Lamenting the Driving Range

Every golfer has an arsenal of complaints about the sport – pace of play, cost of equipment, poor sportsmanship, too many rules, etc. – and I feel like each and every whine-worthy topic has been covered, considered and covered again.

Even so, a topic I rarely see lengthy editorials about is my favorite place to practice – the driving range.

There are definitely golfers out there who clock 100% of their practice on the course, but anecdotal evidence suggests that many of y’all are just like me – you’d rather hack away with a bucket and a bay than be seen chasing your drives all over the woods.

Knowing that, it strikes me as odd every time I read in-depth critiques of the “golf experience” that include everything from metal spikes to rude caddies but don’t mention the range.

Between tough-to-find tee times and other obstacles of city life, I’ve had to put range time ahead of 18 holes to make my golf obsession work. As such, I feel like my golf experience has more to do with mats and ugly plastic tees than it does manicured greens and course marshals.

For the most part, my experiences are pleasant. I’m in, I’m out and I’m happy. But there are a couple outliers in that pleasant experience, the most notable one being children. I have a general aversion to anything under the age of “coherent sentences”, but when it comes to the driving range, they’re like sticky little time bombs ready to detonate.

Before those of you with offspring get offended, know this: I WANT kids to learn the game, and I know all too well that it takes practice to stop sending the ball careening into the bay divider. But I’m not talking about children who are supervised by parents or instructors – those kids are amazing and honestly, seeing tykes practicing their putts almost makes me want children. Almost.

No, I’m talking about tiny hurricanes of destruction who, through no fault of their own, have been brought to the range and told to entertain themselves with nothing but their imagination and what could reasonably be called a deadly weapon in a court of law.

The ranges I frequent are in some way associated with mini golf – either right behind the range or next to it, there are 18 whimsical clowns and windmills waiting to be abused by toddlers. The two separate areas are clearly defined, but somehow the line between the “responsible humans” section and the “free-for-all, shoes optional” section manages to become blurred.

I blame this partly on the parents. On more than one occasion, I’ve watched Dad and/or Mom give little Timmy a putter and send him away, only to abandon their ONE JOB as a parent to set up camp on the range side. Just because there are fences doesn’t mean little Timmy is safely contained – I’ve seen children use their putter like a baseball bat, I’ve stepped over entire milkshakes dumped on holes, and on one occasion, I witnessed a little one get her entire right arm caught in one of the weird plastic statues, only to be freed by the range owner dismantling the top of the sculpture.

Even the parents who keep their kids within earshot aren’t always preventing the chaos. Children running behind adults who are swinging clubs, diving onto the range grass to collect balls, crying or yelling about who knows what, or trying to swing a club on their own create a slightly dangerous and more-than-slightly aggravating environment for everyone else.

Don’t get me wrong, for every range session with an unruly rugrat, there are five with no hiccups at all. But in the spirit of pointing out areas of improvement, implementing some rules for unaccompanied minors or setting up a small section specifically for kids to swing away might be an interesting start.

I’ve seen adult-only hours at certain courses – I’m not suggesting that for ranges, as I feel that’s unfair to the golf lovers who can’t get a sitter, or to the little ones who want to learn the sport. But maybe setting up family sections on weekends or allocating five or six bays to the middle school set would contain some of the commotion.

Further, asking the parental units to stay with kiddos under a certain age would (hopefully) keep some of the crazy in check. As a former child, I can attest to the fact that Mom’s immediate presence was the quickest deterrent to my less-than-savory strokes of genius. Even when I did manage to get myself in trouble, there was an adult nearby to assess the situation and force me to take an appropriate amount of responsibility.

Lastly, and this may just be me wanting to grow the game without having to produce my own mini golfers, I’d love to see more kiddie leagues and lessons. If the little rascals have a basic understanding of the sport (and its dangers to passerby), there should be fewer bumps and bruises. And more importantly, there’d be more kids enjoying the sport and fewer adults rage-hitting their range balls into oblivion every time a child screams during their backswing.

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Florida Golf
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