Winters the midwest leave golfers with limited options for keeping their swing active during the offseason. Some courses offer year round play and driving ranges, but when there is 12″ of snow, even a heated bay offers little comfort. While this winter season has been relatively mild (temps in the 60s in February) hitting off dead grass and solid mats is not all that pleasant.
Golf simulators have been growing in popularity for local courses, offering an option to keep patrons coming through the doors all year long, and with the success of Top Golf, some restaurateurs are entering the game with golf themed pubs. Not all simulators and simulation facilities are the same, however, and having sampled a few local options here are some general tips when planning your next winter golf outing.
Technology has come a long way…. but don’t expect your local municipal course to carry the latest in HD graphics and swing sensors. As mentioned above, many courses are installing a simulator bay to keep patrons active during the winter months, although mostly using somewhat dated technology. These bays are likely acquired from recently closed superstores like Golfsmith and Golf Galaxy. While the graphics may leave something to be desired, just remember that the goal is to be swinging in a heated space with somewhat reasonable statistic feedback. Getting an hour of practice on one of these machines will certainly satisfy your need to shake off some winter rust. The greatest benefit of these older bays is lower rates and more open times.
That being said, technology on new machines is extremely impressive with more sensors and increased statistical feedback. Look for an Official PGA or Golf Channel logo on your simulator to ensure you are getting the latest in the business. We recently played on a widescreen version installed in the last few months, and the results were stunning. Shots out of bunkers and rough were much more punishing than the older simulators and the distances of the tee resembled true play more accurately. The graphics were also quite impressive with grass moving in the wind, and splashes for our errant drives in the water. Unless you have access to a private simulator however, these will usually come with higher rates and more demand.
Pace of play…. If you are practicing or playing by yourself, you may be able to get through a round in about an hour. If you are playing with one or more, expect to add another hour for each player, so for a foursome, expect to be there for 3-4 hours if you want to get in a full 18 holes. We usually play in groups, and I can’t recall ever finishing a full round. The beauty of the simulator is being able to play up to 30 different courses around the world, so we usually swap courses after a few holes anyway. Also putting is nearly impossible, even on the best machines, so we recommend setting the scoring program to a max two putt or gimmes at 12′ (usually the highest setting).
Bring your own clubs…. Some courses may have clubs for you to use, but they are usually old rental sets, and may come with a usage fee. You bring your own clubs to the driving range, so plan to do the same at the simulator.
Play for at least 2 hours…. Most facilities charge by the hour, and it usually takes 15-20 minutes to get fully acquainted with the machine and in your swing groove. As mentioned before, if you are playing with 4 people, plan an hour per person to get through a round. You will likely want to try different courses, so having the extra time will allow you to explore. When looking at places to play, be sure of the pricing strategy as some charge per hour regardless of players and others charge by player.
Have fun with it…. While some places have better technology than others, they all have their own quirks. I recommend making these outing social, taking advantage of the fact that you are swinging clubs in winter. Look for places with food and beverage options.