Pilates has truly changed my life as a whole and in the process impacted positively on my golf game.

Let me start with 2003 when I was first exposed to Pilates as an Exercise Physiologist/Therapist in private sessions with Natasha Madel, 2 nd Generation Classical Pilates Trainer in South Africa. I decided to take it a step further and became a certified 3 rd Generation Classical Pilates Instructor through Natasha and opened up my own Pilates studio in 2005 on the beautiful grounds of Royal Johannesburg & Kensington Golf Club in Johannesburg (one of the top 10 rated courses in SA).

Prior to this I had been playing golf for about 3 years, but always suffered from low back pain due to an injury at the age of 18 causing a Spondilolythesis (fracture) of L4/L5 vertebrae. So for 19 years before being exposed to Pilates, I tried to maintain flexibility and strength through various other forms ofexercise. In 2006, I underwent a spinal fusion operation on L4/L5 and recovered from it so well that I started playing golf within 4 months after the operation.

This I could only do due to Pilates training I did for 3 years prior to the surgery, even still training the day before the surgery.

Pilates improved my concentration on the golf course, my strength, flexibility, endurance, balance and control of my swing. It taught me how to use breath appropriately and added at least 30 metres to my drive! Pilates also helps me to maintain my back health so I am able to play for many more years to come.

In 2005 I attended a GYROTONIC® Application for Golf workshop in Denver, Colorado presented by David Rassmusen (teaching professional who studied under Hank Haney who trained Tiger Woods).

In 2007 I attended the Golf Athlete accredited training course presented by Dr Robert Neal (Australia’s leader in golf swing analysis and flexibility and stability training for golf), Active Isolated Stretching in February 2008, Spinal Biomechanics October 2010, and became a certified Level One Pilates for Golf Instructor with Hole in One Pilates International in April 2011. I teach Pilates to many golfers in my studio to improve their golf game.

The thing I find the most amongst golfers is that they think it’s the set of golf clubs that plays the golf and not their bodies! Golf teaching professionals can try all they want to adapt the swing to the golfer’s lack of body biomechanics – the golfer will continue to compensate and this will lead to injury eventually. A trained Pilates instructor specializing in Pilates for Golfers, can firstly assess what are the golfers ineffective movement patterns, and then address it with appropriate corrective exercises and movements – the outcome is a ball that travels farther (every golfer wants this) and straighter, whilst ensuring that they stay pain and injury free. It’s the safer and more effective way of lowering your handicap!

Golf is an athletic sport that requires the body be conditioned. Although golf is growing at a fast pace amongst women, the majority golfers in South Africa are still males over the age of 40. They may tend to have more body strength but it is not integrated into their bodies. Their legs, hips, back and shoulders are tighter than females placing more stress on joints, ligaments, tendons and muscles. Pilates works for men of all ages – whether they are senior golfers, active golfers or recovering from injury.

I am fortunate to have the top amateur golfer in South Africa attend Pilates sessions with me at my studio since 2005. Daniel Hammond is a 19 year old Springbok player and aims to turn professional at the end of 2011. Here is Daniel‘s testimony:

“I have been doing Pilates with Sandra for the last 6 years and it has helped me in the following ways:

  • Core Stability which is essential for a good golf swing;
  • Flexibility which creates a bigger arc and X factor (coll);
  • Fitness, strength, and most importantly concentration.

Since I have been doing Pilates my Golf game has improved to the extent where I frequently finish in the top 10 as well as winning tournaments.”

Sandra van den Bergh, owner of Royal Retreat Performance Centre (located on the beautiful grounds of the Royal Johannesburg & Kensington Golf Club), has been involved in personal and corporate wellness for well over 30 years.

She is a qualified Biokineticist, certified Pilates and Gyrotonic Instructor, qualified Golf Conditioning Specialist and also the only certified AimPoint Putting Instructor in Africa. Sandra is a 3rd Generation Classical Pilates Instructor and trained under Master Trainer Natasha Madel (2nd Generation), who trained under Romana Kryzanowska (1st Generation) who was trained by Joseph Pilates himself.

Sandra has developed a holistic understanding of body conditioning through experience and specific knowledge gathering. Being a golfer herself and seeing the benefit of her own physical training, she has a passion to assist other golfers (Amateur and Professional) reach their full potential – add distance and power, maintain a consistent and repeatable swing, increase longevity in golf and prevent injury.

Furthermore to improve the golfer’s Green Reading ability to never again guess where to aim when putting.

To keep up-to-date with national and international trends, Sandra continues to attend training workshops and international conferences related to her field of expertise.

Sandra van den Bergh

Owner , Royal Retreat Performance Centre

The blink of an eye, a moment in time, and a chance encounter can change your life. I had been making enquires about Pilates, via Google etc. and had collated so much information that confusion reigned. Meeting Natasha Madel at the gym in Johannesburg South Africa was a turning point in my life. In an objective and factual way she explained about the differences between Classical Pilates method and other forms of Pilates being offered in the market place. I reviewed my research and decided if I was going to put all this effort into an exercise program I wanted the best in South Africa.

I don’t come from a particularly athletic family and also considering I am over 50 I was assailed by doubts as to my capabilities, but from the word go Natasha reassured me that as long as I was prepared to do the work the rewards would come and that the Classical Pilates system was suitable for all ages (see Natasha Madel’s children’s programme)

With great trepidation I arrived at the studio, worried about an old knee injury and other twinges, plus the knowledge that I am quite awkward and clumsy. Natasha proceeded to put me on an apparatus called The Reformer and that is exactly what it does, it assists the trainer to see where you are weaker in your body movements and gets you to work your body evenly not favouring either side. What an experience of gangly legs, wrong movements etc. Natasha was incredible with patience and an obvious love and passion for her craft she guided, prodded and challenged me.

That first session’s impact was so positive that I have never looked back; I am now in training to be a Classical Pilates Instructor. Due to my new found confidence, strength and flexibility I was able to achieve a long time dream of playing golf. I am so thankful for Classical Pilates training. The demands of golf, concentration, focus, and alignment, precision are incredible. My overriding consideration is that I wanted to stay injury free and enjoy playing the game. On attending lessons I became aware of the following:

  •  Focus and concentration is essential to remaining consistent through 18 holes.
  • Hitting hard with no precision and control does not achieve results, but may lead to injury.
  • Collapsing the back and hunching over restricts movement, flowing control is needed.
  • Rotation ‘the wind up” is essential, flexibility critical.
  • Centering the swing and not moving from side to side is key to consistent precision of movement.
  • Breathing through each swing is essential

What was amazing is the 6 Principles of Pilates align so perfectly with what is needed to achieve a consistent, power driven swing without strain.

Genevieve Key

Golfer, Pilates Instructor, Bodysense Pilates Studio

“I have worked hard to craft a swing that’s simple and repeatable, but my workouts have also contributed to my success. My newfound strength gave me endurance to win eight LPGA titles in 2001, eleven in 2002 and six more in 2003. My strength gave me the power to drive the ball more than 270 yards and the confidence to compete against the world’s best male players at the 2003 Colonial.

The results have been amazing. I now hit three of every four par-5’s in two; 10 years ago I hit one of four. I ranked in the LPGA’s top five in driving distances for the first time in 2002, and then led the category in 2003. And I got longer without losing my trademark accuracy, because my training programmed not only made my golf muscles stronger, but also improved my balance, flexibility and rotational power.”


Golfer & Pilates Instructor, from the “Golf Annika’s Way” book by Annika Sorenstam

I started Pilates 18 months ago and mentioned to my instructor that I didn’t have the nerve to aim for the pin when it was 160 metres away with water between me and the hole, and a bunker on the side of the green protecting it. I used to aim for the bunker and often landed in it.

As a result of my Pilates training I am able to focus more readily and this has given a mental advantage and the confidence to go for the green. Then there’s my improved strength. I now use my core muscles effectively and with a more relaxed attitude, so I’m able to hit the ball further. Pilates has made me more aware of my posture and therefore my balance and control are better.

My flexibility has improved and I apply this to my golf game.

All these positive factors have enabled me to play without injury and I believe I owe this to my Pilates training.

Leanne Solarsh

Golfer, Johannesburg, South Africa

What Pilates has done for my golf as a physiotherapist.

For me as a casual golfer, Pilates has made the difference in the way my instructor has assessed and identified my needs, and then worked on them regularly and consistently. Over time one feels the difference , and for me the greatest effect has been on my swing.
Like most golfers I lacked Flexibility of the upper torso and stability of the pelvis. Apart from the many exercises to address specific components of the movements, the most important aspect I believe is the combination training.

The apparatus that fulfills this requirement is a bench so that the client is firmly sitting astride with the hips apart and the feet firmly planted on the floor. This takes care of positioning of the pelvis and legs.in other words stability of the lower half of the body.

At the same time the trunk leans forward , outstretched arms on bilateral revolving wheels the same height as the bench, encouraging extension and flexibility of the torso.

The instructors commands and corrections guides the movement to ensure safe and sure range of movement of especially the shoulder joints, whilst connecting the torso and pelvis with sequenced core control to encourage flexibility of the thoracic spine and neck, while training stability of the pelvis.

This combination training has been invaluable over time , the success evident by the control of the 2 elements required for golf, Distance and Direction.

Joanne Sklaar

BSc Physiotherapy (Wits) MSc Physio Orthopedics (Wits)

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