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Leadbetter opens first teaching facility in Canada

By Art Stricklin,

WHISTLER, British Columbia - The trek by golf's most recognizable teacher north of the U.S. border to open the David Leadbetter Golf Academy at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler positions the acclaimed resort for even greater things to come.

"We already had a nice golf course, but we needed a warm-up facility," said Fairmont Corporate Director of Golf Murray Blair. "It's like having a good cocktail before a fine meal, it just adds to the experience. We started out to build a world-class golf academy and by doing that it helped us attract a teacher like David Leadbetter to bring his first golf academy to Canada."

Attract they did by spending Cdn $2.2 million on an eight-acre facility that includes a huge double-ended range for general warm-up on one end and specialized Leadbetter clinics or multi-day lessons on the other, taught by his proteges, including Whistler director of instruction Jeff Saager.

"This is a beautiful part of the world, one I haven't really spent much time in, but we were looking for a place to be up here [Canada] and Fairmont is a great company to be with so it seemed like a good fit," said Leadbetter, who has worked with most top golf players from Nick Faldo, Nick Price, Ernie Els, David Duval and teen phenom Michelle Wie.

He cut the ribbon on his 28th golf academy worldwide with a day-long clinic, Q&A session and golf at the Robert Trent Jones, Jr.-designed Chateau Whistler course in late June. "This will help us overall as a golf resort facility. People know what a good golf experience this is, but we wanted to offer them a good practice and teaching experience as well," Blair added.

Leadbetter first came into the project in September 2002 through a mutual friend of Blair's. He said the longer he worked with the Fairmont team, the more he felt this was the best place for his first Canadian facility.

"Usually when we come into a new location, we ask for a certain number of things for the facility and we often get half of what we ask for. This is one of the first times we got more than what we asked for," he said.

The new academy includes the ranges, several chipping areas featuring different angles, two different putting greens and a couple of practice greens. There is also a covered academy building that will have multiple video cameras for film study and flat, plasma screen televisions for instant replay and analysis.

"We wanted to offer people a variety of options weather they're here for a single lesson or a four-day seminar," said Saager.

To build the facility, which is located near the current sixth hole, resort officials turned to Canadian architect Gary Browning, who had earned praise with the design of the new Stewart Creek course. "This is one of the most challenging design assignments I ever received in my career, which began in 1980," said Brown, whose firm is based in Calgary.

To start the process on the land, which was located on the side of a hill and totally tree covered, Browning's team had to clear the land, shape it into a useable practice area and deal with some unique drainage challenges.

"This is where the majority of the water drains off the mountains and storm water collects, so we had to put a number of catch basins here along with some underground pipes to draw the water off the fairway," he said.

"We wanted a place where a golfer actually wanted to practice, not just hit a couple of balls and quit," Browning added. "We started at the beginning of 2002 and received some great support from the Fairmont people. They said, 'Gary, just get this done,' and we spent in excess of a million dollars just for the land and the basic practice features before Leadbetter got involved."

Fairmont officials already have begun to book corporate and individual lessons at the Leadbetter facility through Saager and his team of teachers. The Leadbetter School will be open the rest of the 2003 golf season before getting ready for a full schedule in 2004.

"We looked at all the schools and all the teachers out there and this is something we're very excited about," Blair said. "With the stunning visual effects and the great facilities, I challenge anyone to beat us now."

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