This winter has been tough on all of us. Record breaking cold combined with massive amounts of snowfall have stretched some of us to the breaking point. But for the avid golfer, especially those of us who haven’t travelled south for some sunshine and fairways, it’s been especially brutal.

Even with slowly warming temperatures, I think we can all agree that we still have some time to go before area courses are playable. I know, I’m painting a bit of a bleak picture, but thanks to technology, there IS an alternative, and it’s local and fun!

Indoor golf, also known as virtual golf, is a great way to swing your clubs and have fun with friends. And for just a few hours, forget about the cold and pretend to be on the tee at Pebble Beach, or maybe Torrey Pines.

The Technology
The simulators feature a semi-enclosed space with artificial turf representing different conditions – fairway, rough and sand. You hit the ball into a large screen, and the ball is tracked between two sensors which the computer translates into the ball’s flight; which you then see, virtually, on the screen. You can use different practice modules or select from dozens of courses to play a round of simulated golf, featuring great graphics and hi-tech performance measurements.

What to Expect
I spoke with area golf pros Colin Gillies (Traditions in Holden) and Michael Clendenning (Barnes Brook in Enfield), who happen to feature indoor golf at their facilities, to learn more about this unique approach to golf simulation.

Colin has this to say about the simulators, of which Traditions has two: “The Full Swing Indoor Simulator, for those who have never used it, is a great alternative to the best case scenario of playing outdoors in the summer sunshine on lush green grass. We are very honest with our customers that it's not exactly like playing outdoors but with our seasonal limitations in Maine, it allows avid golfers to still play some golf during the offseason. It's very user friendly; players can choose from one of four software modules that include a par three course, a short game practice module, a driving range module as well as the opportunity to play golf on forty courses that have been programmed into the software. The opportunity to practice on the driving range provides ball flight dynamics such as ball speed, launch angles, carry distance, total distance and distance from the target which are all valuable learning tools that outdoor practice does not provide.”

Michael provided me with the following observations: “You can practice all kinds of shots, from drives to chips; approaches to shots in different wind conditions. It is a great way to keep track of your stats and really work on the distances in your game. It is even a great way to have some fun with your friends and play a variety of well-known courses. There are all kinds of different games you can play as well. You can play individually or even team events. You can also choose stroke play, scramble format, match play, and skins, among others. Typically it takes two players around 2.5 hours to play 18 holes.”

My Experience
I am grateful to have indoor golf as an option during our long winters. I find that the technology works best when tracking full-swing shots, from drives to wedge approach shots. I personally struggle a bit with the close-range chipping and putting. It’s just hard for me to picture the shot when looking at a one-dimensional screen, so I often make mistakes in judging my swing/stroke.

I find doing range sessions to be quite valuable. I sometimes use the range feature, and other times use the target golf feature, which provides you with a green set at various distances, and then tracks your stats for how close you come to the hole. I really like the feature where you can activate a tracer, which shows you the ball’s flight trajectory with a white line; very cool! Last year I actually picked my current driver by hitting my two top choices in the simulator and comparing their performances. This ended with me choosing the Adams Speedline Fast12 LS driver with a Fubuki stiff shaft over a Ping G20 with the Ping stock stiff shaft (which was a surprise to me).

Other than practicing my swing and getting my body conditioned for the upcoming season, I really enjoy playing a round with a friend or two. It can get a bit frustrating at times, but it is a great way to socialize and have some friendly competition on a cold winter’s day. And each location features a restaurant, so you can have some delicious food and a cold beverage (or two) while you play, which makes it even more fun.

If you haven’t tried it, I would encourage you to do so. Following is the information you need to get started:

Barnes Brook Golf Course, 1886 Main Road, Enfield
Fee: Member - $20/hour, non-member - $25/hour, with a ten hour package for $150
Simulator hours: Wednesday - Sunday 8:00 am to close
The Pizza Grill at Barnes Brook Golf Course: Wednesday & Thursday, 12 Noon to 7:00 pm/Friday & Saturday, 12 Noon to 8:00 pm/Sunday, 1:00 to 6:00 pm
Call 732-3006 to reserve time

Traditions Golf Club and Learning Center, One Maine Road, Holden
Fee: Member - $22/hour, non-member - $27/hour, $15/half hour, with a ten hour package for $220
Simulator hours: 9:00 am until 9:00 pm daily except Sunday – open from 9:00 am until 1:00 pm
Pat’s Pizza: Call 989-7287 for more information
Call Pro Shop at 989-9909 to reserve time

Rocky Knoll Country Club, 94 River Road, Orrington
Call 989-0109 and ask for Tom Bryant for information on simulator fee and hours
Rocky Knoll Café: Monday – Thursday, 7:00 am to 7:00 pm/Friday, 7:00 am to 8:00 pm/Saturday – Sunday, 7:00 am to 3:00 pm