By Damon Hack As the Masters heralds the arrival of spring, I am reminded of my golfing journey through this endless winter.
In October, at the behest of a teaching pro, I joined a gym designed for the snow-bound golfer. It had hitting bays, TPI-trained instructors and club fitting, as well as treadmills, weight racks and flat-screen televisions. I was tired of seeing my fragile game go to pot every December while New York was blanketed in white.
I needed a place to hit balls.
Once or twice a week, after an hour workout with a trainer, I sidled up to one of the gym's AboutGolf simulators and played some golf. Some days, I would hit onto a simulated driving range, on others I would play 18 holes, usually at Spyglass Hill.
All the while the simulator was there to measure the good ("Classification: straight") and bad ("Classification: push slice") of my middling golf game.
I also learned that I was not alone, and that golf simulators were becoming a large part of the game, not only in the Northeast but other parts of the world.
"The thing that is starting to take off more and more is the use of technology where people are limited to play the game," says Chuck Faust, the president and COO of AboutGolf. "In Asia, where they just don't have the number of golf courses, they have a culture that accepts the use of technology more readily."
Faust had just returned from an overseas trip that included stops in Beijing, China, Seoul, South Korea, and Bangkok, Thailand, where AboutGolf has partnered with a company, Wilding Golf, to create indoor golfing performance centers.
"The weather there is frequently 90 and 100 degrees with 90 percent humidity," Faust says. "That, combined with real estate being expensive in Southeast Asian cities, you are seeing driving ranges disappearing."
In their place? High-performance centers with indoor simulators and golf instruction. In Bangkok, five centers with 55 simulators have already opened downtown and two more centers are slated to open by the end of the year.
Korea has 25,000 simulators.
"Even though golf has not been in a good economic role lately, the indoor golf market has been booming," says Bob Ryan, AboutGolf's chairman and CEO. "I think people see an opportunity to play through any weather and play in such a way to get really good feedback on what they are doing. A lot of people would go to a range and smash balls for an hour, but feedback was limited to the shape of the shot and little else. Now people want to improve their game and have fun doing it, but also tune up their game in the off-season and during the season."
Faust suggests that the inclusion of golf as an Olympic sport in 2016 will only increase the demands for indoor golf technology.
"Malaysia is looking to put together a program to develop young golfers and China and even Russia," Faust says. "Golf as an Olympic sport is driving this."
It's amazing to think that the 2016 Olympic champions in golf might be grinding in simulator somewhere. Me? My chances for Olympic dreams are slim.
But I'm hoping my work in a golf simulator helps me break 80.