Local golf enthusiasts celebrated on Feb. 2 when Punxsutawney Phil cast no shadow, scientifically assuring the region of an early Spring and, better yet, an early return to the links. For those who can't wait for the thaw though, The Julian Krinsky School of Golf at Narberth Tennis Club is offering the next best thing.
In October, the club, as a complement to its seasonal instructional programs, opened a pair of golf simulators in the lobby of its 612 Montgomery Ave. location. Players of all ages and skill levels can get in a leisurely round after work, test their mettle on the driving range, or set up a private lesson with head instructor Grant Griffiths or PGA teaching professional Nelson Ranco to polish their skills for the upcoming season.
The simulators "have been a wonderful addition to our program," said Tina Krinsky, who along with her husband owns and operates the School of Golf.
Krinsky, whose golf school has multiple programs and during peak season offers instruction from 40 golf proffesionals, says the simulator has been an exciting addition.
"We thought it would be a good way to allow people to continue (golfing) and continue to work with the staff. We get in serious golfers, women, kids. Really everybody. Anyone who's frustrated by the weather and has snow fatigue can come in and play."
Club manager Mayur Jadeja says the simulator is mostly used by children getting lessons. It's a less costly but no less effective way to introduce the uninitiated to the sport than an afternoon on the course.
"It's a good way to learn," he added before signalling to the twin screens over his shoulder. "Would you like to try it? Would you like to hit some balls?"
While a half-hour session typically costs $28, community journalists doing stories on the simulator apparently play for free.
The two simulator bays sit side by side, separated by a green tarmac and fenced in by a heavy mesh net. The projection screens themselves are each roughly 10 feet by 15 feet and made from a heavy enough material to withstand the punishment of 100 mph drives and undergirded by a mattress-spring-like grid that absorbs the impacts and keeps the balls from ricocheting back into the golfers. The grid is also outfitted with sensors that extrapolate where a drive would land on the virtual fairway based on its speed and angle.
Pretty high-tech, right? There's more.
The tee area, a mat of turf that sits 15 feet away from the screen, is equipped with sensors that measure the speed and shape of the player's swing.
"You see it, then you know how to correct yourself. Straighten your swing," said Jadeja.
While the equipment is complex, it's user-friendly. All a player has to do is swing the club, strike the ball, and let the simulator take care of the rest.
Like the sport it approximates though, while it's easy to do, it's maddeningly hard to do well.
"Hmm," deadpanned a mop-topped boy early for a tennis lesson on the other end of the facility, unimpressed with the unimpressive swings of a reporter testing out the simulator. The projector screen showed the ball veer wildly left and right, deep into the rough each time. The times he made contact with the ball, that is.
"This is harder than it looks," the young tennis player was told. "The screen is probably wrong."
He didn't buy that explanation, and rightly so. The screen is said to be accurate to within a yard of where the ball would land on an actual course.
The interface that broadcast the slices and hooks is familiar to anyone who's played Tiger Woods PGA Tour or Wii Golf. The player chooses the course he or she would like to play on, the weather conditions they prefer, and the length of the game.
Krinsky, herself a regular on the simulator, says the ability to virtually transport yourself to a famous course is one of the draws.
"What's not to like? Imagine you're suddenly playing on Pebble Beach. That's what's so exciting about it," said Krinsky.
After swinging and missing again, the reporter, forehead now moist, swung as hard as he could, connected, and sent a ball careening to the left of the fairway of a course located somewhere in the southwest. When the ball stopped, the screen told him it traveled 97 mph and, including its long roll, 202 yards.
"220 yards. Not bad," he said, just loud enough to be overheard.
No one heard him. In golf, though, a nice drive is its own reward.