Golf simulators: For bad weather and great golf
By Dennis de Jesus Jr.
The snow has fallen. Another golf season in the books.
In past years, the first snowfall only brought doom and gloom for me. I don’t ski or snowboard anymore, my tired knees cannot take the punishment. As a Canadian I should play hockey, but I’m light years behind people my age who have been playing hockey before they could walk. In my fantasy world, I define myself as a golfer who unfortunately has been shackled to a 5-6 month imprisonment every year when my real world is full of scraping windshields, shoveling driveways and seeing my breath with each exhale. I go to bed and dream of lush fairways and well manicured pastures of green as far as the eye can see. I hear the gentle flapping of a flag a hundred yards away, inviting me to approach it. Here, the warmth of the air makes my breath invisible but in each exhale, my dreamscape environment just takes it away.
For a golf fan like myself, there are few things in the winter months that help cure the off season golf blues. I’ve tried them all – PS3 videogames, domed indoor driving range, the heated outdoor driving range, watching more Golf Channel, reading more GolfWRX (cheap plug). They are all nice temporary solutions, but absolutely nothing compares to actually playing. So I’ve taken golf trips the last few years to get away from the winter in Calgary – trips to Florida, Arizona, California — all wonderful and excellent golf destinations that can have my money if I had enough to give. Though there are way too many years left in my working career, these trips have already set my mind to being a snowbird as my retirement plan A (Retirement plan B is to be Holly Sonders’ personal cabana boy).
Golf trips are a great cure, but they are really expensive, especially if you are a casual visitor. As with most great ideas hatched in the mind of geniuses, I told myself, “There’s got to be a better way.” So I went hard at work, did my research, talked to professionals and found that winning the lottery wasn’t a statistically feasible plan and that buying my own Lear jet would only be possible if I won the lottery. Back to square one.
A few weeks ago, a friend suggested I try out golf simulators as a way to scratch the itch, feed the need, get the fix … you get the idea. My impression of simulators was relegated to the ones they have at golf shops, you know, the ones where they dial up the settings ever so slightly to make you think that you are the longest, straightest shot maker in the entire world. I mean come on, a 212-yard shot straight down the pipe with a 52-degree wedge (that’s carry distance by the way – it zipped back about 36 yards after backspin).
But golf simulators were a solution I’ve never really given a chance so I packed up my clubs and headed off to my nearest golf simulator center to see if it would be the Advil to my off season golf headache.
First impression – the simulators at this golf center were something amazing. They were like the Cadillac of golf simulators when I’d only experienced a K Car. The screens were larger, the visual display was in HD, the fake turf was flawless and I had my own clubs with me. Add to that another big screen to watch NFL and some leather club chairs to relax in and the experience was something totally different than I expected.
What I was experiencing wasn’t so much a golf simulator as it was an entertainment oasis that just happened to provide enough room to swing a driver. I’m pretty sure I was as wide eyed as a kid at Disneyland that just happened to see Mickey Mouse peek out from behind those Country Bears that no one really cares about or know what film they’re from. But I digress.
As I teed up my first shot, I couldn’t help but notice how real it all felt. Once the computer overlay interface faded away, I was enamored by the visual of the HD screen. It really looked like I was at the tee at TPC Scottsdale, a course I have actually played in real life. Gone was the sweltering afternoon heat, but the 150 yard stakes were right where I remember them and the fairway perfectly framed by the desert trees and cactus that personalized this infamous course.
I gripped my driver and THWACK! I heard a booming sound that was unfamiliar to me, and the enclosed space echoed from the sound of my driver. I was shocked: that was the sound my tee shot makes in a simulator when I shank it. The result was a nice 180-yard pull hook that brought me right next to someone’s backyard with a tree right in front of me. The post shot stats were telling – -the club head speed, the ball speed, the backspin all presented for everyone to see. If my four letter curse word didn’t indicate how poor of a shot that was, the large HD screen surely shouted it out for everyone to see. And as a typical macho golf simulator rookie would do, I looked back at my playing partners and questioned how accurate this thing must be.
“Oh that’s weird, that’s a lot more right than I normally hit a mishit,” I said. Meanwhile, I thought to myself silently, “Holy crap, this thing is pretty accurate, I totally pulled that.”
The putting was another adventure in itself. How am I supposed to gauge feel and distance when I’m putting into a screen? The hole isn’t real and I’m trusting some numbers to tell me how far I am, but I don’t know how much pace I put on a 50 foot putt that visually looks like a 15 foot putt. It totally messed with my mind and I often times left it short because I had no clue what I was doing (this simulator is good – it’s just like real life!). The only saving grace I did find was the grid and the ants that crawled across the screen, which helped indicate the high/low points on the green and helped me calculate the right amount of break for the putt. If anything, that was very useful and I would like to take the grid/ants concept out onto the real course sometime – before every putt, I’d like to lay out a transparent sheet of plastic near the pin with grid lines on it and then spill water on the plastic to watch where the beads of water end up. This may slow the pace of play down, but I might be able to shave about seven or eight strokes off my game so it might be worth it. Thankfully, the putting did get better as the round wore on, but it will take some getting used to for sure.
For the three of us in the flight, it took us three hours to finish TPC Scottsdale. I managed to hit some good shots and did misfire on occasion but I was impressed with how accurate the simulator was. My average yardage was correct for virtually every club in my bag and mishits predictably went where they were supposed to go if I was to open or shut the club too early on impact. I topped the ball once and it did exactly that on the screen, burning the grass for a while and losing distance as it skimmed along the fairway. My putting was horrendous and I argued that a ball on any part of the green should be a gimmie, but I guess when you are playing for beer that is being way too generous.
The big takeaway from the experience was that for a few hours on a cold wintery day, I was able to enjoy the game of golf with my friends in the comfort of my own city. I shared a few laughs, had a beer, teased and got teased just like I would in a real round. Sure, the lie was always perfect and the NFL game next to us was a nice distraction, but it was still a round of golf when the temperature outside was below freezing. The lush fairways I dreamt about were digital but they were there. The well manicured greens were infested with ants, but at least they were helpful. The flag was accurately flapping with the wind and I definitely heard a bird or two invite me to this faux Scottsdale – a breathtaking course in person and not so bad in simulation. I can’t wait to play Sawgrass next week.
Dennis de Jesus Jr. is a passionate fan of golf both outdoors and now indoors. If he isn’t playing golf, he is thinking about ways to improve his game and sharing ideas about how to improve the game (did someone say belly drivers?) You can follow him on twitter: @jugojr.