For all of us northern golfers, this time of the year marks the traditional end of the season. Luckily, now more than ever, you don't have to go from November to April with no golf. You can play almost real-world golf in your basement, you can get in a little putting practice, and there are even several ways to actually hit some golf balls. These winter golf methods will not only keep the rust off, but they can actually help to advance your game.
Number Five: Putter Mats
They are cheap, compact, easy to use, and are available pretty much everywhere. Next time you are shopping for shelves and shampoo at Target, swing by the sporting goods section and pick up a putting mat. They might not be fancy (though some upscale models are larger and have several holes), but putting mats offer good indoor practice anywhere you have about a three foot by ten foot area. All you have to do is roll it out, plug it in (if you opt for the electric ball return), and break out the putter. To add to the enjoyment, you can turn your practice into a game if you want, as playing against friends and family is always fun. Even the non-golfers out there can get into it. Not only are they great for the serious golfer to practice, simple putting mats also offer big fun.
Number Four: Do Your Research
If you really can't get out and play, it could be time to read up on the game of golf. While it might not involve physically flexing your golf muscles, even the smartest and most experienced among us have something to learn about the game of golf. Whether you spend the time learning the Rules of Golf, catching up on the history of the game, or checking out new swing theories, reading up on this great game will help you become a better golfer. By researching how some of the world's greatest players have been successful, you can develop a better approach for each round. In addition, checking out different swing theories will make you more knowledgeable about the game and help you to find the best teaching professionals in your area. The forum is actually one of the best resources around for this. Lastly, if you've never done it, you should try using Google Earth to measure some of the shots that you will face throughout the year. You might be surprised how off the yardage markers are at some courses.
Number Three: Get Out and Play!
This title is self-explanatory. If you have never played golf in a light flurry, you are missing out. Of course, if you are buried beneath three feet of snow this might not be feasible, but during the late fall and early spring you will likely be able to play at discounted prices and you will be able to experience new and interesting conditions. In fact, playing in the cold gives you what all golfers long for in the summer: the mythical three-hour (or less!) round.
As long as the wind is not knocking you over, the cold really isn't that bad. In fact, it's a whole new challenge. The ball flies much shorter (take at least two clubs extra), and the cold prevents you from really loosening your muscles, so makes sure to swing nice and easy. Hitting the sweet spot is key, not just for distance but also to prevent stinging your hands. There are some advantages to playing outside. Lakes might be frozen over, so water hazards aren't much of a penalty. Plus, trees are leafless, so any forays into the woods might not be too bad. Furthermore, when your body has to expend extra energy to keep your core temperature up, you burn extra calories.
Make sure to call the course ahead of time though, as some places do not allow winter golf, but at courses with all year golf you are sure to find a great price!
Number Two: Tiger Woods PGA Tour '11
With the introduction of the PlayStation Move, there are now two ways to play the Tiger Woods PGA Tour video games with motion capture technology. In 2007, shortly after Nintendo introduced the Wii, EA Sports released Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2007, which used the Wii remote (or Wiimote) to create a more lifelike version of the game. That game, and its yearly successors, allow you to use the remote to swing just like in real life.
Since then, innovations by EA and Nintendo have improved the game's performance, and now more than ever the game is extremely close to what one will encounter out on the course. For the '10 edition, Nintendo launched the Wii MotionPlus adapter for the Wiimote, which makes the game even more realistic. This allows the game to track not only the "face angle" of the virtual club, but the swing path as well.
Thanks to the PlayStation Move, EA Sports has gotten even deeper into the features that accompany motion capture technology. New to this year'sTiger Woods PGA Tour '11 is a first person view mode that allows you to look down at the ball as if you were the player, which complements the normal down-the-line view.
Also introduced this year is Ryder Cup mode, which is even available as a 24 person online multiplayer, where you pick either the European or American side and compete in golf's foremost biennial tournament. Of course, one of the Tiger Woods series' strongest features is the huge wealth of available courses to play. As someone who has played one of the included courses – TPC Boston – I can attest to the fact that the included courses are very realistic. In addition to the courses available right out of the box, they have many courses that are available to download, plus several "fantasy" golf courses designed by EA's game designers.
Obviously the Tiger Woods games aren't 100% authentic (unfortunately the next time you play a real round, repeatedly pressing the "X" button won't let you control the ball's spin midflight), but it is a lot of fun and can keep off some of the rust that comes with winter. Here's hoping that Tiger Woods '12 with Microsoft's Kinect will be even better!
Number One: Indoor Golf Centers
Although the video games are great and can offer some quick and easy family fun, sometimes you just need to get the feeling of hitting golf balls. Near where I live, several establishments offer indoor golf at a decent price. All locations have their pros and cons, but they each offer great opportunities to keep golfing over the winter.
My favorite winter golf locations are indoor soccer facilities. During weekdays, they lay out mats and allow you to grab a bucket of golf balls and hit away. The benefits of places like this are that they are indoors, out of the cold and the snow, and you can see some of the path of the golf ball. You can't see the entire ball flight, usually, because the fields are separated by nets, but enough to know if you are badly slicing or hooking it. The only real downside is that places like this usually have youth or adult league for soccer (or other sports) once school gets out and after the normal workday, so golf is usually only available weekdays until 3 or 4 pm. Thus, if you work 9-5 weekdays, indoor soccer fields are probably not your best option. However, some places similar to these are golf specific domes (or "bubbles"), rather than soccer fields, and they offer all the benefits of soccer-oriented locations in addition to much more flexible hours.
Pretty good alternatives to soccer domes are indoor golf centers. They usually have mats laid out along the ground that allow you to hit golf ball into a wall. The walls are typically lined with netting and foam but, because they are so close to you, you don't get any feedback on ball flight. Unless you are particularly adept at feeling where on the club face you are hitting the ball, you won't be getting any feedback. If you do decide to check out somewhere like this, you should use the time to work on your swing. Because you can't see the ball flight, poor results won't discourage you when you try to make a swing change. If you bring a camera capable of filming your swing, you can work on swing changes from your last lesson and check in on your progress. Most of these places are owned and operated by teaching pros, so whether you are in need of a quick tune up or a total swing rebuilding, they are usually available to help you out. Because these types of indoor golf centers often have a simulator or two, you can even try playing games like the aforementioned Tiger Woods PGA Tour. Some of these facilities also have turf putting and chipping greens to keep your short game sharp throughout the winter.
The last type of facility that offers year round golf is normal driving ranges that have heated hitting bays. Usually they will include simply a mat on the ground and a roof over your head, plus a ceiling-mounted heater to keep you warm. These places are good for a couple of reasons. The first is that you can see the entire flight of the golf ball, and the second is that they are the most readily available (at least in my area). Most driving ranges not associated with a golf course will have some of these heated ranges so they can stay open all year long. There are a few downsides though. The ranges don't run their ball picker carts that often over the winter, so a lot of the golf balls have been sitting out for quite a while and are very cold. Couple that with the fact that the mats have been outside and are not always shielded from the elements, and you get really harsh contact. In addition, all of the ranges that I have been to have many broken heaters, so make sure that you have a working one before you get all set up. Also, be certain that you do not have any support beams in the way of your follow-through. Those things can cripple even the most technologically advanced drivers!
Closing and Your Thoughts?
While winter golf is obviously different from summer golf, it certainly has its benefits. Whether it be playing a round on the course every now and again, practicing indoors, or playing the newest Tiger Woods PGA Tour video game, winter golf can definitely keep the rust off. If you are able to play in the winter you can make improvements to your swing, and you can make sure that you don't start the spring season totally lost on the course. So when snow starts covering the ground and all hope for golf seems lost, remember that you can always squeeze in a little practice indoors.
So what do you do? Do you get in the occasional round, frequent an indoor golf center, or play the newest Tiger Woods video game? Or do you use the winter to read up on the game of golf?