Just an awful winter.  For the last month, not even a range session has been possible.  Do I let any of the elements stop me from swinging my clubs?  Of course not.  This is the first year I haven’t been able to travel for a quick weekend of golf, or head out west for even more golf.  So after some time online, I learned that indoor golf is actually a thing here.  For the uninitiated, simulator golf is essentially what you encounter at many golf stores; it’s a screen that you hit golf balls into and they’re able to track your ball flight, distance, spin, etc.  The simulators are loaded with a number of famous courses, so you can finally play Pebble Beach and see how you do at the par 3 Seventh overlooking the Pacific.  You can also practice, and you get instant feedback on your shots.  I might actually take advantage of that during the season, since it’s a really good way to know exactly how far you hit each club, as well as the ball flight you’re getting.  Most of these places are in posh settings and serve food and drinks.  Some times I wonder if “sim golf” is better than real golf.  No walking around, in the pesky sun, losing balls and waiting for greens to clear.  I can sit on plush leather chairs, watch the Golf Channel and munch on some wings between shots.  Sign me up.

Some simulators are better than others, as far as how accurate they are, their set up, the courses they offer and availability.  I’ve been to a few in the area and here’s my take:

Golf364:  Located at the Linfield National Golf Course off of Route 422 near Limerick, Golf364 just opened this season.  It appears the course had a large warehouse available, which they converted into 6 or 7 simulator bays.  I found the simulators to be extremely accurate and the selection of courses is pretty cool.  There are also features so you can save your game, or shots on the range, which I really like.  The turf you hit on is terrific and it’s pretty easy to get your ball lined up; you just need to place it in a certain area and get the green light.  They serve beer and food, so that’s another plus.  I’ve never had a problem reserving time there when I wanted to hit and the guys who own the place are very laid back and nice.  They come around and will give you tips to get you acclimated to the machine.

This is the only sim place where they didn’t have some kind of fake rough you have to hit off of if your ball goes in the rough on the course.  I find this fake rough at other places pretty silly and generally a waste of time.  So I like how it’s not an issue here.

I also find putting the most realistic of any of the other sims.  Granted, the putting is still terrible, but here, at least it’s bearable.

Generally, this is probably my favorite of the ones I’ve been to.  The price is reasonable, I like the course selections and the distances and ball flight are accurate.  Did I mention they also serve beer?

Play-A-Round Golf:  Located in Malvern, PA on Lancaster Ave., this place is two stories and probably has the most bays of the places I’ve been to.  You can e mail your stats of the round or practice range, which again I really like.  The simulators are easy to play in, as you basically put your ball in a general area and swing away.  Of course, I think the technology here is a little less precise than you get at most fitting studios; mainly it felt like every shot stayed in center more than they should have in some instances.  And yes, they had the dumb fake rough.  I had no idea how to putt, as no one told me how to do it and I could only get the ball to move like 10% of the time.  So I just started skipping the putting.  The course selection here was decent, but not as good as the other places I’ve been to.  Nevertheless, the guys working here are great and rates are in line with what you’ll normally see.  This place is great for me to practice, where I can work on my swing and get some feed back on what the ball is doing.  Because of the lesser technology and course selection though, it gets knocked down a few pegs.

Baylinks Golf:  Located in Newtown (Bucks), PA, Baylinks bills itself as a premier indoor golf facility.  There are 4 bays, with one being a VIP type with its own room.  The simulators are certainly the most realistic looking and are as accurate as what I’m used to seeing at better fitting studios.  The facilities are probably the best, with plush leather chairs and the observation area is pretty big, with a plasma television for your viewing pleasure.

Of course, all of this comes at a price, as the rates here are almost double what they at other places.  And there’s all kinds of weird charges, like a charge for them to put a stripe on your ball so the simulator can track it, and BYO fees since they don’t serve drinks or food.  They have granola bars and soda type stuff, but anything else you have to bring yourself, and apparently pay them for bringing it in.

But back to the golfing, the course selection here is probably the best around.  There were at least 5 or 6 courses I wanted to play.  The ball flight and distances you get are very accurate, but the putting and chipping left something to be desired.  They not only have the dumb fake rough, but they take it a step further with dumb fake sand that is just like the dumb fake rough, but white in color instead.  I found the turf great for irons, but terrible for hybrids and fairway woods.  Finally, they need higher tees for driver shots.

In addition to courses, you can practice at any range you want.  There are also different games you could play, like hitting balls into the side of a building, closest to the hole, etc.

This place is great because of the accuracy, course selection and observation area when you’re not hitting.  I’d come here with a group of guys to hang out and golf, although I haven’t seen some of their courses any where else, so I may need to drop in a couple times by myself to play them.  Of course, the hefty rates is something to consider.

I believe there are other indoor golf places in the area, but these are the ones I’m aware of and have been to.  If you’re looking for a way to keep the old swing from getting rusty, or just feel like 18 holes with a couple of your buddies, these indoor facilities are great.  I could still see myself going to them every now and then during the season to practice as well.