A few weeks ago Golf Digest Senior Editor Craig Bestrom met up with Mark Wahlberg at TaylorMade's The Kingdom in Carlsbad. Wahlberg (pictured above), who claims he's a 15 handicap, was prepping for the Golf Digest U.S. Open Challenge--four average golfers playing Pebble Beach from the back tees in U.S. Open conditions. You know all of this by now, but it's Wahlberg, Drew Brees, Wayne Gretzky and Peggy Ference, the reader you picked to represent the true "average golfer." The other three, let's face it, are far from average.
When Bestrom came back with some video of Wahlberg's day at The Kingdom, the luxe club-fitting and swing-analysis setup across the street from TaylorMade's Carlsbad headquarters, he and I sat down and cut this video:
Friggin' Wahlberg--the guy has the life and has had quite a career, right? From boy band when boy bands weren't a cliche (New Kids on the Block and then Marky Mark and The Funky Bunch), to underwear model (Calvin Klein) to Eddie Adams in Boogie Nights (aka Dirk Diggler) to everything-else-is-a-bonus . . .
As for The Kingdom, I was there a few months ago. What used to be strictly for research and development (and off-limits to the public) is now open for a select number of reservations each week. For $5,000 you get the motion analysis technology by TaylorMade (that's the MATT system where you dress up in the black suit covered in little white sensors and swing in front of six cameras). They analyze the results and directly compare your swing to one of 170 tour players who have been through the TaylorMade program. You also get a lesson with Jim Flick and leave with a bag, shoes, a shirt, two dozen balls, a duffle bag and 14 clubs custom fit to your swing and swing speed.
"Our general philosophy is not to change the way you're doing it, we don't try to change your swing," says Alan Stone, one of three custom fitters at The Kingdom. "We try to take the way you're doing it, fit you to the right equipment and help you do it better."
You usually have to book one to three months in advance and although $5,000 sounds like a lot, if you add it all up and factor in the time, Flick's expertise, a custom fit set of clubs, including a custom fit putter, it's actually a pretty sweet deal.
Tour players such as Sergio Garcia, Paula Creamer and Natalie Gulbis visit The Kingdom on a regular basis. Mike Weir comes through with his swing coach a few days a year. When I was there I saw Jeff Sluman hitting balls at the end of the range. Dustin Johnson, with his 125 mph swing speed, nearly broke the whole operation. Actor Will Smith rented the facility for a day in early 2009 for his wife, Jada. It was just the two of them and Smith gave her the day at The Kingdom for her birthday. (She wanted to do something with golf.) When George W. Bush came through he was scheduled to be there from 1:00 to 4:00 but didn't leave until 6:30.
"It's why it's called The Kingdom," says Stone."It's a playground out here, and it's hard to leave."