GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Children laughing isn’t usually a sound most people associate with a golf course however, Magnolia Point Country Club isn’t just a normal golf course.
The club is home to The Golf Academy of North Florida, the top-rated junior golf academy in the Jacksonville area.
The academy is run by Dale Claussen, 51, who has been teaching golf for over 25 years. Claussen has been ranked as one of the Top 50 junior golf instructors in the country multiple times by several golf publications.
“If a child starts with me at the age of nine or 10, I can’t guarantee it but I would feel very comfortable saying that I will get them into college on a scholarship,” Claussen said.
Claussen’s track record supports his claims. Seventeen players from the academy have gotten scholarships to division one or division two colleges and universities in the last eight years.
The most successful member of the academy recently is 18-year-old Brandon Mancheno who is a sophomore at Auburn University.
As a freshman, Mancheno was named the SEC Freshman of the Year and was a semifinalist for the Jack Nicklaus National Player of the Year. He sank the putt that clinched the SEC title for Auburn and tied for individual first in the NCAA Championship before losing in the playoff to be named runner-up. Mancheno adds those awards to the ones he won earlier in his golf career where he was a two-time Junior Amateur Player of the Year, a medalist at the 2015 US Junior Amateur Championship and the 2014 Junior Tour Champion.
Mancheno, who dreamed of being a professional golfer as a child, started at the academy when he was nine-years-old. He credits the academy for helping him find a balance between work and play when it comes to golf.
“They keep it fun and simple while also making sure you stay focused and improve,” Mancheno said.
Claussen sees endless potential in Mancheno, who was one of Claussen’s first students at the academy when it opened in 2007.
“Brandon will play professional golf,” Claussen said. “I think he’ll win on the PGA Tour, that’s how good he is.”
Mancheno said that his relationship with Claussen has morphed over the years from the instructor and student dynamic.
“We’re great friends,” said Mancheno. “He helped me mature a lot in both the sport and in life.”
Claussen believes the biggest difference between his academy and others can be summed up in one word – passion.
“I truly believe that the reason we’re so successful is because of the passion we have,” said Claussen.
Within the first five swings a student takes, Claussen can tell if they’re a natural or not. He makes it clear that just because someone isn’t naturally gifted doesn’t mean they can’t be successful. Conversely, just because someone is naturally gifted doesn’t mean they’ll excel at the sport.
For Claussen, again, it all comes back to passion.
A sign in Claussen’s golf cart says “you have to have passion to be the best,” and he stands by that.
“That applies to whatever you do,” said Claussen. “If you don’t have passion then you can be good, but you won’t become great.”
The academy takes students as young as five and teaches them all aspects of the sport. They learn how to play but they also learn how to handle themselves on the course, etiquette, the mental aspect of the sport and more.
“You can’t just become a good player by learning how to swing a golf club,” said Claussen. “There’s so much more that you need to learn.”
There are five instructors at the academy, including Claussen, and each one works with their own group of students. While the other instructors work with newer and part-time students, Claussen works with the more advanced students.
The academy has a multitude of programs and the instructors work to tailor the lessons to the students’ needs. Claussen said that one lesson can be to just go play on the golf course and have fun. For him it’s all about making sure the students don’t lose sight of the fun of the sport.
That mindset has certainly spelled success for his students so far. Claussen has nine students currently playing in college and says he has about 15 he believes could reach the same level as Mancheno. One of his current students is ranked 19th in the nation and 4th in the state.
After a student reaches the college level, Claussen takes a step back from the role he’s often been in for years. He seems content to watch their progress and success from afar if necessary.
“Once they go off to college I like to let them spread their wings and do their own thing,” said Claussen. “Some kids will go off to college and I won’t hear from them for 6 months or more, while others, like Brandon, I talk to twice a week or so.”