I was recently given a glimpse into the future in America. The curtain was first lifted in a golf cart where I was reclining with a new-found fat - sorry, weight challenged - friend, a self-confessed golfing entrepreneur. I was waiting while he consulted the satellite navigation system on the cart to give him the exact yardage to the pin. Having not only been informed of the yardage but also of the potential pitfalls by a flashing indicator, he then consulted his clubbing pro-advisor chart at the touch of a button before duffing his shot 20 yards.
Sipping a beer while driving the 60 intervening feet before going over the whole procedure again, he reflected on how tough it was for the pros who had not only to walk the course but were also deprived of any electronic assistance. He thought that the PGA Tour was mad and archaic for insisting that the pros had to walk, and responsible for ruining the game by preventing them from using distance meters on the fairways and spirit levels on the greens.
As he lumbered in and out of the cart he explained the marketing potential of logo-covered carts and pro-endorsed golfing aids. Market forces, he explained, together with electronic technology, would drive golf into new and exciting areas that had tremendous investment potential. Needless to say, he is a graduate of an elite American business school and has been released on the world to exploit every avenue of human endeavour, to change whatever is possible to change while at the same time marketing whatever change he can come up with.
Fat Man preached his concept of a brave new golfing world with missionary zeal and, like it or not I was being given a glimpse into the new golfing Jerusalem.
The logic is undeniable. More people sit in front of a computer playing golf through a microprocessor, hitting a virtual golf ball with a virtual golf club than currently take an actual club to an actual ball on an actual golf course. You can play any course in the world anywhere in the world at any time without moving arm's length from a beer in the fridge. You can have your friends round, form a club, play competitions where and when you chose and incur little more expense than the price of a CD. But, of course, you don't get the actual sensation of hitting a ball and watching it fly.
Fat Man has got the answer to that, however, and although he hasn't quite got it to sitting room size yet, virtual golf is here and it is flourishing.
Widespread in cities throughout the US and Japan, virtual golf has already found a footing in London and clubs are planned in four other English cities. With a capital expenditure of £40,000, the system uses the latest simulator technology to bring golf indoors and out of the rain and cold. It is cheap (£25 a round) and takes up less time, at about an hour a round. You can bring your own clubs and even your ball of choice if you wish, although everything necessary is included in the price.
What you do is stand in front of a canvas screen upon which is projected the 1st fairway of the golf course of your choice. You hit the ball through three invisible walls of infrared light on its way to hitting the screen. Sensors on the screen combine information from the infrared walls to calculate speed, direction and flight of the ball. You can see the ball flying off into the distance on the screen, bounce and roll to a standstill. Information on length and distance remaining to the pin is shown on the screen and, without taking a step, you play your next shot. On reaching the green you simply hole out from where you stand.
Fat Man tells me that this is the future of the game. There are apparently indoor tournaments and very exclusive clubs are starting to emerge. Pros are on hand to give lessons with state of the art computer analysis that enables you to compare your swing with the champion of your choice.
Anyway, the frost has lifted now and although there is a smattering of rain and a rising wind, the sky is light in the east. My chum has called and I'm off to play a few holes. Let's hope that sod with the dog doesn't get out in front of us with that daft woman whose husband thinks he's a pro. I wonder if that damned bird at the fourth that always chirps on my backswing will be in full voice and if I will get my usual bad lie at the seventh. Where in hell have they put the pins in today?
Am I a masochist or merely a luddite?
|| 18 - DECEMBER 2002