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Grouchy Golf Blog

Sunday, June 04, 2006 at 10:42 AM

Avoid Golf on a Driving Range Mat!

When I first started playing golf, there were no grass driving ranges in my area. By default, I was forced to practice on artificial grass range mats. Not knowing any better, I believed that they were just as good as the real thing. Boy was I wrong. Indeed, I became pretty proficient hitting golf balls off padded Astro Turf. But that's a lot like saying you can fly a plane well after only piloting a video flight simulator.

While hitting a teed ball off range mats doesn't pose a problem, hitting unteed balls off range mats can adversely affect your swing. The main problem with range mats is that they don't allow you to take divots. When an iron impacts real grass, it digs in and scoops out a chunk of turf leaving the so-called divot. When this happens in relation to contact with the golf ball is all the difference with iron ball-striking. When hit properly, the iron contacts the ball before it impacts with the turf. If the iron hits the turf before the ball, the turf will interfere with the iron on ball contact resulting in the so-called "fat" shot (see picture). Besides the dreaded , the fat shot is the ugliest shot in golf. Laying sod is for landscaping your yard, not for hitting a golf ball.

Practicing on real turf gives you the necessary feedback to learn . Hit a fat shot on real turf, and the ball behaves just like it does on the golf course - it goes nowhere. The beauty is knowing that you must have done something incorrectly to produce such a poor result. However, a fat shot on a range mat will likely produce a somewhat acceptable result. How do you improve if you don't know when you are doing something wrong?

Another problem with range mats is that they are unyielding to the impact from a properly struck iron. As a result, golfers may try to minimize contact with the mat, adversely affecting their swing. I certainly felt that extensive practice on range mats caused me to develop an overly shallow swing and become a "picker" of the golf ball. In other words, I was hitting the golf ball without taking a divot whatsoever.

While I don't think that there's anything significantly wrong with being a "picker", the margin for error is much less for a picker. Strike the ball one or two lower than normal on the clubface, and a picker will hit it thin. A steeper swing will forgive such faults.

Lastly, the firmness of mats may actually start to alter your clubs! If you have soft, forged irons, the constant pounding against a range mat could bend the club's lie angle. Be sure to have the lie angles of your forged irons checked if you've been hitting off a mat.

Thankfully my local course now has a full-time 100% real grass driving range. I realize that my extensive practice on range mats was not only largely fruitless, but also detrimental. I now refuse to practice on range mats, using them only to warm-up before a round in the absence of a grass range. As Cheech and Chong might say, "there's just no substitute for real grass."

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Anonymous The Golf Blogger said...

You're dead on with this one. I gave up range practice with irons a couple of years ago. Now, if I go to a range, its only to bomb my driver.  

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Blogger MCPO Airdale said...

All I got from practicing on those mats was a really sore elbow!  

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Blogger BoopBoopaDo said...

So where you playin' that you can hit on grass?  

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with your comments; certainly playing on a mat can let you get away with hitting the ball fat somewhat, and it can put you in a false sense of security. I also think that you can chase after a ball more aggresively on the mat, because of this 'larger margin for error'.

However, I believe that if you've been playing for a while you know simply by feel exactly where your club has struck the ground in realtion to the ball. But, like you, I personally will always favour the grass because you can get so much feedback from your divots with regard to your swing path which is not always obvious from the mats.  

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Anonymous Jeff said...

I agree %100. I'm not a fast learner like you and I learned to hit the ball fat after spending countless unproductive hours on range mats. They are a complete waste of time in my book.

Hitting off mats couldn't be more different than hitting off turf. I hit off mats a few weeks back and was reminded how much it screws my swing up when I moved to turf half way through my practice regimen.

No more mats!  

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Anonymous Brad Frenkington said...

Grouch,

Nice blog, but I think you and your brainless acolytes are absolutely wrong about mats. If you are a truly good golfer you should be able to play on any surface and adapt. The beauty of golf is that the terrain always changes and thus real students of the game like myself are forced to appreciate adaptation. These complaints about artificial mats sounds like a poor craftsman blaming his tools. I encourage all of you to really re-evalulate why you play this wonderful game. I think this will improve you game play.
B.B.B.F
Big Bad Brad Frenkington  

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Anonymous Christopher Fotos said...

Point taken, but most golfers simply don't have a choice, either because of the lack of availability of driving ranges with turf or the higher cost attached to it. Reminds me a little bit of Golf Channel tips about how to practice in the bunker.

Some plastic-matted areas do have a separate strip that has deeper brushes, and while still far short of turf these are definitely better than the hard mats.  

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Blogger Jat said...

Yeah, Brad's right. The last time I played on concrete I couldn't stop hitting it thin. Of course, I'm a real student of the game, so I'm heading out to my driveway right now to practice my chips.  

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Blogger Golf Grouch said...

BoopBoopaDo,
Here in the Pasadena, CA area there are several courses with grass ranges. Altadena is full-time, Brookside is part-time, and I believe Eaton Canyon is full-time.  

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Blogger JFB said...

GG, you're correct! I forgo practicing on a mat....you can forget hitting at a steep plane, and it teaches you to hit on a flatter plane.
If there are mats at the course I'm playing, I opt for stretching, and hitting short wedge-shots around the practice green.

Keep up the great blogging!  

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know. I've always been a shallow-divot type of player, so hitting off of mats doesn't bother me a bit. In fact, there are times, with certain swing issues that I'm working on, that I'd rather hit from mats.

The one thing I don't like mats for is hitting off of a tee. Those rubber tees are very rarely the height that I prefer. And even if one is, it's only good for a single club, like driver, but not 3-wood (which I practice because I hit a lot of fairway woods off the teebox).  

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Anonymous Jason said...

I live in Mequon, WI and there are a few ranges out here that have both turf and grass. I really don't like the turf at all. As you said it messes up your iron shot, plus I don't like hitting my driver off the cheap plastic tees in the turf.  

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Anonymous Tony said...

If you're at all in tune with your swing, you'll know when you've hit a fat shot off a mat. The ball might travel a ways, but the difference in feel becomes obvious.

I think for a decent golfer, it's better than nothing...and nothing is often the only other choice, unfortunately.  

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

What about Truestrike mats? Are they a good alternative to normal range mats? I live in South East Asia and there are probably more available tee-times in Augusta then there are practive ranges on Grass...  

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Anonymous Tony @ thegolfspace.com said...

I can't hit a bad shot off of those mats.. They're killer on the golfer's elbow too.

I'd rather NOT hit balls than use mats. They screw my game bad.  

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Blogger JonDG said...

This is in response to Brad Frenkinton's comment... What are you talking about? Not only are you are wrong, but Grouch's "brainless acolytes" are dead on. The terrain in golf does change, but never to artificial grass lying on concrete! It seems to me that a "real student" would quickly realize that trying to perfect their ball striking (and changing their swing to do so) on a surface that they will never see on a course to be counterproductive.
Not to mention what those mats do to your clubs- particularly those of us that use forged irons. If anyone actually likes hitting off those awful things then by all means go for it, but don't forget to get your clubs checked out regularly. Before you know it you'll have adapted your swing to Astro-Turf and busted clubs.  

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Anonymous Jo said...

That's soooo true. The contact feels weird cuz I can't take a divot. Anyway, i wanted to ask if a home putting mat will improve putting? Or should I make the trip to the club instead to practice on their greens?  

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Blogger Golf Grouch said...

Jo, a home putting matt will improve your putting. However, a real putting green will teach you how to read greens and understand the nuances of speed. As always, there's nothing like the real thing...  

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Anonymous Pinhi said...

I really feel sorry for all of you who have an issue with hitting golf balls off the atificial mats. I can agree and have experienced with alot of your issues on the mats. I've been playing golf now for 12 years and am a completly self- taught sucess. This is not rocket science. Believe me cause I've done that also, and it's a lot harder than hitting a little ol golf ball. Currently I am a sratch golfer and getting better everyday. This all due to the countless hours of practice, and relocating to L.A. Yes It is much better to hit balls off real grass, the feedback is unmeasurable. If you know what you are looking for. Hitting golf balls off the artificial mats have alot to offer also. Mainly repetition of ball striking.
You all know what that perfect shot feels like. You've all done it before or you wouldn't be out looking for more. Hitting the sweet spot feels ssoooo good, you hardly felt anything, and you swing was so effertless. Not to mention the results were excatly what you envisioned.
The point I'm try to get to is, The next time you hit that puuurfect shot. Record it your brian, take a really good look at what just happened. Be aware of what, where & why this just happened. Your mind & body will tell you what, where, & why. Your hands, feet, arms, weight, balance all have a job to do during the swing. Pay attention and you will eventually start striking the little ball first. So stop the worry about what your hittin golf balls off of, Mats or real grass. As far as I'm concerned we all use to many excuses already. The fact that you can't hit the ball correctly, is not because of mats vs grass. It's because your not hiting the ball first. In every shot you need to hit the ball first except in the trap of coarse (that's another day). If you can hit the ball first then it really shouldn't matter what the ball lie is. Plastic mats, real grass, concrete cartpath, sage brush 6" off the ground, Whatever!!!! Stop thinking about it and just hit the ball first.  

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Blogger Sam said...

As a beginner most of my practice time has to be spent hitting balls from mats (that's all we have in the ranges round here). My swing has come on a treat, so mats are definitely useful. If I had grass that would be great, but choosing between mats and nothing I'll choose mats every time.  

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

For the past two years my only golfing outlet has been a large bucket of balls off the mat, 2 or 3 times per month.

I finally got to play 9 holes on a very nice course several weeks ago. My ball striking was excellent, not one fat or thin shot. I hit 6 of 9 greens in regulation....Robert  

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm ok with using a mat to loosen up prior to a round of golf. What I am NOT OK about is getting the green plastic off the bottom of my clubs. Any suggestions on removing the plastic beside playing it off? Thanks....Tony C  

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can someome please advise me on something I was told when I was first learning golf, I was told not to use my woods on the driving range as this will damage them from the over use or something along those lines, i should only use irons and substitute my primary woods for a practice set. I;m most likely sounding like a dumbass here but want to know as i am starting to get back into my golf and definetly need the practice without butchering everyone on the golf course. thaks  

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Blogger Golf Grouch said...

Anonymous,

The newer titanium drivers with thin faces may weaken over time, but I don't think that range balls are any worse in this regard than regular balls. The only times that I've heard not to use woods at a driving range are when the range is short and woods would carry balls over the net.

I would recommend using your woods at the range if they allow it. It's important to practice with the woods that you play on the course. If your woods do break, virtually all manufacturers will replace them free of charge.  

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I hit off of mats I tee the ball up regardless of what club I'm using, including irons. For the irons, I use a tee that is probably only 1/8th of an inch above the top of the mat surface. This allows me to hit down on the ball without as much resistance in the post-ball divot zone. I swiped a half-a-dozen rubber tees from my local range and then cut them all down to various sizes about 1/8th of an inch apart. This way I have one to suit every club in the bag. Works great for me.  

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Big Bad Brad Frenkington is pretty much a redneck. He is pulling everyones chain with his "I know better than everyone else" attitude. kind of humorous really. But just in case he is serious, I just want to say ...You are a donkey Frenkington!!!!!
I wish I could get back the three minutes I lost writing this response. Damn you frenkington,You got me, damn you!!  

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm 50 been playing for 38 years.
Never even thought about the mats being a problem.
A divot is taken after contact with the ball. So it should not have any effect on your ball striking. A mat is more forgiving than hard ground. If the mats are installed properly with padding under the turf it should be a non issue. If you are hurting your elbow you may have too steep of a swing. I've worked in the golf business
as a greens keeper for 20 years. And I'd rather see you weekly hacks hitting off mats than tearing up my range. You sound just like my inconsiderate Members. wawawa. Come on down to Texas and play on some hardpan you bunch of cry babies. When some of you chumps are on the grass you just tear it up so bad practicing your crummy steep swing over and over and over. Learn how to hit the ball not make divots. Why is it you never fix your divots?
Or ball marks on greens. Cause your careless and self centered. I don't like most people that try to play golf for those issues alone. Try growing in some grass then see if you want to tear it up. If mats are a problem for you work on ball striking, it's that simple. Find something else to whine about.  

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

i don't think anyone was whining. It's a discussion of the pros and cons of hitting off mats. If anyone is whining it's you (greenskeeper above me).  

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Blogger H said...

You cannot compare the two. Any real golfer knows the turf is the worst thing ever. Most Mat range junkies struggle with the real thing. Mats take away extreme distance also. You can get on it with grass. Mats cause injuries and a false since of security. Mats stay away.  

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you have it backwards. The problem lies with the course and all their fancy “real grass”. I believe they should pull up all that inconsistent crap and replace the whole thing with Astroturf. Let’s make the game fun for the average Joe.  

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Heh I agree, mats suck but in a pinch have to do once in awhile before a round.

I find it entertaining that Adsense picked an ad for golf astro turf at the top of the blog. :-)  

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a New England operator of a driving range and a low handicap golfer I agree that hitting off of fairway quality grass is great. Unfortunately it is unrealistic given the costs and difficulty in maintaining a grass hitting area. Modern driving range mats have come a long way in their ability to mimic the feel of grass. It's really simple, most players should invest in lessons to fully understand the golf swing and the dynamics of hitting the ball prior to making contact with the turf.  

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mostly good comments here. I spent my first 2 years hitting the ball extremely fat off of mats. I suffered from pretty bad elbow problems from this, but in fairness, if you can't make ball-first contact, you're risking injury no matter what you're hitting off of.
I think the reasonable consensus here is that of course grass is superior, but a modern (plush) mat is often all that's available.
For all you fellow hackers, be careful if you're hitting it fat a lot and try to take at least one lesson with a pro so you can get on track towards ball first contact, otherwise you may be looking at elbow and/or shoulder problems.

And finally, to everybody (including myself!) - stop swinging out of your shoes. 80% swing speed with stable feet will get you a long way towards a better swing. It isn't easy to do - lord knows - but just try to think "smooth acceleration" not "rip it 700 yards".
Love this game - hit `em straight!  

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Anonymous Jim said...

Well said Pinhi, totally agree.

Prefer grass but a lot to learn from mats, and I have a steep swing.

I agree that mats can be wearing if the ball isn't hit right, but this becomes less of an issue as improvement is made.

Would be great if they could develop a more realistic grass mat.  

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

thats bull. ive practiced on mats my whole golf carrer (1 year). and im consistently shooting low fortys. yea grass is better but lets be realistic. if its not available who cares. and even if it is i would say there is no difference. if you hit the ball solid and correct each time the divot will be AFTER the ball. just because you hit the ball CORRECT on a mat dosent mean its horrible. whatever happens after the ball is it has no meaning really. so if i hit a great shot on a mat who cares if i dont have a divot becaause i know i would have one if i hit the shot in the grass.  

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I understand divots are important part of golf swing, and I get that there is real thing is always better. But there isnt a grass range within a reasonable distance for me, so I hack on artificial mats.
I try to focus on balance through-out the swing and concentrate on making solid contact with the ball. I dont buy jumbo baskets anymore because after awhile my elbow starts to flare up. Swing just enought to wake my golf muscles. I will move West or South after I retire and practice on grass range. only 30 more years to go.  

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Anonymous lisa_tedsturf said...

Hi Im Lisa, from Rancho Santa Margarita, near Mission Viejo. I am not against the use of natural grass but I just want to add the benefit of Artificial grass, unlike natural grass that must be watered regularly, requiring costly sprinkler systems, artificial grass maintains itself with its internal drainage systems. Cities and school districts will also save money on water and power expenses, as well as conserving precious environmental resources. Artificial turf/grass has various texture or type to offer. Thanks and blessings!  

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Blogger Aussie Math said...

Well i read these comments because this a concern of mine, 40yo very new to golf(7 months)and a sore elbow, i practice at least twice a week and do 18 at least once a week usually twice, loving it, Except,i find myself saying so often durin a game"why on earth cant i hit the balls whilst im playing a game as well as i do on the range mats" (my local course has a grass d/range for the w/end but must use mats durin the week)too many Hackers i guess,ha ha, i can talk,any way, today i was hitting my new ping G20-5 iron off the mats beautifully(oh i forgot to mention i have pro lessons every fortnight)well i deceided to test myself and had 1 shot off the grass in front of me, it was shocking, dug it up like a bulldozer just like durin a game so i had a shot off the mat again, same grip, same everything, 160yards(about my max at the moment) beautiful and straight,so, back to the grass i went and you know what im going to say, i felt like quitting golf,
Im convinced there is absolutely no comparison between astro turf and grass, i will now travel 20kms twice a week to the nearest course with a grass only driving range.  

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Anonymous Joe said...

Wow, I found your article cuz i was looking for info on how to get that green astroturf crud off my clubs. Now, after reading your article it makes so much sense-- especially being a 'picker'. I became so conscious of trying to not hit the mat-- to avoid said green crud on my clubs-- that I'm sure it is affecting my swing. Never again. Thanks!  

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

100% agreed with Grouchy & Aussie Math. Especially if you are a beginner. Total rookie here, 3 months in. Taking pro lessons at a turf range, if I practise afterwards, I hit very well.

Then over weekends I go practise at my local grass range. Total opposite. Fat shots, topping the ball, its all over. Back at turf range and all is well again.

From now on, I practise on grass only. Till I have my swing consistency up and get relative distance.

For beginners, the mats are killers. And the worst it most beginners will not realise this, till they hit the course.

Thanks for info!  

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Golf mats are nice for hitting drivers; that's about it.
Take your short game practiced on the mat to the course and you will definitely see a huge difference.
I think most people are hackers because most can't afford to play every day and get a feeling for what it is to play golf; which is a lot different than hitting balls for hours on end.  

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Blogger ron janus said...

In reference to the arguments on the subject of artificial golf mats verses real grass on a golf range, has nay one heard of the OASIS GOLF MAT? MAYBE IT'S TIME!  

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

The pros to hitting off of mats are that you always have a great level area to put your feet and a consistent god lie. The new plush mats don't leave that plastic residue on your clubs. Sure you can get away with fat shot on mats, but if that is what your working on put a penny down behind the ball. Thats how i see if im striking it solid.
I'd rather hit off of grass but most grass ranges in my area are poorly maintained. They don't fill the divots so when I take my stance, one foot is in a 3 inch trench and one ankle is twisting in one direction or another.
Both have its pros and cons but I believe you can have good practice sessions and learn to hit it solid on mats as well as grass.  

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