What golfers need to know about indoor golf simulators

If you watch golf on TV, you’ve no doubt seen players on the range, hitting a shot and then looking down at what appears to be an iPad. No, they’re not checking their email or Facetiming their friends. They are checking their club path, spin rate, clubhead speed, launch angle, carry and total distance, smash factor and much more on what’s called a launch monitor.

And, more than likely, they have a full golf simulator at home.

What’s the difference?

“The best way I can describe it that the launch monitor is the engine and the simulator is the entire car,” says Aaron Hardy of Foresight Sports Canada. Hardy is the exclusive Canadian distributor of Foresight, a product used by more than 170 PGA TOUR pros. TrackMan and SkyTrak are other popular products used by golfers and instructors worldwide, among other reputable brands.

While a monitor is portable, a simulator is a permanent or semi-permanent installation that may include some or all of the following: a monitor, net or screen, hitting mat, laptop computer, projector and, of course, a suitable indoor space. You have the option of virtually playing some of the world’s most famous courses. Foresight even offers a “Canadian course mega-deal” software package that bundles Glen Abbey Golf Club, Essex Golf and Country Club and Cobble Beach Golf Links.

Do you need a launch monitor and/or a simulator?

Yes, if you’re a serious golfer, according to Harry Nodwell, Senior Director of Product Testing at My Golf Spy, an independent online reviewer and evaluator of all things golf. “It’s a must-have if you want to get feedback and dial in your game all year round.” That last bit is especially important for golfers trapped indoors during a Canadian winter. And even more so during these COVID-19 days.

Do you want one?

The best ones are not cheap. For example, Foresight’s basic GC2 monitor starts at US$6,500 while the top-of-the-line GCQuad (what Nodwell calls the “Holy Grail of launch monitors”) starts at US$11,000. As mentioned, if you want a full in-home simulator setup, that can double that number at least.

Chris Nickel is My Golf Spy’s Director of Business Development. He is a self-diagnosed “golf and equipment junkie.” That may explain why he has a fully decked-out Foresight simulator in his basement. (That, along with the fact he has seven daughters and lives in snowy Colorado.) He says your decision is basically a cost/benefit analysis based on your desired outcome.

“You have to decide what your priorities are based on your desires and your budget,” Nickel says. “What are the deal breakers? Do you just want something to have fun with your family and friends or do you seriously want to understand how to be a better golfer?”

For proof of that closer to home, you need look no further than Tristan Mullally, Head Coach of Golf Canada’s Women’s Amateur and Young Pro Squads. He recently had a Foresight simulator installed in his garage in Dundas, Ont. As an instructor, he has used the best launch monitors available for more than 15 years to provide feedback and help his students improve. He says it’s not only made his students better but it helped him be a better instructor. But his home simulator was more of a personal purchase so he could spend quality time with his two children.

“With the COVID lockdown, every golfer wants a place to practise and we are looking for different ways to do things with our family,” Mullally says. “Why hit blindly into a net when you can actually play golf on a simulator?”

Don’t despair if you’re an avid golfer on a restricted budget. Nodwell points out that product testing at My Golf Spy has shown there are more affordable options — if you are prepared to sacrifice some accuracy and data.

Let’s say you want the whole enchilada right now, a complete home simulator setup. You will need sufficient space for all the components and to have a full swing. Hardy says his basic setup requires an area seven feet wide by seven feet high by 10 feet deep while the traditional simulator needs a space at least 12 feet wide by nine feet high by 15 feet deep. Having said that, the 6-foot-1 Nickel can’t swing his driver in his basement with its nine-foot-high ceiling. “I really needed another foot of clearance,” he says.

Hardy’s company offers Sim-In-A-Box, a “full-size, true-to-life golf simulation in a compact, easy-to-assemble format delivered right to your door.” Hardy says the kits can be put together with an Allen key, a couple of wrenches and a second set of hands. Alternatively, depending on mandated pandemic restrictions in your area, you can have a custom simulator professionally assembled in your home or garage.

For example, Andy McWilliams, a former Scottish golf professional now based near Ottawa, launched Golf Sim Gurus after seeing a demand for simulator sales, service and installation. “Things have really taken off since people haven’t been able to get out like they could before COVID,” he says. “Plus, it’s a long winter, especially if you can’t get away down south this year.” In addition to permanent installations, McWilliams sees potential in renting and installing simulators on a seasonal basis to golf courses, retail outlets and even homeowners.

Business also increased for Hardy as a result of the pandemic but it was a two-edged sword. “Demand went up but, because of the restrictions, we couldn’t go into residences to do custom installations. We were like the pool guys: People were stranded at home and need something to do to stay active, something to keep themselves and their families entertained.” He equates the price of a home simulator to that of a couple of family vacations and it is a lot more permanent than memories and souvenirs.

“I get a call just about every day from someone who bought one of our simulators,” says Hardy. “They say it’s almost like therapy. One person told me, ‘I never would have gotten through this (COVID) without my golf simulator.’”

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