Get in 18 holes even af­ter weather closes Tri-City golf cour­ses

Tri-City Herald (Sunday) - - News - BY JEFF MOR­ROW

Clint Ables has a so­lu­tion for those Tri-City golfers want­ing to play when it’s too cold out or there’s snow on the ground this com­ing win­ter:

Come to Zin­tel Creek Golf Club.

Ables, the gen­eral man­ager and head golf pro at Zin­tel Creek in Kennewick, has a new toy called the Full Swing Golf Sim­u­la­tor that was just in­stalled last week.

The club has turned an old meet­ing room, just off The Edge sports lounge, into a sim­u­la­tor room.

For as lit­tle as $35 an hour for one per­son up to $65 an hour for a four­some (di­vided evenly to $16.25 per per­son if your play­ing part­ners aren’t cheap), golfers can play leg­endary cour­ses such as Troon, Spy­glass or Peb­ble Beach, and never get cold.

Ables him­self has played with the sim­u­la­tor for over a week now.

“It’s pretty awe­some,” he said as he demon­strated how it works.

In this in­stance, Ables picked Peb­ble Beach, and was get­ting ready to tee off on a par-3 hole next to the Pa­cific Ocean.

The big screen shows the hole view from what would be the tee box if you were ac­tu­ally at Peb­ble Beach. The screen then gives you an over­head fly-by for a bet­ter scope of your vir­tual sur­round­ings.

Then it goes back to the tee box view.

Set­ting up 15 feet away, Ables takes a full swing and hits the ball into the screen. Two sen­sors over­head pick up the club swing and the ball, im­me­di­ately mea­sur­ing the tra­jec­tory, club head speed, how much the club head was open or closed, and other data.

Sta­tis­tics pop up on the screen as Ables watches the flight of his vir­tual ball, and even­tu­ally, where it lands and rolls to a stop.

If he’s on the green, the sim­u­la­tor tells him how far away from the cup it is and how many strokes it would take for him to make the putt.

“It’s a crap­shoot on putting,” said Ables. “It tells you how many putts you had to take on a hole. And it varies.”

Sen­sors can be en­abled to al­low putting. But Ables cau­tions that a four­some plan­ning on play­ing a full round on a vir­tual course should ex­pect a two-hour round without the putting.

Ables is a part of a group who bought the old Tri-City Coun­try Club about a year ago when it was floun­der­ing fi­nan­cially. The group made im­prove­ments to the ac­tual course, turned the pri­vate restau­rant into a sports bar on one side and a steak­house on the other side, opened it up to the pub­lic, and re­branded it all Zin­tel Creek Golf Club back in Jan­uary.

The sim­u­la­tor has been on Ables’ mind as an ad­di­tion for a long time.

“I thought that this would al­ways be a great fit for the lounge,” he said. “Spokane has a lot of these. High­lander in East We­natchee put two in. Boise has sev­eral in­door places. Sev­eral of our own­ers, 11 of them, ponied up to buy this. The club will pay them back as we go along.”

It cost $50,000.

The sim­u­la­tor has 55 golf cour­ses from around the world. More could be added, but those don’t come cheap ei­ther.

“It costs $1,500 for a pack of six or seven golf cour­ses,” Ables said.

Don’t ex­pect Augusta – home of The Masters – to be one of them.

But don’t ex­pect to be golf­ing at The Masters any­time soon. The Augusta mem­ber­ship is keep­ing that course off the dig­i­tal mar­ket.

“I ex­pect Peb­ble Beach to be one of the most pop­u­lar cour­ses peo­ple will play,” said Ables. “Spy­glass and Pine­hurst No. 2 will be pop­u­lar too.”

Troon of Scot­land, pe­ri­odic home to the British Open, is also avail­able.

The sim­u­la­tor room has a din­ing ta­ble in it and some easy chairs nearby.

The Edge staff has been trained on the sim­u­la­tor and how to work it, and is ex­pected to check on the play­ers ev­ery five min­utes, said Ables.

He an­tic­i­pates that golfers us­ing the sim­u­la­tor will also want to be eat­ing and drink­ing while they play.

“My goal is to have this paid off in eight months,” said Ables.

With roughly four months of the year be­ing too cold for the less hardy­type golfers, and the fact that it gets dark out ear­lier, Ables sees this as an at­trac­tion for those still want­ing to play.

“We’re plan­ning a win­ter league in De­cem­ber, with two-per­son teams play­ing nine holes,” he said.

But Ables sees other pos­si­bil­i­ties.

“It’s a great way to give lessons,” he said. “Mil­len­ni­als like this now more than go­ing to the driv­ing range. This gives you pretty ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion and quickly.

“I’d do a full les­son here. It gives you in­stant feed­back. But if you want things like course man­age­ment or work on your short game, we’d do that out on the (real) course.”

Ables also sees some peo­ple us­ing it in the spring and sum­mer months to warm up be­fore go­ing out on the ac­tual course.

It can be set up as a driv­ing range. In this in­stance, Ables set up smaller tar­gets 130 vir­tual yards away – kind of like a video Top­golf.

Top­golf – a three- to four-story driv­ing range with loud mu­sic, food and drink, in which golfers hit balls aim­ing for tar­gets (col­ored, lighted tar­gets at night) – has helped draw in more golfers. Nor­mally lo­cated near ma­jor cities, it’s very pop­u­lar with golfers and non-golfers alike.

“Top­golf did a study two years ago that said 10 per­cent of new golfers got started at Top­golf,” said Ables.

That sur­vey, con­ducted for Top­golf by the Na­tional Golf Foun­da­tion, said that 94 per­cent of non­golfers felt com­fort­able about play­ing at a Top­golf. And 99 per­cent of those non-golfers stated they would re­turn.

Ables be­lieves sim­u­la­tors can also be an at­trac­tion for first-time golfers to pick up the sport.

He’s al­ready helped a woman in her 80s pick up the game through the sim­u­la­tor.

And it’s helped him with his own game.

“I know I’ve learned a lot,” he said. “And I can get a lot bet­ter.”

That’s bad news for the re­gion’s golf pro­fes­sion­als. Ables was the Cen­tral Wash­ing­ton Chap­ter of the PGA golf pro­fes­sional of the year for 2018, based on his tour­na­ment per­for­mance.

Be­sides the hourly rates, peo­ple can pur­chase hourly punch cards or sim­u­la­tor sea­son passes.

BOB BRAWDY Tri-City Her­ald

Clint Ables of the Zin­tel Creek Golf Club uses the Kennewick club’s golf sim­u­la­tor, avail­able for pub­lic rental year round for en­ter­tain­ment or train­ing on top cour­ses.

Clint Ables

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