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Golf simulators bring PGA entertainment to Ferg’s

Mark Parker



Jeff Brewer tees up on one of Ferg's Sports Bar and Grill's new golf simulators. Photos by Mark Parker.

Mark Ferguson, owner of Ferg’s Sports Bar and Grill, said he scoffed when his son suggested they incorporate baseball batting cages into a venue already brimming with entertainment options.

However, Jake Ferguson, the St. Petersburg restaurant’s general manager, was referring to immersive golf simulators that feature 12 other interactive games. The father-son duo soon incorporated two Professional Golf Association (PGA) Tour-licensed simulators endorsed by Tiger Woods into an underused space.

Upstairs rooms typically reserved for private parties and overflow seating during Tampa Bay Rays home games became Ferg’s 19th Hole Clubhouse in July. A PGA-sanctioned virtual league is in its second week, and the On the Tee radio show broadcasts live at the facility every Thursday from 5 to 7 p.m.

“We think it’s a great idea,” said Mark Ferguson. “And upstairs has always been like an afterthought for us. We thought if we put them up there, it would drive business day and night up there.”

A PGA-sanctioned virtual golf league will expand this fall.

He said business in that section of the expansive complex is already improving. The two simulators were free until Aug. 1, and a link to reserve bays hourly is now online. PGA licensing means customers can practice their drive or play 18 holes at the world’s most celebrated courses.

Ferg’s provides clubs, balls and tees, and guests can bring their own equipment. They set up on a piece of artificial turf and launch balls at an expansive screen. Full Swing is the company behind the simulators, which cost around $50,000.

High-speed cameras equipped with infrared tracking technology analyze swings and measure ball speed, distance, spin rates and other data. When asked if he is now happy that his son pushed for the new additions, Ferguson said, “Yes, very much so.”

“It’s a lot better for corporate parties and team building,” he added. “Golf has really taken off since the pandemic, and everybody wants to be outside, but it’s so fricking hot out. I think they’ll be very happy to be in the air conditioning hitting golf balls and having a drink.”

PGA professional John Reger is one of On the Tee’s radio hosts and oversees the virtual league. While it is too late to register, he is already preparing for a second season in four or five weeks.

He noted that PGA sanctioning allows him to use the name and logo on products and marketing materials. The radio show broadcasts online and through nine stations statewide, and Ferguson said those affiliations add legitimacy to the 19th-hole Clubhouse.

“It’s entertainment and hospitality,” Reger said. “There’s music playing; there’s other sports on the screens. You get beverages, you get food and you can whack at a golf ball and have fun. You don’t have to spend $20 million to build a three-story driving range.”

He added that serious golfers can now skip paying $100 to spend five and a half hours on the greens. Bill Buckner, a local golf pro at the St. Petersburg Country Club, offers lessons on the simulators.

Broadcaster Mike Rickord (right) and fitness trainer Jeff Ward hosting a recent “On the Tee” Florida radio show from the 19th Hole Clubhouse.

Reger said the inaugural seven-week league was only open to individual players, but will expand to teams in the fall. The tournament is a round-robin format – everyone plays each other – and participants receive food and beverage discounts. League champions will take home prizes.

Reger also announced a separate weekly starting in September. That will merge virtual golf with the National Football League’s Monday Night Football broadcasts, with players picking a favorite team and league officials combing scores from the two sports to determine a winner.

While golf is the focus is the 19th Hole Clubhouse’s focus, Ferguson said a “Zombie Dodgeball” simulation is the most popular game among children. Although the machines allow people to hit baseballs off a T-ball tee, he and his son are already exploring potential additions to the venue’s simulator lineup.

They found a place in Texas with machines that “pitch” a ball to batters. “It’s pretty neat, but we wanted to get the golf done,” Ferguson added.

“Then we’re looking at maybe getting two of those.”





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