New Haven Register
February 13, 2003
Dave Solomon, Register Sports Columnist
BETHANY My car is sitting on some ice patch in the parking lot of the Fore Seasons Golf Club, a frozen reminder of the bitter cold snap clutching the Northeast. Two months before golf season, springtime awaits inside the old Bethany Racquet Club.
A golfing buddy clued me to this facility earlier in the week, and for those of us with a bad case of golfing itch, Fore Seasons provided 25,000 square feet with which to scratch.
Martin Santacroce has owned this well-guarded golfing secret for seven years, attracting a steady flow of regulars like Branfords Harry Toland and Cheshires Joe Tyndall. But the facility off Route 63 in this town still remains relatively unknown.
"This is as close as you can get to golf, other than real greens and a real knowledge of distance," Toland said. "But you can use the machines to correct that. I work a lot on my sand game, chipping and putting, and youre absolutely ahead of the game (when golf season begins in Connecticut). Theres a number of golfers in here who are really serious. This gets a cross-section of golfers, but Id say its top-heavy with the more serious guy.
"The allure of Four Seasons goes beyond the hard-core golfer because of the three video golf simulators that offer a virtual reality round of golf. I think it would be a hoot to gather a foursome and head for one of the video golf stations, where you can play such courses as Troon North in Scottsdale, Ariz., The Prince Course in Hawaii and The Legend in Shanty Creek, Mich. Against the cold, gray winter sky outside, its perfectly lush inside these simulators.
Call it the Land of the Year-Round Nassau. I suspect the competition can get as intense and loud hitting into a screen as it does in the great outdoors."
Some days you come in here and the place is mobbed, and other days you think theres never been a soul in the joint," said Santacroce, who also owns Bethany driving range. "It all depends on the weather."
There are two sand traps, one with a lip of approximately 2½ feet, as well as a station for chipping, a sizeable putting green and three different areas that serve as a driving/iron range including a loft, which has another dozen golf stations. Theres also a swing-plane contraption and a video camera within, but the real jewel of Fore Seasons is the video screen analyzer at the same three stations where you play the video courses.
With each shot hit down the fairway (the screen provides a target golf hole), the swing is analyzed. After each swing, the screen will show both graphically and as an on-screen readout the distance, the swing path, clubhead speed, clubhead tempo, ball speed, clubface alignment and where the clubface is striking the ball in terms of the sweet spot.
I took my poor swing to one of these analyzers and learned in a matter of minutes why I lose so much distance with my irons. I was consistently getting a readout telling me my clubhead was open anywhere from 4-to-8 degrees. Coupled with a lifelong, outside-in swing, I learned more about my problem swing in the first 10 minutes than I have in a lifetime on the driving range.
The cure isnt always as easy, but there is a resident pro, Dale Humphrey, to help fill in the missing blanks, if you so choose.
By the time I left, I had worked to a slightly closed clubface, a slightly (not nearly as pronounced) outside-in swing, and my distance had gained some consistency as well. At the risk of forfeiting strokes I earned with bad play over the years, my one and only experience in front of the video screen at Fore Seasons proved a legitimate teaching tool.
"Its an eye-opener for a lot of people," Santacroce said. "A lot of people dont know what their club angle is. They dont know what their swing path is. Theyll come in and say, Why do I slice? Then theyll take a look and see that their clubhead is 12 degrees open and their swing path is 16 degrees outside-in.
"With bone-chilling temperatures to match outside, any swing path beats no swing path at all.
Dave Solomon, the Register sports columnist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© New Haven Register 2003