Before leaving Belfast there was one more golfing avenue to explore. Citigolf, a virtual golfing complex, lies in the heart of Belfast and with my flight leaving in the evening, I had time to investigate.
For those of you who, like me, are new to virtual golf here as they say in the shampoo commercials, is the science. The ball is struck off a mat not dissimilar to one you?d find at a driving range, except for a series of sensors fanning out in a 45 degree arc from where the ball is placed. There are further sensors positioned on the walls either side of the bay. These measure club head speed, ball speed, flight, and distance. Also the clubs swing path and the angle of the face at impact. In front of you is a giant canvas screen with a projected image of a golf hole. From the point where the ball strikes the screen a virtual ball continues on the same flight path. You can choose between 50 championship courses to play or simply practise on the driving range.
So yes, you can tell why you hook or slice the ball. Yes it?s brilliant for finding your distances for each club. And yes it?s a fantastic way to introduce kids to the game of golf. But better than all this you don?t have to carry your clubs, you don?t have to walk to your ball and there?s a fully stocked bar within 4 yards of every part of the course.
Usually, due to his professionalism and dedication to his craft, the actor must forgo the traditional post-round pint to keep a clear head for that evenings show. (I?ve a hard enough time remembering my lines when I?m sober.) Today however no show, merely an hour?s flight, meant that I could enjoy a pint of the black stuff without fear of retribution.
So there I was warming up on the virtual driving range, drinking a very real pint of Guinness, when out of the corner of my eye I caught the man in the next bay staring at me. It was a little disconcerting and I was about to say something when he approached with a big smile on his face. ?Excuse me? he said ?Are you that Billy Flynn fella from Chicago?? My ego inflated. ?Yes, yes I am? I replied. ?I thought you were? he said ?though I couldn?t be sure, you look so much taller on stage.? Ego punctured.
He introduced himself as Paddy (I know, what are the chances in Ireland?) He was a huge fan of the show and asked would I like to join him in a game. Always preferring to play a round, even a virtual one, with a partner, I accepted the invitation. We decided on Spyglass Hills as our battle ground, with a fiver thrown in to add a bit of spice. Paddy, playing off 18, received 11 shots.
The first is a stunning par-4 sloped down to the ocean. Trying a little too hard I hooked my opening drive in to the thick stuff. Paddy insisted I take a mulligan and, by pressing the button marked mulligan, the quacker was erased. My second drive (isn?t it always the way) found the fairway. I was rather pleased when Paddy sliced his opener in to the trees and I was able to return the favour of the mulligan. We decided they would be our last.
After parring the short 3rd and the stunning par-4 4th, the sea flanking the entire hole down the left, I found myself two up. I sent a good drive down the 5th fairway and went to get the drinks in. My return was greeted by Paddy?s broad grin and his ball lying 4 feet from the pin for a gimme 3 net 2. Needless to say I failed to hole my second shot for the half.
The second pint sent me heading for the virtual trees, a proper bathroom. Again I returned to Paddy?s smiling face, again I lost the hole. The more we drank the more I visited the virtual bush, the better Paddy played.
Paddy closed out the match 3 and 2. I was well and truly stuffed and the fiver was duly handed over. It had been a real pleasure, great fun. We shook hands and by the time I?d called a taxi he?d left.
I asked for a print out of the game to occupy me on the journey to the airport. Whilst studying it, in the taxi, I noticed something rather odd. The last column was headed Mulligans. By my name was the figure 1, by Paddy?s name was the figure 27. Cunning.
As for virtual golf? Well it?s not the real thing, but I loved it. If it?s pouring outside or you?re pushed for time you can?t beat it, and how else could I get to play Spyglass Hills and make it back for curtain up? It?s a computer game for grown ups and I will certainly have another go. But next time I?ll get my opponent to buy the drinks, and I?ll wear a colostomy bag.
In last weeks blog I intimated that Bernard Darwin was maybe a superior golf writer to Bill Elliot. I must apologise to Bill as every one knows that there are two t?s in Elliott.
If anyone has found my swing could they please return it ASAP. It was lost somewhere between Belfast and Bristol. It is of enormous sentimental value, and answers to the name of Gentle Fade. Although I?m very grateful to my 9-month old daughter for loaning me hers, I really would like mine back.