How Golf Simulators Work


Cold and snowing outside? Full Swing Golf's simulator allows you to play 50 courses with your own clubs and balls indoors.
Cold and snowing outside? Full Swing Golf's simulator allows you to play 50 courses with your own clubs and balls indoors.
AP Photo/HO/Courtesy Full Swing Golf

For many of us, nothing is more enjoyable than a good game of golf on a cool, clear day. Sunny skies, a nice breeze and a challenging course make for a great way to spend time with friends or to hone your skills alone.

But the real world sometimes thwarts that perfect game of golf. What if it's rainy or excessively hot? What if you don't have a good course in your area? What if you're stuck at home or at work and don't have time to play a full 18 holes?

Fortunately, if all the forces in the universe seem to be keeping you from your favorite sport, the virtual world can step up and take its place. This is where a golf simulator comes in -- a computerized game of golf, in your home or office, designed to mimic the real game while also improving your skills.

This isn't Wii Sports golf or those lame arcade games with the trackball, either. These simulators are high-tech machines that can analyze your swing and use computerized models of real courses. Using radar and light sensors, they detect countless factors that go into your shot and swing.

They sometimes utilize standalone screens and realistic 3-D graphics. In essence, they're as close to the actual game of golf as you can get without having to go outside. And they're available for just about any pocketbook, too, prices range from several hundred dollars to as much as $50,000.

In this article, we'll look at how golf simulators work, and if you're a real golf fanatic, we'll even tell you why putting one in your home may not be such a bad idea.

 

Golf Simulator Technology

Charl Schwartzel of South Africa swings at a golf simulator in Singapore where the Barclays Singapore Open golf tournament is held.
Charl Schwartzel of South Africa swings at a golf simulator in Singapore where the Barclays Singapore Open golf tournament is held.
AP Photo/Wong Maye-E

On a real golf course, you'd step up to the tee, grip the club properly with both hands, spread your feet shoulder-length apart and take your swing. With any luck, you'll hit the ball, launching it into the air and then onto the green.

With a golf simulator, the procedure is very much the same, except you're standing on a platform, called a swing pad, in front of a projector screen. The swing pad often has fake grass and a tee to simulate real-world conditions. At the same time, the screen displays a realistic image of a golf course, complete with grass and skies. You step up, swing, and hit the ball right at the screen, just as you would at a driving range.

The screen is connected to a computer with sensors designed to calculate every aspect of your shot. Usually, an array of light sensors, radar and other motion tracking devices are placed around the border of the projection screen. The tracking systems on some simulators include one or more 360-degree curtains of infrared beams, emitted at 60,000 pulses per second, which immediately analyze the ball as it flies [source: Sportnetting.com].

Once your ball strikes the screen, the information collected by the sensor array is sent to the computer. It's there that a variety of factors involved with your shot are evaluated -- speed, shot angle, distance, spin, trajectory and so on [source: aboutGolf.com]. Some systems even use infrared optical sensors to monitor your swing movement and offer guidelines on how to improve.

But this simulator is more than just a computer that tells you how far your shot goes. You can designate which course you want to play on, and many of them are modeled after real-life golf courses, such as Pebble Beach. In addition, you can control the wind velocity and weather conditions on the course. Imagine being able to perfect your swing in the rain without ever getting wet!

Golf simulators exist as a way to perfect your drive. But how about putting? We'll see how that measures up in our next section.

Golf Simulator Putting

We've learned that golf simulators are a great way to analyze your swing and shot under conditions that closely mimic those in the real world. But what about your putting game?

There are sensors designed to analyze that important aspect of golf as well. After all, you can hit to the green every time, but if you can't sink a putt, you'll never win the game.

Many of us have seen the small putting greens designed to go in a home or office. Using your own clubs, you put the ball along the small course, which can slope up or down and incorporates different types of terrain. But there are more high-tech ways to perfect your putting stroke.

Some companies now manufacture sensor kits that analyze every aspect of your putt. You attach a sensor onto your club, load special software onto your home computer -- often working through a USB port -- and then simply go through the putting motions as you normally would. The software goes to work looking at several factors involved in your putt, like distance, direction, stroke path, club head rotation and more [source: Pro Shot Solutions].

While not quite as high-tech as a fully outfitted golf simulator, these putting simulators are also a lot less expensive, and they're just as important for perfecting your golf technique.

On the next page, we'll take a look at what you'll need to install a golf simulator in your home.

Home Golf Simulator Requirements

The Golfers Indoor Paradise, the largest indoor golf facility in Germany, offers all year training with golf simulators, putting greens, bunkers and a driving range.
The Golfers Indoor Paradise, the largest indoor golf facility in Germany, offers all year training with golf simulators, putting greens, bunkers and a driving range.
AP Photo/Daniel Maurer

If you're a real golf fanatic, and you've got some extra cash, installing a golf simulator in your home could be a great way to improve your golfing prowess. Let's take a look at what's required to put one in your home.

Many of these simulators are relatively large, and they often require a full room -- or at least a big section of a room. Some simulators need as much as a 15-by-20-foot (4.6-by-6.1-meter) room for proper operation [source: Hit A Few Golf]. That may seem like a big sacrifice at first, but try to think of it as a kind of home theater.

The simulators usually consist of a large projection screen and a video projector that emits the image of the course and data from the computer. Simulators are also typically surrounded by an enclosure to keep the ball from flying across the room and to allow the golfer to block out everything around him or her.

The simulator itself is a computer system -- some use software that runs on an existing desktop or laptop computer, while others are stand-alone systems. You'll also need the tracking system, which connects to the computer in order to analyze your shot, and a hitting area (tee) to stand on. The tee area is generally made of a simulated grasslike material, and all of this equipment typically runs through a conventional 120-volt outlet [source: Sportnetting.com].

Meet these requirements and you'll never have to wait for the skies to clear up to play a few holes ever again -- you can even do so on your lunch break without ever leaving home.

Due to the fully outfitted, high-tech nature of these indoor golf simulators, some of them can cost more than a new car. But for the golf enthusiast who's serious about improving all aspects of his or her game, it's a small price to pay.

For more information about golf simulators and other related topics, follow the links on the next page.

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Sources

  • aboutGolf.com. "PGA Tour Indoor Golf Simulators." (April 28, 2010) http://www.aboutgolf.com/
  • Hit A Few Golf. "Golf Simulator Rentals." (April 28, 2010) http://hitafewgolf.com/hit-a-few-golf-rentals.asp
  • Pro Shot Solutions. "TOMI Putting Solutions." (April 28, 2010) http://www.proshotsolutions.co.uk/tomi-putting-system.html
  • Sportnetting.com. "Full Swing Golf Simulator." (April 28, 2010) http://sportnetting.com/products/simulators_fsg.html