TopTracer the drawing card at Mistwood Golf Dome
It's 1 p.m. on a typical cold, blustery and downright dreary February afternoon in the suburbs.
Drive by any golf course and there's not a soul to be found.
Yet at 730 N. Bolingbrook Drive there are at least three dozen people dressed like it's 70 degrees outside and they're all happily working on their golf games.
Some are trying to beat their friends in a long-drive competition. Others are playing a closest-to-the pin game. Others are playing courses like Pebble Beach, St. Andrews or Spanish Bay.
And some are just banging balls, hoping to groove their game for an upcoming trip or for the much-anticipated arrival of spring.
It's all happening at the new-and-improved Mistwood Golf Dome in Bolingbrook, where business has exploded since management installed the TopTracer ball-tracking system in November 2018.
The dome features 14 bays at ground level and another 16 that are reached by a flight of stairs. It is 88 yards from the mats to the end of the dome. Golfers can even be custom fit for clubs.
Another reason people are flocking to this dome is because of the redesigned bays, which sport comfortable couches behind the hitting areas, inviting groups of four or more to relax. Patrons come in droves from suburbs near and far, and even drive from Champaign and central Indiana.
"We had a group from the Quad Cities last year," said Andy Mickelson, director of golf at Mistwood. "They came in and played for nine hours and then went back home.
"There's nothing out that way, so they wanted to come see it and experience it. They sure did."
Here is how the TopTracer technology works:
Four cameras are set up across the dome, with two of them picking up your shot and getting 2,500 reads in the first 40 yards. The data then pops up on your bay's screen by the time you turn around.
Golfers download the TopTracer app to their phone, then choose from eight different playing options.
When I saw the world leader in the closest-to-the-pin contest was a combined 80.59 feet away on nine holes I said to myself: "That sounds pretty good. But how hard can it be?"
Really hard, as it turns out. On my nine attempts -- which range from 55 to 160 yards -- I was a combined 800-plus yards away on my first attempt and 688 on my second.
Hey, I was rusty!
As for the virtual golf at places like Pebble Beach, you don't putt once you reach the green. Instead, you chip to different flags inside the dome, and the closer you get the better your score.
For instance, if you can stick a shot to 2 feet or less to the 42-yard flag, you'll get a 1-putt; 15 feet away is a 2-putt; anything outside of that is a 3-putt. (How tight you must get depends on how close you are to the pin).
"I like the way they do it because you're actually working on your short game, even though you're not putting," said Keith Villmow of Glen Ellyn.
Several of the participants in early February were Mistwood members.
Mark Boykin, 58, of Joliet was one of them and said the dome -- which he gets free for the entire year -- was a big reason why he joined.
He also raved about the atmosphere at the golf course, which is in Romeoville.
"It's like going to Cheers," Boykin said. "When you come in the bar, everyone says, 'Hey, Mark!'
"I took some lessons and those were great. But even if you're just out there on the range and if I see (any of the pros), I'll say, 'Hey, take a look at this and tell me what you think.' And they take the time and work with you.
"I'll tell you what -- it's amazing. I only wish I would have found it 20 years ago when I started because I love it."