A beginner’s guide to joining a golf simulator league (according to a duo who run one)
The days are getting shorter and the nights longer. Temperatures are falling and so are the leaves. Our little corner of the universe approaches the most remote point of its apex around the sun. This is all just a fancy way of saying whether you like it or not, winter is coming.
But while the outdoor golf season is coming to a close for many across North America, golf simulator season is just beginning. All over the world, the simulator screens are lighting up like Christmas trees as leagues get underway, offering golfers a much-needed fix for the colder months ahead. But what if you’re still just simulator-curious? What if you’re worried you're too bad or too old or too anti-social to join a league? Then keep reading.
We sat down with Mary Aldon and Nick Teodosio, owners of Brooklyn Greens—a hip golf haven in the heart of East Williamsburg—to explain everything you need to know, from formats to handicaps to commitment to cost. As you’ll see, it’s (mostly) the same game you know and love, just a heck of a lot warmer.
OK, so what are we playing and how are we playing it?
Good question. It also happens to have hundreds of answers. Some simulator leagues may be singles competitions, some may be teams. Some are stroke play, some are match play. Some play best ball, some play scrambles. You get the idea. The best way to figure out what you're getting into is to talk to your league organizer and see what they use, but the vast majority of leagues use familiar golf formats with slight deviations.
Mary Aldon and Nick Teodosio, co-owners of Brooklyn Greens. Photo by Taylor Dekker.
Brooklyn Greens' winter league, for instance, is a season-long team competition between teams of four. For the first few weeks of the regular season, the teams play a best-ball stroke-play format.
“We take only the best score of the foursome and that’s your score that week … So it’s really low pressure but you’re playing your own ball and putting up your own score,” Teodosio explains.
To keep things interesting as the season progresses they also mix in a handful of scramble weeks. Teams are then assigned championship points for each week based on their score that week (12 points for the top score that week in a 12-team league, 11 points for second and so on). For the playoffs, the format transitions to head-to-head team match-play, with teams facing each other in knockout rounds based on seeding from their regular season point totals. It all culminates with a final showdown between the last two teams standing.
“We try to promote it (the final) and get people to come and watch. We usually have a crowd,” Teodosio says.
A crowd!?!? Don't panic, folks. This may not be exactly what your local league looks like. With a little luck, you can continue hacking away in complete anonymity, but the way Brooklyn Greens structures its league offers a little taste of everything you might encounter on your simulator journey.
Do I need four whole adult friends to form a team or can I show up and make some new ones?
It’s one thing to carve out a couple hours for yourself on a weeknight, it’s another thing entirely for three of your friends to be able to do the same thing at the same time every week for a couple months. Thankfully most simulator leagues understand that life is busy and sh*t happens, and strive to offer flexibility. A league won’t last if no one can play, after all.
At Brooklyn Greens, each team signs up for a two-hour weekly standing tee time at the start of the regular season, but it’s by no means set in stone.
A league night at Brooklyn Greens. Photo by Anthony Sampogna.
“We have teams that play on Sunday mornings because they want to watch football afterwards or people that come Friday at 4 p.m. because summer Friday is all year long,” Aldon explains. “But we are super flexible. We want you to play in the season and make the playoffs … If we have to stretch it out, we will … We also have a whole list of players that want to do the league but can’t commit full-time. Every week we have somebody saying ‘hey, we need a sub for our team’ and in five minutes I can find somebody to join in and play.”
Assembling the Avengers might be easier than finding four grown ups with free time to spare, however, so many some leagues also offer individual or pair formats. Brooklyn Greens eases the burden by allowing individuals to join the league. They then group those singles into teams of four based on scheduling availability, skill level and those all-important vibes.
“Those end up being some of the most successful teams,” Aldon says. “Often four individuals sign up that didn't know each other before but create this unique synergy around the fact that they are all dedicated golfers and they've now found their community.”
“Some break apart, and two guys stay together,” Teodosio elaborates. “Then that team shoots off, and forms another twosome. There’s also a lot of in-between season trading of players between teams as well.”
What about my handicap? I haven't really been keeping track of that.
Don’t worry too much about that. As most experienced simulator players will tell you, simulator handicap and actual handicap are two pretty different things. Many leagues will omit handicaps altogether to promote sign ups. Instead some use scramble formats and quota games (assigning points per birdie, bogey etc.) to work around the handicap, er, handicap.
Brooklyn Greens mixes these two approaches. They do run scramble weeks and the first week of the season is almost always best ball with only the best score on your team counting per hole, but they also use starting handicap as a basis and then painstakingly adjust for each player as the season progresses.
“It's a whole laborious process to do that but we think it's really important to use a net handicapped format because we have people who've never played golf before that come in for a lesson with me and I get them hooked and say 'why don't you join the league?'” Teodosio explains.
Simply put, if a simulator league isn’t accessible and inclusive, that defeats the whole point of a simulator league. With the right format, even beginning golfers who may not think they are “good enough” can contribute in meaningful ways to their team’s success. We’ll avoid giving away any trade secrets, but Nick says they’ve noticed a direct correlation between teams with mixed skill levels and teams that win championships. In other words, don’t be intimidated if your local league is asking for your handicap — in fact, you may prove to be your team’s secret weapon.
Couple tees off at Brooklyn Greens. Photo by Taylor Dekker.
What are the vibes? I really don’t want my Tuesday nights to feel like Vijay’s Golf Boot Camp
Mileage will vary, but simulator golf is generally less intense than the traditional golf experience, which can feel like two entirely different sports depending on whether you’re playing a local muny or accepting an invite to a co-worker’s private club. Expect atmosphere and etiquette to be a little looser around the collar. Don’t worry about that hoodie or joggers unless the simulator room is located at a club with a clearly stated dress code. You’ll want to be friendly, on time and read the room carefully before unleashing any F-bombs, but that shouldn’t be too different than any public setting, golf or no golf.
“We have our hardcore ‘franchises’ — when they walk in it’s all business. A lot of teams even make their own merch ... then there's teams that do a lot of drinking while they play. There's a wide range,” Teodosio says of an average league night at Brooklyn Greens. “In general, everyone’s very inviting," Aldon continues."But when we get into the last couple weeks of the season, that’s when things start to heat up and the energy gets more competitive. But by then the beginners are used to it because it all feels chill in the beginning."
Oh, and speaking of drinking, you’re probably wondering about that. Again, expect the alcohol consumption to be roughly on par with a round in the real world. Some will drink, some won’t. The only thing you don’t want to do is be the one who drinks too much. Brooklyn Greens offers a bar stocked with seltzers and local craft beers (breweries like Interboro, Grimm and KCBC are all just down the street) and have begun serving world-famous Roberta’s pizza in addition to King David’s breakfast tacos and, of course, hot dogs. Simulator chain Five Iron Golf, with 19 locations from Seattle to Boston, also boasts a full kitchen and bar. If your league is happening in a simulator bay down at your local club, just reach out and ask if it’s OK to bring your own six pack and snacks or if they’ll have refreshments available on site.
Other amenities at Brooklyn Greens that you may find elsewhere include a fleet of flatscreen TVs so you can keep an eye on your fantasy team while playing for your other fantasy team, a pro shop and even bag storage for those who don’t want to lug their clubs on the L train every week. Of course if you live somewhere with these crazy things called parking lots, that's less of an issue.
This will be over by the Masters ... right??
Just about. It depends how flexible the league is with rescheduling and how committed the players are to making their weekly tee times work. If your league includes head-to-head matches where both teams need to be present at the same time, things may take a little longer to get scheduled, but generally speaking simulator golf season wraps right around the time real golf season begins. For instance, Brooklyn Greens’ winter league begins in mid-January. That includes a 10-week regular season plus playoffs, which generally take a few weeks to be scheduled and completed. We'll let you ANGC-aholics crunch the numbers on that.
League championship trophy on display at Brooklyn Greens. Photo by Taylor Dekker.
OK, and what do I owe?
Right. Simulators use electricity, electricity doesn’t grow on trees. Just ask your dad. Brooklyn Greens' "Earliest Bird" winter enrollment period is now open and runs through the end of November. It costs $350 per individual or $1400 per team and includes one free sim hour per golfer, one team or individual lesson and season-long bag storage. Rates increase to $375/$1500 in December and $400/$1600 in January. Expect a little more or a little less depending on your league and the amenities on offer, but Aldon believes the price buys you a heck of a lot more than simulator hours.
“We have golfers that become regulars, but not just to golf. They come and work at 8 a.m. and take their meetings in our cafe or in the garden. They come to our comedy shows and come to our dinners like we had last night.
A lot of people throw around words like ‘community’ and ‘accessibility,’ but I think everything that we do is with the intention of making it a one-stop shop in the neighborhood so you feel home when you walk in.
People can come and meet one another, meet their friends, their family, and we have events for all of those things, including their kids. The league is the regular ritual for our players, but it extends into all the other aspects of their life.”