A driving range is an area where golfers
practice their drive
- the foundation of golf, striking the ball with a club
so as to propel it through the air towards a target. Where normally this is done as part of a game on an extensive, multiple-hole golf course
, driving ranges allow golfers to practice in a space-, cost- and time-efficient manner by repeatedly hitting balls onto the range from the same position. Driving ranges are often found attached to a golf course
, but are also common as part of sports entertainment complexes or as stand-alone
So, what do you do at a driving range? First, you’re going to need balls. Lots of balls. You’re going to be hitting a lot of them, and you won’t get any back, so you don’t want to use your standard $30-a-dozen balls. You want to get range balls. Range balls are balls owned and rented out by the range, usually either of a kind selected for their strength, durability, cheapness, and other cost-efficient characteristics, or plain old used or “reclaimed” balls, cheap but perhaps a little worn. In either case, the ball won’t handle exactly like a “real” one, but it’s close enough for your purposes. Range balls are usually marked, commonly by a colored stripe around the ball, which distinguishes them from play balls, improves their visibility a bit, and makes you look absolutely ridiculous using them anywhere else. Typically, you would buy range balls by the bucketload from an attendant (though some ranges have replaced the attendants with vending machines or other automation), at an average of around 10 cents a ball, hit them all onto the range, and then return the empty bucket. Range balls are then gathered from the range for reuse, either after closing time when the range is “safe”, or during operation by the silliest-looking piece of equipment in golf, the armored golf cart.
Now that you’ve got your balls, you go off to find your place and start hitting. At the simplest, you will be confronted with a grass teeing area, frequently somewhat elevated, facing onto the range proper. Such basic designs are more common on ranges attached to a full golf course, where the range is less heavily used and is not the primary income generator. Dedicated driving ranges are rarely so simple. First, while grass is nice, with heavy use it will require frequent tending and replacement, and with multiple golfers hitting around two balls a minute off a small area, all day, every day, divots become a huge problem. Thus, grass as a teeing surface is often abandoned for plastic mats, either flat or sporting fake, AstroTurf-style imitation grass. These mats also serve the purpose of clearly delineating individual positions to hit from, which ensures optimum space utilization and can increase capacity, especially when crowded. This is often taken a step further by putting up dividers between the stations and creating stalls, usually around 10 feet wide. Roofs can then be added to the stalls, which protect golfers from the elements and make the range usable even in bad weather. At the apex of modern driving range design, another “deck” of stalls can be placed atop the first, effectively doubling range capacity. Famously cramped Japan is known among golfers for driving ranges featuring upwards of three decks.
Now that you’re finally in place and all set up, determine what you’re trying to work on, and go for it. Trying to improve the length of your drive? Most driving ranges have distance markers to let you know how far that last shot went. The standard driving range is around 300 to 400 yards in length – while space limitations may force a shorter range, most amateur golfers would neither be able nor need to hit any longer with a single stroke. Want to work on accuracy? Pick a point on the range and try to hit as close to it as you can. Ranges commonly have multiple terrain features, greens, and flags for you to aim at in this manner. Have a hook or slice you want to get rid of? Practice away – most ranges are protected by giant netting along the sides to prevent your ball from going anywhere it could do real damage, and you can stay until closing time thanks to the lighting and, increasingly, heated stalls commonly provided for the benefit of those of you who, being neither doctors, lawyers, executives, or retirees, find it difficult to get out during the workday. If you’re so inclined, some ranges have on-site instructors willing to teach and assist you in improving your swing, in return for modest monetary consideration. The nature of driving ranges suits them to woods and irons, especially the long ones, so if you’re looking to brush up on your putter or wedge handling, you’re probably in the wrong place. Luckily for you, however, anywhere with a driving range is likely to also have a putting green and/or other short game practice facilities nearby.
There are certainly some strong advantages to the driving range - you can work on your play and enjoy yourself anytime you want without rounding up the friends, greens fees, and beer necessary for a proper round of golf, you can get a lot of shots in quickly without having to walk the course, and by isolating variables like position, lie, and slope, you can narrow your focus on the one thing completely within your control, your swing. On the other hand, one should keep in mind that you can’t perfect your game on the range alone – real games of golf are still played on golf courses, and only actually walking the links can give you a sense of strategy, shot setup, and how to use terrain to your advantage. Overall, while it shouldn’t be the be-all and end-all of your golfing experience, going to the driving range can be a pleasant, easy, and productive way of spending a few hours while improving your game.