The blizzard that was supposed to pummel New England this weekend was a bust, at least as far as my town is concerned. We had a soft drizzle on Sunday morning, but that was as close as we came to getting buried under two feet of snow. The storm was still in the forecast when my friends and I made our weekend plans, though, so I ended up spending the day paying bills, doing the crossword, and obsessively touching up some old photographs that I borrowed from my mother last week, in Kansas City. The guy in the photograph above is my grandfather, in 1891, at the age of three. He never played golf, but he did join a country club, eventually. That’s the only connection I can think of. I like the picture, though.
Two weeks ago, Hacker (real name) reserved one of the three simulators at Maggie McFly’s, a restaurant and bar not far from where we live. We first played there three winters ago, when snow covered the ground for months and we couldn’t find anyplace to play on grass. Since then, the simulators have become so popular that the only tee time we could get was for Wednesday afternoon.
Simulator technology has improved tremendously since the first time I played indoors, in the early 1990s. As always, you hit shots toward a picture on a screen, and a computer takes over once the ball is in the air. What has changed is the sophistication of the imagery and the accuracy with which the sensors pick up your ball’s velocity, trajectory, and spin. The machine we played was manufactured by a company called aboutGolf and is endorsed by the PGA Tour. It’s what you see on the Golf Channel.
In the past, we’ve played Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill, and the Old Course at St. Andrews, among other courses you may have heard of. This time we played the TPC at Sawgrass. Here’s what the famous 17th hole looks like when you’re standing on the fringe at the back of the green, looking toward the tee. I had a birdie putt, which I just missed:
Simulator putting takes some getting used to: to read the breaks, you have to analyze the movements of dozens of virtual marbles rolling around on a projected grid that looks like a college-textbook illustration of the curvature of space-time. Once you get used to it, though, you begin to wish your home course had virtual marbles, too. Here’s Hacker—who was my partner—reading one of the many critical putts he drained:
The simulators at Maggie McFly’s are great, because they’re in wood-paneled rooms that look like something you’d find in a fancy clubhouse. A waiter brought us beers and cheeseburgers, and there were four guys in the room next to ours who looked almost exactly like us, and if we had been able to figure out how to turn on the TV we would have been able to watch the football game. And about an hour into our round a woman with a cane walked in and sat down on our couch: our first gallery ever!
Her name is Linda, and she’s seventy-two years old. She said there was going to be karaoke at Maggie McFly’s that night, a favorite of hers, but that she would probably go home for a nap at some point, rather than hanging around for eight hours. Her husband, who died fifteen years ago, was an engineer. He worked on the Manhattan Project (though not on the bomb part) and on the Suez Canal, and he was a champion skeet shooter.
She said she had played a little golf when she was younger but hadn’t swung a club since sometime in the nineteen-seventies. She was very interested in how the simulator worked, and when we tried to explain it we sounded the way I did when my son, at the age of three or four, asked me what makes the car go. At one point, the manager came in to tell her to beat it, but we had already bought her a drink so we told him to beat it. I happened to mention that the following day was going to be my birthday, and when we weren’t paying attention she ordered dessert for all four of us. I got to pick the one I wanted, and then a waitress put a candle in it and lit it.
Linda wanted to try the simulator, so as soon as Hacker and I had wiped out Rick and Gary we gave her Hacker’s three-wood and let her rip a few. She went right under the first one, but after that she nailed it, repeatedly:
The only problem with simulator golf is that it’s the opposite of exercise, because between shots you don’t walk anywhere, or even climb in and out of a cart; you just plop down on the couch and steal a few more of Gary’s french fries.
My brother, John, used to play in a winter simulator league at a health club in Brooklyn. He said that it was embarrassing to stand around drinking beer and eating Doritos while beautiful women in butt-floss leotards trotted back and forth between the racquetball courts and the Nautilus machines. He suggested that the club install a treadmill next to the golf simulators, so that you could pick up your bag and pretend to walk to your ball while you waited for your turn to hit. That way, at least, you’d break a sweat.