Winter is typically a down season for golfers in the North, but huge, domed indoor ranges may be changing that. The dome-on-the-range concept was born in 1968 when Michael Thompson, an English engineer with an eight handicap, inflated the first such facility in Sweden.
Another indoor range popped up in London and a second one in Sweden, but the idea didn't take hold in the U.S. until 1981, when Thompson opened the 35-tee Oakland Golf Dome near Detroit. Two 50-tee ranges went up last December—the Edina Golf Dome near Minneapolis and the Saxon Woods Indoor Golf Range in White Plains, N.Y. And a second dome will soon open in suburban Detroit, the Oasis Sports Dome, a 38-tee facility.
The three U.S. domes are larger, stronger and more triangular than their European prototype or tennis bubbles. The indoor ranges, which also can be used as softball fields, are 230 to 300 feet long and are shaped like clamshells. The dome is constructed of rugged synthetic fabric reinforced by steel cables and is lined with polyester mesh netting that can absorb the impact of golf balls hit at speeds up to 150 mph.
To accommodate the normal trajectory of golf shots, the domes are lower and wider at the end where the tees are and higher and narrower at the far end, where there is a target wall. Saxon Woods, the largest indoor range in the world, is 300 feet wide and 40 feet high at the tee area and 35 feet wide and 75 feet high at the target area. The domes often are deflated and put into storage during the summer.
The domes are heated and well-lit. During the day, their white translucent fabric lets in enough natural light for grass to grow on the indoor field. And at night, indirect lighting, shadow- and glare-free, helps golfers track the flight of the ball until it smacks into the dark-green target wall. True, you won't think you're at the Tournament Players Club. But if your only alternative this winter is swinging a snow shovel, indoor golf wins 7 and 6.