by Bart Potter
When I played the Old Course St. Andrews a couple days ago, I caught some weather: partly sunny skies and light winds variable at 8-10 mph.
I dialed up ideal conditions, was able to get a tee time at the Home of Golf just by walking up, and had the course to myself. Pretty cool for a Sunday afternoon in downtown Lacey, Wash..
There’s no way to duplicate the in-person experience of what many consider the world’s greatest golf course. But the golf simulator at GolfUSA, 730A Sleater-Kinney Road, offers some things you can’t get during a round in St. Andrews, Scotland.
For instance, optional weather.
I decided against full sunshine, and chose “breezy” for the wind. Imagine having that kind of control over the tempestuous weather of the Old Course.
On No. 1 (Burn), I hit my drive pretty straight and about 200 yards, which was not a bad result, especially once I saw the data from the swing. I learned from the on-screen readout that my swing speed was 81, my ball speed 114. I hit it off the toe, with azimuth of 2.3 degrees right, with an open face and an outside-in swing path.
On my second shot, I pushed it into Swilcan Burn. I hit it on the green with my next shot, hit a 24-foot putt 23 feet, and tapped in for double bogey.
On No. 2 (Dyke), I took note of the stats on my first approach shot, which I hit off the heel: My launch angle was 38.8 degrees, my azimuth 12.9 degrees left, my swing path outside-in (again) at 12.9 degrees, my backspin 10881, my side spin 423.
I’m not sure what all the numbers mean, but I’m pretty sure they’re not good. Like the triple-bogey 7 on the hole.
Along about now, you’re asking: What the hell is “azimuth”?
Obscure word, borrowed from astronomy. Store co-owner Matt Brady offered its golf definition: Azimuth is the relationship of the club face to the target line.
If the azimuth reading in degrees doesn’t tell you enough, the simulator offers a picture of the club head on your swing with an arrow indicating the target line. If the face is square to the line, that’s good.
In nine holes, I never did fix the outside-in thing, and I never quite figured out the putting.
I had one shot out of heavy rough go 10 yards. It might or might not have helped to know (from the lower right corner of the screen) that a squarely struck ball from that stuff will get about 70 percent of the distance the club would usually reach.
Too much information? Maybe, but it’s instant feedback and a built-in lesson.
A player can choose from 15 international courses, including Pebble Beach, the Sand Club of Sweden and what the store employees have found to be the toughest of the bunch, the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, S.C., with “water everywhere,” Brady said.
Up to four players can play at a time, with the choice of stroke play, skins game or match play. You can use your own clubs, partake of some pretty good sticks in the simulator room or try out clubs from the store.
The simulator has proven popular with store patrons and, though plans for a simulator league didn’t pan out shortly after the store opened in June 2009, Brady is confident he’ll be able to get a league going in the fall when weather might begin to drive golfers indoors.
Indoors, where if you say so the skies are clear and the wind is calm.
Due diligence – Brady and his business partner, Jeff Maurice, spent a year studying the marketplace and local demographics before launching the Golf USA franchise.
Brady said they learned Washington was the only state in 2008 to show an increase in the number of rounds played. They opened their store in a three-city area that has only one other dedicated golf retailer, and that one – The Golf Club Company – concentrates less on name-brand equipment and more on custom-building sets from component manufacturers.
“This market has huge potential,” said Brady, an Olympia native.
The partners also looked hard at the potential for an Irish bar. Prospects looked better for the golf store, but the pub idea, fueled by memories of the late lamented Niblicks and Spoons out Yelm Highway, has never really gone away.
“I would have loved to have both,” Brady said, “right next to each other.”