Close your eyes and imagine what golf simulators once were like. Back in the 1980s and ’90s. With rumpled screens and fuzzy images. With no real sense of how far or straight you hit your shots.
Frankly, there wasn’t much to get excited about, even if the only thing you wanted from those old machines was some off-season fun with your friends. You didn’t even think about using them for clubfitting or teaching.
Now, step to the tee of an aboutGolf simulator, the PGA Tour Compact SimSurround for example, which was introduced last year. What you have here is a unit that features three full screens that wrap 160 degrees around the golfer and gives him, or her, more than 50 courses to play, including Pebble Beach, TPC Sawgrass and the Old Course at St. Andrews.
The system utilizes a high-speed motion camera system, dubbed 3Trak technology, that collects image data such as velocity, launch angle and spin from shots at twice the rate of most other machine vision systems. It is engineered for consistent optimal resolution and field of view, resulting in what aboutGolf president Charles Faust describes as “repeatable and reproducible data quality throughout the tracking region.”
According to Faust, 3Trak replicates ball flight as well as bounce and roll better than other simulators. It even reproduces ricochets off of trees and let shots react to whatever wind or weather conditions a player chooses to input into the system (and players can input different course conditions at will). A vast range of swing analysis and software tools are available, and the golf course imagery, which is produced from topographical and survey data and more than 2,500 photos per layout, is impressive.
Those sorts of enhancements have made simulators much better than they used to be – and much more popular in the U.S. as well as in golf hot spots like Japan, Korea and the U.K. In addition to being better entertainment devices, around which winter golf leagues and rounds of business golf are frequently organized, they have also become important teaching and fitting tools for PGA professionals.
In some cases, they have even become a way for top touring pros to keep their games in shape during the off-season. Which is why Luke Donald put an aboutGolf simulator in his Chicago-area home about a year ago.
Not surprisingly, these state-of-the-art simulators do not come cheap, and the PGA Tour Compact SimSurround goes for a hefty $62,000. That’s out of reach for most recreational players. But aboutGolf is working to make their machines more accessible by setting up reasonable revenue-sharing plans with golf clubs and retailers around the globe.