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Area Golf: Foley's goal continues to grow the game

EAST GULL LAKE--Chris Foley has a stable of quality, accomplished golfers he instructs. He also offers instruction for juniors, women and first-time players. He doesn't have a preference of which group he prefers to teach but said there is one gr...

EAST GULL LAKE-Chris Foley has a stable of quality, accomplished golfers he instructs.

He also offers instruction for juniors, women and first-time players. He doesn't have a preference of which group he prefers to teach but said there is one group that beats them all.

"If a player is enthusiastic about getting better, that's the best player to teach," he said. "If you can get a student who is devoted and really wants to do the things to get better, then that's a player who is fun to teach. And that could be an aspiring college player or professional player or a brand new player who is 45 years old and has really developed a love for the game."

Foley's love of teaching is as enthusiastic as some of his students. He was selected the 2002 Minnesota Section PGA Teacher of the Year. He was voted by Golf Digest Magazine as one of the top two teachers in Minnesota. Golf Magazine named Foley the top teacher in the region.

A face of golf at Cragun's Legacy Courses since 2012, and before that at Madden's on Gull Lake, Foley has developed Chris Foley Golf Schools into a successful business. But what he's done throughout the area, from working with Brainerd middle school programs to hosting a summer competitive golf league for area high schoolers, proves what his main priority really is-growing the game.

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With that priority in mind, Foley will be expanding his junior programs around the area to offsite satellite locations. He's looking at four different locations where his teaching philosophy and techniques will be in play.

The early plan is to operate two days a week and run two different levels of the youth program, from beginning golfers to the more advanced juniors.

The Developmental I stage deals with 6- to 10-year-olds, and Developmental II is ages 10 to 14. These will be combined instruction and play.

"Personally, I'm never satisfied. I'm always trying to get better and grow what we do and hopefully grow golf in our area," Foley said. "That's one of the reasons why I hope to expand these junior programs, is I just see a need. We have a ton of golf in the area. There are a lot of kids who would like to play, but there aren't necessarily a lot of programs to facilitate that."

Foley stressed five things needed to develop golfers regardless of age. He said the top requirement is access. He said Brainerd has reasonably good access. Without a city course, however, transportation becomes an issue for younger players.

The second requirement is affordability, and the lakes area has a wide array of price ranges for players. Depending on the interest level, there are ways to experience golf that cost very little.
Foley said the No. 3 thing on the list of helping grow the game is to have good golf instruction.

"The biggest thing that I see, and it isn't necessarily being addressed by the PGA or other 'grow the game' programs, is the best instructors aren't teaching the most at-risk players-juniors, women, beginning players," he said. "Usually, it's the most inexperienced teachers teaching those players."

Another component to successfully growing the game is a reason for the beginning to go to the golf course. Foley said it could be a high school coach, a golf professional, friends or some form of competition. Just something that keeps the beginner coming back to the course and thus the game.

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The final key is the culture of the golf course has to fit the player and yet again the lakes area has an abundance of options with different ownership styles and different cultures. "Hopefully by expanding these programs, we're going to have an impact on all those factors," Foley said. "It's going to be affordable. Kids will have access to the courses. Hopefully, we'll provide the inspiration for the players to be there."

Foley's instruction experience is extensive. He's been a member of the PGA of America since 1992. He's a PGA Master Professional of Instruction and he's a USA Junior National Team coach.

"The further I go along I feel like the less I know," Foley said. "Everyday I'm trying to get better."

Foley spends much of his offseason observing other teachers or communicating with them and even good players. He said he's reading everything he can get his hands on. He said the biggest boom of information has come from the science side of the game.

"People are doing more research on the golf swing and the game itself," Foley said. "The stats of golf have become very big. I wish when I was trying to play golf that I had all the information available. Things like course management. In just the last year, they've probably learned more about that than in the last 20 years."

Not everyone wants or can handle the minutia of information, and that's where Foley's experience really kicks into high gear. While he does use a lot of the latest technology, he said he's not afraid to step away from the computer and simply coach using feel and repetition.

"You can sense very quickly how a person learns and thinks," Foley said. "You have to gear the information you're giving them with their personality type. There is an assessment tool we use, but I don't need to use it with every player. There is definitely a balance there."

A balance Foley has honed working with most is lakes area youths who have never picked up a golf club. As he continues to grow the game, so does Foley's reputation as the face of golf instruction.

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"Every lesson is important," Foley said. "It doesn't matter who you're teaching. Part of what golf instruction is is entertainment. People have to have fun. If they have fun, they're going to play better and then they're going to play more golf. And that's why I'm here."

Covering the Brainerd lakes area sports scene for the past 23 years.
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