Mark Twain wrote off the game of golf as “a good walk spoiled.”
Years later, the invention of the motorized golf cart eliminated much of the walking for recreational golfers, but the sport retained its worldwide popularity.
Now, the recently opened Sportzone at the Dome in the Town of Tonawanda allows you to play more than 75 of the world’s top courses without ever stepping outside.
And if a few bad shots threaten to spoil your round, you can bag the clubs and play hockey, soccer, football, baseball, carnival games, or dodgeball with zombies.
An expansion of the Grill at the Dome restaurant and bar inside the Paddock Golf Dome, Sportzone is the third indoor golf simulator in Western New York – joining Frog Hair in Amherst and Cyber Creek in Elma – and the area’s first multi-sport simulator.
Moving into a nearly 1,500-square foot space previously occupied by the Pro Golf Discount store, Sportzone houses seven simulator systems surrounding two banquet rooms that can hold more than 100 people.
“We’ve grown every year and we wanted to expand the banquet rooms,” said John Edholm Sr., who has operated the Grill at the Dome since 2000 with his son, Josh. “When Pro Golf left, we started thinking about creative uses for the entire space.”
John Edholm Jr. suggested golf simulators, a technology his brother-in-law, Erik Lugris, had been working with since 2006.
“The destination that the dome is already for outdoor activities indoors, we thought we would only enhance that destination by having simulated outdoor sports indoors,” John Edholm Sr. said.
“It was a match made in heaven,” Edholm Jr. said. “The partnership with my brother-in-law, Erik, who is kind of a software expert, combined with the great food and service and customer base my father and brother provide here, it seemed like a perfect scenario.”
Sportzone opened March 1 and has benefited from the late-arriving spring, drawing steady business, Edholm Jr. said.
“It was a really good time,” said James Lewis, an Amherst resident and Town of Tonawanda native who played a simulated round with three of his friends on adjacent simulators in less than two hours. “It was nice to get a warm-up in and the response to all of the shots was good.”
The E6 technology in the simulators uses machine-vision cameras installed overhead and sensors below the synthetic turf tee box to determine the clubhead speed, clubface angle, launch angle, ball velocity and ball trajectory of every shot hit into a soft wall on which digitized images of the course are projected.
“You get instant feedback on every shot you hit,” Edholm Jr. said. “So when you slice it, you know the reason for that slice.”
A statistical report of every shot can be printed out at the end of a session.
Marlene Davis, LPGA golf professional and an instructor at the Paddock Golf Dome, said such information could be used to improve a player’s outdoor game.
“You get direct feedback when you hit the ball by watching where your ball goes, but the additional feedback can be a good tool,” Davis said. “As people get more proficient in using the system and getting results and patterns of your swing, you can use that to correct things.”
The simulators are not as accurate with putting, Edholm Jr. said, and users can choose to have the computer simulate all putts.
Pebble Beach, St. Andrews and Oak Hill are among the famous courses available to play.
Local courses will soon be added to the system, Lugris said. Lewis’ foursome played Bay Hill at the same time the course was hosting the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
“We are planning to have leagues where you can play against other people in the sim or other people in different sims or play against the pros if they are playing one of the courses we have that week,” Lugris said.
Initial pricing at Sportzone is $20 per hour for a single station, with no limit on how many players can use the simulator. The price is likely to change in the future, Edholm Jr. said. Reservations are recommended.
Frog Hair charges $24 per person for the first hour, and $24 per station for succeeding hours, but cuts its rates in half between May 1 and Oct. 31. Cyber Creek charges $30 for 18 holes and $20 for nine.
“I thought [Sportzone] was comparable to Frog Hair at a much cheaper price,” Lewis said.
As the weather warms, Edholm Jr. is expecting use of the golf simulators to go down.
“Obviously, you’d much rather play golf outside during the summer,” the 1996 Brighton Park Golf Club champion said. “That’s where we are relying on the other sports to keep us busy.”
Lugris sought out Toronto-based Virtual Sports to develop the multi-sport simulator, which he claims is the first of its kind in the Northeast.
Hockey and soccer shootouts, field goal kicking, pitching simulations, and, in particular, zombie dodgeball, have been popular with younger users, Edholm Jr. said, and Sportzone has already hosted birthday parties.
“My two boys are 12 and 9,” he said. “They’ll play golf for a while, hockey for a while, some zombie dodgeball, and laugh the whole time.”
Realistic simulations such as pitching yourself out of a jam are offered, along with fantastical ones such as kicking field goals on an aircraft carrier.
“You can have a hardest shot contest or have target practice,” Lugris said.
“We’re going to approach the hockey teams, the soccer teams, the baseball teams to conduct some clinics and things like that,” Edholm Jr. said. “But golf is our flagship.”
For more information about having a party at the banquet facilities, call Sportzone at 693-7467 or go to www.simsportzone.com.