Joe Boinski ponders a difficult bunker lie, 30 yards from the pin.
But where other golfers might be wrought with angst, he swings away with fluidity, even grace. The ball dribbles onto the fringe.
Without pausing - or even swearing once - Boinski hits again. And again. And again.
Welcome to the no-worries world of “target golf” - Beacon Hill-style, in this instance - where golfers can practice putting, driving and chipping without worrying about their scores. No jitters. No broken clubs. No harsh words. Well, at least not too many.
“You can hack around out here, and on a golf course, you play golf,” says Boinski, 74, a retiree who settled in Spokane via Pennsylvania. “Besides, for six bucks, you can horse around all day.”
Set on the hilly northeast shoulder of Spokane, Beacon Hill Golf is one of three target golf areas that have sprung up here in the last three years. The indoor Fore Seasons Sports Dome opened in 1994, and Birdies Golf Center near Northpointe followed in 1995.
As golf lovers grow in numbers, driving ranges and target golf centers like these are becoming more common nationwide. Some golfers use them to sharpen skills, but others are foregoing bona-fide courses for the practice arenas.
“The reason I came here is you can practice on a green, on sand, you can practice driving, chipping and putting,” said Cathy Townsend, a 48-year old Spokane resident honing her game at Beacon Hill.
For instance, she just finished practicing her chip shots over a 30-foot-tall bullpine and onto the green - almost as if she’d hit a fairway shot in a tough position during a regular round of golf. Only here, the potential for ego-damaging misfires is considerably lower.
For folks who insist on hitting a second ball, target golf areas must be links heaven.
“You can practice under the same conditions you’d see on a real golf course,” said Townsend, who thinks that places like Beacon Hill and Birdies simulate real golf better than traditional driving ranges.
And one more thing.
“I like it because you don’t feel like there is somebody watching you,” Townsend said, a little sheepishly. The Spokane Valley’s Ken Yamada, 39, admits he’s been bitten hard by the golf bug. He plays four times a week - twice at Beacon Hill, and twice at area courses. He’s now hitting his 5-iron, pounding balls 150 yards over an artificial water hazard at targets stretching toward the trees.
One thing that keeps him coming back to Beacon Hill is price. Same goes for Shinobu Horiuchi, an Eastern Washington University student hitting on the neighboring mat. He plays here two or three times a week, but only once on a real course. For folks on a budget or faced with time constraints, the pair agree, there’s no substitute for target golf.
“I’m surprised this place isn’t packed,” Yamada said, looking around him in summer sunshine. “I mean, what a bargain.”
Yamada also is convinced that the fastest way to improve is to hit a lot of golf balls. He’s seen newcomers here walk away with blisters on their hands after three hours.
“You’ve just got to spend three or four hours at a time,” he said. “It’s important to be able to practice every facet of the game. You can do that here.”
Here’s a quick look at the centers:
Beacon Hill Golf Center
4848 E. Valley Springs Road.
Open 9 a.m. until dark during the summer, weather permitting during the off-season. For $10, golfers get unlimited use of the grass tees; it costs $6 for unlimited use of the astro-turf tees.
Amenities include: 10 targets at varying distances, with four different levels of tees to hit from; a 17,000-square-foot chipping green - free if golfers use their own balls; an 18-hole, 33,000-square-foot putting green.
“Basically, anything you need to practice in golf, you can do it here,” said pro Tim Peterson.
After opening in 1994, the course has more than overcome water problems which dried out the greens the first year - the “fairways” are green and tidy. Golfers hitting from the tees are afforded a southeast view of the radio antennas atop Beacon Hill, as well as a nice view of Spokane to the southwest.
Peterson said a new clubhouse, completed earlier this year, offers banquet facilities and will eventually include a restaurant.
“There is no set demographics that we have to go after because we pretty much have everybody,” said Peterson, noting that tee slots were busiest during the evenings, when people get off work and have an hour to hit balls.”
Birdies Golf Center
1111 E. Westview Court.
During the summer, the 14-acre facility is open from 9 a.m. until 10 p.m., while off-season hours are scaled back to 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. $3.50 gets you a small bucket of 36 balls, $5.50 for a medium bucket of 72, and $13.50 for 180 balls.
Amenities include: 50 grass tee sites, 56 off mats, and 22 heated covered stalls; an 8,000-square-foot putting area, as well as a practice chipping area with a bunker.
“Driving ranges in the past have been hitting into an open field,” said manager Craig McNett. “Our range has been designed to mimic fairways.”
The range includes five elevated, contoured greens - one of which includes a sand trap.
“We get people coming in after work, or during their lunch hours,” McNett said. “Typically, the benefit is greater with less time. When you play on a course, you worry about score without focusing on fundamentals. We free people up to do that.”
Clint Wallman, the teaching pro at Birdies, was named the Inland Empire Teacher of the Year in 1996.
Fore Seasons Sports Dome
7115 E. Cataldo.
This indoor facility - the big white dome just off Interstate 90 near the Broadway exit - is open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily year-round, except when special events interfere. The facility is also used for indoor soccer (beginning at 7:30 p.m. in the winter) as well as for trade shows, wedding receptions and parties.
For a bucket of 60 or 110 balls, it’ll cost golfers here $4 or $6 respectively. There’s also an unlimited option - as many balls as you can hit in a half hour - for $6.75.
The dome includes a 700-square-foot putting facility and 34 tees on two levels and one target green. From the tees, shots travel 65 yards before hitting the dome’s wall.
“Sixty-five yards might not sound like a lot, but in reality it only takes 30 yards to see what your ball is going to do,” said manager Kevin Mosher. “It gives you an idea where your ball is going.”
With the covered facility, late fall and winter is obviously Fore Seasons’ busy time, although things generally pick up by October. Two mild winters during the center’s first two years of operation hurt business, but steady foul weather this last year spurred on a record year.
“It’s filled usually in the winter all day - weekends especially,” Mosher said. “But you normally won’t have to wait more than five minutes at any one time.”
He said that everyone who comes has his or her own reasons for coming - some are just wanting to kill a little time during what used to be dreary months for die-hard golfers. Others want to maintain their swing.
Fore Seasons features a teaching pro during the winter as well as a pro shop.
“This is a great place for beginners, simply because they aren’t aiming for yardage,” Mosher said. “They’re worrying about swing, keeping their heads down.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo
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