It rules me whenever it peeks its head. When I see pavement, I see an opportunity for pick-up hoops. To me, an unused field looks more like the perfect place for lawn darts or ultimate Frisbee. Obviously, the same goes for every hole on a golf course.
I’m not unique in this mindset, but it follows me everywhere, especially to the first tee. Although the personal competition of making par is always there, it’s hard to recall the last time I played golf “just for fun.” Admittedly, it’s part of the fascination. The competition of golf isn’t just limited to the on-course time, however.
One of my favorite ways of practicing the game (and doing so competitively) is to forget all about the tee time and just spend a few hours at the driving range. Bring a friend, bring your clubs and bring on the competition, because the driving range can provide more fun than you think.
In Madison, the perpetual Wisconsin winter always relegated us to use a public driving range. There were piles of snow surrounding the manufactured landing greens, but there were also heaters above our heads, keeping the stinging of our long irons to a minimum.
And all the while, there were bets placed. “Closest to the barn gets a point.” “Alright, it has to hop once onto the green and sit there.” “You see that big tree, whoever gets closest on the fly wins.” With most driving ranges, the possibilities are endless.
You switch clubs, switch shots, switch strategies and if done correctly, you can benefit your game just as much as (and possibly even more than) a round of 18 holes. Your buddy might be able to teach how he checked his ball with spin or how he played one of your challenges a special way. There’s no pressure, too, so the mood is free and easy.
Recently, I spent a Friday evening at Chelsea Piers in New York City, hitting balls out at the Hudson River. For the price of a movie, a friend and I battled our accuracy and length against each other, settling on a 6-pack as the winner’s trophy. I might be the exception, but there are few Fridays where I’ve had a better time spending just $20, especially in this city.
This type of driving range entertainment isn’t just a self-manufactured odyssey, either. There’s a burgeoning company called TopGolf, based out of Texas that’s spreading rapidly across the rest of the county.
At TopGolf, the nighttime amusement is similar to that at a bowling alley, but with a golf twist as players and teams compete to hit golf shots that earn them varying points, depending on the distance of the shot. Food and beverages are served just like at an alley, minus the enclosed space and ever-lingering cigarette smoke.
Next time you bring your clubs to the Chicago area, that’s where you’ll find the nearest TopGolf center. Until then, you can settle for any driving range with any friend. The competitive opportunities are waiting for you.