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Advanced Placement, Golf

Special academies transform young duffers.

Ironically, this golf revolution began with tennis. Legendary coach Nick Bollettieri launched a tennis school three decades ago on the Bradenton site. It began as a small, somewhat ramshackle, family-run operation. Bollettieri’s hard-driving style — up at 4 a.m. and ready for six hours of tennis a day — soon produced champions such as Andre Agassi, Jim Courier and Monica Seles.

In 1987, the International Management Group, a giant agency that represents athletes and runs athletic events, bought Bollieteri’s operation and expanded it. One of its first moves was to add golf. International Management Group bought the youth division of Leadbetter’s golf academies. “No one had ever done this, so we said, ‘let’s see how it works,” recalls Leadbetter, a renowned teacher.

In recent years, the Academy has expanded beyond golf and tennis to include hockey, baseball, soccer and basketball. Golf facilities include a 30,000 square foot grass tee area, lighted hitting bays, four target greens, sand bunkers, putting and chipping greens, and an on-scene administrative building with state of the art video rooms, pro shop and club fitting. Students also have access to the nearby Legacy Golf Club or El Conquistador Country Club. More than 20 coaches cater to the golf students.

At the Academy, athletics are not just about fun — they’re hard work. When students arrive, they immediately enter a two-week evaluation period. During the regular school year, students rise at sunrise for a quick breakfast followed by three hours of weight training and golf drills. After a shower and lunch, they hurry to the Pendleton School for four and a half hours. Then it’s either to the gym or to the sports psychologist, practicing exercises to handle the pressure of competing in top-flight sporting events.

Twice a week, morning practice session is replaced with a round of golf. Dinner is followed by homework. Lights are out by 10:30 on school nights and life outside the Academy consists of little more than a trip to the local beach or the strip mall. Instead of partying, weekends are devoted to tournaments. The week’s “study” leads up to the event. Coaches take students out on the course in preparation. The week after each event is spent analyzing shots.

Perhaps the most famous graduate is Paula Creamer, now a top-rated professional on the LPGA tour.

“Many of the kids were sent just because their parents thought it was important for them to learn how to play for their future business career,” marvels Karen Creamer, Paula’s mother.