By Amy Ferguson
Photos by Morgan Hunt
I’m certain that if asked, my husband would say he’s never been more in love with me than on the day I scooped up a handful of 2017 Masters tickets posted last minute in a local Facebook group. It was instinct. I didn’t confirm if Eric’s schedule would even allow for it or think to check on hotel room availability. I just went with my gut, assumed I was making the right decision and claimed those tickets as mine within seconds of their posting. It turns out, I made the right call.
“You have never been as cool as you were that day,” Eric admits. “We are talking bucket list stuff here. As much as I’d like to play a round at Augusta National one day, going as a spectator was always far more realistic, but had never happened. I was so very excited to go, and it definitely did not disappoint.”
I’d argue golf is my husband’s first real love, a childhood passion that continued to blossom into his adult years. It’s also one he shares with Jeffrey Criswell. When Jeffrey joined the finance department at Eric’s company several years ago, the two developed a big brother-little brother camaraderie. Almost 10 years his senior, Eric’s quick wit and sharp tongue balanced well against Jeffrey’s hijinks and dad jokes, a dynamic that played out both in the office and on the golf course. Like Eric, Jeffrey never tires of the game.
Jeffrey’s love for the game developed in his younger years as well. And even though he grew up outside of the Birmingham metro area, he would constantly navigate his way back to the Hoover Country Club (HCC) to play with other junior golfers.
“I love the course (at HCC),” Jeffrey says. “It’s challenging and gives me the chance to use every club in my bag, no matter what tee I play from.”
He always knew he wanted to join the HCC as an official member, but it wasn’t until the COVID-19 pandemic rocked the world that he finally took the plunge. In June 2020, as the state slowly emerged from lockdown and implemented strict social distancing policies, Jeffrey signed on the dotted line.
“I just had to be outside,” Jeffrey remembers about last summer. “I would play four to five nights a week after being cooped up, working inside my house all day. And it made more sense to become a member instead of paying dues every time.”
And he wasn’t alone, not by a long shot (pun intended). As the coronavirus continued to disrupt our everyday lives, the interest in golf soared as more and more people flocked to the fairways. The game served as a much-needed distraction from all things coronavirus and allowed folks to socialize responsibly, which ultimately resulted in a record-breaking year for the golf industry.
Official policies and procedures varied from state to state, but according to Chip Purser, a devout lover of the game and the director of golf at the Renaissance Ross Bridge Golf Resort & Spa, his main focus was to create and maintain a safe environment before and after golf play for all his guests and associates.
“Our entire team followed the industry recommendations and social distancing guidelines to prevent any spread of the virus,” Chip says. “On the course, we removed rakes from bunkers as well as public water coolers and ball washers from all tee boxes. We also added pool noodles to cups and continue to sanitize every golf cart prior to each guest use and after play.”
As new and interested people were drawn to the game for the first time, devoted fans of the sport found creative ways to scratch the golf itch. Several families in Lake Wilborn community—where Eric and I live with our ever curious and always energetic 2-year-old daughter—used the pandemic as an excuse to purchase a golf cart and pretend they were zipping around on a beautiful course in an exotic country. Others went a different route.
For my husband, his itch was finally scratched when I gave him my blessing to convert a portion of our garage into his very-own golf simulator room. (Yes, I am Wife of the Year. Thank you for asking). Using a combination of materials purchased from Home Depot, Amazon and a variety of golf-specific retailers online, Eric embarked on the ultimate DIY project. He was head down crossing every T and dotting every I, ensuring the setup was ready to go when the technology arrived. We barely saw him outside of dinner. Finally, after 14 “brutal weeks” of waiting (crazy high demand makes for long shipping time), the wait was over. An onlooker would have thought it was Christmas morning at the Ferguson house on that magical September day.
“I was pumped,” Eric remembers. “All my golf buddies were inviting themselves over to try it out.”
Standing at a little over 9 feet tall, the simulator provides just enough room to swing all the clubs and a convenience factor that a real course can never offer.
“I can go downstairs and play a round in 30-minutes,” Eric says. “It’s nice to have the option to practice anytime I want to improve versus occasionally showing up at a golf course and hoping I play okay.”
Still, luckily for Chip and others who manage golf courses around the world, there’s no substitute for getting outside with Mother Nature for a round of 18 holes. That part just doesn’t translate in the dark corner of any basement. “I’m old school,” Chip says. “To me, golf simulators are a great tool to be used only if you can’t get outside.”
Throughout the past year, as Chip worked diligently to ensure everyone felt secure at the course, his spare time to actually play the game he loves so much was limited (although he hopes to change that this year).
“Everyone should play golf,” Chip says. “I believe the game builds character. Players are required to call penalties on themselves, follow the rules and take what they get. You can’t blame anyone else for your performance, but along with that, you get great satisfaction out of your successes. It’s a wonderful game.”
The Ross Bridge golf course will challenge even the best of golfers. Book a tee time at rtjgolf.com/rossbridge.
Eric’s DIY Guide to Building an Indoor Golf Simulator
Think through your overall goal to determine budget. Are you looking for an element of entertainment while knocking back a few beers with your buddies? Or are you more interested in practicing to improve your overall swing? The more accurate data points you need to advance, the more expensive the technology.
Do not underestimate the importance of a high-quality hitting mat in your setup. Your wrists will thank you.
If your space allows, invest in a ceiling-mounted projector. This keeps it safe from getting hit and prevents you from playing hop-scotch over power cords, wiring, etc.
Your enclosure should be sturdy and durable to absorb the impact of the shots, but also protect all surrounding areas. Additional side nets, ceiling padding, etc. can help deflect stray shots and prevent damage.
Not everything involved in a DIY golf simulator build should actually be DIY. It’s important to know when to buy certain items versus attempting to makeshift on your own. Don’t skimp on an impact screen, corner hardware and/or protect netting.