Written by Scott Dunford

We’ve all probably experienced or known about golf simulators, launch monitors and video golf. Maybe we loved them because they were the only way we could afford to play Pebble Beach or Saint Andrews – or they helped us analysis our swing, our ball/club head speed, spin ratios and distance with each club. Maybe you got fitted by a professional who sold you your last set of clubs or driver due to the results learned from data gained. The question is, how many of us have ever spent a whole day or 2-4 hours enjoying 18 or 36 holes with friends while eating, drinking and playing an indoor golf tournament? In Seoul Korea, over 4,000 people do that every day!

GolfZon, a Korea-based company, has installed more than 5,000 golf/restaurant and bar centers in 43 countries where patrons can play hundreds of the world’s best courses – all while enjoying a fine meal, cocktail or beer. My client, Nine Iron sports drink, a St. George original, has secured a relationship with GolfZon, providing its unique hydration beverage to thirsty patrons as both a mixer and refreshing non-caffeinated drink.

GolfZon has 450 employees – 200 of which work in the R&D department, spending 40-plus hours a week dreaming up better ways to enhance the golf simulator experience. They have created an impressive simulator that not only measures ball speed, club head speed, spin, distance, face angle, direction and stance but also tees up your next shot and videos your front/side swing positions so you can compare your swing with that of a pro golfer. Not that you or I will ever master that swing, but it’s cool to see, anyway.

Golf simulators and launch monitors come in all shapes, sizes and prices. The OptiShot is one of the least expensive options and is available at retail stores like Dick’s Sporting Goods. However, OptiShot is not a launch monitor so it doesn’t track the ball – its infrared sensors track the club slightly before and after impact. So if a user is expecting a FlightScope- or Trackman-like experience (launch monitors that can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $35,000), they’re not going to get it from something that costs $399. But if users understand what OptiShot does and its limitations, it can be an enjoyable experience.

GolfZon and HDGolf simulators, on the other hand, are pushing the envelope of technology to provide the most lifelike feel, look and experience of the real thing.

These simulators are not for the typical home or personal use. You’ll find them in high-end hotels, resorts, golf centers and million dollar homes! These simulators are typically located in state-of-the-art entertainment facilities. They offer instruction, tournament play (often worldwide in scope or with your local or long-distance golf buddies) with full restaurants and bars.

Many feel the future of golf is heading in this direction. A concept we once saw on “Star Trek” is now a reality.

With maintenance costs, water conservation, environmental concerns, time restraints and land availability, simulators and the centers that house them will begin to flourish in the next 10 years. It’s already happening in the Asian countries, where space is limited and costs to play golf exceed $200 to $300 for 18 holes! You can already see that happening throughout the U.S. and right here in Southern Utah/Mesquite, Nev. – $100-plus green fees and a 50-hour work week equals less golf for most of us.

The Recreation Center in Mesquite has a wonderful simulator available for only $5 per hour per person. It’s a Full Swing simulator that has been updated to E6 by Tru-Golf, and it has close to 40 world-renowned golf courses to choose from, including our very own Entrada County Club. A bargain everyone can afford regardless of skill level. It’s the perfect solution for introducing a beginner to the game. No lost balls or expensive green fees. Plus, a group of four can play 18 holes in less than two hours.

I also visited the simulator at Ready Golf and Gear in Mesquite. Ready Golf and Gear is a 6,000-square-foot retail facility that offers a huge selection of golf equipment, electric carts, apparel and accessories. You can additionally find a wide assortment of hiking gear. It’s rare to have all that plus a golf simulator under one roof. Ready Golf and Gear’s Full Swing simulator is used primarily to custom fit customers with new clubs. Mike Brooks, the owner, said he sells 99.9 percent of his golf club sets thanks to his simulator.

“It provides the feedback players want before they spend hundreds of dollars on new equipment,” he said.

Ready Golf and Gear originally purchased its simulator to promote indoor golf six years ago, when the facility first opened. That first, year they featured their simulator’s 18 world-class courses and scheduled indoor golf tournaments. Crazy good idea, but it didn’t take off as expected. Simulators didn’t fare well with the year-round golf weather and demographic profile of Mesquite’s population.
Since then, Ready Golf and Gear has focused on its simulator’s club fitting advantages and hasn’t looked back.

“Golfers come in and warm up on our simulator, working out their swing flaws before they hit the course,” Brooks said. What a great way to introduce the latest and greatest new club or driver before your buy!

Teaching pros use various types of launch monitors to obtain correctional feedback. Most launch monitors are portable and can be utilized on a driving range. I think the biggest advantage I’ve experienced with a launch monitor is club fitting. I recently went to Rob Krieger’s Golf Performance Studio at Green Valley Resort & Spa. I hit several of the new drivers to see which one gave me the best overall performance. It amazed me that I got 15 to 20 yards more distance from one driver versus the other – all with a similar shaft and 10.5 degree head settings. After hitting 10 balls with club A and 10 with club B, we reviewed the data. Club B produced less ball spin, thus giving me a lower pitch angle with less ballooning for more distance. That club was $100 less than what I thought I wanted! I would have never seen that hitting balls on a driving range. Money saved and better results. That’s what I’m talking about!

Before you decide on a particular set of clubs or driver, I highly recommend visiting a professional that has access to a launch monitor or golf simulator. You’ll be amazed at the information gained. You can make a buying decision based on results versus popular brand or price. The guy who told you “you can’t buy a better game” didn’t have the advantage of a simulator or launch monitor to measure what’s best for you and your individual limitations and skill.

I’ve never been one to prefer a simulation of anything over real life. I think there’s little to be learned playing Wii or golf video games. I’m old-school that way. However, when golf gets too expensive, weather doesn’t permit or time becomes an issue, I’m open to the next frontier of enjoying a game I never want to give up.

I’m excited about what’s next in golf simulator technology. I’m certain one day it will include wind from all directions and the smells of fresh sea breezes and ponderosa pines. You’ll soon be able to hit a ball with a similar tilt of a fairway lie (which is simulated on GolfZon already) and the trees, clouds and grass swaying in the breeze versus a still-life photo or video game look. I am waiting for the whole deal, as real as it gets, with a cold beer, great food from the grill and close friends cheering my good shots and, yes, my bad shots, too. It’s all coming soon to a golf center near you. For those who can’t wait, go visit Rob Krieger’s Golf Studio, the Mesquite Rec Center or Ready Golf in Mesquite.

See you on the links.