Hill Scores Top-Notch Golf

New Indoor Studio Opens Near RFK

Posted May 14, 2008 at 11:07am

Peering at the fairway ahead, Bryan Huus centers himself over a Nike golf ball, as the sound of birds chirping is heard in the background. Huus pulls back his driver and takes a swing, watching his ball land softly in the center of the fairway.

Nothing seems unusual about the golf pro’s swing or the fact that he can hit a ball 300 yards off the tee, but there is something different about the hole. It is a virtual

replica of the 18th hole at Pebble Beach, the famous golf course in Monterey County, Calif., and Huus is playing it from an indoor golf facility on Capitol Hill.

“People walk in here and their eyes get huge,” said Huus, co-owner of Capitol Hill Golf, which houses a simulator that allows players to hit balls at a driving range and off the tees at Pebble Beach and 40 other high-end courses.

Co-owners Huus and Bob Shelton opened the studio earlier this month to bring top- quality golf within two miles of the Capitol. Swinging at an indoor screen standing 10 feet high and 13 feet wide, staffers can perfect their game and get a lesson with Huus, a certified teaching professional, without leaving the Hill.

“We want to bring good golf to Capitol Hill,” said Shelton, who doubles as the supervisor in the Senate Doorkeeper’s Office. “With all the limitations put on staffers, who work all the time [and] can’t always get out to the suburbs to play, this is a place they can come together, other than the bars, and have fun.”

Huus and Shelton met at Marlton Golf Club in Upper Marlboro, Md., six years ago, when Huus worked as the club’s general manager and Shelton worked in the golf shop on the weekends. They would toss around business ideas over beers after work, and they decided to start an indoor business where Huus could teach lessons year-round. While the original visions of oversized leather armchairs and a bar did not become reality, Huus said Capitol Hill Golf, which cost the co-owners nearly $125,000 to build, mostly stayed true to the business plan.

“When we first started this idea, we had no idea if it would work,” said Huus, who left his job at the golf club in 2006 to join the Senate Doorkeeper’s Office with Shelton and to focus on launching Capitol Hill Golf. “Looking back on it, it came out almost exactly how we wanted to.”

Capitol Hill Golf, located at 1741 A St. SE, is housed in a specially built detached garage in Huus’ backyard, blending in with the surrounding houses in a quiet neighborhood near RFK Stadium. There are no windows and no distractions from the outside world, not too unlike a real golf course.

“There’s a lot of disbelief,” Huus said of first-time users of golf simulators. “They don’t know what to say because they don’t know what to expect. People are surprised when I tell them to bring their clubs and hit with regular balls.”

Looking at a picture of a driving range or fairway on the screen, a golfer can hit an actual golf ball off the faux grass with a full swing. After the ball hits the screen, a virtual ball is seen on screen traveling through the air and landing on the grass. Cameras stationed throughout the room measure the speed of the golf ball and the golfer’s swing. The data is saved into a computer system, which can post the statistics instantly, and Huus uses the information during 45-minute lessons to critique technique and make improvements.

“It’s a little different teaching style using all this data because it can almost be overwhelming,” Huus said, noting that his golfing students can get distracted by all the numbers. “I almost want to hide some of the information so people won’t get hooked into the numbers.”

Shelton, a political junkie and former college football player, didn’t take up golf until he moved to Washington in 1991, but the Illinois native was instantly hooked. Earning a low-level salary in his first year on the Hill, Shelton took the weekend job at Marlton Golf Club so he could play for free. The young staffer would make the 40-minute drive to Upper Marlboro, Md., to squeeze in nine or even 18 holes on weekday mornings and battle traffic on the way back to start his workday at the Senate.

With the ability to play down the street from his day job, Shelton, who does marketing and business development for Capitol Hill Golf, has visions of planning tournaments that pit Democrats against Republicans and staffers against lobbyists. The bread and butter of the business, however, is selling lessons with Huus for $75 and Capitol Hill Golf merchandise, which includes golf shirts starting at $35, golf tees and clubs.

However, it’s not always so structured inside the walls of Capitol Hill Golf. Huus and Shelton play rounds after work and on occasion get into heated putting contests with friends. Not having to fight rush hour traffic to get to a course, Shelton said he spends his extra time — and then some — working on his game.

“This place is like Vegas. You step outside and hours went by,” Shelton joked.