To our readers,

The COVID-19 pandemic is a once-in-a-century type story, ... Click here to continue

Beyond The Game

Snow, trees, water, sand, oh my — stuck in virtual golf heaven

Goose River GC simulators at Midcoast Recreation Center whet appetite of media members to tee it up
By Ken Waltz | Dec 21, 2020
Photo by: Mark Haskell This foursome, socially distanced sporting face coverings, pose for a group photo in front of one of two Goose River Golf Club simulators at the Midcoast Recreation Center. The golfers include Mark Haskell, front left, Reade Brower, back left, Ken Waltz, kneeling, and Zack Miller.

Rockport — As Mother Nature dumped more than 20 inches of snow in the Portland area on Thursday, Dec. 17 in her first true wintry wrath a few days before the official start of the dark season, there was only one thing do — go play golf at the Falmouth Country Club, of course.

So, my playing partners, Reade Brower, Mark Haskell and Zack Miller, and I, did just that, as we put our lives on the line to drive through a Nor'easter to get to our appointed rounds.

This was another example of what this never-ending pandemic has wrought. Crazy grown men willing to brave life and limb — and cold, blustery, white-out conditions — simply to hit a small dimpled ball around a course that is not even open for play.

What?

OK. I will come clean. Most of the above is true. Well, with a smidge of stretching the truth.

We did drive in blizzard conditions to play golf. And we did play the Falmouth Country Club.

However, our trip on this snowy day took us to the Midcoast Recreation Center on Route 90 in Rockport. Much closer to home, but still a challenging, heart-pumping, nerve-wrecking trek.

Watch video below from the golf outing.

It was upstairs at this non-profit facility known for its ice skating/hockey rink, indoor tennis courts and fitness area where we stepped into another world. The wonderful world of virtual golf. In a blizzard.

A collaboration between Goose River Golf Club in Rockport and MRC has created an indoor golf playing/training center open to the public for lessons or tee times.

What a hoot and blast.

For two hours on Thursday, as the pandemic and Old Man Winter continued to wreck havoc in much different ways outside the window, we four, fully masked and safely practicing social distancing, played nine holes of virtual golf at the Falmouth CC.

We could have selected many famous courses from around the world, and will in the future, but on this day it seemed the correct decision to play the only Maine course in the system. One we may even play for real down the line.

Of course, despite the fact I muttered (you heard that?) a few curse words as I hacked my way through imaginary trees on one forgettable hole, which resulted in a near double-snowman for a score, my experience was awesome.

We all struggled and, at times, hit solid shots. A typical golf round, just in the cozy confines of an indoor setting.

The TrackMa simulators, which are all the rage, included the ability to hit balls off a tee or artificial grass, into a giant screen that projected a scene of the hole — including all the dangers: sand traps, woods, water and all matter of dangerous ball-eating habitats.

Why we decided to attack a tough course where Peter Kostis, Mark Calcaveccia, Tom Purtzer, Tom Kite, Bobby Watkins, Gary Koch, Ken Green and Davis Love once played the "Pepsi Skins Challenge" and a layout that has hosted the New England Amateur, Maine Amateur, Tri-State Amateur, 2003 USGA Amateur Qualifier, two LPGA Legends events and future Korn Ferry Tour events, is anyone's guess.

In retrospect, my bad.

Certainly we could have found a much easier course, one with wide fairways, no rough, no woods, no sand, no water and no other obstacles en route to the safety of the green. But no, we had to do this the hard way, and it was, believe me, as a frequent golfer, hard.

We stood on the first tee face to face with the challenging, nearly 3,000-yard, par-36 layout and for 120 minutes did the golf dance with two par-3s, five par-4s and two par-5s.

The simulator made things as realistic as possible, including with virtual wind. We quickly found out every poor swing or mistake was magnified. The technology could pick up the spin and speed of the ball. So, a well-struck, accurate shot was rewarded. The others were gobbled up by water, trees, sand or high grass. Exactly what happens in real golf.

Damn their realism.

The good news, however, is that one got to always hit the ball off an even, clean lie and once a ball finished within eight feet of the hole, the next putt was a gimme (if you know the correct settings to use). If all the 8-footers in my actual golf outings were gimmes, I might break 85 more frequently.

Because of the pandemic and the fact none of the four players in our group were from the same household, we needed to wear masks and remain socially distant, which was fine. That also meant we needed to use both side-by-side simulators instead of all four of us being on one simulator.

Reade and I play a lot of golf and mostly well. Zack is a solid player with only a few years of experience, while Mark plays once a year with us. Suffice to say the course proved quite a challenge, especially for Mark, who also was hampered by an injury.

While Reade and I usually cap the front nine holes at the par-36 Rockland Golf Club 5- to 10 shots over par, we finished in the 23-24-over range at the virtual Falmouth CC on this day. Zack ended the same. And Mark, well, he struggled a bit more.

For me, the par-for-the-course excuses were imaginative and plentiful. The perfect carpet grass was not mowed correctly, the machine certainly did not measure the wind direction or speed correctly, my shots absolutely must have covered more yards than that and surely my perfect shots from the off-the-fairway jungles thicker than the Amazon missed all of the other wooden objects in front of me?

The sounds of "thwack" when a ball hit a tree or the "plunk" of a ball in the water was realistic. I know because I saw several of Mark's shot attempts go "kerplunk." One after another after another as I thought of the children's book, "Blueberries for Sal," by Robert McCloskey. Like berries tossed in the tin pail: "kerplink, kerplank, kerplunk."

A few of Mark's "errant" shots even managed to escape the enclosure and bounced off a ceiling and wall, barely missing a glass door and, heaven forbid, a large wall mirror. If Mark had managed to break that mirror, the years of bad luck for all of us would be immeasurable — like a black cat walking back and forth under a ladder a thousand times.

"As the accompanying video will show, I am clearly not a golfer," Haskell said. "I've played about 18 holes a year for the past decade and in that span of time, I've had about a dozen shots that I've felt good about after the fact.

"None of those shots came on Thursday.

"That being said, this being my first time playing on the golf simulator and considering we played on a pretty difficult course, I had a terrific time. I would recommend it to anyone trying to mentally escape the clutches of winter for an hour or two, and the price can't be beat.

"That being said, if anyone who is terrible at golf would like to play with me, email me at mhaskell@villagesoup.com.

"Also, Ken, Reade and Zack can consider themselves challenged to a round of disc golf come springtime so I can regain some of my mojo."

Of course, while Mark, who did drain a couple of nice putts, and I played on one simulator and Reade and Zack on the other, there was plenty of trash talking and chirping back and forth about one "magnificent" shot or another.

One thing people might not know about Reade Brower, an amazingly intelligent, generous, understanding and socially-conscious man, is his competitiveness. His comments throughout our nine-hole round were funny and made the day especially enjoyable.

He even found a way to make his time with Zack a match for the ages. One might say, historically significant and challenging.

"Forget Tiger versus Phil when you have Zack versus Reade," said Reade, who usually plays golf barefooted but wore colorful holiday socks for this round. "A battle reminiscent of Ryder Cup rookie Jack Nicklaus facing off against the Great British legend Tony Jacklin. In their match, after an epic 18-hole battle that would determine the 1969 Ryder Cup champion, the match came down to the 18th and final hole.

"With all matches completed except theirs, and a 15 ½ to 15 ½ score, a win by either golfer would determine which team won this prestigious event. Jacklin had made an eagle at 17 to tie up the match and send it to 18 with everything on the line. Both reached the 18th in regulation, setting up birdie putts. Jacklin went first and left himself a 2-footer for par. Nicklaus, on the other hand, hit his five feet past the hole. After making his putt, he then conceded Jacklin’s even though the contour of the 18th hole at the Royal Birkdale Golf Club in Southport, England made this far from a 'gimmie.' Nicklaus was lauded for his sportsmanship by some and heavily criticized by others. But, over 50 years later, it is still remembered.

"Our 9-hole battle was not quite of that epic proportion, but it was as spirited. Nor could our skills be compared to that of Nicklaus and Jacklin. We entered the final hole with Zack nursing a two-stroke lead after a back-and-forth battle at the famed Falmouth Country Club where 'memories are made.' Zack had the only par for the day and came into the last hole leading at 19-over with me having a couple of bogey-bests on my card. I hit one down the middle about 160 yards with Zack outdriving me by 40 yards but finding some trees on the right. I battled in for a double-bogey while Zack fought his way out from under the trees, finally landing on the putting surface with a chance at a triple-bogey that would seal the deal. He scooted it by the hole and the putt was conceded, although my sportsmanship had nothing to do with that, the machine gave us anything within eight feet — a genius programing move or we’d have ended up as overnight guests of our MRC hosts.

"I’m sure Jacklin didn’t have to leave after his final putt like Zack did as he was on 'kid-duty' and needed to pick up his little rug rat so I was left alone in my glory of this comeback Jacklin-like tie. I wandered over to watch the final pair coming in and saw that Mark was not in the running, but Ken had some game in him (now that he had figured out that a good putt did not have to hit the screen) and was making a comeback. His bogey on the eighth left him one shot behind Brower-Miller, the leaders in the clubhouse at 23-over. Ken’s drive was perhaps his best of the day, 198 yards straight down the middle with about 140 yards left to the pin. His second shot made the front of the green and left him with a 12 to 14 footer that would create a three-way tie for the MRC Courier Club championship. With me giving him encouragement (sort of) I turned on the green evaluator grid as Ken lined up what he hoped would be the final putt of the day. His patient approach to putting never strayed. No noticeable sweat beads around his brow, he surveyed the green from every angle before stepping up and putting on a perfect stroke.

"The ball started towards the cup but veered right at the last moment falling inches from his target.

"Not quite the drama or intrigue of 'The Legend of Bagger Vance,' but in this day of COVID, a nice respite with all the thrills of the real thing, some camaraderie and some good-natured trash talking sprinkled in to the never-ending Ken Waltz cheerleading as his golf partner, who will remain nameless, went down in flames.

"A good time was had by all; do I hear 'rematch' in our future?"

While Zack had to leave early to pick up his son from daycare due to the inclement weather (ultimately, his son proved more important than us and golf, go figure; talk about his priorities being askew), he enjoyed his experience.

"Despite the snowstorm we all had to travel through, virtual golf worked a lot better than I expected," he said. "Going in I figured the system used to track the ball would be spotty and glitchy, but it worked like a charm, to my surprise. It took some time to get used to the fact I was golfing inside, let alone a confined space, as I was afraid of smacking a club off the wall behind me, or Reade off to my right.

"Thankfully, that did not happen, and after fidgeting with the tracker to get it lined up correctly, my play was much better than I expected. I was in the lead between Ken, Mark and Reade, until the final hole when I had to chip multiple times because I could not get the speed right to get up over the hill. I blame the tracker more than my chipping abilities. On a real golf course I would have been fine. Stupid technology. I ended up tied with Reade before I had to leave early to pick up my son from daycare, but, all-in-all, I was happy with my play. I'd definitely play again to scratch the itch before all the snow melts and the regular courses open for the 2021 season."

Playing on golf simulators at MRC
Playing on the Goose River Golf Club golf simulators at the Midcoast Recreation Center in Rockport. (Video by: Ken Waltz, Mark Haskell and Zack Miller)
If you appreciated reading this news story and want to support local journalism, consider subscribing today.
Call (207) 594-4401 or join online at waldo.villagesoup.com/join.
Donate directly to keeping quality journalism alive at waldo.villagesoup.com/donate.
Comments (2)
Posted by: Francis Mazzeo, Jr. | Dec 22, 2020 15:32

Not only did they put their own lives on the line, they endangered people that had a real reason to be on the road. I'd say poor judgement, as well as poor grammar, was used.



Posted by: Paige Hall | Dec 22, 2020 14:54

So, me and my playing partners, Reade Brower, Mark Haskell and Zack Miller, did just that, as we put our lives on the line to drive through a Nor'easter to get to our appointed rounds.  The grammar here should read "So my playing partners, Reade Brower, Mark Haskell and Zack Miller and I did just that ......."  I am at a loss as to why poor grammar irritates me so much.



If you wish to comment, please login.
Note: If you signed up using our new subscriber portal, your username is the email address you registered with and your password is in all caps