Magazine ranks Conway golf teacher No. 1 in state

Donna Lampkin Stephens/Contributing Writer Published November 21, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Nick Hillemann

Brannon Watson, a golf instructor at the Arkansas Golf Center, was named Golf Instructor of the Year by Golf Digest. One of the tools Watson uses is V1 coaching software, along with high-speed cameras to analyze the swings of his students.

CONWAY — Brannon Watson, head golf instructor and founder of the Arkansas Golf Center in Conway, has been named to Golf Digest’s list of best teachers in the state.

According to www.golfdigest.com, Watson is the top-ranked teacher in Arkansas. The only other listed is Brad McMakin, head coach at the University of Arkansas.

“A few months ago, they contacted me to say I was on their watch list,” said Watson, 33, a former University of Central Arkansas golfer. “Then I made it to the final six in the state; then they emailed all the other instructors in the state, and they rate you. I didn’t hear anything else until the magazine came out.”

Golf Digest, the international golf magazine, is known for its rankings of courses, clubs and instructors.

“I got on their radar somehow,” said Watson, who opened the Arkansas Golf Center in March 2006. “I’ve been giving lessons for eight years, and a lot of my students have gone on to win tournaments, mini-tour events, and I’ve got some playing [American Junior Golf Association] events and college kids playing on the national level.”

One of those is Lane Hulse of Fordyce, now 21 and a senior at the University of South Alabama, who won the Sun Belt Conference Championship in April. He has worked with Watson since Hulse’s junior year of high school.

“He’s very good at simplifying his language and vocabulary about golf,” Hulse said. “A lot of teachers I’ve been to get so technical you can’t understand them, but Brannon is really good at finding the problem you have and putting it in simple terms that everybody can understand.”

For several years, Watson has embraced technological advances in his teaching. A V1 High Speed Video Lesson Expert, he works with Hulse, for example, via long-distance from Mobile.

“I’ll send him a video of my swing once a week or so, and we email back and forth,” Hulse said.

Watson agreed that technology has changed the way he teaches.

“Everything is becoming so tech-savvy, and information is so readily available, guys are really hungry and learning so much,” he said. “We teach the new-age golf lessons with video and other new technology.”

Among a clientele list of about 250, Watson has various players from just about every collegiate team in the state, he said. He is also an equipment expert and works with a variety of players in that category as well.

Stephanie Leake, 15, of Benton is another of his clients. She finished runner-up in the Arkansas State Golf Association’s Junior Girls Player of the Year rankings this year.

“She’s been pretty dominant around here in the summers and is trying to step out onto the national scene,” Watson said.

Watson grew up in Vilonia and played for the Eagle golf team. As a sophomore in 1997, he finished as runner-up in the Arkansas High School Overall Championships. He was a four-year letterman for the UCA Bears.

He received a plaque for the Golf Digest honor.

“It’s really nice,” he said. “Just two or three guys have occupied this spot in the last 20 years — Dan Snider, director of golf at The Alotian, and David Lee of Gravity Golf. Those guys are still active.”

He said he has Golf Digest issues dating to 1995-96, and to his knowledge, he is the youngest person to be listed No. 1 in Arkansas for the biennial list.

Obviously, the honor will be nothing but good for him and his business.

“It’s going to help a ton,” he said. “I was already doing my fair share of golf lessons — 400, 450 hour-long lessons a year. When we opened in 2006 — with the way the economy tanked — that was about the worst time to build a golf store.

“But luckily, we’ve done things differently, and it’s been OK. We lost a lot of golfers with the economy, but it’s come back somewhat. I think we’ve reached our bottom, and most major manufacturers and major golf magazines are expecting a much stronger 2014.”

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