Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Take me out to the...

by guest contributor: Don Moorhead

Getting close to Opening Day for baseball, at which time you’ll no doubt hear a gazillion (estimated number; actual number may be higher) paeans to the grandness of going to the ballpark, of taking in a game to remind you of spring, and of those long afternoon (or more frequently evening) conversations you have with your son, your daughter, your spouse, your father, or just a friend (usually it’s father-son, they always play that up for the “Field of Dreams” guys who feel guilty that they haven’t called their dad this week so they’ll go to a game). There the two of you sit, having a beer, watching the game, catching up or just telling old stories you’ve both heard before. (Ed Note: should somebody tell him this is a golf blog?) Don’t worry, I’m getting there.

Anyway, for my money, as much as I love the ballpark for that purpose, give me a golf course any day and twice on Sunday (see, I brought it around). Not only are you out in the sun, you’re actually doing something in the sun. Not only are you looking at the spectacular green of the grass, you’re actually, well, walking around on it. The conversation is the same, as are the overpriced hot dogs. You’re still catching up with your dad or your buddy or your son, telling the same ridiculous jokes, reciting the story about how one day when the course was in bad shape they asked Fuzzy Zoeller “How did you find the golf course today?” and he replied “Easy, just turned left at the clubhouse, same as yesterday.” Most baseball players would have to have that joke explained to them, possibly with charts.

On a golf course, you talk about golf and you talk about everything and you talk about nothing. You tell your friend “I have no idea what’s going on with my irons lately, I might as well use them to pry up rocks” and you tell your dad “I have no idea what I’m going to do if I don’t get a job soon.” You confess your sins and you confess your love for hybrid clubs and 60 degree wedges and that girl you’ve been seeing. You bust on your friends who don’t play, and you bust on the ones who play badly (like I should talk). You laugh about that one friend you all have who gets a little too mad when he shanks one and a little too happy when he skulls one that dies on the green in spite of itself. You flirt with the beer girl when you’re in your 20s and 30s, then you stop because she could be your daughter’s age. Then when you’re in your 60s, you say “what the hell” and flirt with her again. Ever flirt with a beer vendor at a ballgame? He’ll break you in half.

Because they go ahead and give you a scorecard, you might as well keep score, and if you’re going to keep score, you might as well have a $.25 skin or a $5 Nassau on the line. Ask the last guy who got caught at the ballpark making it interesting by betting on himself how that works out in baseball, they won’t even let him in their stupid Hall of Fame.

So sure, I’ll come out to the ballpark, and I’ll bring my boy or my dad or my buddy. But I guarantee you that by the third inning, one of us is gonna say “so when are we playing golf?”

Read Don's occasional non-golf thoughts at www.aggressivelethargy.blogspot.com

Friday, March 26, 2010


If you are a regular reader of Beaver Golf, you might be familiar with my golf course reviews. Hopefully you find them informative and helpful...or at least amusing. I try to be fair with all my course assessments, judging courses by a variety of aspects including cost, customer service, and conditions among others. This review will apply the same methodology, though the subject is a little bit different - a driving range.

This is not your neighborhood range that I will be reviewing today, mind you. Top Golf Chicago is a driving range on the cream and the clear (that's code for steroids for those Bonds-impaired in the audience). Given that here in Chicago we just had one of the snowiest winters on record, for the second year running - AND that we didn't have it nearly as bad as many other places less used to the blizzards south and east of us - a beefed up driving range seems like an appropriate way to start my Chicago course reviews this year.

Top Golf also is only relevant to a select few of you out there. Having only three facilities in the United States, and three more in Great Britain, I am guessing the vast majority of you will not have the chance to utilize this review. Alas, the concept is so simple, and the experience so enjoyable, I just had to write about it. Top Golf locations include Chicago, IL (actually Wood Dale, but who really cares?), Dallas, TX, Alexandria, VA, and of course, Chigwell, Surrey, and Watford over in jolly England.

At first glance, Top Golf looks like any multi-decked driving range, the draw in Chicago being heated and covered bays making practice possible nearly year-round. We also have several bubble domes to hit in, an experience I will likely never partake in again after visiting Top Golf. Upon arrival to Top Golf, you are greeted by a host who, if there is a wait for a bay, takes your name and hands you a beeper. You immediately head over to the cashiers, if necessary, to purchase or refill your playing card. This is an important point, because there are pricing options right from the get-go.

You can purchase a card good for 30 days for $5.00 if you are between 18-55, and $3 if you fall above or below that age range. The card can then be filled with any value you choose in order to purchase balls for the range. The 30-day card is renewable after the 30 days expires for another $5.00. I'll save you the five second calculation, and let you know that comes to $60.00 if you were to use the 30-day card all year, PLUS anything you spend on balls.

The best value is the TopGolf Playing Card. This puppy costs you $35 to activate, but you don't have to renew it again for a year, and you get the following perks:

  • 6 Free Games (120 balls)
  • Free 30 minute lesson with one of their academy instructors
  • Complementary club rental
The six free games alone covers the tab if you use it in prime hours when 120 balls would otherwise cost you $36.00 (off-prime would cost $18.00 for the same number of balls). Interestingly, one of the instructors at top Golf Chicago, named Matt Vinge, game me at least 16 personal lessons while he was working with GolfTec, so now I can grab a freebie with him at Top Golf should I choose to do so. He is really good...check him out if you use this deal.

So, I mentioned prime times and off-prime times...a 100% difference in price. Prime time is M-Th from 3:00-11:00 PM, Fridays from 3:00-Midnight, Saturdays from Noon-Midnight, and Sundays from Noon-9:00 PM. Fortunately, I am an early bird, and Top golf Chicago opens at 10:00 on weekdays and 9:00 on weekends, so there is plenty of time to hit for half price. Six bucks for 20 balls is a little steep (even for the coolness of this concept), but let me tell you more about the good things...perhaps you won't be as tight with the cash as I am?

Top Golf offers various memberships as well that offer additional perks such as unlimited balls, no waiting for bays, and preferred access to the Executive Suites. I can no comment on the Executive Suites as I have not yet made use of them, but it sounds plush!

Top Golf has a Pro Shop, not large, but they have club fitting on site, so potentially cool perk there. If you do need to wait for a bay to open, there is a surprising decent restaurant on site. I'm not going to call the place gourmet dining, but they have a substantial menu, and I was able to find a Turkey and Avocado wrap that was mighty tasty, easily better than what I could get at any other driving range, if they had anything at all. One caution...avoid the seasoned curly fries as they paled in comparison to the wrap, and the steak cut fries looked much better. As we dined, our beeper went off to alert us that our bay was ready. The bartender noticed it flashing and buzzing, so offered to have our food and drinks brought out to our bay for us. Sorry, I know my expectations are lower than some, but that struck both Brad and I as over-the-top nice, despite it being something that they probably do many times every day. Anyway, out to our bay we went, and our food arrived before we returned with our buckets of balls.

The balls at Top Golf each have a computerized micro-chip inserted, that not only tracks your ball as it hits targets ranging from 20-250 yards away, but also keeps your score! When you get your balls from the dispensers, not unlike most ranges, you use your card to activate it. As the balls come out, there are programmed with your information, making tracking possible. Once you have a chance to sit in the very comfortable heated bay and look out at the range, you immediately see what really makes Top Golf different. There are round targets cut out of the ground at intervals all over the range! Each flag has a series of rings around them just like a dartboard. The range is very well lit, so darkness poses no problem whatsoever in seeing all the targets.

You can go there to practice, they call it TopPractice, and just hit balls without "playing a game". The added benefit is that if you hit into any of the rings around the targets (yes, it is possible to miss the target areas, though I don't like admitting it) it will report back your yardage...cool.

The real fun of Top Golf, however, is the games. The namesake game, TopGolf, consists of 20 balls. You can play alone against "the field" as they track everyone's scores on large boards, or against your friends as well. Brad and I played against each other alternating hitting five shots in a row then switching players until we completed the game. In TopGolf you choose the targets you want to hit, the longer the distance, the greater the potential points. Additionally, it rewards you heavily for hitting targets consecutively. This makes for great practice, and comes with the benefit of slowing you down and making you think, in my opinion more closely resembling real golf. One issue Brad and I often have at the range is that he blows through his bucket at warp speed while I take a little more time. this leads to Brad finishing sometimes well before me, then either stealing a portion of my remaining balls, or wandering around bored stiff. In TopGolf, the issue is moot as one player can not play faster than the other. And you aren't limited to two players...this is a great group activity, even for the unskilled players as there are plenty of points to be had from bad shots finding their way into unintended targets.

Another game, called TopShot is a lot of fun. In this game you need to shoot at targets at four consecutive distances, five shots per target. You get to pick your own starting point, based on your skill level. The trick to this one is that missing a little can net you a zero point shot, or can even take points away should your ball find a wrong target.

The third game we played, called TopDrive forces you to only hit the targets at 195 yards plus. Having not swung our drivers all winter, save for those two unfortunate rounds in Orlando, we needed to hit the ball hard, though disappointingly scored very low. Sure, it could be my swing, but generally I can fly my driver between 240-260 yards, and will hit one over 290 several times each summer. I didn't hit that 250 yard driver target one time in 18 swings! I will say that while Top golf gives you distance reporting, and it is consistent, those balls do fly a club to club-and-a-half shorter than a new golf ball off the turf of a golf course...just sayin'.

Other games include chipping and pitching focused TopChip and TopPressure which I will try out this weekend. While playing, we were visited by our waitress at least 4 times, had our drinks refilled without asking, and played on a night in the high 40s wearing short sleeves and jeans!

I am so delighted to have finally given Top Golf a try, and will make it part of my practice routine for this point forward, especially through the depressing Chicago winters. I highly recommend Top Golf to anyone who can utilize one, and though I know that leaves out most of you, perhaps if you are visiting Chicago, Dallas, or D.C., you can give it a go, if only for a day, and let us all know how you liked it.

Fairways and Greens!

Friday, March 05, 2010

Florida Blows!

OK, all you touchy Floridians, just relax! The title was merely to get your dander up. I am quite fond of Florida - as a place to temporarily visit for a nice relaxing vacation only during certain weeks of the year when there isn't a terrible heat wave, downpour, hurricane, or surprisingly cold and windy weather. But seriously, this is not an article about how much or how little I, or anyone else, likes Florida. Rather, it is about how those docile looking flat and sandy South Florida golf courses can look so tame, but play so tough when the winds start to howl.

If you read my previous post, a review of the Southern Dunes course in Haines City, you know that I recently battled the wind and cold in Florida myself, and I was beaten soundly. Well, perhaps to make myself feel better about my own game, I found it particularly interesting to watch some of the PGAs best deal with that wind yesterday in the first round of The Honda Classic played at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, FL. I have not played PGA National yet, but have played many rounds in South Florida including two at Tom Fazio's Emerald Dunes course, just down the road from PGA National.

Obviously, that particular course at PGA National is a major contributor to the diffculty. In fact, last season, the 14th and 17th holes both ranked among the five most difficult Par 3s on the PGA Tour. The stretch of holes from 15th-17th is known as The Bear Trap, and plays very strong with water everywhere. Water should not cause anyone on the PGA Tour to tremble in my estimation, so I will reiterate that it is the winds that make this course so difficult, and yesterday in particular.

Some stats to back me up include the following:

  • Only 29.3% of the field yesterday finished with a score of Par or better, and only 23% broke Par.
  • The average score for the 143 players in Round 1 was 72.41, 2.41 strokes over Par.
  • Two players finished in the 80s, two more finished at 79, including the defending champion Y.E. Yang who took a 9 on the second hole and shot 8-over on the front nine!
  • Former PGA Championship winner, Rich Beem, withdrew after shooting 78.
I look forward to how the pros handle round two, especially if the wind keeps up, but for now, I will simply take solace in the fact that when you play on a tough Florida course with cool temperatures and the wind blowing, your score will likely be elevated, even in a state where not much else is.

Fairways and Greens!


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