Golf coach builds classroom on the green

It took Jeff Bender a few years to find his calling.

But it always involved golf. Yet the daily battle as a golf pro to sell golf clothing to make a few bucks didn’t do it for him.

Instead, it was teaching golf. And more importantly, teaching the game to kids.

Jeff Bender

Jeff Bender

So Bender, who lives in Prosser, runs Jeff Bender Golf Academy in the Tri-Cities, mainly at Richland’s Columbia Point Golf Course and Golf Universe in Kennewick.

Using the latest in technology, Bender has every tool imaginable at his disposal to help golfers of all ages.

And he’s added a new one: a studio at the west end of the Columbia Point driving range.

“It’s 24-by-24-by-24, and it will be open before Christmas,” said Bender, who spent $20,000 of his own money to have it built with the blessing of the city of Richland, which owns the course.

“I pay for my usage at Columbia Point, but the building belongs to the golf course,” he said. “I cleared it with the city and got the proper paperwork the entire way. It’s a training studio. I’m not going to pick it up and move it. (Columbia Point golf professionals) Joe Creager and Mike Schoner can use it for lessons.”

The studio can accommodate three golfers at one time, all working on their swings.

“When you’re training people, they need to see themselves,” Bender said. “So they need a mirror so they can hit inside and watch themselves. There is not a sport out there that you don’t do mirror work.”

If there is bad weather, if the wind blows – he can take his players and clients inside and work.

And it makes him accountable too.

“What it does is it makes it even more impossible to cancel golf lessons because of weather,” Bender said. “If it’s windy, you can just close the door. It enhances the development of players.”

That has been Bender’s main vision for years.

A one time head pro at Black Rock Creek in Sunnyside, Bender left there about 15 years ago and headed to Canyon Lakes when head pro Matt Mandell asked him to take over the juniors program.

Bender thrived there.

“I found my niche,” he said. “I found I could be a great motivator and teacher.”

He’s won numerous Junior Golf Leader and Teacher of the Year awards from the Northwest PGA and Central Washington Chapter of the PGA over the years.

“Jeff has built a nice program that starts young juniors off in Skyhawks and Junior League (programs) at Columbia Park,” said Creager, who doubles as general manager and head professional at Columbia Point. “As their ability and experience grows he moves the kids over here at Columbia Point for his year-long coaching program.

“He does a great job preparing kids for (Washington Junior Golf Association), high school and college competition,” he continued. “The rest of his coaching focuses on their well-being to include school, physical fitness and well-being as a person. It’s a very well-rounded program that he is committed to that is producing results. I don’t know anyone else running a comprehensive program that compares to Jeff’s.”

The new studio, said Creager, “will be an added asset to Columbia Point for sure.”

It’s just another idea that Bender, a PGA member for almost 25 years, had while trying to grow the sport, which he said is depressed up and down the Yakima Valley.

“There are a base number of guys playing (around here),” Bender said. “I’ve been a member of PGA and CWC boards. We have to be careful that we don’t lose golf.”

At any given time, Bender has 100 clients, with an 80 to 20 ratio of kids to adults. He’s popular enough to have clients in Seattle that he sees twice a month.

Quinton Parnell, going through his PGA certification program, is his assistant.

“And if the business continues to grow, I’ll add another assistant with the passion to train,” Bender said.

One of Bender’s keys to success is his use of technology.

He recently acquired a Trackman Elite, which measures a player’s launch from the tee. It’s a $40,000 piece of technology.

“I’m a true believer in video technology,” he said. “I went from big VHS tapes and cameras to mini tapes to digital. Now it’s morphed to Bluetooth and phones. You have to stay on top of technology.”

His wish list includes a body track system that shows how the body moves during a swing.

“I’m constantly learning,” Bender said. “As a coach, I want players and clients to learn. But I’m humble and learning too.”

His academy offers various packages that range in price, including his online golf academy at Bendergolfacademy.com for $30 a month.

But he really has just one big goal.

“My main goal when you see me out here with these players is: are they having fun,” he said. “So I make sure they’re having fun. Because once it goes miserable and you’re not having fun, let’s be done.”

Fortunately, he sees them having success most of the time, whether it’s the 8-year-old girl or the 55-year-old duffer.

“I can do this every day because I’m seeing players rewarded for their efforts,” he said. “They struggle and stay with it. And I still love it. It gives me goosebumps to this day.”

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