I belong to several golf clubs in several states. While I happen to live in Northern California, I have my Midwestern roots and some golfing history in places like Wisconsin, Illinois, and Michigan. Exactly three years ago, in mid-October, I happened to have two days of golf in the Chicago area. One day I was playing at Cog Hill, a well-known high-end public golf course that hosted Robert Gamez’s win at the US Public Links and Matt Kuchar’s win at the 1997 United States Amateur. It also hosted the Western Open on the PGA Tour from 1991 to 2006, and then for five years from 2007 to 2011 hosted the BMW Championship for the third leg of the Fed Ex Cup Playoffs.
Cog is a tough course. All you need to know about it is that Tiger Woods has won five times there. I recently played at Harborside International, a lovely pair of golf courses on Lake Michigan with great views of the Chicago skyline.
While I had a great time playing two high quality courses during those two days, one main theme comes to mind every time I look back and remember this journey. My main memory is that although it was on the calendar in mid-October, it happened to snow on my two laps three years ago. Temperatures ranged from mid to below 30, and while the snow wasn’t sticking, it certainly added to the strange atmosphere of the day.
If you’ve ever wondered what avid golfers do in these parts of our country during the bad weather season, which can sometimes run from November to April, I have a partial answer for you. I have received several emails from Cog Hill Golf in the past few weeks. Despite being a 72-hole complex, it is located in the southwestern suburbs of Chicago and will have problems with winter weather in the near future. However, I received an email from Cog Hill last month promoting their Winter Wednesdays Golf League.
I was fascinated. And then I read on. The Winter Wednesdays Golf League is an eight-week season that runs from October 20 to December 15. It lasts a week, especially on Thanksgiving Wednesday. For $ 500 you can register your two-person team and look forward to eight weeks of competitive league format. Some weeks you play better ball while other weeks offer two-person scramble and two-person alternative shots. There is a pricing structure for the teams that play well with a playoff at the end of the season.
Of course, for anyone familiar with December in the Midwest, it’s hard to imagine competing in an alternative batting competition at Cog Hill. The caveat is that while Cog Hill is a great golf course, you can play on their winter Wednesdays courses that are even more famous and iconic than Cog. The way the emails are read, the weekly competition involves playing places like Pebble Beach and St. Andrews.
Cog Hill Winter Wednesdays are held at hundreds of golf courses in the wintry East, Midwest, and Rocky Mountain. It is a virtual golf league that is located on the driving range of all host courses. In the case of Cog Hill, they promote the idea that the bays on the driving range are not only protected from the weather on three sides, but also have heating above every golf mat.
The technology behind Winter Wednesdays and other winter leagues comes from TopTracer Golf. Not only does TopTracer have the famous golf courses on separate screens at the bays, but it also has high-tech sensors that can determine how far you hit the golf ball and how well you hit it. If you’re teeing off on a winter Wednesday, you can start the evening with your driver at the first tee in St. Andrews, the birthplace of golf and host to several British Open. After you hit your tee shot into the snow-covered driving range at Cog Hill, the monitor will determine that you just hit your tee shot into the 18th St. Amdrews fairway, about 200 yards from the tee. TopTracer informs you that you now have 161 yards to the green and must clear the Swilcin Burn, which is about 146 yards from the green.
That’s not all TopTracer will tell you. It will tell you how fast your swing speed is, how fast your ball came off the club face, how far your tee shot was carried, how far your ball rolled out after landing, how high the apex of your tee shot was highest, and further and Further. For some golfers this is really interesting. For some golfers, this wealth of information just hurts in their heads. All in all, I find it really amazing stuff.
It is true that I cannot imagine living in a place where the only way to golf is to hit golf balls on a heated driving range. Still, there has to be some fascination as the simulator draws me to the left of the 17th. I find this to be a fascinating alternative for the vast majority of golfers in our country. It is certainly a more creative alternative than having your golf clubs cobwebbed in the corner of the garage for the next six months.
I first stumbled upon TopTracer Golf a few months ago when I was hitting golf balls at the 36-hole Haggin Oaks Golf Complex in Sacramento. Behind my strike station was a screen that gave eight pieces of information about every single shot I hit. In fact, when I warmed up on a gap wedge, I found out that several of these strokes gave me backspin.
TopTracer advertises that there are golf monitors all over the world, from Arizona to Abu Dhabi. There are TopTracer hitting stations in Darkhorse in Auburn, McInnis Park in San Rafael, Harding Park in San Francisco and on the driving ranges of the Bay Area such as Mission Hills and Mariners Point as well as Haggin Oaks.
Technology has become an important part of golf with Evalumetrics and the like. Not long ago we learned that Steve Stricker and Jerry Kelly have their own heated mobile trailer that is open for winter golf practice on a Wisconsin driving range. These days, all you can do is go to your heated driving range, hit golf balls, and decide whether to try the two of you on the 14th hole at Pebble Beach. Yeah, that’s all really amazing stuff. The future is now.