleled data base of touring professional swings. Jim McLean is an ardent believer in "He who does no research has nothing to teach." ALL Jim McLean teaching professionals are required to conduct research on the golf swing.
  • Become an expert at videotaping golf swings. This may sound like an arbitrary skill to master, but it usually takes four months of diligent practice to reach Jim McLean's standards.
  • Video tape professional tour swings at PGA and LPGA Tour Events.
  • Give impromptu and prepared presentations on the golf swing and Jim McLean's teaching system in front of veteran Jim McLean teaching professionals during staff meetings and training sessions.
  • Conduct complimentary weekly golf clinics for Resort guests. These one hour clinics provide a stage for the assistants to hone their speaking, demonstrating and teaching skills.
  • Assist JMGS teaching professionals with private lessons, golf schools and clinics.
  • Seek out other top teaching professionals and take lessons to broaden their teaching knowledge and effectiveness.
  • Read books and texts of various golf subjects and teaching styles and give written and oral reports to the JMGS staff.
After successfully completing these two phases, a few assistants will be extended the opportunity to become a Jim McLean Instructor (the first level teaching professional) for the Jim McLean Golf Schools. Moving up to a JM Master Instructor and finally to the JM Lead Master Instructor level requires years of teaching, continual training and the approval of Jim McLean. The Jim McLean Golf School's greatest asset is their teachers.

Testimonials from the Teachers Themselves

When I asked Kevin Sprecher about what he has learned during his experiences with Jim McLean and now at Sleepy Hollow CC, he had the following to say:

I've learned more than I can express in writing. I've been working with Jim for over 18 years and this is my 11th season at Sleepy Hollow. A few of the more important things I learned are:
  1. Get things done. What ever your project is, get it done thoroughly and timely. And then let people know you did it. No one is going to take notice unless you make them.
  2. Learn how to play and hit all the shots. No one respects a teacher who can't demonstrate what they are teaching.
  3. Be a leader. Initiate projects, when something is offered be the first to volunteer. Like Lee Iaccoa said "You can lead, follow, or get out of the way!"
  4. Jim has always taught me to continue to seek knowledge. Even if you don't agree with the philosophy, understand it in case someone has a question.
  5. The client is always correct.
When I asked Trillium Sellers about her experiences with the JMGS at Doral in the winter and how it all translates, she had some great insight:

At the Jim McLean School there are a lot of instructors and assistants and the intensity level for self-improvement is higher than any other golf instructional environment I’ve ever been in. Sometimes it’s stressful (like the Monday meetings at 7:30 AM) because Jim likes to test that everyone is learning and getting better. But I don’t teach as many hours as I do up north at Chevy Chase CC. So I find that the months I spend at JMGS, I’m gaining a different type of experience than when I’m teaching out on the Chevy lesson tee all by myself.

In speaking with Joe Plecker, Director of Instruction at Baltimore CC and a Golf Digest Top-40 Under 40 instructor, Joe describes what he took away from his experience and what it is about the JMGS that grooms such great teachers?

I think two distinct elements make Jim McLean instructors successful. The first is true apprenticeship. You start at the bottom and work your way up, observing lead instructors and learning the basics of the business. This proves invaluable as you progress as a teacher and business person. The second is using a systematic, well researched approach to teaching. Truly knowing what matters makes an instructor not only valid, but above reproach.

After reading this, hopefully you have gained some perspective on the Jim McLean Golf School. If instruction is the path you desire, JMGS may be a route to consider, however you'll have to evaluate if you qualify for admission. The experience is demanding, however sometimes we need to be pushed to realize our true potential. It seems to me that that is what the JMGS does.