Teeing Off

Program helps junior golfers reach the next level

Story By Grace Thornton

Photos By Dawn Harrison

 

What do you call “success” when it comes to golf lessons?

Hank Johnson smiles at the question and looks across the sunny practice tee at a young woman practicing her swings.

Hank Johnson is a renowned teacher and a member of the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.

Hank Johnson is a renowned teacher and a member of the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.

“She came to us a year ago as a high school senior and a beginner golfer and told us she wanted to get good enough to play college golf,” Johnson says. “So we put a program together for her, and she’s going to Spring Hill College in Mobile on a golf scholarship.”

The mission of Hank Johnson’s School of Golf is to give high-quality instruction at an affordable price and in a convenient manner, he explains. And they put a large emphasis on junior golfers, like the beginner-turned-scholarship golfer headed to Spring Hill College — about half of their students are junior golfers.

“We’re very successful as far as our goals go,” Johnson says. “We have a large number of skilled juniors, and we have a large number of club members who are enjoying their game more because of lessons. That’s exactly what we’re after.”

Johnson’s golf school has been based at Timberline Golf Club in Calera for two years now, a move Johnson made from Greystone, where he had been for 20 years. He likes to stay places for a while — before that, he’d been at North River in Tuscaloosa for 10 years, and before that, he lived in Pittsburgh for eight years getting his golf career kicked off.

It was a career that had been brewing for a while.

Johnson grew up in Shelby County golfing with his father, who ran the Siluria cotton mill.

“I started when I was around 12. I’d play nine holes, then I’d go do something else,” he says.

By the time he finished the eighth grade, he was serious enough about it to leave Thompson and drive every day to Shades Valley High School so he could be on a golf team.

“Then I played in college at Auburn and attempted to play as a PGA tour player,” Johnson says.

It was something that evolved into teaching — and eventually earned him a spot in Golf Magazine’s Top 100 Teachers as well as the designation of PGA National Teacher of the Year in 2014.

He’s a member of the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, too.

And professional golfer Zachary Portemont says he’s glad he found him.

“I started working with Hank three and a half or four years ago. He has to be one of the top instructors in the nation,” Portemont says. “Working with him has been the best decision of my career.”

Johnson loves seeing pro players like Portemont excel, but he also loves seeing students hold a golf club for the very first time.

“We can teach anybody who has a passion to learn — skill level is not a factor,” he says. “If they have a passion and interest to improve, we want them as a student.”

He likes to get them before they have the opportunity to get any bad habits and start from scratch with proper form if he can.

“People often ask me how young is too young to start playing golf, and I tell them I want them before they hit the first ball so we can get their first swings to be as correct as possible,” Johnson says. “We practice to develop good habits so they don’t even have to think, just react.”

And he’s passing those instructional skills to young players like Scott Hassee, his second in command there at the school.

Hassee got certified as an apprentice golf instructor several years ago through Johnson’s program and is now the school’s lead instructor.

“It’s been an adventure,” Hassee says. “It’s been a great benefit to me.”

Hassee and Johnson both say they enjoy having the school in its new home, Timberline Golf Club.

“Just by looking at it, most people probably think it is a private club because it is so well developed and well run, and we do have members. But it’s a daily play golf club in addition to having members,” Johnson says. “And it has all of the elements a golfer would want — great practice areas, great facilities and the course is extremely good. It’s got all of the pieces.”

For more information about the School of Golf, call 205-529-8546 or visit Hankjohnsonschoolofgolf.com.