When Eric Alpenfels, Director of Instruction at the Pinehurst Golf Academy, was first named one of GOLF Magazine’s “Top 100 Teachers in America” in 2001 the nation was reeling in the wake of 9/11, George W. Bush was President, Mariah Cary’s “Loverboy” was the top-selling single and the golf world was bidding adieu to the wound golf ball.
So much has changed over the course of two decades … not only across America but in the realm of golf instruction, as well. The more things change, however, the more they stay the same. Alpenfels is once again one of GOLF Magazine’s “Top 100 Teachers in America” for 2021-2022, marking 10 straight appearances on the biennial list.
“Golf is still a game of making solid contact with the ball and advancing it toward a target,” he says. “That’s based on setup, path and impact, which are all constants.”
As for the accolade, Alpenfels says it is a true team effort.
The Pinehurst Golf Academy’s lead instructors (from left): Eric Alpenfels, Kelly Mitchum, Geoff Lynch and Paul McRae.
“Kelly [Mitchum], Paul [McRae], Geoff [Lynch] and I have done a lot of research in conjunction with GOLF Magazine and they’re a great partner,” he says. “There are so many amazing teachers on that list and I’m honored to once again be a part of it.”
Only 13 other teachers have made GOLF Magazine’s list more than Alpenfels. He retains his tenure not only because he respects the game’s fundamentals, but because he also understands the role technology plays in game improvement.
“We worked with the GOLF Magazine team in exploring the human development and performance side of the golf swing,” Alpenfels says. “Alignment has also been a big focus in recent years, and we did some research around the ‘aim small, miss small’ concept.”
GOLF Magazine has an exhaustive set of criteria for qualifying and making its vaunted “Top 100 Teachers in America” list. According to Golf.com, the magazine’s website:
The biennial process is powered by the Top 100 Teachers Credentials Committee and is the only national golf instructor search that combines outside academic and PGA peer review. Candidates are screened against a set of criteria evaluating their teaching experience and accomplishments, student portfolio and peer ratings, along with their overall commitment to the growth of the game, both through volunteerism and their ability to use digital platforms.
Bottom line, the selection process rivals that of an Ivy League University. For instructors looking to join the ranks, Alpenfels offers a few tips.
“These days, it certainly helps to have a strong social media presence and following,” he says. “If you are teaching a high-profile professional, even just one, that goes a long way. Also, working with juniors and growing the game is extremely important.”
Pinehurst Golf Academy Director Eric Alpenfels gives a lesson.
And then there’s “putting in the work.”
“Most of the teachers on the list have been doing this for 10-12 years, so there’s also an element of investing the time and becoming an expert in the field,” Alpenfels adds.
Given that playing any of Pinehurst Resort’s nine golf courses requires golfers to play a multitude of shots, we asked our own resident expert about what golfers should work on before taking on the big boys: No. 2, No. 4, No. 7, No. 8 and No. 9.
“First I would say putting, and more specifically judging speed, first, and then break,” Alpenfels says. “Then distance control on your wedges to help reduce distance to the pin.”
According to Alpenfels, the old adage about hitting to the middle of the green and putting out to the hole still holds true, mainly on No. 2, No. 3 and No. 8.
The Pinehurst Golf Academy offers a unique blend of situational practice and on-course instruction. Students enjoy a round of golf each day, so after working on skills on the practice range, players have the opportunity to transfer what they’ve learned to the golf course – with an instructor.