PITTSBURGH — The western Pennsylvania golf scene is chock full of options, but there’s an eye-of-the-storm effect for urbanites.
Generally, the closer you get to the city center, the farther you get from teeing it up.
Sure, there are a couple of old public classics — Grand View in Braddock Hills and the Bob O’Connor in Schenley Park — but beyond those, there’s almost nothing but country clubs until you venture well out into the ‘burbs.
But as of this year, there’s a solution in the Strip District.
Located in the revamped produce terminal building on Smallman Street, OnPar Now aims to make a mark in a market that’s relatively untapped. It’s certainly not only for city dwellers who would love to avoid a long drive (or bus ride) to get their golf fix, but it’s a godsend for that particular demographic.
And considering our region’s unreliable golf climate, staking claim to the great indoors might be the best possible investment for founder/CEO Jan Receski.
Case in point: On the late-April day that photographer Mike Darnay and I made our visit, snow flurries were riding the breeze. Talk about a great advertisement for the merits of a Plan B.
Actually, with how comprehensive this facility is, this could easily be your Plan A.
Start with the centerpieces of OnPar Now, four simulator bays outfitted with top-of-the-line TrackMan launch monitors.
In addition to being available for rent on an hourly basis — with 92 worldwide courses available for play — teaching professional and certified master club-fitter Rhiannon Ray puts the tech to use at her own indoor lesson tee.
Take it from someone who stopped in for an hourlong lesson with Ray. While most simulators offer launch basics like speed, spin and trajectory, the über-accurate TrackMan also detects many more data points — like the exact place on the club face where the ball makes contact.
That’s extremely helpful when you continue to heel-pull your driver. Just as a random example.
But the launch monitors are just the beginning. The most awestruck I got during our visit was when I sampled the adjustable PuttView putting green.
That’s right, I said adjustable.
Using a tablet screen on the wall, you can dial in any undulation or slope you desire, along with the ideal line of the putt projected onto the surface from above.
When I say Receski spared no expense, the putting green is what I’m talking about the most. Space-age is the only way to describe it. It’s a true differentiator in the practice facility market.
Speaking of differentiating features, adjacent to the entrance lies a sand bunker as part of a larger short-game area. So the three main areas of golf — ball-striking, putting and scrambling — are all covered under one roof.
You know what, though? It feels reductive to focus on all the eye-grabbing toys when that’s not the first thing that stood out to me when I walked inside.
OnPar Now’s white-and-gray interior colorway, splashed with natural light from above, is meant to stimulate a sense of openness. Receski’s mission paints within those lines, as she wants to use this platform to put her finger on a scale that has all too often held women “outside the circle,” to use her words.
Here’s much more on that:
Heady stuff, for sure, but refreshing in a golf industry that is still figuring out how to market to women and girls without being patronizing.
It’s that angle, along with the top-of-the-line tech, that gives OnPar Now a chance to plant its flag before any potential competitors get off the ground.
And make no mistake, this sort of all-season facility appears to be where golf is going. Playing Oakmont on a simulator isn’t the same as playing it for real … but might it be better than playing one of your well-worn local haunts?
For some people, that answer could be yes, at least once in a while.
More to the point, if you’re into maximizing your time holding a club — and as a dad of two little boys, my hand is raised — then maybe getting super-specific feedback on the state of your game over the course of an hour is preferable to a casual round that consumes most of your day.
For me, having fun is often directly proportional to the sensation of getting better. When I’m driving more than an hour round-trip to and from the course, or waiting 15 minutes on the sixth tee, my mind often wanders to how I could be getting more out of the time I commit to golf.
And as much as I enjoy the old-school driving range experience, good luck figuring out how far your shots are actually traveling, what with reduced-flight balls and, this being Pittsburgh, hitting either way up a hill or way down one.
No such worries at a place like OnPar Now, which provides a blank canvas on which to paint your pictures. Whether those are Rembrandts or Pollocks doesn’t matter. This is about an alternative opportunity to play this game, regardless of who you are or where you live.
For all the wonderful communing with nature that traditional golf entails, for me the essence of the sport is figuring out how best to get the ball in the hole.
Under a roof within spitting distance of Downtown, OnPar Now is a spectacular setting for that quest.
Baseline rates for the facilities include $65 for an hour on the TrackMan simulator, $30 per half hour on the PuttView green, $25 for 30 minutes in the short-game area, $95 for a lesson with Ray, and $100 for a club-fitting. There are also numerous frequency packages available for some significant value.
Also worthy of mention: There’s an upstairs loft that’s available for rent, in addition to being the staging area for various golf fitness programs. Keep an eye on OnPar Now’s website and its social media channels (Facebook | Instagram) for programs like that, on top of group clinics and more.
Mention this review and the promo code PITTSBURGH GOLF NOW and receive 15 PERCENT OFF a one-hour lesson with Ray in the TrackMan bay.
Thanks to Receski, Ray and the rest of the OnPar Now staff for their hospitality.