For a real golfer like you, there is no such thing as the "off season." Sure, courses close and it gets cold, but that doesn't mean you stop thinking about golf. We've tracked down plenty of ways to enjoy the game and improve your skills all winter.
Wrestle the PlayStation, Xbox or Wii away from your kids and start having a little fun of your own with Tiger Woods PGA Tour '08 ($39-$59, easports.com). Released in September, this game allows you to upload photos to create a golfer who looks just like you. If you ace the skills challenges, you'll improve as a virtual golfer. When you pull off a tough shot, your Confidence Meter will rise, and you'll be more likely to hit a similar shot well the next time.
You'll start by competing against local talent, but win enough tournaments and you'll take on the stars of the PGA Tour, including Tiger himself, on classic courses like Westchester Country Club, TPC Boston, Cog Hill No. 4 and East Lake.
If you want something a little less serious, try 3D Ultra MiniGolf Adventures ($20, 3dultraminigolf.com). The themed courses (carnival, old west, outer space) have three-dimensional holes with bunkers, bridges and water hazards that will put the windmill at your local putt-putt to shame.
You can also play a new golf video game online with UTour Golf (Free, utour.com). UTour has a total of five courses that you can play by yourself, head-to-head or in tournaments. If you think you've mastered the game, you can even play for cash.
THE ULTIMATE SIMULATOR
To kick your video game experience up a few million notches and play some of the finest courses in the world, install a state-of-the-art golf simulator in your home.
According the company's Web site, Full Swing Golf (fullswinggolf.com) has already installed systems for heavy hitters like Donald Trump, Curt Schilling, Michael Jordan and Dale Jarrett. One of the company's simulators was used in the HBO series Entourage, and Winged Foot member Kevin Dillon (Johnny Drama) enjoyed it so much that he had one built in his home too.
The average simulator's screen is 13 feet wide and just over 10 feet high with 688 golf-ball-size sensors that track shots and feed the information into a computer. Then, in real time, your shot's path is displayed on the screen. The available courses sound like a roll call from GOLF Magazine's Top 100 in the World: Torrey Pines South (site of the 2008 U.S. Open), Pinehurst No. 2, Royal Melbourne, Pebble Beach Golf Links, Oakmont Country Club and the Old Course at St. Andrews, just to name a few.
"Where our market has really taken off is in the custom home market," said Scott Werbelow, president of Full Swing Golf. "For all the celebrities you see listed on our Web site, we've sold to hundreds to regular Joes." As long that "Regular Joe" can handle the $50,000-$75,000 price tag.
"People lose their putting and short game over the winter," says Ted Sheftic, a GOLF Magazine Top 100 Teacher based in Hanover, Pa. "You just won't have the same amount of feel in the spring after a long layoff."
To keep your putting touch in mid-season form, consider buying an indoor putting green. Tour Links (tourlinks.net) can send you a putting green that will fit into almost any room in your home. Sections attach like a giant jigsaw puzzle and create putting surfaces up to 14 feet wide and 20 feet long. The Training Aid model, which comes in lengths of 7, 9 and 13 feet ($319-$449), is especially clever. Each features a built-in string line to help you practice perfectly straight putts. You can also create breaks in the putting surface for practicing benders.
Big Moss Golf (bigmoss.com) also offers several indoor putting greens, but these roll up so you can store them easily. The artificial turf simulates bent grass and has a built-in downgrain so putts roll true and quick up to a 12 on the Stimpmeter. The Augusta model ($250) is 4 feet wide and 12 feet long and comes with a chipping mat and a Break Snake, which lets you incorporate contour into the putting surface.
Many of the full-swing training aids that you see on infomercials are junk, but the Medicus Dual Hinge Driver ($160, medicus.com) can help you develop a better swing when you can't hit the range. This club forces you to swing on-plane and unhinge your wrists properly. If you swing too far to the inside on your backswing or come over the top on your downswing (both major slice causes), a hinge in the shaft causes it to collapse. The same thing will happen if you unhinge your wrists too early on the downswing (which will rob you of power). The club remains intact only when your swing remains on-plane on your backswing and downswing. When the weather warms up, you can use it to hit balls on the range.
The Putting Professor ($130, puttingprofessor.com), designed by GOLF Magazine Top 100 Teacher and CBS Sports analyst Peter Kostis, is designed to teach you the perfect inside-square-inside stroke. The plastic board stands behind the heel of your putter to guide the club's path on the backswing and the through swing. The small plastic guide, which attaches to your putter with the included two-sided tape, keeps the putter face square as you swing. With practice, and the help of the included DVDs, your putting stroke will improve quickly.
To start draining short putts like a pro, try Dave Pelz's Truth Board ($140, pelzgolf.com). This ramp, three and a half feet long and covered with artificial turf, has a small mirror behind the ball spot to help you get your eyes directly over the ball. The hole is smaller than regulation and can be made even smaller with minor adjustments. When you can make a few dozen in a row on the Truth Board, the cups on the course will look like buckets, and only your opponents will be nervous when you stand over short putts.
One of the most beautiful golf books to come out in years is James Finegan's "Where Golf is Great" ($60, amazon.com), which won the 2006 United States Golf Association's Herbert Warren Wind Book Award. You may need a caddie to pick it up, but this 512-pager brings to life over 150 Irish and Scottish courses with rich text and amazing photographs.
No matter where you plan to take your next golf vacation, "Golf Magazine Great Getaways: The Best of the Best Three- and Four-Day Golf Trips" ($29, hnabooks.com) can help you plan it. This 300-page book is full of useful information on resorts and courses throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Europe.
And since 2008 is a Ryder Cup year, learn about the history of the event, and have a few laughs, reading "David Feherty's Totally Subjective History of the Ryder Cup" ($30, bn.com). Feherty takes readers inside the ropes, locker rooms and minds of some of the game's greatest players to humorously reveal what the bi-annual competition between the United States and Europe is all about.
If you're after a few pointers, get "The Best Instruction Book Ever!" ($30, amazon.com). It has more than 1,000 tips by GOLF Magazine's Top 100 Teachers, as well as an instructional DVD.
It's never too early to start thinking about the Masters. Relive Zach Johnson's triumph in 2007, Phil Mickelson's magic moment in 2004, or Tiger Woods's historic first win at Augusta National in 1997 by purchasing a Masters DVD ($18, 866-280-3702 or barkerstores.com).
DVDs are available for other major events, including:
• 2007 Presidents Cup DVD ($20, presidentscupstore.com)
• 2007 PGA Championship DVD ($25, shoppga.com)
• British Open DVDs ($27, randa.org)
• Ryder Cup DVDs ($15-$25, shoppga.com)
One of the men who helped Mickelson win that green jacket in 2004, Dave Pelz, can improve your putting with his DVD, "10 Minutes a Day to Better Putting" ($34, pelzgolf.com). Instead of focusing on mechanics, this video gives you practical drills and routines that can quickly improve your stroke and help you get the ball in the hole more easily.