By Ryan Lavner, Julie Williams, Golfweek
At the end of every long day, after grinding for 3 1/2 hours on the range, after listening to a mental trainer drone on about on-course comportment, after enduring three 90-minute classes and strength-training for an hour and working on homework through the night, Phasit “Sun” Wongwaiwate finally calls home. It’s nearly 10 p.m. here on the East Coast, but he needn’t worry about waking his parents – half a world away in Chiang Mai, Thailand, they just finished breakfast.
Sitting at a desk in his three-bedroom apartment in Bluffton, S.C., near Hilton Head Island, the 18-year-old senior at the Hank Haney International Junior Golf Academy chitchats with his mother, Wanawisa.
How is your golf game progressing?
What will you write for your next essay assignment?
Why did your favorite sweater shrink in the laundry?
Since August, Wongwaiwate has seen his family only five days, on an abbreviated winter break, but this $60-per-month international calling card affords them unlimited access. So, too, does Facebook. He and his sister, Sandy, 16, frequently swap silly YouTube videos. They message each other, and suddenly it feels like home, it feels comfortable – even some 9,000 miles apart.
“Being here at the academy,” Wongwaiwate said, “it feels like I’m on an adventure. I feel that my time here is fun and full of new discoveries – about golf, life and myself.”
Of course, such adventures come with a price tag – upward of $70,000 per year – and no guarantee of future success, no assurance that a scholarship offer will be neatly packaged with a diploma. Nonetheless, junior-golf academies have become big business in developing the total athlete. Promising domestic students enroll in hopes of fast-tracking their careers and drawing the attention of college coaches. International players, such as Wongwaiwate, are enticed by the prospects of training with like-minded peers in a golf-centric environment, while also earning a degree and becoming acclimated to American life: the language, weather, food and golf courses.Follow us:
Still, academy life prompts many questions: Why bypass the typical high-school experience? Are students more prepared for college and professional golf?
And the overarching question: Are the sacrifices, the long days and the hefty tuition checks really worth it?