Golf in the winter doesn't have to be about iced-over fairways

By Jake Schaller, Contributor

GAITHERSBURG, Md. -- It's that time of year again.

Golf shorts are being replaced with pants, golf shirts with Cutter and Buck jackets and visors with fleece hats.

Summer is gone, and with it, long, warm days on the links.

There are still some brave souls who refuse to let a dip in temperature dip into their time on the course. But those people are few and far between, and most have some help -- like those participating in "The Nippers Tournament" at Patuxent Golf Club in Maryland on Dec. 7. In that scramble-based tournament, foursomes take a drink, or "nip," of an alcoholic beverage of their choice after each hole. Two, after a birdie.

But what about people who can't stand the cold? (Or don't want to use Jack Daniels to keep their Scotty Camerons steady?) How can they keep their games sharp? talked to several Mid-Atlantic teaching professionals to seek advice for the winter months, and found an indoor facility that, for the serious golfer, is almost as good as the real thing.

First, the tips.

1. Stay Loose. Especially if you don't play for several weeks at a time, it is critical to stretch both your upper and lower body. Ed Shey, a teaching pro at Fair Oaks Golf Park in Chantilly, Va., suggests putting a broomstick on your shoulders and draping your arms over it. Then, with a wide stance, make turns all the way to the right and back all the way to the left to stretch your chest and hips. Stretching was brought up most often by teaching pros contacted for this article and was especially stressed for those who do play in chillier temperatures.

2. Invest in a swing trainer. Not only will it help keep your walls and ceilings in tact, swing trainers can help build strength. Swing trainers are shortened and weighted clubs made to use indoors. With them you can make full swings inside and improve strength in your arms and hands.

3. Look in the mirror. Use a full-length mirror to watch yourself swing. "When you can see your swing, it's the easiest way to make a change," Shey said. "It's not as good as getting out, but at least you're doing something." Also critical is just making sure you continue to set up properly.

4. Find artificial heat. There are 20 covered, heated stalls at Fair Oaks, and during the winter months, they offer packages of lessons at a reduced rate. Many driving ranges in the region, including White Flint Golf Park in Rockville, have similar facilities.

5. Groove your putting stroke. Take two boards, lay them parallel to each other and work on taking your putter straight back and straight through.

For those who want more than some simple home remedies, however, there is a new facility in Gaithersburg, Md., that offers training for every part of a golfer's game. Club Golf Fitness Center, which opened in June of this year, may be the first full-scale indoor gymnasium dedicated exclusively to golfers.

The 10,000 square-foot facility is centered around a 1,500 square-foot, undulating putting green. The green has seven holes and can offer up to about a 45-footer.

Surrounding the green is free motion gym equipment set up like a golf course for physical fitness. The Front Nine has machines for the upper body, while the Back Nine has machines for the lower body. Each machine is cable driven with independent left- and right-hand pulley systems.

Nearby the machines are the Plyometric Pit and the Gary Grey Stretching Area, named for a physical trainer who has designed fitness cages for stretching. Free weights, stationary bicycles and treadmills are also available, as is the 80,000 square-foot Sport and Health Club located in the same complex. A membership to Club Golf includes a membership to the Sport and Health Club.

Club Golf has seven hitting stations where members can hit golf balls into nets, including two with video cameras so players can record and watch their swings. Two other stations are called "performance platforms," and golfers can hit shots from different lie-angles -- uphill, downhill, sidehill and combinations.

Perhaps the coolest part of Club Golf is its wedge and distance "caddy." Using a Doppler radar system, the wedge and distance "caddy" can help you calibrate shots. For short distances where you do not have a club with which you can use a full swing, this can help you learn how far back you need to take a club to hit the ball a certain distance. "It's a pretty sophisticated system, and it's pretty accurate," said Stuart Gordon, the Franchise Director.

Club Golf also boasts an impressive short-game area where players can chip onto an elevated green and blast bunker shots out of a trap filled with real sand. The bunker is fully enclosed by a net, so skulled shots won't do any damage.

Finally, Club Golf has a private studio where teachers can analyze players' swings. There is 2D swing analysis with video cameras filming players' swings from the front and back, and sophisticated 3D swing analysis with a biomechanical sensing machine. With sensors attached to different parts of a player's body and his or her club, Club Golf captures the motion of the shoulders, arms, hips, club and head of a golfer.

This allows Club Golf to examine the posture of a golfer at address, at the top of his or her swing, at impact and through the ball.

"At the key points in the swing, we can compare your body to a range of professionals," Gordon said. "It gives us degrees to work with."

In addition, Club Golf has a Force-Plate Evaluator and a Launch Monitor. The Force Plate is a computerized base that players stand on when they hit the ball. It measures a player's balance and weight transfer through the swing. The Launch Monitor gives you the launch angle your ball travels on after it is hit with a driver or 3-wood and the angle at which your club head travels outside to in or inside to out (thus calculating the amount a player hooks or slices).

Club Golf Fitness Center, which is owned by Dr. Greg Rose, is located just off I-270 in the Rio Center at 9811 Washingtonian Boulevard in Gaithersburg, Md. It offers month-to-month and year memberships as well as an evaluation and program design.

Is it as good as a spring day on the links? Of course not. But it does beat hand warmers, thermal underwear and iced-over fairways.

Jake Schaller, Contributor

Jake Schaller resides in the Adams Morgan section of Washington, D.C. He grew up in Bethesda, Md., where he attended Walt Whitman High School and played football.

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