A good workout spoiled
Sure, you're in shape, but is your workout helping your wedge shot? Visit the first fitness emporium exclusively for golfers.
By Tim Carvell, FORTUNE Magazine

(FORTUNE Magazine) - Like most people, I don't find it especially difficult to count the number of times in my life I've heard someone say, "If only there were a gym exclusively designed for golfers." It's pretty easy to count to zero.

And yet, seemingly unbidden, Drive 495, a gym for golfers, has opened its doors in downtown Manhattan. As a nongolfer (I've played twice in my life) I was skeptical about the concept.

To me, a golf gym seems - like Crystal Pepsi, the XFL, and Garfield 2: A Tale of Two Kitties - an unsought-after innovation. After all, if, as Twain had it, golf is a good walk spoiled, then working out at a golf gym is ... what? A good walk on a treadmill spoiled?

Nonetheless, I decided to visit the gym and test whether golf - a sport where paunchy 50-year-olds can still be champions - merits its own fitness center. The gym itself is easy to miss; it's tucked away in a Lower Manhattan office building, at 495 Broadway (hence the name).

As co-owner Don Saladino tells me, "We're not relying much on street traffic," which seems wise given that a membership costs $5,000 per year. That only includes introductory sessions with the golf pros and personal trainers - additional ones cost extra.

You can, however, buy an annual membership with unlimited training sessions for a mere $25,000. As Saladino says, with a touch of understatement, "Our target client is, in a word, successful."

Members get access to an enormous space filled with sleek equipment - treadmills and weight machines that are so clean and new you feel guilty for sweating on them. But the gym's main attraction are three simulated driving ranges, where the gym's golf pros give lessons and suggest exercises tailored to one's weak spots.

While waiting for my lesson (the pro is finishing up with a local morning newscaster), I hit a few practice balls with an eight-iron. One of the gym's members comes by and casually mentions that he recently played Pebble Beach.

It's that kind of place. I continue hacking away on the virtual fairway, which, disconcertingly, even features the sound of virtual birds singing their virtual birdsong in the virtual trees. After each stroke, a readout pops up onscreen, giving me the mileage and distance stats.

It's an ugly series of hits: 50 yards to the far left, 60 yards to the right, five yards sideways into a wall - an actual wall, not a virtual one. And with that, it's time for a session with one of the range's pros, Pedro Benenati.

Benenati has a soft Argentine accent and a diplomatic manner, which comes in handy over the next hour as he analyzes my jagged swing and nonexistent form. He finally resorts to shortening my backswing, telling me, "Like a baby who's crawling, you're not going to sprint - first, you need to learn how to walk." (It is to Benenati's credit that he makes this sound far less humiliating than it reads on paper.)

By the end of the lesson I'm hitting the ball 90 to 100 yards, and every once in a while it even goes straight down the fairway. As the lesson winds down, Benenati zeroes in on my abysmal failure to move my hips - and suggests I work on training my hip and lower-back muscles.

In theory, I would go work out with a personal trainer downstairs, come back to work with Pedro, and repeat this until I'd chipped away at my handicap. In practice, I would first need to obtain some fundamentals, like a set of clubs, a country club membership, and a passion for golf.

So, what to make of Drive 495? It's certainly a welcome change to work out at a gym while wearing khakis, and in the course of just one session, my golf game did improve - if only from "nonexistent" to "almost nonexistent."

Mr. Pebble Beach bragged that it took four strokes off his game in five weeks. So let's put it this way: There are two possible reactions to that news. Either (a) "So?" or (b) "Four strokes? That's certainly worth the price of a new compact car!"

For those who went with option (a): See you at the miniature golf course. And for those who had response (b), you'll be happy to know that the gym's contact info is about to appear in italics. Drive 495, 495 Broadway, (212) 334-9537.

Tim Carvell is a writer at The Daily Show With Jon Stewart. Top of page