I am a fairly typical golfer in lots of ways. Although I spend a lot of time researching and writing about golf, I don’t actually get to the course as often as I would like. Even in season, I might not actually hit a club in anger for two weeks. This can make my swing a little rusty and my ball-striking……well, “inconsistent” is probably the kindest word!
This means that I love anything that can help me get a bit of practice in at home. I have given a fair bit of thought to putting as I explained here. But how can I improve my full swing without getting to the course? With The Net Return practice net, I think I may actually have found the answer.
I have long been a fan of keeping my clubs in the corner and regularly take out a six iron or whatever and take a few swings. Apart from the fact my wife often risks life and limb as she crosses the living room, this isn’t the best solution. It keeps the swing more or less working, but I never actually hit a ball and certainly don’t want to risk smashing the club into the floor! Single length irons might give me fewer swings to practice, but I still need to grove this one swing!
The Problems of Practising Golf at Home
I might take a few foam balls out into the garden and hit them, but even that isn’t great. firstly, it gets a bit embarrassing popping round to ask the neighbor for my balls back and secondly, I don’t really have any idea how I’m hitting the ball. The foam ball feels the same whether you get it out of the center of the club or right off the toe. Also, although I am thoroughly addicted to golf, I don’t go as far as hitting practice balls in the rain!
So the only solution seems to be having a way of hitting real balls away from the course. Preferably with a system that lets me do this both inside and out without putting my wife or the neighbors in mortal peril!
Hitting a ball into a net isn’t a new answer to this. There are lots of golf ball driving nets out there.The problem has always been finding something that actually works well enough to trust. I have tried a few possibilities over the years and never really found something that entirely satisfied me. Fortunately, I think that has changed.
Introducing the Net Return
A good practice net needs to tick a few boxes. The biggest one by far is safety. If there is any danger of a ball going through, it is no good for me, especially for an indoor hitting net. when you see the Net Return in person, you realize why this should never be problem. The company sets a lot of store by the fact the their product is made in the USA.
I don’t know if this is the reason for the evident high quality, but it does, without doubt, have a really solid feel to it. My driver swing speed is about 105 mph when I am swinging hard and I was feeling a bit concerned that even this might be a bit too much for a net, even though it is far from excessive. After a bit of research, I found quite a few people hitting driver into it at well over 110 and sometimes nearer to 120 mph (which is very high speed for most mortals) without any problem, so my slightly-quicker-than-average should be fine.
I am a bit ashamed to admit this, but I am also a little bit lazy! (sorry) When I saw the claim that this particular practice net will actually return my ball, I have to admit, I was tempted. It just sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it?
Being a cynical guy (not really!) I wanted to find out if this really worked as advertised. Amazingly enough, the feedback generally says yes. a well struck shot into the net comes back pretty much to the point of impact. This is due to a combination of the material and the form of the cage itself which actually looks more like an s when seen from the side. The ball rolls down the net when it strikes and then rolls back along the floor to your feet.
Now, this isn’t magic, but it does seem to do the job most of time and leaves the ball close enough for you to scoop it towards you with a club. Of course, if you thin it into the bottom of the net, don’t count on it coming back! I suppose that is a pretty good lesson of itself, isn’t it?
How Much space do You Need?
This clever design actually does more than return the ball though. It is a genuine space saver. As someone who has tried various set -ups over the years to practice at home, generally you are going to need a pretty big footprint to ensure safe, comfortable practice. This means that it can be limited to the outdoors where you can find a bit of room to set everything up.
There is certainly nothing wrong with this and I have spent plenty of warm Summer evenings whacking a ball into a home-made set up outside. But the key thing here, is “warm Summer evenings”-Often, I would rather try to play a few holes on the course at this time of year anyway. What I really want is a way of keeping my swing grooved through the Winter months or making the most of those rainy days.
So whilst the Net Return will obviously set up in a garden, is it possible to use it in a garage, say, or even in the living room? Actually, yes. The whole system is surprising shallow, front to back.
How Do you Set it Up?
The set up is actually very easy. Everything arrives a big canvas bag which is fine for storage when you are not going to be using it for a bit. The instructions are clear and all the poles are color-coordinated anyway. There really aren’t a huge number of parts and just seeing the picture should make it fairly easy to put everything together. It isn’t like making an Ikea wardrobe where you always have that one piece left over and you are wondering just how important it might have been!
So are there any downsides here? Actually, there are a couple of things to think about. These aren’t really specific to the Net Return Multi Sports Net, but really apply to any indoor hitting set up (or even an outdoor home driving range.) The first one is self-evident. If you pipe one, you might well be in trouble.
Yes, this isn’t shank proof (what is?) If the ball heads off at 90°, it is almost certainly going to miss the net and could clearly do some damage. This doesn’t mean you can’t pull, push, fat, thin, slice, hook and whatever else to your heart’s content. These are generally starting off relatively straight, even if they would finish two fairways across! However, a true hosel rocket is trouble.
I have a work around for this because, like many, I am prone to the occasional appearance of the dreaded shank. It simply involves putting a barrier slightly in front and to the right (for a right-handed golfer). This could be another net, a towel or whatever. It is also a good idea to move close to the net to give yourself more of a margin of error. Of course, if you don’t suffer from this, firstly I hate you and secondly you are fine with the basic set up.
The second issue is what to hit off. If you are in the garden , you can hit off grass, but even then you might want to think about protecting it because it can quickly get very beaten up if you are taking any sort of divot.
Of course, indoors, you are going to need a mat. I have used carpet for this in the past, but it isn’t the best solution. You can still leaves marks on the floor, it really isn’t like playing on the course and it also takes it toll on your elbows, wrists and back.
If you want to get the most out of this net, I would strongly advise buying a quality mat too. don’t get something that will hinder your progress. There are some excellent models that are basically like hitting off real turf and you will know when you are hitting it fat or thin, for example.
However, if you want to have the ultimate home golf experience, a combination of this net, a really good mat and a simulator means that you might never actually go to the course again!