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Simulators now full force in world golf landscape


A golf simulator is a wall-sized screen that allows golf to be played and practiced on a facsimile driving range or golf course, usually in an indoor setting. Relying on a sophisticated set of environmental sensors, software tracks each swing, and accurately represents the entire shot, from how the ball tracks and bounces visually on the screen, giving detailed feedback of the entire flight of the ball for practice and training. The recently enhanced simulators track club speed, path and face angle at impact, together with ball speed, path, spin and horizontal and vertical launch angle.

The technology involved in the latest developments includes sonic sound systems, radar systems, optical sensor systems and highly sophisticated camera systems, which are fast becoming the norm. Up to four cameras are used to monitor the playing area, with speeds up to 120 frames per second. The accuracy of the high-end units has increased exponentially the past few years. Screen sizes for residential uses average 5 X 8 feet, and for commercial studio uses 10 X 20 feet or wider.

Simulators are not your grandfather’s golf nets.

Early versions of simulators, crude by comparison with today’s, have been around for 40 years. The explosion of the market for simulators has been due largely to commercial applications, mainly in sports bars, indoor golf centers, country clubs, hotels, resorts and fitness facilities. Plus, indoor golf simulators have been gaining popularity in residential settings. As technological advances bring pricing down, many avid golfers have chosen to equip their homes with indoor golf training facilities, particularly in colder northern regions, where outdoor golf on green grass courses is limited to seven or eight months at the most. Golf simulators began to appear at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando 12 years ago. Back then, I thought they were a novelty, but they are a mega-market force these days.

In January, I was able to hit a few shots to a large screen simulator that used Hole No. 18 at Pebble Beach as a landing area. It was highly realistic.

These cutting-edge tools enable golfers to practice their swing, get lessons, get fitted for clubs and play golf in an artificial but highly enhanced visual setting, while staying comfy and cozy indoors. Locally, there are at least two full sized simulators: one at T.J. McMullen’s Total Golf studio, and one at Dick’s Sporting Goods. There may be more residential set-ups in town, but, of course, we do enjoy outdoor golf year-round.

According to Custom Market Insights (CMI), a research and tech market data company, the U.S. golf simulators market was $1.6 billion less than two years ago, and is anticipated to reach $3.4 billion by 2030.

“Increased pay-per-hour usage in commercial indoor entertainment centers, expanding consumer interest in virtual reality, and rising consumer adoption of augmented reality all contribute to the market’s expansion,” while high installation costs for residential and commercial centers are limiting factors, CMI notes. CMI reports the Asia-Pacific market will have the fastest growth rate for simulators in the next few years, with one of the most lucrative markets in South Korea, where golf is a national sport. One of the biggest marketers of simulators is Korean-owned Golfzon which had sales of $1.3 billion in 2022.

As a hyper-important indication of how significant the indoor golf revolution really is, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy announced Oct. 5 the launching of the TGL Golf League starting in January. The league (two years in the planning) will be played on a football-field-sized playing ground at Palm Beach State College in Florida, with full shots being hit to a 46 X 64 foot simulator screen, and short game shots played on an indoor green. The format will be a team event – three players against three – on Monday nights televised by ESPN in a two-hour window. All players will wear microphones. A release by TGL says they were part of “ventures that are progressive approaches to sports, media and technology.”

“We’ve all heard about the fact of how old the golf audience is (and now we are) trying to get younger eyeballs on to it,” McIlroy adds. The field of players who have committed is mostly set with all PGA Tour stars.