I'll admit I treat driving ranges like the doctor's office.
I only go when I'm sick, like so sick that my driver pukes up 100-yard worm burners. I rarely go for preventive care of my golf swing.
I try to hit about 10 to 15 shots if I'm early enough for a tee time, but practice? You talkin' 'bout practice? (in my best Allen Iverson voice). Never.
I especially despise driving ranges with nets, mats, discolored old balls and spaces so narrow you worry about a bad backswing hitting the guy next door. That's basically 90 percent of all ranges. Am I right?
Plenty of high-end resorts and golf clubs sport great practice facilities. Pebble Beach Resorts built a fancy new one that opened in January 2014. The range at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Oregon is very encompassing with a big short-game area. The 360-degree circular driving ranges at World Woods Golf Club in Brooksville, Fla., and Orange County National Golf Center and Lodge in Orlando, Fla., are legendary in the industry. Other courses, like Ak-Chin Southern Dunes Golf Club in Maricopa, Ariz., have begun turning their ranges into pitch-and-putt courses in the afternoons.
But only a few places take the whole driving range experience up a notch. If all public-access driving ranges were like these, I'd ditch my phobia of practice and be playing scratch golf in no time.
Sea Island Resort, St. Simons Island, Ga.
As good as these facilities already are, the driving range right on the water and practice area of the Golf Performance Center at The Lodge will receive a massive upgrade in the coming year as part of a $25-million improvement project.
A new 17,000 square-foot Golf Performance Center - home to six instruction and club fitting bays and a putting studio (both with industry-leading technology for teaching and club fitting); a full-service golf club workshop; a gym with locker rooms; spacious retail area; and indoor and outdoor meeting and event spaces - is scheduled to be completed by November, 2018.
The range will be lengthened for the PGA TOUR pros who practice there. A world-class short game area and putting green - not to mention a new putting course for resort guests - are also included in the plans.
Quivira in Los Cabos, Mexico
The sixth Jack Nicklaus course in Cabo might be his best yet. Quivira, which opened in December 2014, takes golfers on a journey along mountainous cliffs right on the Pacific Ocean, over towering sand dunes and through cacti-laced desert. The driving range right on the beach is just as heavenly. Ocean views while digging out the secrets in the dirt? Yes, please. It's spacious and the winds off the water prepare players for the breezes at higher elevations. Best of all, treats like muffins and cookies are served from a snack stand right there. It's the first of multiple comfort stations stocked with food and drink that are included in a $295 tee time (with discounts depending on where you stay). Only guests of the four Pueblo Bonito Oceanfront Resorts and Spas in Los Cabos, and property owners in the Copala, Montecristo Estates Luxury Villas and Novaispania Residences have access to such a special range and course.
Cascata in Boulder City, Nev.
As I was hitting balls on the range during a visit to Cascata a couple years ago, a flock of grazing bighorn sheep came wandering into the landing zone. One sheep eventually became spooked and disappeared into the desert scrub. A stampede followed. Even without such theatrics, this is a cool spot. Golfers aim directly up the mountain at the 418-foot waterfall pouring down from above. The cascata (Italian for waterfall) meanders through the course and finishes in a raging torrent in the atrium of a lavish 37,000-square-foot Tuscan-themed clubhouse.
Coeur d'Alene Golf Course in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho
Aiming floating golf balls into a sea of blue is so counter-intuitive to everything golfers are taught, but that's what makes water driving ranges so fun. There's quite a few water ranges in Florida, especially Naples. None compare to the one at the Coeur d'Alene Golf Course on the shores of the stunning lake of the same name. The range is just steps from the famed floating island green that can be moved daily by an underwater pulley system. Golfers staying at the swanky Coeur d'Alene Resort arrive by water taxi. Everything exudes first class from the first range ball to the last putt.
The Club at Seven Canyons in Sedona, Ariz.
The Seven Canyons experience -- only available to members or guests of nearby Enchantment Resort -- begins at a "practice park" surrounded by the majestic red rocks of Sedona in every direction. It's the first taste of the visual overload and plush amenities that characterizes the entire 200-acre golf and real estate development. The practice park is home to 25 hitting stations, chipping and putting greens, a performance center and a separate space for group functions. The views are pretty spectacular on the demanding Tom Weiskopf course, too. "We figured calling it a 'driving range' just wasn't appropriate," said Dave Bisbee, the club's golf operations and membership director.
The Golf Club at Chelsea Piers in New York, N.Y.
Chelsea Piers, the four-tiered super range overlooking the Hudson River, gets a free pass for having nets. This is the melting pot of all golf ranges. You'll see every age and skill level and nationality hitting shots out of the 52 heated, covered bays. Machines tee up every ball. An indoor academy provides lessons. You're right in Manhattan -- the heart of the Big Apple -- playing golf. What's not to love? Las Vegas offers a similar two-tiered mega-range at the TaylorMade Golf Experience on the southern end of the Strip.
Okay, we've strayed from traditional golf ranges, mainly because TopGolf is a hot commodity. There are 35 locations currently open across the United States, and another 13 in construction as of 2017. TopGolf is video-game golf come to life in a disco-tech. Every golf ball is embedded with a microchip that records where the shot lands in the target zone and how far it travels. Computer screens installed in each hitting bay tally up points and scores, so golfers can play different games against their friends. Servers keep everybody happy with food and drinks. Music keeps the atmosphere live and energetic. Stuffy traditionalists need not apply. Check topgolfusa.com to find a nearby location.
What are some of your favorite driving ranges that you've encountered in your travels? Let us know in the comments below.