ST. GEORGE — At first glance, the third floor of the Health and Performance Center at St. George Regional Hospital looks like a new location for Topgolf or another indoor golf driving range. With sensors and 3D motion capture, it also looks a little like a science experiment.
People are hitting golf balls off tees into nets. At the same time, they may be hooked up to sensors wrapped around their legs, arms and forehead.
This is the Golf Fitness Program at the hospital’s LiVe Well Center, which specializes in building fitness and wellness programs for local residents. Jeffrey Kennedy, a clinical exercise physiologist, said the new golf program is designed for those already playing the sport and who are looking to not only improve their game but also themselves.
Kennedy told St. George News that three likely candidates for the program would be: “anybody that wants to improve their game, anybody that wants to see longevity in playing the game or anybody that might have some medical history and want to ensure that they’re swinging safely without aggravating and further injuring.”
In addition to his work at the LiVe Center, Kennedy is certified as a level 3 medical evaluator with the Titleist Performance Institute, an educational group created initially by the golf manufacturer in 2003 to study and boost the performance of professional golfers.
Now that same technology and scientific approach previously reserved for PGA and LPGA pros is being used for more casual golfers. Kennedy said there are currently about 24 people enrolled in the program locally, mainly in their 40s and above.
Mary Laubscher is one of them. She said her golf game wasn’t being hindered as much by shanks and duffs it was by pain in her hip and knee.
Using data analysis, including a 3D avatar on a screen that duplicated her golf swing, she found out that pain was all in her swing. Using that data, the physiologists at the center retooled her swing into one that not only didn’t cause her pain but helped relieve it.
“It was very interesting to see how all the mechanics worked with my arms, hips, legs, head,” Laubscher said. “It started making a big difference.”
While some of the participants have seen the benefits on their scorecard – including better scores and longer drives – Kennedy said for many it has just been the feeling of being able to do more with their body.
“Some say it’s reflected in their score,” he said. “And then there’s also those that observed that, ‘You know what, I can now play two days in a row without getting sore instead of having to take a day off and stay at home because my back or knee is sore. Now I can play both Friday and Saturday rounds.’ You know, that’s a big deal to a lot of people.”
‘We’re not looking for somebody to swing like Tiger Woods’
Clients participating in the Golf Fitness Program start their evaluation in the center hitting balls for an hour. After a warm-up, they are videoed doing their swing.
Sensors are attached from head to toe, and the swinging commences again, with a 3D avatar that looks like a wooden mannequin created on a screen based on the movements of the client.
“Most importantly, it teases out the data,” Kennedy said. “We can look at rotary accelerations, sequencing in the body … and we can actually look at the quality of the movement. If there’s a reason that they’re not able to maybe post up on a certain part of the swing, it might be because they have history in their knee or they lacked flexibility in their hips. Stuff like that.”
After that, there is an additional 16-point inspection that’s akin to the multipoint inspection one might get for their car at a tune-up shop. Each joint that should move in a golf swing is checked for flexibility as well as the chain reaction of all the joints working together.
As Laubscher learned herself, it’s all in the swing.
“The biggest thing I learned was that there is not one way to swing your clubs. Everyone is built differently, and my swing will not match someone else’s,” she said.
Kennedy noted it’s not about teaching someone a certain swing but finding the swing that’s best for them and their body.
“We’re not looking for somebody to swing like Tiger Woods,” he said. “We’re kind of essentially painting the picture of what the optimal swing can look like for this person based on their physical capacities and their sequencing.”
As for the fitness aspect of the sport once they’re actually on the links, Kennedy said it depends on if someone rents a cart. While there is some physical effort involved in swinging a club, walking around a green – or in extreme circumstances, banging the club into the sand trap if things don’t go well – Kennedy said walking 18 holes can be more than 4 or 5 miles of walking, with each mile burning 120 calories.
But Kennedy said these days, the temptation is to pay the cart fee.
“The challenge with the golf industry right now is most of the newer courses heavily rely on carts,” he said.
However, he added, one aspect of Southern Utah golfing life is it affords a chance to enjoy a good walk with great views, despite the adage that golf can be a good walk spoiled.
“What I’ve noticed since I’ve been up here in St. George is there are still some wonderful courses in town that you want to walk, because I think you’re going to miss a lot driving the cart around.”
Those interested in one of the limited slots for the Golf Fitness Program can call 435-251-3793. People can also learn more at a free, one-hour presentation by Kennedy on Tuesday at 6 p.m. and again Nov. 11 at the SelectHealth Auditorium, 1424 E. Foremaster Road.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.