Thursday Nonfiction (in which I say “balls” a lot)


“You ready?” My husband asked me, slinging his bag of clubs over his shoulder and holding open the door.

“Yup.” I zipped up my sweatshirt. It was getting dark and starting to rain. We were heading to the driving range.

I have always been a miniature golfer, and I’m not bad at the putting. My husband, though, is a real golfer. Let me clarify. I consider anyone who owns his own set of clubs to be a golfer, regardless of skill level, swing speed, longest drive, handicap or any other factor involved with this sport. I do not even own my own putter, and I see no reason to invest in any type of golf club. Therefore, I am not a real golfer. I have played golf before. I took a class as an undergraduate at Boston University–a one-credit elective P.E. class that taught me how to bend my knees, hold and swing the club, drive, chip and putt. I have played two actual games of golf, outside among the fairways, roughs, sand traps, and water hazards. But all of this took place years ago, and trust me, you wouldn’t want me as your caddie.

The range that my husband and I were heading to is called TopGolf, and it is a range unlike any other. I know this not because I had ever been to a driving range before, but because it’s written right on their website:

TopGolf is a fun, point-scoring game that is broadening golf’s appeal to a wider leisure market and revolutionizing the sport of golf.

The aim of TopGolf is to score points as you hit balls into the targets. Its appeal is universal; you don’t have to be Tiger Woods to win! Anyone who can swing a club and hit a golf ball will have fun; it’s a game the whole family can enjoy. It’s also great to sharpen up your golf skills, as you’ll receive instant feedback on how far you’ve hit a shot and be allocated points based on distance and accuracy.

It’s a game of strategy as well as accuracy – for example, if you hit the center section of a target then the next ball counts double or hit a hole-in-one in designated targets with your 11th ball and win a cash prize of $1000!

We walked in, paid for two games apiece, and we were issued plastic cards with magnetic strips and our names printed in bold black on the green front side. Each game includes 20 balls. We walked over to the machine that issues the balls, put our cards in, selected our games, and one by one, the machine spit the balls into our green plastic baskets. We selected an empty platform area, and looked over the game instructions displayed on a flat touch-screen monitor mounted to the partition wall. James went first.

Golf is one of those games, like many other sports, where there is a ball and a goal involved. The idea is to get the ball to the goal. The obstacles in golf include: rough patches of terrain, water, sand, and the fact that you must use a very awkwardly shaped club to hit a very tiny ball to the goal, a very small hole, from very far away. This is one of the few games where the low score is the best one, since it counts how many strokes of the club it takes you to propel the ball into the hole.

When it comes to sports, I am one to depend on opposing players’ mistakes and pure beginners’ luck, no matter how long I’ve been playing the game. I have never been interested in developing my skill by solo practice; I always got bored shooting hoops alone in my parents’ driveway, I don’t go to the batting cages even though I’ve recently joined a softball league, and until now, I have never gone to a driving range. I am well aware that my talents do not lie in the sports end of the spectrum. I am a poet and an artist. I am also a klutz. I understand the basic concepts of various sports, but my body is often incapable of participating in the precise actions that would allow for any skill to shine through. So over the years, the one sporting skill I have honed well is my ability to laugh at my own outrageous blunders.

I think that I enjoyed this particular golf range because it wasn’t a typical place where golfers go and hit balls into a muddy field, where all there is to judge distance and accuracy is a few numbered yard markers, your own eyes, and occasionally, the kid driving around in the ball retrieval vehicle. TopGolf made it easy. TopGolf made it a game.

Out in the field, there are several flags set up at various distances. Around each flag there is a target. If your ball lands in the target, the sensors read the microchip and send information about your shot right back to your screen. It distributes points based on how far your ball went, and how close to the pin it landed. This creates competition, though James and I were just there to take some swings and have a little fun.

He dropped five balls into the tray, put the first one through the sensor, to let the computer know whose ball was in play, and took his drive. The ball flew high up in the air, it was easy to see against the darkened sky, and it landed near to one of the targets. His second and third shot went in, but the last two didn’t come close. He began to realize that the range of his drives was somewhere in between the distances of two targets. He tried switching clubs several times throughout the game, each time finding frustration.

I got up to the platform, put my ball through the sensor and onto the tee, took a few practice swings, stepped up to the ball, and missed. I tried again, made contact, and the thing actually hit a target. After that, James and I fell into a kind of rhythm, and even though many of my shots flew wildly to the right of the field–well into the rough, had we been on an actual course–I ended up hitting more targets, thereby getting more points than my golfer husband, 40 to his 23.

In the second game, both of us came very close to winning a free game on our bonus ball, the eleventh shot, but had to settle for the double points we received for hitting the spot on the target. I hit a kind of stride in the second game, making three shots in a row on the same target. However, I wasn’t going to forget the fact that on an earlier swing, I managed to hop the ball over the small partition between myself and the player to my right, not coming close enough to hit her, but just close enough to embarrass me and inspire some self deprecating chatter all around.

Going to the range, I expected to encounter mostly men in their thirties, forties, and fifties, practicing their swings and not making much conversation. Instead, TopGolf provided a social and diverse atmosphere. There were a lot of younger couples, twenty-something, a few families, groups of four or five. The bays were heated, with tables and chairs, and there was also cocktail and appetizer service. No one wore bright plaid polyester pants or those funny caps with the puff ball on top. I guess I’ll have to go to a regular range for that.


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