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Thursday

August 2014

28

New center gives golfers chance to play year round

New indoor golf center in Oconomowoc brings game of golf indoors

Like many of his fellow retirees, Douwe Bearda wakes up each morning excited to play some golf. In fact, the 76-year-old Village of Summit resident plays four times a week, navigating some of the country's most beautiful courses.

The catch: When he's loading his clubs into his car, he's dodging snowdrifts.

"It's wonderful that we have the opportunity to play the game indoors," Bearda said. "Even at my age, I'm still trying to improve."

Thanks the newly opened Wisconsin Indoor Golf Center at W359 N5740 Brown St., Oconomowoc, Bearda can keep playing in the winter months. The center uses three indoor simulators, allowing golfers to play notable picturesque courses even though the weather outside is frightful.

"We turned more people away than we had reservations for today," said founder Chris Verhoff on Sunday. "The weekends are phenomenal and booked solid. We're getting to the point where we are booked a week in advance."

Zoned out

The idea has been a long time coming for Verhoff, who originally pegged a location in Waukesha for the center. But after a series of holdups related to rezoning, Verhoff and business partner Lee Newman elected to relocate.

"We liked the property in Oconomowoc, and it fit what we wanted to do so much better," Verhoff said. "We went ahead this past summer to get the ball off the ground to be able to open this winter."

On Jan. 10, the doors opened. Newman, who used to supervise Verhoff at Natural Ovens Bakery, handles many day-to-day operations.

"Between the price, along with the traffic (near our location) and the amount of golfers and golf courses in the area, it's looking pretty good right now," Newman said. "People can find a way to golf all year."

For $27, golfers can play for an hour, and the rate applies to an individual or foursome. Courses include Port Royal, Doral and Pebble Beach, but the simulators present many other opportunities as well, including networked competitions, practice games such as knocking out building windows or teeing off in a football stadium and advice on improving your swing.

"The high-speed cameras can pick up the dimples on the ball at over 100 miles an hour," Newman said. "There's one above you and two in the corners by the screen. They can read spin on the ball, where your face went through the hitting zone, and can tell you pretty accurately where the ball is going to go."

Digital divots

Bearda said the experience is pretty close to the real thing.

"It's crucial to play target golf. You try to hit the ball in the fairway, like always, because you get a roll. If you hit the ball in the rough, the roll is minimal.

"I cannot hit my drive low enough and with enough club speed for the computer to pick up the distance what I think I shoot," he said, adding that he feels his distance is better outdoors than indoors. "But you can live with that. You play beautiful courses, and the price is right."

Bearda, who worked for 30 years at NRV in Ixonia, retired five years ago and has begun seeing his outdoor play decline. Once a five-day-a-week golfer at Olde Highlander, he now mostly does subbing at Rolling Hills. The indoor game gives Bearda and many other golfers - including those who are disabled - a chance to experience the game without the need to walk every hole.

"You don't have the challenge of hitting out of the sand; you play from the mat," he said. "It takes some getting used to it. Chipping and putting isn't exactly the same. But it's a wonderful way to keep working on your game. Golf is such a mental sport."

As Newman put it, "Putting in the garage takes second fiddle to playing Pebble Beach."

More ahead

Verhoff said he'd like to ultimately see an expansion, with the addition of another simulator as well as more short-term upgrades, like the appropriate license to expand food service. The center already has a functional bar with limited food offerings.

"We have to be able to diversify in the summertime," he said. "We'll have some poll tables, and we'll probably rent out the space for different camps and activities."

In the meantime, he expects to runs various camps and leagues, catering to everyone from seniors to high-school teams.

"I'd say we're pretty much right where we expected to be," Verhoff said. "We're right in line, and that's huge."

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